Tag Archives: ramhal

Ramhal as expressing 18th century Enlightenment values

Yoni Garb has a article attempting to contextualize Ramhal in 18th century Italian Enlightenment and Garb wants to use the writings of his students such as Valle whose works were recently published. “R. Joseph Spinner, a senior kabbalist working at a Jerusalem yeshiva, has published twenty-five meticulous editions of Valle’s works.”
Garb focuses on the tikkunim with Valle commentary. He presents Ramhal’s prophetic vision that we need new tikkunim for our new era that focus on the shekhinah and the three lower worlds.

Garb culls out the use of the words effort, human work, politico as reflecting 18th century values. Valle comes across as strongly anti-Christian but fascinated with Christianity. [As a side point by the site owner, there is a Kabbalah Centre lecturer who presents Valle as teaching that Jesus brought Kabbalah for the gentiles!!!]

The article itself says it does not have the time to show the similarity to labor and power in 18th century thought, so I am left with a sense of “show me” with evidence and do not just tell to trust you. He uses some of the same data in another article to create an affinity to Vico. In addition, labor and work as performed by the magical powers of smoking a cigarette does not have enlightenment overtones of productivity. How the attendance at medical school by angelic mandate combines with magical practice is the Enlightenment concept of work needs to be culturally described as to where it fits into the eighteenth century, especially since Garb rejects considering Valle as counter-Enlightenment.

The Circle of Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto in Its Eighteenth-Century Context Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 44, no. 2 (2011) Pp. 189–202.

One of the goals of this essay is to deepen further our appreciation of the role of the circle, especially the part played by Luzzatto’s close associate, R. Moshe David Valle (1696–1777).Valle was the subject of some preliminary studies by Scholem’s student Isaiah Tishby, whose writings on Luzzatto and his circle recently have been issued in a revised English edition. However, Tishby’s work on Valle was limited by his exclusive focus on the issue of messianism (On Tishby’s approach see the prior posts.)

The other— admittedly more speculative, yet methodologically essential—is to consider the influence of general eighteenth-century culture, especially that of the Italian Enlightenment or Illuminismo, a term which parallels the Illuminatio mentioned explicitly and approvingly in Valle’s Italian book.10 I shall follow the latter course here by demonstrating the importance of two of the keywords of the century and of modernity in general—“labor” and “power”—in the writings of both Luzzatto and Valle.

In the space of one month in 1729, Luzzatto composed a work in Zoharic Aramaic that he described variously as “Seventy Rectifications” [Shiv‘im Tiqqunim] or “New Rectifications” [Tiqqunim Hadashim], comprising seventy alternative interpretations of the last verse of Deuteronomy (and thus of the Pentateuch). According to Luzzatto’s perception, this work was inspired, or even dictated, by the powers revealed to him following his famous formative mystical experience in 1727, including the spirits of Abraham, Moses, and Elijah.

The seventy tiqqunim are a central theme for the messianic project of Luzzatto’s circle. The fourteenth-century classic, Tiqqunei Ha-Zohar, whose style Luzzatto consciously imitated, offers seventy commentaries on the first verse of the Torah, while both Luzzatto and Valle, in a parallel work, commented on the last verse of the Torah: “And for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel.” In the theurgical hermeneutics of the circle, the very act of commentary on a sacred text supports the rectification of the supernal worlds and the concomitant advancement of the messianic process. Thus, while the multiple medieval commentaries on the biblical verses emended the higher reaches of the divine world of emanation [’atzilut], those composed in the circle were intended to complete the process of rectification by building the lowest of the divine Sefirot or emanations, the attribute of kingdom (also known as the feminine Shekhina).

A second goal was to further draw down the influx of this attribute into the three lower, nondivine worlds of the Kabbalistic cosmos. This second goal reflects the general translation of the Kabbalistic myth into this-worldly terms, which are primarily political, as indicated by the focus on the attribute of kingdom. As Luzzatto put it in a letter to his erstwhile teacher, R. Isaiah Bassan, explaining the rationale of the composition of his second set of tiqqunim: “a great place was left to me [by the famous sixteenth-century master R. Yitzhaq Luria], the matter of the connection of the worlds and the way of the leadership [hanhaga], and its revelation from the [divine world of] emanation to the material worlds.”

As he radically states elsewhere, the merit of the forefathers no longer holds in the Exile, and thus they are “sleeping.” The new rectification shall be performed instead by the two Messiahs and by Moses,

Labor, then, is the path to redemption, and as we read in another of Valle’s biblical commentaries, the nature of redemption is a transformation of labor. His interpretation of the Exodus, as brought about through the power of Moses, is that the Jews became a nation through the transition from the “difficult and bitter” human labor to the “good and sweet” divine labor. This opposition of the human and the divine realms should be compared to a highly important passage in Valle’s commentary on Psalms, in which he contrasts the false counsels of human politics (using the Italian word politica) to the divine origin of the counsel of the Torah, as taken by David, the model king (and, like Moses, a personal model for Moshe David Valle). The preoccupation with the building of the Shekhina through the power and labor of the two Messiahs and Moses is indeed the identifying theme of Valle’s writing in the period of his work with Luzzatto’s circle, which ended with the latter’s 1735 departure from Italy in the wake of the controversy.

