The two most famous Kabbalistic traditions were the Spanish Kabbalah, such as the books Zohar and Kanah, and the Lurianic Kabbalah of the sixteenth century that also influenced Sabbateanism.
But the history of the Kabbalah is also closely tied in with Jewish messianism in the early modern period, its hopes, pretensions, and writings. It was also, however, equally integrated into the contemporary existential situation of the Jews within the early modern world. While that world seemed increasingly hostile toward Jews, it was paradoxically drawing closer in the matter of messianic expectations and calculations. It is thus important to constantly observe for example the unfolding of Sabbateanism and others from both within and without the Jewish context.
Jesus of Nazareth, apparently a first-century resident of the West Bank established what is now considered the most successful Jewish messianic movement. But a generation after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., another important Jewish messiah arose, in the person of Simon Bar-Kosiba (Bar-Kokhba), who led an unsuccessful rebellion in 1321-35 c.E.
Other important Jewish messianic figures included Moses of Crete in the fifth century, AbuIsa of Isfahan in the eighth, the Kurd David Alroy in the twelfth, and the Spanish kabbalist Abraham Abulafia in the thirteenth century.
The rise of early modern prophetic messianism was associated with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and their forced conversion in Portugal in 1497. Furthermore, this was the period when exiled Spanish Jews were invited by Sultan Bayezit II to settle in the Ottoman Empire alongside the established Jewish community there, and even more Jews came to live under Ottoman rule after Palestine fell to the Turks in 1516/7. Thus contact with other cultures and their messianic traditions was widespread.
A significant focus of prophetic and messianic thought existed among a certain particularly secretive group of Spanish kabbalists in the decades before the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. They produced the works Sefer ha-Meshiv (The Book of the Responder; or ha-Mal'akh ha-Meshiv, The Responding Angel), and Kaf ha-Ketoret (Ladle of incense), books bristling with prophecy and messianic expectation. While little was left of the Sefer ha-Meshiv circle after the expulsion, Rabbi Joseph Taytatzak of Salonika appears to have been associated with this group, and it is probable that certain interesting prophetic phenomena connected with him had roots in the Spanish Sefer ha-Meshiv thought.9 What is certain is that Taytatzak had close contact with Solomon Molkho, an important messianic prophet, and with many of the great Safed kabbalists.
Rabbi Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi, a Spanish kabbalist, wandered in Europe and the Ottoman Empire after the expulsion, writing tracts full of acute messianic prophecy. Ha-Levi expected messianic times to begin in 1524 and be fully manifested in 1530-31.
This was also the period of such mystical messianic works as Galya Raza (Exposition of Secrets) and Mishreh Kittrin (Loosening of Knots), whose titles indicate their relation to the belief in the increase of knowledge on the cusp of the messianic age.
Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Kabbalah began to overtake philosophy and talmudic scholarship as the dominant mode of Jewish spiritual thought. Kabbalah slowly shifted from being the province of tiny, secret circles of adepts to a body of public ideas. In the sixteenth century, several developments facilitated this process. One was the printing of the Zohar in Italy, which put it in the hands of any scholar with the money to buy a copy. The purchasers included Christian savants, some of whom had become interested in Jewish esotericism and the possibilities of its christological interpretation. Another, more profound development was the explosion of kabbalistic thought centered in Safed in the latter part of the century, mediated through a number of organized circles or fellowships.
While Kabbalah permeated the air of Safed in the sixteenth century in general, and few could have been left untouched by the powerful currents around them, some chose to devote themselves to a more disciplined style of spiritual life than others. Most of the individuals whose names appear with any frequency in the kabbalistic literature are likely to have been associated with one or another of the several groups of which we know. These fellowships served to institutionalize kabbalistic life to a certain degree, helping to define the direction that piety ought to take and to channel religious energy in a disciplined manner. They constituted a vehicle through which the notion of collective obligation could find expression. From a psychological point of view, they must have served as both a means of support and a source of peer pressure to live the proper life.
Some of these circles were under the spiritual guidance of particular personalities, such as Moses Cordovero and Eleazar Azikri (I53316oo). The latter, a disciple of Cordovero's in kabbalistic studies, organized two different fellowships in Safed, one under the name Haverim Maqshivim (The Hearkening Companions), the, other Sukkat Shalom (The Tent of Peace). Others appear to have been more loosely structured, organized around some specialized ggal. Thus, the Fellowship of Penitents that Abraham Berukhim informs us about sought to achieve atonement through certain especially severe ascetic practices. Berukhim also tells us about a group whose dedicated purpose seems to have been rejoicing at the conclusion of every Sabbath.
