Amid all the trendiness, one almost hesitates to ask the essential question: what is kabbalah? Joseph Dan of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who has reflected on the subject for some 50 years, offers a fascinating reply in his new book.Read it all. Sounds like a very useful book.
Kabbalah, which literally means “that which has been received,” refers broadly to a “hidden” doctrine that (along with the “Written” and “Oral” Torah) is said to have been given by God to Moses at Sinai and to have been privately transmitted ever since, often only in hints and allusions, from master to disciple. Throughout the medieval period and well into the early modern age, traditionalists took these teachings very seriously, although they were also regarded as an inherently dangerous subject matter that could lead all but a select few into heresy or madness. In later, post-Enlightenment times, many scholars and religious progressives came to consider these teachings a form of superstitious nonsense. Only in the last hundred years or so has kabbalah become a subject of academic study.
Dan’s book thus represents the fruit of a century’s worth of research and systematic analysis, much of it centered at the Hebrew University. Exquisitely attuned to the varied schools, streams, and shades of his subject, Dan begins on a note of caution: although the term “kabbalah” has never been so widely used as it is today, even in the past it did not have a single meaning. Having warned us that “there is no ‘kabbalah’ in the singular,” he proceeds to give us a nuanced chronological survey of kabbalah in the plural.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
A NEW BOOK ON KABBALAH by Joseph Dan is reviewed in Commentary Magazine by Benjamin Balint. Excerpt: