Jewish Kabbalah and Magic in Ashkenaz – Examples from the Hebrew Manuscript Collection of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
Werkstattgespräch in englischer Sprache mit Agata Paluch,
2015 Stipendiatin im Stipendienprogramm der SPK
Donnerstag, 17. März
Schulungsraum im Lesesaal, Haus Potsdamer Straße
Treffpunkt: Eingangshalle (I-Punkt)
“Scholars of early modern Eastern European Jewry have suggested that by the 16th century, the speculative kabbalah (i.e. a strand of Jewish mysticism) became part and parcel of the educational curriculum of the Jewish intellectual elite, even among those of its members who were antagonistic to this esoteric lore, but whose critique of it often reveals extensive knowledge of the subject. At the same time, and especially in the course of the 17th century, the so-called ‘practical kabbalah’, associated with magic and a talismanic approach to ritual, was attracting numerous followers. These two strands of the mystical tradition permeated early modern Eastern Europe, but while the theoretical kabbalah of the elites exerted limited influence on the Jewish masses, popular magical traditions and practices did infiltrate the elitist kabbalah to a large extent.
On this basis, I suggest that the universal spread of the speculative doctrines of kabbalah in the early modern era may well have been facilitated by the wide dissemination of much more concrete magical and mystical practices, drawn out of an old stock of religious performance techniques, such as the invocation of angelic names, manipulation of the divine name, talismanic divinatory practices, and the like. This magical strand of the early modern kabbalah, with its special interest in the mystical dimension of language, was a latter-day development out of much earlier traditions. The lecture will attempt to demonstrate the significant role that magical rituals played in introducing the speculative doctrines of kabbalah into East-Central European Jewish culture, drawing examples from the Hebrew manuscripts collection of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, and other libraries.”