A Re-Assessment of Kabbalistic Musar-Literature of Sixteenth-Century Safed
Human Self-Perfection: A Re-Assessment of Kabbalistic Musar-Literature of Sixteenth-Century Safed, by P Patrick B. Koch, (Sources and Studies in the Literature of Jewish Mysticism 45), 264 pages, in English, 2015, ISBN 978-1-56581-231-4.
In the wake of the Ottoman conquest of Palestine, Jews from all over the Mediterranean area and beyond settled in the Galilean town of Safed. This constellation created an atmosphere of spiritual productivity that is arguably unequalled in the history of Jewish mysticism. The uniqueness of Safed’s literary output has been subject to numerous studies, particularly in Kabbalah scholarship. In contrast, the wide range of musar-literature written during the second half of the sixteenth century remains proportionally under-represented. Focusing on notions of human self-perfection, this book examines how the Safedian authors derived numerous strategies of individual self-improvement from rabbinic, philosophical, Kabbalistic, and earlier musar-writings, thereby offering to their readers a great variety of transformative practices that are designed to enable the individual to draw closer to the divine. By emphasizing the mystical-spiritual quality of musar, the present study challenges the dominant scholarly position, which understands the genre first and foremost as ‘Jewish ethical literature’. The book offers a thorough analysis of the major topics of Safedian musar, as well as a cross-cultural reading that compares the Jewish musar-approach with Christian and Islamic traditions of spiritual guidance. Furthermore, it presents the first comprehensive survey of the history of academic research on musar, from the beginnings of the Wissenschaft des Judentums to contemporary scholarship.
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