Reading the Zohar: the Sacred Text of the Kabbalah.
READING THE ZOHAR: THE SACRED TEXT OF THE KABBALAH kabbalah or cabala (both: kăb`ələ) [Heb.,=reception], esoteric system of interpretation of the Scriptures based upon a tradition claimed to have been handed down orally from Abraham. . By Pinchas Giller. Pp. xx + 246. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Cloth, $60.00.
The Zohar is a library, a mosaic of medieval kabbalistic kab·ba·lis·tic or ca·ba·lis·tic or qa·ba·lis·tic
Of or relating to the Kabbalah.
kab texts. The library contains roughly twenty-four documents, comprising three separate bibliographic entries: Zohar Hadash, Tiqqune Ha-Zohar, and the Zohar itself. The Zohar itself, traditionally published in three volumes, constitutes an anthology of texts, including the "Midrash Ha-Ne elam" and "Raza DiRazin," all of them products of late thirteenth and early fourteenth-century Spain. When the library moved headquarters to sixteenth-century Ottoman Safed, it attracted a remarkable number of kindred spirits. Foremost among them were Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria who lectured, wrote, and inspired others to write a host of new volumes for the stupendous and expanding library of Jewish mysticism.
The expanded library now welcomes two sorts of avid readers: insiders and outsiders. In Reading the Zohar, Pinchas Giller names the two camps "critical and confessional" (p. 31 ). Critical outsiders--like Gershom Scholem, Isaiah Tishby, Joseph Dan, Moshe Idel, Yehudah Leibes, and Elliot Wolfson--resemble archaeologists or musicologists. They engage in historical contextualization, doctrinal clarification, taxonomic or anatomical description of literary strata, and genealogical charting of relationships between texts and authors. By contrast, confessional insiders, imitating Cordovero and Luria, resemble musicians composing variations on ancient themes. Insiders elaborate the original Zohar's content, harmonize its apparent inconsistencies, impose systematic order on its imaginative splendor, or send it forth in radically new directions. Giller, a critical outsider, adds that confessional insiders often perpetrate per·pe·trate
tr.v. per·pe·trat·ed, per·pe·trat·ing, per·pe·trates
To be responsible for; commit: perpetrate a crime; perpetrate a practical joke. "all manner of misprision The failure to perform a public duty.
Misprision is a versatile word that can denote a number of offenses. It can refer to the improper performance of an official duty. and subversion. Sometimes the interpretation of a text would reflect nothing more than the imposition of an extraneous idea onto the Zohar, other commentaries simultaneously drew on the later tradition while correctly elucidating the original intention of the text's nuances and internal dynamics" (P. vii).
In his first monograph, The Enlightened Will Shine: Symbolization and Theurgy the·ur·gy
n. pl. the·ur·gies
1. Divine or supernatural intervention in human affairs.
2. The performance of miracles with supernatural assistance.
3. in the Later Strata of the Zohar, Giller excavated the traces of insider confessionalism in Tiqqune Ha-Zohar and "Ra'aya Mehemna." His second monograph, Reading the Zohar, employs a similar stratigraphy, describing the afterlife of Zohar in Safed. Chapter Two investigates the related doctrines of soul, reincarnation, and transmigration (gilgul) as implied by or formulated in the "Sabba de-Mishpatim" (Zohar II: 70a-78a). Chapter Three investigates the so-called Hormanuta texts which articulate the cosmogony cos·mog·o·ny
n. pl. cos·mog·o·nies
1. The astrophysical study of the origin and evolution of the universe.
2. A specific theory or model of the origin and evolution of the universe. of theosophic the·os·o·phy
n. pl. the·os·o·phies
1. Religious philosophy or speculation about the nature of the soul based on mystical insight into the nature of God.
2. unfolding. Chapters Four through Seven, together with an Appendix offering a lucid English translation of two primary texts, investigate the motif of countenance (parzu,), the mythological and erotic anthropomorphisms developed in the "Sifra di-Tzeni'uta" (Zohar 11: 94b-114a), "Idra Rabba" (Zohar III: 127b-145a), and "Idra Zuta" (Zohar III: 287b-296b).
