Page 72 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
ENIGMATIC HERETIC
One of the most colorful figures in Jewish Mysticism is Elisha
ben Abuyah, who has been the subject of treatment by many
novelists and scholars. Only recently, however, was a close and
minute description of his actions and views undertaken. For
the first time, a philological analysis was made of all the relevant
versions, and consideration was given to earlier partial research
into the various traditions. J. Liebes’
The Sin of Elisha ben Abuyah:
Four Who Entered Paradise and the Nature of Talmudic Mysticism
(Jerusalem, Hebrew University, 1986 [Hebrew]), will hopefully
lead to a new consideration of old issues, such as the nature
of the early phase of Jewish Mysticism, and its connections with
Gnosticism and its Jewish counterpart.
An almost neglected topic has been that of mystical prayer,
and only occasionally have scholars of Jewish liturgy dealt with
this poetic literature. M. Bar-Ilan’s
The Mysteries ofJewish Prayer
and Heikhalot
(Ramat-Gan, Bar-Ilan University Press, 1987 [He­
brew]) introduces us to this important literature. It draws at­
tention to the channels through which esoteric prayer became
part of public worship, and to the obvious influence which its
adherents had on the shaping of the accepted concept of the
Deity. Bar-Ilan’s work will hopefully encourage other scholars
to contribute to the study of the field of mystical Jewish prayer.
Thus far, only J. Liebes has responded to this challenge, and
he has taken a much different tack.11
The new school of Jewish Mysticism founded in the late 12th
century received scholarly attention which has focused upon
the central work of the new Kabbalah, the Zohar (literally, the
Book of Splendor of Enlightenment). We have now been pre­
sented with the first comprehensive description of the mystical
writings and teachings of Abraham Abulafia. This unique fig­
ure, who wielded the greatest influence upon the development
of ecstatic Kabbalah, was known to the students of Jewish Mys­
ticism from Scholem’s brief description.12 However, the actual
11. Liebes investigated certain benedictions and prayers as part o f his interest
in the relations between the Jewish Christians to the main body o f Rabbinic
Judaism. See his stimulating article, “Mazmi’ah Keren Yeshua,”
Jerusalem
Studies in Jewish Thought
3(1983—84), pp. 313—348.
12. See G. Scholem,
Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism
(New York, Schocken
Books, 19673), pp. 119-155.