The Kuzari and Early Kabbalah: Between Integration and Interpretation regarding the Secrets of the Sacrificial Rite

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Abstract

The proper place of Judah Halevi's thought in the initial emergence and subsequent development of medieval kabbalah has been the subject of debate for centuries. The general consensus has it that the Kuzari was not much more than a convenient repository of terms. This study measures the extent of Halevi's impact on early kabbalah by using the Kuzari's reasons for the sacrificial rite as a test case. Halevi offered an exoteric, more rationalistic explanation and alluded to an esoteric one. Catalonian kabbalists in fact engaged for generations with these two reasons offered by the Kuzari, displaying a shared yet variable approach to Halevi's thought. Unsurprisingly, some grabbed the low-hanging fruit by interpreting Halevi's esoteric reason, which he refused to disclose, in terms of theosophical kabbalah. More unexpected, however, is the possible conceptual indebtedness of the earliest Catalonian kabbalists, like Ezra of Gerona, to Halevi's theurgic conception of the commandments and doctrine of the Godhead. Of particular interest, too, is the fact that later generations of kabbalists interpreted the Kuzari using paradigms they also employed in their conceptualization of theosophical kabbalah, such as astral magic or neoplatonic psychology and spiritual eschatology. Halevi's work was not simply scavenged for its well-wrought nomenclature. If one looks closely, evidence for the Kuzari's significant and lasting imprint can be found throughout kabbalah: in the doctrine of the Godhead, in the theurgic conception of religious ritual, in the development of an esoteric interpretation of religious praxis, in the establishment of an esoteric reading of Sefer yezirah, and more.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)228-253
Number of pages26
JournalHarvard Theological Review
Volume116
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2023

Keywords

  • Ezra of Gerona
  • Judah Halevi
  • Kuzari
  • Nahmanides
  • Sefer yezirah
  • astral magic
  • divine matter
  • early kabbalah
  • sacrifices

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies

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