Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Princess and I: Academic Kabbalists/Kabbalist Academics

ב"ה
The Princess and I[1]
Academic Kabbalists/Kabbalist Academics
לכב' יומא דהילולא דרשב"י ל"ג בעומר
by Josh Rosenfeld

Josh Rosenfeld is the Assistant Rabbi at Lincoln Square Synagogue and on the Judaic Studies Faculty at SAR High School.

This is his second contribution to the Seforim blog. His first essay, on "The Nazir in New York," is available (here).

The last few decades have witnessed the veritable explosion of "new perspectives" and horizons in the academic study of Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism. From the pioneering work of the late Professor Gershom Scholem, and the establishment of the study of Jewish Mysticism as a legitimate scholarly pursuit, we witness a scene nowadays populated by men and women, Jews and non-Jews, who have challenged, (re)constructed, and expanded upon Scholem's work.[2]
 These men and women themselves have been variously praised and criticized themselves for sometimes blurring the lines between academician and practitioner of Kabbalah and mysticism.[3] Professor Boaz Huss of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has done extensive work in this area.[4] One of the most impressive examples of this fusion of identities is Professor Yehuda Liebes (Jerusalem, 1947-) of Hebrew University, who completed his doctoral studies under Scholem, and rose to prominence himself by challenging scholarly orthodoxies established by his mentor.
On a personal note, the initial encounter between so-called 'traditional' notions of Kabbalah and academic scholarship was a jarring one, calling into question aspects of faith and fealty to long-held beliefs.[5] In a moment of presumption, I would imagine that this same process is part and parcel of many peoples' paths to a more mature and nuanced conception of Torah and tradition, having undergone the same experience. The discovery of scholar/practitioners like Prof. Liebes, and the fusion of mysticism and scholarship in their constructive (rather than de-constructive) work has served to help transcend and erase the tired dichotomies and conflicts that previously wracked the traditional readers' mind.[6]
It is in this sense, and in honor of the 33rd of the 'Omer - the Rosh ha-Shana of The Zohar and Jewish Mysticism that I present here an expanded and annotated translation of Rabbi Menachem Hai Shalom Froman's poem and pean to his teacher, Professor Yehuda Liebes.[7] Study of the unprecedented relationship between the two, and other traditional/academic academic/traditional Torah relationships remains a scholarly/traditional desideratum.[8]
Rabbi Menachem Froman was born in 1945, in Kfar Hasidim, Israel,  and served as the town rabbi of Teko'a in the West Bank of Israel. During his military service, served as an IDF paratrooper and was one of the first to reach the Western Wall.. He was a student of R. Zvi Yehuda Kook at Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav and also studied Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A founder of Gush Emunim, R. Froman was the founder of Erets Shalom and advocate of interfaith-based peace negotiation and reconciliation with Muslim Arabs. As a result of his long-developed personal friendships, R. Froman served as a negotiator with leaders from both the PLO and Hamas. He has been called a "maverick Rabbi," likened to an "Old Testament seer,"[9] and summed him up as "a very esoteric kind of guy."[10] Others have pointed to R. Froman's expansive and sophisticated religious imagination; at the same time conveying impressions of 'madness' that some of R. Froman's outward appearances, mannerisms, and public activities may have engendered amongst some observers.[11] He passed away in 2013.
R. Froman was not known for his written output, although recently a volume collecting some of his programmatic and public writing has appeared, Sahaki 'Aretz (Jerusalem: Yediot and Ruben Mass Publishers: 2014).[12] I hope to treat the book and its fascinating material in a future post at the Seforim blog. [13]

The Princess and I
Menachem Froman
Translated and Annotated by Josh Rosenfeld

II Samuel 6:12-23
And she saw him, dancing and leaping[14]
amongst lambs and goats
it troubled her[15]
and she despised
him in her heart that had opened to love
she had com/passion
and she sought from her father to be his wife[16]

And she saw him, dancing and leaping
with her in the ways of men amidst the longing of doves[17]
 it troubled her
and she despised
him in her heart at the moment of intimacy
she had com/passion
upon him like the embrace of parting moment[18]

And she saw him, dancing and leaping
amongst foreign matrons
 it troubled her
and she despised
him in her heart that he had left her in pain
and she resorted to the honor of her father and the garb of royals

He saw her, and he leapt and he danced
in the presence of the glory of his God
he was troubled
and he despised
in his heart conceiving the troubles in hers
he had com/passion
yet still returned
to his flocks and his herds
to the dancing and leaping he loved
______