Valle ascribes the need for effort in study to the spiritual warfare against the “husk,” or evil power, of the biblical nation of Amalek, which was empowered by the “coming of the Christian [netzer]” (punning ‘amal [effort] and Amalek).

Valle clearly ascribes the need for extensive labor to his own period, or “later generations,” which for him are the “footsteps of the Messiah” alluded to in the Talmud. In one striking passage, he relates this development to the increase in tobacco smoking. Valle regarded smoking, at least for himself as arch-“sifter,”as a tool for empowerment in the labor of contemplation and warfare with the powers of evil, as well as for sifting sparks of holiness in a more literal sense.

One should note that this view of the commandments and their dependence on Adam’s sin has a slightly antinomian or Pauline flavor, which could possibly be ascribed to a perhaps unconscious Christian influence.

Although I cannot elaborate on this theme within the present study, the issues of labor and power are as closely related in the general thought of the period as they are in the discourse of Luzzatto’s circle. Here one may appeal to two central authorities on modern intellectual history: Peter Gay regards “power” as one of two words which sum up Enlightenment thought; while Michel Foucault, albeit discussing a later century, writes that the “binding of man to labor” should be rightly regarded as political, rather than merely economic—“a linkage brought about by power.” In the case of eighteenth-century Italy, one should note the centrality and interplay of these themes in the writings of Giambattista Vico, Luzzatto’s contemporary and the best-known early modern Italian political thinker.
(The similarities between Luzzatto and Vico are discussed in Jonathan Garb, “The Political Model in Modern Kabbalah: A Study of Ramhal and His Intellectual Surroundings,” Avi Be‘Ezri, ed. B. Brown, M. Lorberbaum, Y. Stern and A. Rosenak (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center and Israel Democracy Institute, forthcoming) [Hebrew])

Based on an angelic revelation, he sanctioned his favored student R. Yekutiel Gordon’s pursuit of a medical degree at the University of Padua. Valle’s own medical degree earned him the appellation “the physician” in the correspondence of the circle, and medical and anatomical issues indeed feature prominently in the first volume of his compilations. As two leading writers on the Enlightenment, Foucault and Gay, claimed in very different ways, medicine can be seen as a model for Enlightenment philosophy.

Obviously, openness to the non-Jewish world, even at a time of relatively benevolent treatment, does not imply a positive attitude toward that world. One of Valle’s early works is an anti-Christian polemic in the vernacular; its explicit references to the Christian faith, as well as some of his stronger critiques, are rendered in Hebrew in order to bypass censorship. Alongside this critique, however, Valle’s writings display remarkable interest in the details of Christian practice. Italy, one may say, occupies a unique place in the cultural history of modern Kabbalah.

Isaiah Tishby. Messianic Mysticism: Moses Hayim Luzzatto and the Padua School.

Isaiah Tishby. Messianic Mysticism: Moses Hayim Luzzatto and the Padua School. Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2008. $69.50

These studies were written by Tishby in the 1970’s and 1980’s and they are only now available English. They portray the clean-shaven unmarried Luzzatto who wrote plays in Italian and Latin, and who gathered a group of University of Padua medical students around him for the purposes of creating a mystical circle. Tishby explores the messianism, the Sabbatianism, Luzzatto’s angelic maggid, his messiah ketubah, and the heresy accusations. These are studies on recently discovered manuscripts not final thoughts, many of these topics can use further elucidation after the thirty years.We now have many more works by Luzzatto. For example he shows us the reader that Luzzatto used his ruah hakodesh to write a new Zohar but Tishby does not explore the content of the work nor its relationship to the extensive writings of Valle. An intellectual biography of Luzzatto remains a desideratum.

Isaiah Tishby. Messianic Mysticism: Moses Hayim Luzzatto and the
Padua School. Reviewed by Hartley Lachter (Muhlenberg College)

Moses Hayim Luzzatto (1707-46) was undoubtedly one of the most important thinkers and fascinating personalities of
eighteenth-century Italian Jewry. The scion of an influential Jewish family in Padua, Luzzatto’s life and literary legacy project a
distinctly contradictory set of images. At once a poet, playwright, moralist, kabbalist, self-fashioned leader of a messianic group,
radical prophet, and exiled accused heretic, Luzzatto nonetheless came to be celebrated by Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, as well as
secular Jews of later generations

Many of the compositions by Luzzatto that Tishby addresses in this volume would be quite surprising to one familiar with Luzzatto’s more popular writing. Included here are a number of previously unknown works that Tishby discovered in MS
Oxford 2593, as well as poetry (reproduced in both Hebrew and English), and several prayers that Luzzatto composed for a variety of
occasions, including a confessional prayer that he wrote for his group of kabbalists in Padua. Tishby also gives attention to the
works of Moses David Valle (a significant member of Luzzato’s kabbalistic group), reproducing his mystical diary, rife with
messianic overtones, and he explores the question of the spread of Luzzatto’s works in Eastern Europe, and their influence on Hasidic
schools of thought.

