A 19th-Century Mystical Theology of Judaism

In his treatise Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim, the outstanding Russian rabbinic scholar and educator Ḥayyim of Volozhin (1749–1821) presented a kabbalistic theology of Judaism. In his review of Avinoam Fraenkel’s English translation of this work, Alan Brill writes:

In contrast to ḥasidic thinking, Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim situates Torah study over prayer and piety (without, of course, rejecting either).The most famous idea from Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim is about the talmudic obligation to study Torah . . . “day and night.” . . . [According to] Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim, the Talmud’s intent is that one should maximize the actual time spent studying because of study’s mystical effect on the cosmos. Most contemporary yeshiva students do not know that the source for this approach is the Zohar [the principal work of kabbalah], not the Talmud. . . .

The greater availability of Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim [in English] will correct the widespread [and] mistaken view that its author, and the opponents of Ḥasidism in general (known as Misnagdim), advocated Talmud study without concurrent emphasis on kabbalah, the attainment of moral perfection, and worship. . .

Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim has not played a large role in American Jewish thought or in the [highly influential work] of the great scholar of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem. However, the work was translated into French in 1986 by Benno Gross and has played a significant role in modern French thought, where it has been used to derive Jewish ideas of cybernetics and semiotics. In several of his essays, the French-Jewish philosopher Emamnuel Levinas cites Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim to explain the need to transcend the self for infinite confrontation with divine will.

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Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

More about: Gershom Scholem, Hasidism, Judaism, Kabbalah, Religion & Holidays, Torah study

 

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf