• Title: The Way into Jewish Mystical Tradition
  • Author: Lawrence Kushner
  • Released: 2001-02-01
  • Language: English
  • Pages: 180
  • ISBN: 1580230296
  • ISBN13: 978-1580230292
  • ASIN: 1580230296
"Jewish mysticism is not something one can 'do'" but rather "an attitude toward reality," writes Lawrence Kushner, the prolific Massachusetts rabbi whose books on mysticism include Honey from the Rock and The River of Light. Kushner notes this distinction at the beginning of The Way into Jewish Mystical Tradition, an excellent primer for lay readers who know nothing about mysticism, and a useful refresher for more advanced students of mysticism. The book's organization is inspired by Psalm 19, which Kushner says summarizes the "ways of Jewish mysticism" into three parts. It begins with "an inexpressible reverence before the awe and mystery of creation" then moves toward "the conviction that sacred text contains the key to unlocking the secret of being," and finally results in a "yearning to lead a life of holiness and righteousness." In The Way into Jewish Mysticism, each of these three stages is illustrated by key Jewish mystical ideas, drawn from every phase of Jewish history: Heikhalot mystics (beginning in the first century B.C.), for instance, developed a metaphor called shiur koma, which "attempted to describe the size of God's body"; and Lurianic mystics (in the 16th century) were preoccupied with the possibility of past lives and the transmigration of souls. Each of these ideas is preserved in a pithy phrase or biblical verse, offered in both English and its original Hebrew or Aramaic. And each idea, Kushner suggests, is just one part of the larger mystical worldview, which sees that "beneath the apparent contradictions, brokenness, and discord of this everyday world lies a hidden divine unity." --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly Jewish Lights adds another installment to its The Way Into... series with this examination of Jewish mysticism, which fails to live up to the standard of earlier volumes on such subjects as prayer and God. While those books each succeeded in presenting a basic introduction to one important concept in Judaism, most readers will find that Jewish mysticism continues to be a mystery after reading Kushner's murky primer. This is a shame, since Kushner is a genuine expert on Jewish mysticism and has authored much better books (Honey from the Rock; The River of Light) on the subject. Here, he relies largely on "classical texts" that turn on unfathomable passages drawn mostly from obscure 18th-century Hasidic rebbes. The material is organized into three parts, based on his division of Psalm 19 into a "triptych of Jewish mystical tradition." Throughout, Kushner offers 50 "Jewish mystical ideas": phrases, words or brief biblical quotations that are supposedly explained by the citations from the Hasidic rebbes. Some attempts at clarification become gross oversimplifications; for example, Kushner confounds Jewish mysticism with political activism, asserting that the mysticism of Abraham Joshua Heschel, "like most Jewish mysticism, was one of political activism." Such dubious statements are disappointing in a work that ought to elucidate the Jewish mystical tradition, not shroud it in further layers of obfuscation.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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