Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah flourished throughout all of Jewish history in all lands where Jews lived. Many rabbis have explored the esoteric secrets hidden in the Torah. Pious adepts have communed with angels and demons. Yet the literature of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah has remained inaccessible for all but a few for centuries. Even when the Wissenschaft des Judentums scholars began the scientific study of Judaism in the nineteenth century, and launched their mighty efforts to analyze all aspects of Jewish culture and literature, Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah were not considered worthy of consideration. This was so either because access was difficult or this field was regarded as a throwback to a more primitive Judaism.
It wasn’t until the twentieth century that Gershom Scholem became the pioneer who gained respectability for Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah as a legitimate academic pursuit. His accomplishments are chronicled and well known, as are those of Isaiah Tishby and Moshe Idel who followed him.
We are now in the twenty-first century. Jewish Studies departments exist in universities all over the world. The study of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah as an academic pursuit (not to be confused with those who are practicing kabbalists) is a well entrenched discipline. Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah: New Insights and Scholarship presents summaries of the work of the contemporary generation of scholars in this field. The ten essays provide a snapshot of current theories and recent scholarship on a wide range of topics in this area of study.
The introductory essay is an excellent summary of the history of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah and the notes here, as in all of the essays, will provide readers with much additional reading material and resources. New scholarship and research on the Zohar and some key personalities and genres have challenged some of Scholem’s canonical theories. The chapters on Christian Kabbalah and gender in Jewish mysticism are outstanding. Hassidism’s contribution to the field needs a fuller treatment, and it should have been noted that popular or pop Kabbalah fads are only a small part of contemporary Jewish mysticism.
This is an excellent book for general readers who wish to learn about this fascinating area of Jewish life and literature, as the jargon of scholar-speak is kept to a minimum.