The Origins of Kabbalah on Both Sides of the Pyrenees

While the Talmud speaks of esoteric knowledge, and there are mystical Jewish texts of considerable antiquity, most scholars date the emergence of what is now known as Kabbalah (literally “tradition,” or “thing that is received”) to a group of rabbis in medieval Provence, whose teachings then spread into northeastern Spain. Tamar Marvin considers how to make sense of their teachings:

Kabbalists themselves, including contemporary ones, emphasize the antiquity and continuity of esoteric traditions; they are of necessity (small-c) conservative, in the sense of conserving ancient, even primeval, knowledge. Scholars of Kabbalah, in contrast, tend to stress the novelty of medieval esoteric circles and what they describe as their sometimes-radical creativity. Each of these perspectives comes laden, of course, with its own ideological lens. I would offer that on the one hand, the many streams of antique esoteric Jewish thought nourished medieval Kabbalah deeply, while on the other, medieval thinkers applied their own spiritual needs, curiosities, and intellects to this ancient wellspring of tradition.

As for what changed with these Provençal thinkers, Marvin adds:

Until the 13th century, with a few exceptions, kabbalistic secrets were not written down, but transmitted orally from master to disciple. . . . Two students of [the pioneering kabbalist] Rabbi Isaac the Blind, Rabbi Ezra ben Shlomo (died 1238 or 1245) and his younger contemporary Rabbi Azriel of Girona, were instrumental in formulating kabbalistic thought. Azriel, who was also interested in philosophy, systematized kabbalistic concepts and introduced to them a vocabulary inflected with philosophical terminology. Evidently, Azriel and Ezra—often confused due to the similarity of their names—began disseminating the teachings they had received in writing, prompting a stern missive from Isaac the Blind imploring them to stop.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: French Jewry, Jewish history, Kabbalah, Medieval Jewry

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security