Thursday, July 15, 2010

Automatic writing

Dr Amos Goldreich has published a new book with Cherub Press. His dissertation was a study and edition of Isaac of Acre's Sefer Meirat Enayim. He has published studies on the late strata of the Zohar. Now he has come out with a huge (400 pages) volume on the phenomenon of automatic writing, which is apparently found in the Tikune Zohar. Here's the description:

Automatic Writing in Zoharic Literature and Modernism, שם הכותב וכתיבה אוטומטית בספרות הזוהר ובמודרניזם, by Amos Goldreich (Sources and Studies in the Literature of Jewish Mysticism 24; 2010, 408 pages, ISBN 1-933379-17-0, in Hebrew). This richly detailed monograph explores the phenomenon of mystical and magical techniques which induce a different state of consciousness that leads to literary production. The impetus of the study is the suggestion, offered in the celebrated testimony of R. Isaac of Acre, that R. Moses de León was able to write the Zohar using shem ha-kotev, a magical application of the divine name. It has been demonstrated that the later stratum of the Zohar, that is Tiqqunei ha-Zohar, was actually written using this technique. All scholarly treatments of the topic, including new evidence from manuscript sources and a history of related phenomena amongst kabbalists, and on through the development of similar techniques in modernism, such as automatic writing experiments in early twentieth-century English occultism and French surrealism, are all discussed at length in this monumental study.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A quote

The young scholar is doubly handicapped, being ignorant alike of the new field of study and of the adult problems which history is, for the most part, about. The mediaeval king's bench was the first bureaucratic institution with which I had had protracted dealings: I had yet to try to recover money from the Inland Revenue or to be passed from one telephone extension to another in a County Hall.

Marjorie Blatcher, The Court of King's Bench 1450-1550, London 1978, p. vii

Friday, July 09, 2010

Rav Amital

Rav Yehudah Amital, the founder of Yeshivat Har Etzion, died this morning. I'm leaving for the funeral in a couple of minutes.

When I first arrived at the yeshivah, Rav Amital was one of the biggest draws for me. However, a few months after I started, Yitzhak Rabin was murdered and Shimon Peres asked Rav Amital to join the government. So for the rest of that year his appearances in Alon Shevut were rare and he was always accompanied by bodyguards. It also ended up being the beginning of a slow retirement process. So I have never claimed to have had a close relationship with Rav Amital, and I tried to avoid the expressions of adulation I saw in others as a compensation for that lack of real contact.

But there is a comment that Rav Amital made that has often come back to me. He would say that in his shi'urim, when he was teaching Talmud, he made an effort never to repeat himself, always to have something new to say. In his sihot, his talks on ideas and values, however, he always said the same things. This, he explained, was because those values were really important and he wanted to emphasize them.

I found this comment very attractive. I think it bespeaks real humility and self-awareness, even self-deprecating humour. [Now I'm back from the funeral]. And I think that's very important in an educator.

It points to an intellectual liveliness that typified him into old age. By the way, I spent several months in his weekly Gemara shiur. We were learning Gittin, and his only interest in the sugyot was how to use them to free agunot.

It points to his strong belief in certain central ideas. As both Rav Lichtenstein and his son R Yoel Amital mentioned at the funeral today, one of those central ideas was Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God's name. That's an idea that means very different things to different people, and what it meant to Rav Amital living through the Holocaust was something very different from what it meant to him in the State of Israel. But the idea remained a constant concern to him.

Finally, R Yoel Amital mentioned today the emphasis his father placed on the importance of silence. Remaining silent in the face of his detractors, attackers and misintrepreters. In the face of tragedies he did not want to theologize. Silent about things he didn't want to trivialize.

תהא נשמתו צרורה בצרור החיים