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Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah ("tradition"), flowered in Provence (southern France) and Spain during the 13th century, and was rejuvenated with the birth of the Hasidic movement in Poland and the Ukraine in the 18th century. Much of the Jewish mystical tradition consists of theosophy and esoteric religious teachings at first transmitted orally to select initiates; in its medieval expression, Jewish mysticism was closely intertwined with philosophy, particularly neoplatonism. (The vaguer nexus between mysticism and science is evident in kabbalistic works of various periods, in which astronomy or astrology, the mysticism of numbers, folk-medicine and alchemy all play roles.) The diversity of this "tradition" is portrayed in the selection here of some of its earlier and later manifestations.

Moses b. Shem-Tov de León,
of Castile, ca. 1240-1305
Graphical element
[ Sefer ha-Zohar ]
Mantua: Meir b. Ephraim and Jacob b.
Naphtali ha-Kohen, 1558-1560.

The Book of Splendor in Aramaic, attributed to the ancient Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai but first circulated by Moses de León in Guadalajara, is the central work of Jewish mysticism. A controversy surrounded this first edition of the book, whose printing was opposed by some kabbalists.

Book of Creation
Graphical element
[ Sefer Yetsirah ]
Mantua: Jacob b. Naphtali, 1562.

Written by a Jewish Neo-Pythagorean in Palestine between the 3rd and 6th centuries, the Book of Creation describes the construction of the cosmos out of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The earliest Hebrew work of systematic speculation, it exerted a wide influence; through its study it was believed possible to create a golem, or homunculus. Although a Latin version by a Christian kabbalist was published in Paris ten years earlier, this is the first edition of the original Hebrew text.

Nathan Nata b. Solomon Spira,
of Cracow, ca. 1585-1633
Graphical element
[ Megaleh Amukot ]
Fuerth: Joseph b. Zalman Shneur, 1691.

In this classic work of number-mysticism (gematria), the author, an ancestor of Jacob M. Lowy, displays an extraordinary mathematical mind. This edition was the first Hebrew book published in Fuerth.

Refu'ah ve-Hay im 1874
Hayim b. Jacob Palaggi [ Palache ],
of Izmir, 1788-1869
Graphical element
[ Refu'ah ve-Hayim ]
Izmir: Aaron J. de Segura, 1874.

Amulets and charms abound in the literature of "practical Kabbalah." In this treatise folk magic is coupled with herbal prescriptions, some given in the Judezmo vernacular. Izmir was, together with Constantinople and Salonica, one of the three centres of Hebrew printing in the Ottoman Empire, where many mystical tracts were published.

Hayim b. Joseph Vital, of Safed and
Damascus, 1542-1620
Graphical element
[ Mevo she'arim ]
Jerusalem: Isaac N. Levy and Co., 1904.

Vital wrote a comprehensive elaboration of the teachings of his mentor, Isaac Luria, the principal figure in Jewish mysticism after the expulsion from Spain. This volume is a version of Vital's introduction, together with the annotations of Menahem Heilprin, a Polish kabbalist.

Ilan ha- Gadol 1893
Meir Poppers, of Jerusalem, d. 1662
Graphical element
[ Ilan ha-Gadol ]
Warsaw: Shulberg brothers, 1893.

Poppers was the last redactor of the Lurianic corpus. This suppositious work known as "The Great Tree," here newly edited by Aaron Altshuler of Mariupol (Southern Ukraine), is a summation of the Lurianic system, replete with kabbalistic charts and diagrams.

Jonathan Eybeschuetz, of Prague,
Metz, and Altona, ca. 1690-1764
Graphical element
[ Luhot Edut ]
Altona: Aaron b. Elijah Katz, 1755.

Eybeschuetz' personal defense against the accusation of belief in the false messiah, Shabbetai Zevi, was his only work printed in his lifetime. In this book he offers an innocent interpretation of his own kabbalistic amulets, deciphered by his opponents as heretical.

Likutim Yekarim
Graphical element
[ Likutim Yekarim ]
Zholkva (Galician Ukraine): s.n.,

Edited by Samuel b. Judah Leyb Segal, this early collection includes teachings of the founder of Hasidism, Israel b. Eliezer Baal Shem Tov of Medzibezh (ca. 1700-1760), and those of his disciples Dov Baer of Mezhirech, Menahem Mendel of Peremyshlany, Jehiel Michael of Zloczow and Meshullam Fayvish Heller of Zbarazh.

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