            It is through this poem, written many years ago, that I wish to join with those who are honoring my teacher and Rebbe Muvhak [ =longtime teacher] Professor Yehuda Liebes, shlit"a [ =may he merit long life] (or, as my own students in the Yeshiva are used to hearing during my lectures, Rebbe u'Mori 'Yudele' who disguises himself as Professor Liebes…).
This poem (at least according to its authorial intent), describes the ambivalent relationship between two poles; between Mikhal, the daughter of Saul, who is connected to the world of kingship and royalty, organized and honorable - and David, the wild shepherd, a Judean 'Hilltop Youth' [ =no'ar gev'aot]. Why did I find (and it pleases me to add: with the advice of my wife) that the description of the complex relationship between Mikhal, who comes from a yekkishe family, and David, who comes from a Polish hasidishe  family, is connected to [Prof.] Yehuda [Liebes]? (By the way, Yehuda's family on his father's side comes from a city which is of doubtful Polish or German sovereignty). Because it may be proper, to attempt to reveal the secret of Yehuda - how it is possible to bifurcate his creativity into the following two ingredients: the responsible, circumspect (medu-yekke) scientific foundation, and the basic value of lightness and freedom.
Seriousness and mirth (as he analyzes with intensity in his essay "Zohar and Eros"[19]), formality and excess (as he explains in his book, "The Doctrine of Creation according to Sefer Yetsirah"[20]), contraction and expansion, saying and the unsaid, straightness ( =shura) and song ( =shira). Words that stumble in the dark, seek in the murky mist, for there lies the divine secret. Maimonides favors the words: wisdom and will; and in the Zohar, Yehuda's book, coupling and pairs are of course, quite central: left as opposed to right, might ( =gevura) as opposed to lovingkindness ( =hesed), and also masculinity as opposed to the feminine amongst others. I too, will also try: the foundation of intellectualism and the foundation of sensualism found by Yehuda.
Do these two fundamental aspects of Yehuda's creativity mesh together to form a unity? This poem, which I have dedicated to Yehuda, follows in the simple meaning of the biblical story of the love between Mikhal and David, and it does not have a 'happy ending'; they separate from each other - and their love does not bear fruit. Here is also the fitting place to point out that our Yehuda also merited much criticism from within the academic community, and not all find in his oeuvre a unified whole or scientific coherence of value. But perhaps this is to be instead found by his students! I am used to suggesting in my lectures my own interpretation of 'esotericism'/secret: that which is impossible to [fully] understand, that which is ultimately not logically or rationally acceptable.
I will conclude with a story 'in praise of Liebes' (Yehuda explained to me that he assumes the meaning of his family name is: one who is related to a woman named Liba or, in the changing of a name, one who is related to an Ahuva/loved one). As is well known, in the past few years, Yehuda has the custom of ascending ( ='aliya le-regel)[21] on La"g b'Omer to the celebration ( =hilula) of RaShb"I[22] in Meron. Is there anyone who can comprehend - including Yehuda himself - how a university professor, whose entire study of Zohar is permeated with the notion that the Zohar is a book from the thirteenth- century (and himself composed an entire monograph: "How the Zohar Was Written?"[23]), can be emotionally invested along with the masses of the Jewish people from all walks of life, in the celebration of RaShb"I, the author of the Holy Zohar?
Four years ago, Yehuda asked me to join him on this pilgrimage to Meron, and I responded to him with the following point: when I stay put, I deliver a long lecture on the Zohar to many students on La"g b'Omer, and perhaps this is more than going to the grave of RaShb"I.[24] Yehuda bested me, and roared like a lion: "All year long - Zohar, but on La"g b'Omer - RaShb"I!"

            God's secret is with/in those who fear him, and his covenant makes it known.[25]





[1] I wish to thank yedidi R' Menachem Butler for his patient guidance and assistance in the preparation of this short essay. His expertise and erudition is something worthy of true admiration. Thanks, as well, is also due to the other editors at the Seforim Blog for their consideration of this piece, and for providing such a remarkable, long-running platform for the dissemination, discussion, and study of Jewish culture and thought
[2] It is no understatement to say that there is a vast literature on the late Professor Gershom Scholem and for an important guide, see Daniel Abrams, Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory: Methodologies of Textual Scholarship and Editorial Practice in the Study of Jewish Mysticism, second edition (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2014). See also Gershom Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism 50 Years After: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on the History of Jewish Mysticism, eds. Joseph Dan and Peter Schafer (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1993), 1-15 ("Introduction by the Editors"); Essential Papers on Kabbalah, ed. Lawrence Fine (New York: NYU Press, 1995); Mysticism, Magic, and Kabbalah in Ashkenazi Judaism, eds. Karl Erich Grozinger and Joseph Dan (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1995); Kabbalah and Modernity: Interpretations, Transformations, Adaptations, eds. Boaz Huss, Marco Pasi and Kocku von Stuckrad (Leiden: Brill, 2010), among other fine works of academic scholarship.
For a unique example of a non-apologetic traditional engagement with Scholem's work, see R. Shimon Gershon Rosenberg (ShaGaR), Nehalekh be-Regesh (Efrat: Mahon Kitve ha-Rav Shagar, 2010), 75-97, especially 77-78 (Hebrew), which I hope to explore in a future essay at the Seforim blog.