One of the most striking compositions discussed in this collection of studies is the kabbalistic commentary that Luzzatto wrote to his own marriage contract when he married Zipporah, the daughter of Rabbi David Finzi of Mantua, in 1731. This remarkable text, as noted in Dan’s introduction, sheds important light on Luzzatto’s messianic posture. Luzzatto came to be regarded with suspicion when he began claiming as early as 1727 that he was receiving revelations of a maggid or heavenly voice, enabling him to compose prophetic pronouncements, and even a “new Zohar,” which it seems he shared with the group of kabbalists that he led in Padua. Added to this was the accusation leveled by Moses Hagiz before the rabbis of Venice that he intercepted a letter by a member of Luzzatto’s group containing evidence that Luzzatto was a follower of Shabbtai Zvi.

Luzzatto’s teacher and champion, Isaiah Bassan, convinced him that he could quell at least some of the controversy if he would agree to marry, since remaining single into one’s mid-twenties was itself understood to be unseemly. The discovery of Luzzatto’s kabbalistic commentary to his own marriage contract reveals that while his decision to marry was in part a concession intended to placate his critics, the marriage was also understood by Luzzatto as a union of divine dimensions, literally heralding the messianic era. Situating this document within the broader context of Luzzatto’s messianic doctrine, Tishby concludes that Luzzatto regarded himself as serving the role of Moses, whose task is to guide the actions of the Messiah son of Joseph and the Messiah son of David. Evidence indicates, according to Tishby, that Luzzatto understood Valle to be the Messiah son of David, while none other than Zvi was regarded as the Messiah son of Joseph. Another of Luzzatto’s group, Jekutiel of Vilna, was believed to serve as Seraiah of the tribe of Dan, the general of the forces of the messianic army. Luzzatto’s commentary to his marriage contract is reproduced in full English translation in the volume, along with Tishby’s illuminating notes. Taken together with Valle’s diary, these texts provide important source material for an under appreciated moment of messianic ferment.

We know that Luzzatto received an education in non-Jewish areas of knowledge, and he even defended his colleague Jekutiel from detractors who took issue with his study of “Gentile wisdom,” since he came to Padua originally to study medicine. How are we to understand these otherwise “worldly” men in their turn toward Jewish esoteric discourse as the source for all true knowledge?

As Luzzatto remarks in a text addressing Jeremiah 9:22, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,” found in MS Oxford 2593, “the whole science of truth [kabbalah] rests solely on this question, the question of the holiness of Israel: how the Holy One, blessed be He, adheres to them in His holiness and how Israel must adhere, through their desire and their worship, to His holiness, blessed be He; and how all the affairs of the world and of the all creation have rested upon this basis ever since they came into existence and [will do so] to all eternity” (p. 47).

There remains work to be done in better situating Luzzatto and his colleagues within the eighteenth-century Italian intellectual context.

As a companion, I recommend Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer, “Moshe Hayim Luzzatto’s thought against the background of theodicy literature,” in Justice and Righteousness (1992) 173-199 where she contextualizes Ramhal in the post Lisbon eathquake concerns of Leibnitz and King.

This baroque world of science and kabbalah intertwined ended abruptly with the Enlightenment. From Rav Yosef Karo to Ramhal and from there to the Vilna Gaon, a proper Gadol could ascend to heaven, perform kavvanot, receive angelic visitors, and attempt to bring the messiah. Forty years after these writings Ramhal’s own cousin Shadal would not suffer to perform any of these kabbalistic rites or utter kabbalistic prayers. Enlightenment concern with sense data and manuscript work on texts had brought the baroque edifice down.

Ramhal played almost no part in Gershom Scholem’s writings since Luzzatto treated kabbalah as either scientific or as theological providence,not as symbolism

In the 21st century, these remain as vestiges for the psychologist to decipher what to tell the client. There is a local psychiatrist that wants to work with me on some schema for understanding the Orthodox kids who come in with angelic visitors, when are they potential gadolim (or at least mathematicians and chess masters) and when do they need medication? But the real question is can we accept the epistemic rupture that the early modern period represents and the fact that we exists in a alternate formulation of Judaism. The Vilna Gaon with his angelic visitors belonged to Luzzatto’s world, the world of tikkunim.