The early development of Jewish Mysticism

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Last updated: November 20, 2019

Many great scholars have defined mysticism as “Something that has direct spiritual influence”. What this essay will hopefully betray is how this spiritual power has influenced the Jewish religion and how it has developed over the years. The word Mysticism comes from the Hebrew word muein, which means to close the lips or eyes – this initiates that the secret cults were instructed to keep silent about what they experienced.

The aim of mysticism is to attain a partnership with the Divine.Within Judaism the mystic is understood as one who seeks to gain an experience with God. Religions world wide have long histories of mysticism and Judaism is no exception, in fact during the almost constant persecution of the Jews in the middle ages they had more reason than most to find some form of spiritual escape.

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Over the centuries a body of work has built up around mysticism, it’s now known as the Kabbalah (traditional knowledge). Mysticism has no particular origin or start date, it just developed over the centuries and different pieces came together as time went on.It is based on Jewish ethics and practises that the soul of man is something that we can not truly understand, which is why we have the mystical passion for searching an inability to re-create it. The Hebrew scriptures contain some of the most vivid and arresting depiction of divine encounter. In Genesis, God is illustrated as guiding the destiny of the Jewish nation.

God disclosed himself to Jacob as a divine messenger, and in the gorge of the river Jabbok God wrestled with Jacob, bestowing upon him his new name Israel, which later denoted both the Jewish nation and the Promised Land.This is one of the first revelations in mysterious terms God had with the Jews. It is reported that these mystical traditions were repeated in whisper so they would not be overheard by those whom they were not intended. According to Kabbalists God created the universe with letters of the Hebrew alphabet together with 10 divine emanations, they go on to explain how the individual, world and time are linked through the process of creation by means of the Hebrew alphabet.The Hasid (pios men of Germany, and Eastern Europe, to be a Hasid was a religious ideal) was perceived as capable of mastering magical powers. The writings of Eleazar Ben Judah of Worms for example found tracks on magic and the effectiveness of God’s secret names as well as recipes for creating the Golem (an artificial man) through letter manipulation.

Kabblists explain that the Torah has a deeper, spiritual meaning to those who can understand it.One great Kabblist ibn Latif states: “Kabbalah was superior to philosophy, – the highest intellect understanding reaching only the ‘back’ of the Divine whereas the ‘face’ was disclosed only in supra-intellectual ecstasy. True prayer led to communion with the active intellect, and then to union of the active intellect with the first created thing” Jewish mystics believe that the domains of good and evil are intermingled and it is the individuals duty to separate them.Poland Hasidim emphasised the centrality of faith and Talmudic study, whereas the Lubavich Hasidim in Lithuania combined kabbalistic speculation and rabbinical scholarship. From its interception at the end of the 18th century to the present day, this movement has kept alive the mystical tradition of the Jewish past. Jewish mysticism is based on the ethics and teaching of the Torah, mysticism is to the Torah, what philosophy is to science.

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