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Madeea Sāsānă


Moshe Idel, Hasidism. Īntre extaz şi magie, (Hassidism. Between Ecstasy and Magic), transl. from English by Any Florea, Hasefer, Bucharest, 2001, 566 p.




Hasidism. Between Ecstasy and Magic is, if we looked only at the title, another new book by Moshe Idel. His approach is not simply original, but, following his already known line of thought, it is particularly revolutionary and highly influent within the field of Jewish mysticism. The author consciously underlines the new elements he is taking into consideration, his new perspective and vision with regard to this specific subject. Just as in the case of the study of Kabbalah, he strongly and academically marks the difference between his own kind of approach on the one hand and the approach of his nonetheless important predecessors on the other hand. The contribution is not only obvious, but also made explicit by the lucid, conscious and critical thought of the author.

The Romanian translation of the book, initiated by the same Publishing House (Hasefer) which five years ago was publishing Idel’s Mesianism şi Mistică, somehow fits into the horizon of the public expectations. The ”history ”of the book is presented in detail by the author himself in the Preface. Result of a gradual evolution of certain ideas, which are to be found in his recent lectures and articles, Hasidism offers a superior understanding of this movement, meant also to uncover some of the many hidden aspects of Jewish mysticism, overlooked by modern scholars. This is the reason why the book provides (for the sake of information and argumentation) new material (in references and quotations), sometimes to be found only in manuscripts. The novelty of the material and the novelty of the book are thus connected.

Hasidism is considered from within the larger framework of an inner development, which relates it to Kabbalah. ”What is the relationship between these two lores” is the background-question of the entire exposition.

Ecstasy and magic are two opposite terms used here, one could say, paradoxically, in conjunction. ”Magic has been conceived of as a phenomenon drastically different from ecstasy. However, the founder of eighteenth-century Hasidism has been described as both a mystic and a magician. Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, better known as the Ba’al Shem Tov, literally, ”the Master of the Good Name”, combines in his praxis these two ways of relating to reality, which were so characteristic of archaic modes of religion”. Examining the nature of the tension between these two modes within Hasidism constitutes, in fact, the very topic of the book. ”Rather than portraying Hasidic literature as reflecting disparate religious moments, the ecstatic and the magical modes, we shall propose here a more complex religious model, one that sees these two aspects as phases of a more comprehensive scheme”. The figure of the Zaddiq combines both mysticism and leadership as part of a ”more coherent way of life”. The ecstatic experience, the communion with the divine, does not represent the ultimate goal. The return of the Zaddiq to his community as a powerful master is not of lesser importance. The magic aspect consists mainly in the ”drawing down” of the divine influx for the benefit of the others (the community). The image of the Zaddiq as vessel or channel is stressed and pertinently analyzed.

The two parts of the book (Models in Kabbalah and Hasidism and Drawing Down) reflect the dynamics of the two elements, the ecstatic and the magical, from their appearance within Jewish mysticism to their specific interrelation as concretized in Hasidism. The author considers his type of approach as phenomenological. The model theory he introduces redefines the model, which is no longer conceived as an abstract, artificial construct, as an exterior instrument, but as an ”existing way of thought in pre-Hasidic Jewish mysticism”.

Three ”basic models” are to be discovered in the history of Jewish mysticism: the theosophical-theurgical model, the ecstatic model and the magical model. Hasidism represents a later encounter of various and different elements belonging to various and different models. Idel sees in Hasidism (and is guided in his analysis by) two main articulated and constitutive models: the redemptive model and the mystico-magical one, which is discussed in detail for the first time in modern scholarship.

The second part of the book describes the mystico-magical model, this time in its relation to prayer, to study and to the person of the Zaddiq – the mystical magician. The magical aspect is once again underlined. The spiritual and the material, the religious and the social are brought together. In other words, Hasidism is ”between ecstasy and magic”.

This book is a challenge, and even more than a challenge. The experience of reading it surely culminates into a revelation of the complexity of both the phenomenon of Hasidism and the spiritual possibilities of human nature. One has only to always listen to the author whose first motto for his book is: ”Put your shoes [na’aleikha] off of your feet [regeleikha].” This means that you should put off the enclosure [Ferschlissung] of your routine [regilut] (Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin, Amarot Tehorot).



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