THE HEART AND THE FOUNTAIN: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences

Joseph Dan, Editor . Oxford $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-19-513978-5

From its very first page, it's obvious that this lucid, authentically Jewish and scholarly work is different from the numerous recent titles that have jumped on the kabbalistic bandwagon. Dan, an expert on Jewish mysticism and winner of the 1997 Israel Prize, carefully explodes several misconceptions. He begins by separating religion from mysticism. In current usage, he says, "someone who prays is religious; someone who really means it is a mystic." But the basic attitudes of mysticism often contradict those of established religion: the mystic distrusts language, logic and thought, certain that those vehicles cannot lead to the revelation of God's nature. "Mysticism is that which cannot be expressed in words, period," states Dan succinctly. He further distinguishes between mysticism and Kabbalah, noting that though many mystics were Kabbalists, Jewish mysticism began a thousand years before Kabbalah. Mysticism, he stresses, is a Christian term that has no parallel in Judaism; Jewish mysticism is the "invention of contemporary scholars dealing with comparative study of religion." A comprehensive introduction explains the historical development of mysticism from antiquity to modern times, and delineates its leaders, texts and theology. Over 25 selections reflect the remarkable scope of Jewish mysticism, from the visions of Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Ishmael to the secrets of the Zohar; from apocalyptic, messianic and magical texts to the vibrant writing of four contemporary Israeli poets—an unconventional inclusion. This volume will appeal to any serious reader of mysticism. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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