[3] While representing a range of academic approaches, these scholars can be said to have typified a distinct phenomenological approach to the academic study of Kabbalah and what is called "Jewish Mysticism." See Boaz Huss, "The Mystification of Kabbalah and the Myth of Jewish Mysticism," Peamim 110 (2007): 9-30 (Hebrew), which has been shortened into English adaptations in Boaz Huss, "The Mystification of the Kabbalah and the Modern Construction of Jewish Mysticism," BGU Review 2 (2008), available online (here); and Boaz Huss, "Jewish Mysticism in the University: Academic Study or Theological Practice?" Zeek (December 2006), available online (here).

[4] See Boaz Huss, "Spirituality: The Emergence of a New Cultural Category and its Challenge to the Religious and the Secular," Journal of Contemporary Religion 29:1 (January 2014): 47-60; see further in Boaz Huss, "The Theologies of Kabbalah Research," Modern Judaism 34:1 (February 2014): 3-26; and Boaz Huss, "Authorized Guardians: The Polemics Of Academic Scholars Of Jewish Mysticism Against Kabbalah Practitioners," in Olav Hammer and Kocku von Stuckrad, eds., Polemical Encounters: Esoteric Discourse and Its Others (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 85-104. On the difficulty of pinning down just what is meant by the word 'mysticism' here, see Ron Margolin, "Jewish Mysticism in the 20th Century: Between Scholarship and Thought," in Haviva Pedaya and Ephraim Meir, eds., Judaism: Topics, Fragments, Facets, and Identities - Sefer Rivkah (=Rivka Horwitz Jubilee Volume) (Be'er Sheva: Ben Gurion University, 2007; Hebrew), 225-276; see also the introduction to Peter Schäfer, The Origins of Jewish Mysticism (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 1-31, especially 10-19, where Schäfer attempts to give a precis of the field and the various definitions of what he terms "a provocative title."  See Boaz Huss, "Spirituality: The Emergence of a New Cultural Category and its Challenge to the Religious and the Secular," Journal of Contemporary Religion 29:1 (January 2014): 47-60; see further in Boaz Huss, "The Theologies of Kabbalah Research," Modern Judaism 34:1 (February 2014): 3-26; and Boaz Huss, "Authorized Guardians: The Polemics Of Academic Scholars Of Jewish Mysticism Against Kabbalah Practitioners," in Olav Hammer and Kocku von Stuckrad, eds., Polemical Encounters: Esoteric Discourse and Its Others (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 85-104.
On the difficulty of pinning down just what is meant by the word 'mysticism' here, see Ron Margolin, "Jewish Mysticism in the 20th Century: Between Scholarship and Thought," in Haviva Pedaya and Ephraim Meir, eds., Judaism: Topics, Fragments, Facets, and Identities - Sefer Rivkah (=Rivka Horwitz Jubilee Volume) (Be'er Sheva: Ben Gurion University, 2007; Hebrew), 225-276; see also the introduction to Peter Schäfer, The Origins of Jewish Mysticism (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 1-31, especially 10-19, where Schäfer attempts to give a precis of the field and the various definitions of what he terms "a provocative title," as well earlier in Peter Schäfer, Gershom Scholem Reconsidered: The Aim and Purpose of Early Jewish Mysticism (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies, 1986).
[5] For an example of the sometimes fraught encounter and oppositional traditional stance regarding the academic study of Kabbalah, see Jonatan Meir, "The Boundaries of the Kabbalah: R. Yaakov Moshe Hillel and the Kabbalah in Jerusalem," in Boaz Huss, ed., Kabbalah and Contemporary Spiritual Revival (Be'er Sheva: Ben Gurion University Press, 2011), 176-177. Inter alia, Meir discusses the adoption of publishing houses like R. Hillel's Hevrat Ahavat Shalom of "safe" academic practices such as examining Ms. for textual accuracy when printing traditional Kabbalistic works. See also R. Yaakov Hillel, "Understanding Kabbalah," in Ascending Jacob's Ladder (Brooklyn: Ahavat Shalom Publications, 2007), 213-240; and the broader discussion in Daniel Abrams, "Textual Fixity and Textual Fluidity: Kabbalistic Textuality and the Hypertexualism of Kabbalah Scholarship," in Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory: Methodologies of Textual Scholarship and Editorial Practice in the Study of Jewish Mysticism, second edition (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2014), 664-722.
[6] For a scholarly overview of Liebes' work, see Jonathan Garb, "Yehuda Liebes’ Way in the Study of the Jewish Religion," in Maren R. Niehoff, Ronit Meroz, and Jonathan Garb, eds., ve-Zot le-Yehuda - And This Is For Yehuda: Yehuda Liebes Jubilee Volume (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 2012), 11-17 (Hebrew); and for an example of a popular treatment of Liebes, see Dahlia Karpel, "Lonely Scholar," Ha'aretz (12 March 2009), available online here (http://www.haaretz.com/lonely-scholar-1.271914).
[7] The poem and essay were first published in Menachem Froman, "The King's Daughter and I," in Maren R. Niehoff, Ronit Meroz, and Jonathan Garb, eds., ve-Zot le-Yehuda - And This Is For Yehuda: Yehuda Liebes Jubilee Volume (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 2012), 34-35 (Hebrew). The translation and annotation of this essay at the Seforim blog has been prepared by Josh Rosenfeld.