After providing painstaking readings of texts in the original library of Zohar, comparing them to the writings of Joseph Gikatillia and summarizing the views of Cordovero and Luria, Giller reaches the following conclusions: Regarding the soul, "the spiritual agenda of the Safed kabbalists" exceeded the provisions supplied by Rabbi Yeiva, the spokesman of Sabba de-Mishpatim. "In the worldviews of Cordovero and Luria, the living and dead remain intertwined. This need to deny death gave an extra piquance to the Zohar's intimation regarding traceable past lives" (p. 68). Regarding Hormanuta cosmogonies, Cordovero made a conceptual leap. He "affixed the doctrine of zimzum, or divine withdrawal ... this exegetical leap would be characteristic of subsequent Lurianic teachings" (p. 80). Regarding the blatantly erotic and anthropomorphic Having the characteristics of a human being. For example, an anthropomorphic robot has a head, arms and legs. imagery of parzufim, the scholastically-minded Cordovero and the mythologically-inclined Luria went separate ways: Cordovero "subsumed the parzufim within the dynamics of the sefirot. For Isaac Luria and his disciples, however, the reverse was true, and the idea of parzufim engulfed and overwhelmed the doctrine of the sefirot" (p. 107). Regardless of their different approaches, "the most ambitious exegetes of the Zohar, such as Cordovero and the Lurianists, combined the various descriptions of the parzufim into one superstructure. Such systematic presentations elided differences between the various texts, viewing the traditions ... as one unified and internally coherent system" (p. 124).
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster. , the elision e·li·sion
a. Omission of a final or initial sound in pronunciation.
b. Omission of an unstressed vowel or syllable, as in scanning a verse.
2. The act or an instance of omitting something. of differences amounts to what Giller termed "misprision and subversion." Giller's conclusions also call to mind Jorge Luis Borges's unnerving un·nerve
tr.v. un·nerved, un·nerv·ing, un·nerves
1. To deprive of fortitude, strength, or firmness of purpose.
2. To make nervous or upset. essay, "Kafka and His Precursors." Borges declared that "every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future." With Giller's expert help, we now know that as Kafka is to Zeno and Kierkegaard, so Luria and Cordovero are to Zohar.
In a striking departure from critical neutrality, Giller also concludes that "Cordovero's resolution of the Zohar's myth was less effective than Luria's willingness to create a new structure" (p. 155) and that "Lurianic Kabbalah seems to fulfill one aspect of the Zohar's spirituality more authentically than Cordovero's (p. 157). Insistence on authenticity sounds strange coming from a critical outsider. Authenticity nevertheless matters to Giller. Perhaps tinged with postmodernism, he emphatically distances himself from the "inauthentic" assumptions of scholars like Scholem who fall prey to the temptation of "interpret[ing] mystical social phenomena as responses to historical events," thereby minimizing "the religious power and ongoing spiritual reality" of Jewish mysticism. According to Giller, modernists do no "justice" when they reduce mysticism in the cauldron of secular "historicism" (p. 155).
Reading the Zohar demands intimacy with a remarkably wide array of difficult primary documents and highly technical secondary sources. The book is geared toward advanced graduate students and scholarly specialists. Tyros and neophytes are unlikely to understand Giller's passing references to the "essentially Judaic nature" of the Zohar's symbols (p. 32), "astral bodies" (p. 152), "Pistis and Sophia in the Greek mystery religions" (p. 76), "the civil religion of the Kabbalah" (p. viii), or "the libidinal chi energy of Tiferet" (P. 132). Even specialists may be stumped by Giller's claims that "the independent nature of evil" belongs to a "classical Maimonidean worldview" (p. 39) or that "Jewish mysticism originated in speculations on the mechanics of creation and the origins of the universe" (p. 69). Things are not made easier by editors at Oxford University Press who failed to oversee rigorous proofreading Proofreading traditionally means reading a proof copy of a text in order to detect and correct any errors. Modern proofreading often requires reading copy at earlier stages as well. . One can only wonder what "manistic" (p. 37), "ma bereishit" (p. 69), or "hiele" (p. 79) might mean. One is baffled by the translation "renewal" for a technical philosophic term meaning creation-in-time (hiddush). The transliterations for the letter "I'd on page 132 are impossible to fathom. It is disconcerting dis·con·cert
tr.v. dis·con·cert·ed, dis·con·cert·ing, dis·con·certs
1. To upset the self-possession of; ruffle. See Synonyms at embarrass.
2. to read the same sentence twice on the same page: "Nuances of the Zohar and intellectual problems in its body of texts led to certain inevitable trends ... in the later development of Kabbalah" (p. 157). Without a "supra" or "ibid." to mark the way, several endnotes to chapter Seven are more recondite than the Zohar itself. Giller's virtuoso rendition of the Kabblah's "inner" or "inevitable" literary history surely deserved better treatment at the Press. Despite annoying editorial lapses, the book makes an indispensable contribution to the library of Zohar. Scholars will profit from its subtle combination of postmodern assumptions and old-fashioned erudition.
Kalman P. Bland
Durham, NC 27708