These lectures begin by offering an historians answers to two rather straightforward questions: What is Jewish about Jewish Mysticism (Kabbalah)?
What is mystical about Jewish Mysticism? The lectures end with an historians attempt to understand our contemporary fascination with such arcane subjects. Along the way, the major trends in Late Antique, medieval, early modern, and modern Jewish mysticisms are introduced. Their characteristic beliefs and meditational techniques are described. The audience may reasonably expect to come away from these lectures having learned something useful about the academic study of religion, the complexity of Judaism's creative impulses, and the astonishing resources of human imagination as it struggles to de-habituate the everyday in order to discover infinities in grains of sand. Honoring the liberal injunction to let nothing human be alien to us, these lectures are designed to demystify the Kabbalah. They do not seek to judge whether the Kabbalah is morally good or bad, healthy-minded or pathological, philosophically true or empirically false, but to discover what made the Kabbalah possible or attractive to its adherents and implausible or repellent to its opponents. Being an optimist, the lecturer assumes that, just as we are not obliged to become triangles in order to grasp the Pythagorean Theorem, we need not be
Jewish Kabbalists in order to fathom Jewish Mysticism. A mere handful of lectures cannot do justice to the two-thousand years of Jewish history during which a plethora of mystical traditions evolved. They cannot chart the many striking parallels and the equally striking dissimilarities between the Kabbalah, Christian mysticism, Sufism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. But they can make visible the otherwise hidden processes by which medieval Jewish mystics-like their counterparts, the medieval Jewish philosophers and theologians-transformed
the heritage of biblical and rabbinic Judaism. With ingenious legerdemain, they aligned it with ancient mythic consciousness and newfangled metaphysical doctrines that stressed the conflict between outer appearances and inner realities. The lectures can suggest something of the competition between the philosophic and mystical traditions and explain why mysticism succeeded where philosophy failed. The
lectures can also catch glimpses of Jewish history through the lens of the mystics, just as they can identify some of the mystical factors shaping Jewish communal life and ritual practice. Perhaps most importantly of all, the lectures can provide members of the audience with sufficient historical background, technical terminology, and clarification of fundamental concepts to allow them to confront critically the primary sources of Jewish Mysticism as they become more readily available every day. Being an optimist, the lecturer hopes so.
01 - Historical Framework for Jewish Mysticism
02 - Early Rabbinic Judaism and Mystical Ecstasy
03 - Triumph of Spirituality in German Pietism
04 - Yoga, Language and Abraham Abulafia
05 - Theosophy - The Psychodynamics of God
06 - The Zohar and Symbolism
07 - Divine Consequences of Human Behavior
08 - Catastrophe and the Kabbalah - Post 1492
09 - Messiahs, Messianism and the Kabbalah
10 - Jewish Mysticism, Nowadays