[8] For a sketch of the (non)interactions of traditional and academic scholarship in the case of Gershom Scholem, see Boaz Huss, "Ask No Questions: Gershom Scholem and the Study of Contemporary Jewish Mysticism," Modern Judaism 25:2 (May 2005) 141-158. See also Shaul Magid, "Mysticism, History, and a 'New' Kabbalah: Gershom Scholem and the Contemporary Scene," Jewish Quarterly Review 101:4 (Fall 2011): 511-525; and Shaul Magid, "'The King Is Dead [and has been for three decades], Long Live the King': Contemporary Kabbalah and Scholem's Shadow," Jewish Quarterly Review 102:1 (Winter 2012): 131-153.

[9] See the obituary in Douglas Martin, "Menachem Froman, Rabbi Seeking Peace, Dies at 68," The New York Times (9 March 2013), available online  (here). Speaking to a member of the Israeli media at R. Froman's funeral, the author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi described "Rav Menachem" as "somebody who, as a Jew, loved his people, loved his land, loved humanity - without making distinctions, he was a man of the messianic age, he saw something of the redemption and tried to bring it into an unredeemed reality," available online here (here).

[10] R. Froman's mystical political theology permeated his own personal existence. Even on what was to become his deathbed, he related in interviews how he conceived of his illness in terms of his political vision: "How do you feel?" "You are coming to me after a very difficult night, there were great miracles. It is forbidden to fight with these pains, we must flow with them, otherwise the pain just grows and overcomes us. This is what there is, this is the reality that we must live with. Such is the political reality, and so too with the disease." (Interview with Yehoshua Breiner, Walla! News Org.; 3/4/13, emphasis mine)

[11] See, for example, the short, incisive treatment of Noah Feldman, "Is a Jew Meshuga for Wanting to Live in Palestine?" Bloomberg News (7 March 2013), available online (here), who concisely presents the obvious paradox of "The Settler Rabbi" who nevertheless advocates for a Palestinian State, and outlines the central challenges to R. Froman's "peace theology" from practical security concerns for Jews living in such a state to the challenges of unrealistic idealism in R. Froman's thought.

