The Schocken Book of Jewish Mystical Testimonies: A Unique and Inspiring Collection of Accounts by People Who Have Encountered God from Biblical Times to the Present

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A unique and inspiring collection of accounts by people who have encountered God, from Biblical times to the present.
Foreword by Karen Armstrong

The Schocken Book of Jewish Mystical Testimonies brings together the few accounts we have by Jewish mystics of their encounters with the divine. The sources collected in this volume--spanning two thousand years and including material from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East--include depictions ...

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Overview

A unique and inspiring collection of accounts by people who have encountered God, from Biblical times to the present.
Foreword by Karen Armstrong

The Schocken Book of Jewish Mystical Testimonies brings together the few accounts we have by Jewish mystics of their encounters with the divine. The sources collected in this volume--spanning two thousand years and including material from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East--include depictions of peak religious experiences and visions, examples of ecstatic prayer, and counsel on how to keep company with the divine.

Supplemented with commentary by Louis Jacobs, one of the world's most knowledgeable scholars of Jewish mysticism, these accounts offer an exciting new window on Jewish religious experience and inspiration to spiritual seekers of all persuasions.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
This anthology of inspiring and esoteric texts describing the human yearning to reach God shows a different and fascinating face of Judaism that is frequently glossed over, largely because the rational, intellectual side often overshadows the mystical. In fact, Jacobs defines Jewish mysticism as "that aspect of the Jewish religious experience in which man's mind is in direct contact with God." Even many Jewish mystics themselves tended to be reticent about describing their mystical encounters with God in personal terms, preferring to intellectualize the ecstatic. This collection of rare personal testimony, descriptions of peak religious experiences and examples of ecstatic prayer spans 2000 years, from Ezekiel's luminous vision to the writings of the Hasidic masters. Their fervent, vivid imagery, filled with rapture, radiance, awe and even erotic passion, is balanced by rigorous strictures detailed as necessary precursors to encounters with the divine. The ironic subtext here is that the authors, according to Jacobs, "try to give expression to that which is really unutterable and even incomprehensible." Jacobs, a British author of numerous books on Judaism and Jewish mysticism, provides a scholarly introduction and commentary on each text.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This anthology of inspiring and esoteric texts describing the human yearning to reach God shows a different and fascinating face of Judaism that is frequently glossed over, largely because the rational, intellectual side often overshadows the mystical. In fact, Jacobs defines Jewish mysticism as "that aspect of the Jewish religious experience in which man's mind is in direct contact with God." Even many Jewish mystics themselves tended to be reticent about describing their mystical encounters with God in personal terms, preferring to intellectualize the ecstatic. This collection of rare personal testimony, descriptions of peak religious experiences and examples of ecstatic prayer spans 2000 years, from Ezekiel's luminous vision to the writings of the Hasidic masters. Their fervent, vivid imagery, filled with rapture, radiance, awe and even erotic passion, is balanced by rigorous strictures detailed as necessary precursors to encounters with the divine. The ironic subtext here is that the authors, according to Jacobs, "try to give expression to that which is really unutterable and even incomprehensible." Jacobs, a British author of numerous books on Judaism and Jewish mysticism, provides a scholarly introduction and commentary on each text. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805241433
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/21/1997
  • Pages: 329
  • Product dimensions: 5.45 (w) x 8.31 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Louis Jacobs is the author of The Oxford Companion to the Jewish Religion, as well as many other books on Judaism and Jewish mysticism.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 2: "The Four Who Entered the King's Orchard"

The Four Who Entered the King's Orchard
This famous passage in the Babylonian Talmud . . . has been discussed at length through the centuries as the main statement in rabbinic literature of mystical experience . . . The four sages mentioned all flourished in the first half of the second century . . . As to the object of this mystical contemplation, it is in all probability the Chariot of Ezekiel.

TEXT Our Rabbis taught: Four entered an orchard and these are they: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Aher and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to them: "When you reach the stones of pure marble, do not say: 'Water, water!' For it is said: 'He that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before mine eyes' [Ps. 101:7]." Ben Azzai gazed and died. Of him Scripture says: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" [Ps. 116:15]. Ben Zoma gazed and was stricken. Of him Scripture says: "Hast thou found honey? Eat as much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it" [Prov. 25:16]. Aher cut down the shoots. Rabbi Akiva departed in peace.

COMMENTS Ben Azzai and Ben Zoma were both named Simeon. They were never ordained as rabbis and it has been suggested that this is why they are not referred to as "Simeon ben Azzai" and "Simeon ben Zoma," it being considered insulting to them to refer to them by their full name without the title. Aher is Elisha ben Avuyah. "Aher" means "the other one," a name given to him when he became an apostate, according to the implications of our passage, as a result of his vision. Based on this passage the term "cutting down the shoots" is used in later Jewish literature as a synonym for "heresy." In the passage, it is implied that the mystical ascent of the soul is fraught with danger both to body and soul. Only Rabbi Akiva emerges unscathed. Rashi's comment to the passage deserves to be quoted in full as evidence of how this matter was viewed in the traditions of 11th-century France. Rashi comments as follows:

Pure marble: shining like clear water.

Do not say: Water, water! is here, how can we go on further?

Gazed: toward the Shekhinah.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints: His death was hard for God since he was still a young man, yet he had to die because it is said: "For man shall not see Me and live" (Exodus 33:20).

Was stricken: He became demented.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Introduction 3
1 Ezekiel's Vision of the Heavenly Throne 21
2 The Four Who Entered the King's Orchard 29
3 The Riders of the Chariot and Those Who Entered the Heavenly Halls 35
4 Maimonides on Being with God 45
5 The Mystical Piety of Rabbi Eleazar of Worms 61
6 The Prophetic Mysticism of Abraham Abulafia 71
7 Responsa from Heaven 92
8 The Zohar on the High Priest's Ecstasy 100
9 The Visions and Mystical Meditations of Abraham of Granada 109
10 The Communications of the Heavenly Mentor to Rabbi Joseph Karo 122
11 The Visions of Rabbi Hayyim Vital 152
12 The Maggid of Rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzatto 167
13 The Mystical Epistle of the Ba'al Shem Tov 182
14 The Mystical Meditations of Shalom Sharabi and the Kabbalists of Bet El 192
15 The Mystical Experiences of the Gaon of Vilna 208
16 The Prayer Meditations of Alexander Susskind of Grodno 216
17 Two Epistles in Praise of the Hasidic Zaddikim 240
18 The Mystical Accounts of Kalonymus Kalman Epstein of Cracow 265
19 The Tract on Ecstasy by Rabbi Dov Baer of Lubavich 274
20 The Secret Diary of Rabbi Isaac Eizik of Komarno 292
21 Aaron Roth's Essay, "Agitation of the Soul" 299
Bibliography 317
Abbreviations 322
Glossary 323
Acknowledgments 329
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