The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah

BookThe Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah

The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


January 24th, 2008

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This now classic study is concerned with the richly imagined world of kabbalistic myth concerning the sabbath as it developed from the late twelfth century to the early sixteenth century and with its activation in religious life via ritual.
The book opens with a historical overview of classical kabbalah, an outline of its symbolic universe. Special attention is given to the key mythic motifs that underlie sabbath observance: the sabbath as source of cosmic blessing; the sabbath as perfected time; the drama of divine restoration and sacred marriage; and the drama of human transformation by the sabbath as reflected in the motif of the sabbath-soul. This is followed by a theoretical discussion of the function and meaning of kabbalistic ritual and the problems of its interpretation. Theory gives way to practice with the close study of dramatic rituals located on the margins of the sabbath: the ritual of preparation—how one enters the sabbath—and the ritual of separation—how one leaves the sabbath and yet takes it into the week. Brief appendices deal with the special issues of Torah study and sexuality related to sabbath observance. The book also demonstrates how many of the influential practices associated with Safed kabbalah were actually anticipated by earlier mystics.
The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah combines the close textual readings of traditional scholarly enquiry with more innovative approaches drawing on symbolic anthropology and the like. The presentation is coherent, cohesive, and accessible. It makes a contribution to the history of Jewish spirituality and, more broadly, to the understanding of myth and ritual.

Author Information

Elliot K. Ginsburg is Associate Professor of Jewish Thought at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, prior to which he taught at Oberlin College, and also served as Director of its Judaic Studies Program. He is the author of 'Sod Ha-Shabbat: The Mystery of the Sabbath' (1989), a translated and annotated edition of a work by R. Me’ir ibn Gabbai.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Note on Transliteration and Orthography20
Introduction: Classical Kabbalah, Its History and Symbolic Universe22
Section One: An Historical Outline of Classical Kabbalah26
Gerona Kabbalah30
Other Trends in Thirteenth Century Kabbalah32
The Zohar36
Kabbalah from the Fourteenth Century until the Safed Renaissance42
Section Two: The Sefirot and Their Symbolism45
Structural Overview46
The Dynamics of Sefirotic Unfolding: the Sefirot as Stages of Emanation52
The Sefirot as Stages of Mystical Ascent55
Further Thoughts on Sefirotic Symbolism56
Section Three: Reading a Zoharic Text57
Notes to the Introduction61
Chapter One: The Symbolism of the Kabbalistic Sabbath: Motif Studies80
Section One: An Historical Overview81
The Sabbath in Antiquity81
The Rabbinic Sabbath83
The Sabbath of the Medieval Philosophers87
The Distinctive Features of the Kabbalistic Sabbath89
The Sefirotic Sabbath90
Section Two: Motif Studies95
Shabbat as the Source of Cosmic Blessing99
Thematic Overview100
The Sabbath as Sacred Center106
Sabbath Transformations113
Sabbath as Perfected Time114
Divine Transformations: Sabbath as Hieros Gamos122
Rabbinic Pre-Cursors123
Heikhalot Mysticism: The Evidence of Seder Rabba' di-Vre'shit124
Medieval Understandings of the Marital Imagery Prior to the Kabbalah125
The Impact of Sefer ha-Bahir127
Marital Imagery in the Nahmanidean Tradition129
Hieros Gamos in the Zahar133
The Marital Motif after the Zahar137
Transformation of the Person: The Sabbath-Soul142
Pre-Zoharic Developments143
The Sabbath-Soul in the Writings of Moshe de Leon and in the Tiqqunei ha-Zohar /Racaya' Meheimna'146
Imagery Used149
Reception of Neshamah Yeterah as the Existential Beginning of Shabbat151
The Impact of the Sabbath-Soul During Shabbat154
A Cosmos That Is Entirely Shabbat: Some Concluding Thoughts158
Notes to Chapter One159
Chapter Two: Aspects of Meaning in Kabbalistic Ritual: With Special Reference to the Case of Shabbat207
A Programmatic Introduction to Chapters Two Through Four207
A Typology of Kabbalistic Ritual208
Rabbinic and Kabbalistic Ritual: Some Contrasts208
Symbolism and Magic: The Ontological Structure of Kabbalistic Ritual211
The Multiple Consequences of Kabbalistic Ritual215
Ritual As Sacred Drama216
Ritual As Agent of Human Transformation218
Ritual As Theurgic Act220
A Concluding Example223
Notes to Chapter Two226
Chapter Three: Rituals of Preparation238
Projecting the Sabbath into the Spatial Realm: The Case of One's Home and Courtyard239
The Significance of Transforming One's Abode239
The Establishment of Courtyard-Fusions: 'Eruvei Hazerot242
Internalizing Shabbat: The Body As Microcosm245
Bathing and Ablution248
The Rite of Dressing: The Tola'at Ya'aqov's Account252
The Significance of "Dress" in the Zahar and Tiqqunei ha-Zahar /Ra'aya' Meheimna'253
Sabbath-Dress in the Tiqqunei ha-Zahar/Ra'aya' Meheimna'258
Notes to Chapter Three264
Chapter Four: Rituals of Separation: The Drama of Sabbath's Departure in Zoharic Kabbalah277
The Concluding Prayers: The Need for Apotropaics278
The "Havdalah Over Wine"280
The Havdalah Blessings as Rites of Healing281
The Symbolism of Myrtle284
The Blessing over the Fire288
The Re-Emergence of Sitra' 'Ahra'289
The Changing of the Cosmic Guards: The Empowerment of the Angelic Realm293
Concluding Blessing, Concluding Thoughts296
An Epilogue (from the Zahar)298
Notes to Chapter Four and Epilogue298
Appendix I: Some Further Thoughts on the Transformation of the Person during Shabbat306
Appendix II: Sabbath-Ritual as a Means of Furthering the Divine-Human Nexus: Two Examples from Zoharic Kabbalah310
Notes to Appendix II317