[12] A presentation of some of the first translations of some of Sahaki 'Aretz' fascinating material, can be seen online (here).
[13] A preliminary scholarly overview of R. Froman's literary output and sui generis personality is the forthcoming essay by Professor Shaul Magid, "(Re)­Thinking American Jewish Zionist Identity: A Case for Post­Zionism in the Diaspora." To the best of my knowledge, Professor Magid's currently unpublished essay is the first scholarly treatment of R. Froman's writings in Sahaki 'Aretz, although see the brief review by Ariel Seri-Levi, "The Vision of the Prophet Menachem, Rebbe Menachem Froman," Ha'aretz Literary Supplement (9 February 2015; Hebrew). I would like to thank Menachem Butler for introducing me to Professor Magid.
[14] King David is at times referred to as the badhana d'malka, or "Jester of the King" (see Zohar, II:107a); Liebes treats the subject at length in Yehuda Liebes, "The Book of Zohar and Eros," Alpayim 9 (1994): 67-119 (Hebrew).
[15] Gen. 41:8
[16] For an outlining of the parallel, sometimes oppositional, and rarely unified relationships between the two royal lineages of Joseph and Judah, see the remarkable presentation of R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica (1801-1854), Mei ha-Shiloah, vol. 1, pp. 47-48, 54-56. On these passages, see Shaul Magid, Hasidism on the Margin: Reconciliation, Antinomianism, and Messianism in Izbica/Radzin Hasidism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), 120, 147, 154, et al. The marriage of David to Mikhal, daughter of Saul, represented an attempted mystical fusion of the two houses and their perhaps complementary spiritual roots, as R. Froman alludes to later in his essay.
[17] Song of Songs 2:14, 5:2. See, most recently, Michael Fishbane, The JPS Bible Commentary: Song of Songs (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2015), 75-76, 133-135.
[18] 1 Kings 7:36, see also b. Yoma 54b with commentary of Rashi.
[19] Yehuda Liebes, "The Book of Zohar and Eros," Alpayim 9 (1994): 67-119 (Hebrew)
[20] Yehuda Liebes, Ars Poetica in Sefer Yetzirah (Jerusalem: Schocken, 2000; Hebrew) and see the important review by Elliot R. Wolfson, "Text, Context, and Pretext: Review Essay of Yehuda Liebes's Ars Poetica in Sefer Yetsira," Studia Philonica Annual 16 (2004): 218-228.
[21] See the start of this essay, where we defined Lag ba-Omer in the sense of the Kabbalistic/Mystical Rosh ha-Shana. For an overview of Lag ba-Omer and it's unique connection to the study of the Zohar, see Naftali Toker, "Lag ba-Omer: A Small Holiday of Great Meaning and Deep Secrets," Shana beShana (2003): 57-78 (Hebrew), available online (here).
[22] See Boaz Huss, "Holy Place, Holy Time, Holy Book: The Influence of the Zohar on Pilgrimage Rituals to Meron and the Lag ba-Omer Festival," Kabbalah 7 (2002): 237-256 (Hebrew).
[23] Yehuda Liebes, "How the Zohar Was Written," in Studies in the Zohar (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993), 85-139. For an exhaustive survey of all of the scholarship on the authorship of the Zohar, see Daniel Abrams, "The Invention of the Zohar as a Book" in Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory: Methodologies of Textual Scholarship and Editorial Practice in the Study of Jewish Mysticism, second edition (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2014), 224-438.
[24] Towards the end of his life, R. Froman delivered extended meditations/learning of Zohar and works of the Hasidic masters in a caravan at the edge of the Teko'a settlement in Gush Etzion. These 'arvei shirah ve-Torah were usually joined by famous Israeli musicians, such as the Banai family and Barry Sakharov. One particular evening was graced with Professor Liebes' presence, whereupon Liebes and Froman proceeded to jointly teach from the Zohar. It is available online (here).
[25] Ps. 25:14; See Tikkunei Zohar 17b, 65a; For the connection of this verse with the 33rd of the 'Omer, see R. Elimelekh of Dinov, B'nei Yissachar: Ma'amarei Hodesh Iyyar, 3:2. For an exhaustive discussion of the 33rd day of the 'Omer and its connection with Rashbi, see R. Asher Zelig Margaliot (1893-1969), Hilula d'Rashbi (Jerusalem: 1941), available online (here), On R. Asher Zelig Margaliot, see Paul B. Fenton, "Asher Zelig Margaliot, An Ultra Orthodox Fundamentalist," in Raphael Patai and Emanuel S. Goldsmith, eds., Thinkers and Teachers of Modern Judaism (New York: Paragon House, 1994), 17-25; and see also Yehuda Liebes, "The Ultra-Orthodox Community and the Dead Sea Scrolls," Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 3 (1982): 137-152 (Hebrew), cited in Adiel Schremer, "'[T]he[y] Did Not Read in the Sealed Book': Qumran Halakhic Revolution and the Emergence of Torah Study in Second Temple Judaism," in David Goodblatt, Avital Pinnick, and Daniel R. Schwartz, eds., Historical Perspectives from the Hasmoneans to Bar Kokhba in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 105-126. R. Asher Zelig Margaliot's Hilula d'Rashbi is printed in an abridged form in the back of Eshkol Publishing's edition of R. Avraham Yitzhak Sperling's Ta'amei ha-Minhagim u'Mekorei ha-Dinim and for sources and translations relating to the connection of RaShb"I and the pilgrimage (yoma d'pagra) to his grave in Meron, see (here).

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