Thursday, June 02, 2005

Why I grow a beard

Walking through Geula last night I noticed, beside denouncements of the Jerusalem kashrut system and warnings about grave desecration, posters inviting people to the Hilula of Ramhal, tonight. The actual anniversary of his death is Friday night.

R Moshe Hayim Luzzatto was a fascinating figure, quite controversial in his time. I think it was the Nazir who said that Ramhal was the founding father of three modern Jewish movements - Mussar, Hassidut and Haskala.

I'm doing this from memory, so be forgiving, and correct me where I'm wrong. Ramhal wrote the first modern Hebrew play, titled Migdal Oz. Thus he became the precursor of secular Hebrew literature.

His various works in Jewish mysticism played a part in the mystical component of Hassidut. And his highly influential Messilat Yesharim (The Path of the Just) became a central text in the Mussar movement, which emphasized embarking on a path of moral awareness and improvement.

In his wonderful article, 'The Early Eighteenth Century Confronts the Beard: Kabbalah and Jewish Self-Fashioning', Elliott Horowitz writes:

Early in 1730, shortly after reports had begun o circulate concerning the
young Luzzatto's kabbalistic virtuosity, and, in particular, his clasims to have
been visited regularly (over a period of three years) by a heavenly mentor or maggid, he received a letter from his former teacher, R. Isaiah Bassan,
then of Reggio. The latter refered to some of the doubts which had been raised
in rabbinical circles, both in Italy and abroad, and particularly to the sharply
critical remarks of the Sephardic hakham R. Moses Hagiz of Hamburg,
with which Bassan himself, it became clear, had some sympathy. "His uneasiness
regarding your unmarried state," Bassan wrote, "is no mere quibble, but rather,
a topic concerning which my late teacher and father-in-law [the rabbi and
kabbalist R. Benamin ha-Kohen Vitale of Reggio, d. 1730] and I whispered between
ourselves. We also discussed the fact that you do not grow your beard..." On the
latter issue, the Reggio rabbis had decided to give Luzzatto the benefit of the
doubt, "for we said... he is righteous and upright," apparently choosing to
conclude that the young kabbalist's beard was simply not growing on its own.
Their faith in his heavenly visitations is evident from the requests both had
earlier made to receive "classified" information from Luzzatto's maggid, Bassan to learn, among other things, "the source of his soul"
and his elderly father-in-law to know the reasons for his illness and suffering.
Yet Luzzatto's relatively cleanshaven appearance troubled them nonetheless, and
they were not the only ones to remark upon it.

Update: Just noticed this.


Anonymous Lipman said...

I'm not sure I understood: You're growing a beard because you don't want others to think you're not god-fearing?

7:37 PM  
Blogger Rabbi Yaakov Feldman said...

Apparently he's growing a beard because he doesn't want people to think he's the young Luzzatto :)

12:55 AM  
Anonymous Lipman said...

I wasn't being sarcastic. I'm really not sure I understood.

7:06 PM  
Blogger manuscriptboy said...

Sorry. I thought it was obvious. I grew a beard so that, if I get married, I will not have to wait around till my beard grows before having a divine visitation.
But seriously, I happened to read that article right after I started growing a beard.

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Lipman, somewhat relieved, said...

I see, thanks :-) .

10:45 AM  

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