Kabbalist Prior to the Expulsion from Spain in 1492

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Kabbalist Prior to the Expulsion from Spain in 1492

JUS 435

Introduction

Rabbinic Judaism, a dynamic and evolving ethical monotheistic religious tradition, during the Middle Ages, would confront circumstances conducive to renewed encounters with Hellenism, but unlike Hellenistic Judaism it would not be a biblical Judaism face to face with a Hellenistic philosophy still embedded in a pagan matrix, rather Rabbinic Judaism facing a nonpaganized Greek philosophy.1 Rabbinic discourses about G-d’s attributes, divine providence and human freedom, the reason for the mitzvot (commandments), and the nature of the messianic age, would be reinterpreted in a rationalistic light to show natural science and religious revelation could coexist harmoniously.2 Kabbalist, prior to the expulsion from Spain in 1492, utilized a synthesis of dualistic Greek philosophy and classical Rabbinic Judaism to formulate a progressive conception, albeit mystical, of G-d, the structure of evil, and humanity’s, particularly the Jews, place and purpose in the universe.

Philosophical Influence

Judaism offers answers to such questions as the origin of the universe, the destiny of man, and the nature of right action; questions also posed by philosophy, which demands these ideas concern themselves with meticulous proof according to the requirements of reason.3 NeoPlatonism was particularly important in Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah, although Medieval Jewish philosophers were heavily influenced by Aristotelianism through the writings of Muslim commentators and interpreters,4 Kabbalist could be said to owe more to Plato than to Aristotle.

Neo-Platonism is a monistic (reality as a unified whole) view of the world, which posits as the absolute cause of everything a pure spiritual principle, the One, the acme of perfection, that emanates from itself into lower levels of spiritual existence, with the other end of the spectrum of existence, the material world of change and decay.5 This is not only a philosophical system, but also a doctrine of salvation, where a human soul, which is derived from the universal soul, can reascend to the upper supernatural world of the spirit by means of intellectual and ethical purification.6

Aristotelianism moves from observations of processes in the natural world to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the nature of reality, the external world, etc.), whereas Neo-Platonism had dismissed the independent reality of physical nature in its exclusive concern for the spirit.7 This exclusivity would be well suited to Kabbalist in their quest for a system to explain G-d’s transcendence and immanence. Classical Rabbinic Judaism had well established defined parameters (mitzvot) for ethical conduct in the material world. Kabbalist sought to define the unseen ethereal aspects of the universe into a system, which would incorporate sound philosophical principles with the esoteric, supernatural, and mystical nature of G-d and His interaction with Creation.

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

The appearance of Kabbalistic mythology in the heart of Medieval Judaism may have been an expression of a reaction against philosophical rationalist and other elements, which Kabbalist try to reconcile, and combine philosophical concepts and terminology within their literature.8 The Kabbalah is a combination of ancient, known, Jewish sources, especially Hekhalot (Palaces) and the Sefer Yezira (Book of Creation), contemporary philosophical terminology and ideas, and original contributions of writers of the High Middle Ages in Provence and Spain, some of which may have been the result of mystical experiences. 9

The dominating component of this new religious phenomenon is its insistence on tradition rather than reasoning, its endeavor to reinterpret all previous Jewish texts in the light of the new world of images, and its claim to be the oldest and most authentic Jewish conception of the divine realm.10 The midrashic form was...
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