Rabbi Isaac Luria, who arrived in Safed (in Palestine) around 1570, was venerated in his kabbalistic circle not only as author of the famous Lurianic doctrines of exile and redemption, but also as a messiah himself. His teachings in Safed included man's role in the restoration of a pristine world, with related conceptions of exile, redemption, and the revolutions of the human soul. While the general outlines of this mystical philosophy undoubtedly found their way to the attention of many Jews, far more famous were legends about the supernatural wisdom of Luria and his students-a collection that was among the eaciest bodies of hagiography in Judaism. In these tales Luria is represented as both prophet and messiah. The prestige accorded to Kabbalah and its adepts through this mystical flowering helped fuel an already emerging crisis in the traditional authority structure of Judaism. In the seventeenth century the cracks in the foundation of rabbinic authority would widen to the limits of its viability, under the impact of Sabbateanism on the one hand, and rationalist skepticism on the other.
When Luria died in 1572, having failed to manifest himself as messiah, his student, R. Hayyim Vital, inherited at least part of this mantle. Vital's messianic identity was quite complex, and it remained unresolved upon his death in 1620.
Two important collections of such traditions, one most commonly known as Shivhei ha Ari (In Praise of the Ari) and Toldot ha Ari (The Life of the Ari), reflect Lthe degree to which Luria's personality continued to capture the imagination of subsequent generations. Shivhei ha Ari, based upon a series of letters written from Safed by Solomon Shlomiel of Dresnitz at the beginning of the seventeenth century, is among the first works of its kind in Hebrew literature, a full-fledged set of hagiographical narratives organized around the life of a single individual. It is certainly the most influential such collection. The stories in these two books reverberated over the course of time in a broad range of adaptations and translations. Even today, stories about Isaac Luria based upon these earlier works are preserved and widely transmitted, especially in Jewish communities whose roots are in the Near East.
Along completely different lines, Isaac Luria's highly imaginative mythic teachings gave birth to a literature ofunusually complex kabbalistic theosophy among certain elite thinkers. Despite the fact that his immediate disciples-particularly Hayyim Vital (1543-162o)-sought to conceal their master's teachings altogether, or at least severely to restrict dissemination of them, following his death, they eventually had a powerful impact on various circles throughout the Jewish world. This is one of the great ironies of the history of Lurianic Kabbalah. The intense concern on Luria's own part that his teachings be restricted to a small circle of initiates eventually gave way to the production of a very extensive number of manuscripts and printed publications, the socalled (and misnamed) "Lurianic Writings" (Kitvei ha Ari). For, in addition to the elaborate array of editions and recensions of Luria's teachings produced by certain of his disciples, Lurianic Kabbalah inspired the composition of numerous other treatises of diverse types by people who had not personally studied with him.
For example also the teachings of western Esotericism for example Luria regarded the members of the first group, as belonging to a fourth category of souls , so-called "old souls" that fell directly into the qelippot at the time of Adam's transgressions, requiring them to undergo a series ofgilgulim. Such souls normally spend a period of forty days of purification within the Female Waters after they ascend from the qelippot.
Thus Luria and his disciples regarded their fellowship as a microcosm in a literal sense. They believed themselves not only to reflect the essential structures of the cosmos but also to eni3ody those structures individually and, more crucially, collectively. The theurgical impulses so fundamental to theosophical Kabbalah that is, the conviction that human gestures of every type exert influences upon the cosmos as a whole -reach what is perhaps their most intense and radical form in the ritual practices of Lurianic mysticism.
Vital suggests that his soul was bound up with these other disciples in such a way that made it possible for their souls as well to remain within Malkhut for this longer (and preferable) period of seven months.' A portion of Vital's ruah was invested in each of these individuals, and thus "all of them are nourished [yonqim, literally, suckled] by me, and therefore I have to try to mend them, for my own restitution depends upon the healing of their souls. Vital claimed, then, that because part of his own soul-structure was bound up with these individuals, the perfection of his soul was contingent upon the spiritual maturation of their souls.
The belief in "impregnation" (`ibbur) occupied a prominent place in Luria's thinking. Whereasgilgul, or metempsychosis, refers to the entrance of a past soul into an individual at the time of one's birth, `ibbur denotes the entrance of a past soul at some later point during one's life. In the case of `ibbur, the impregnated soul seeks to rectify itself by atoning for a past transgression or fulfilling a precept that has been left unfulfilled. At times, however, cibbur is for the benefit of the host individual, enabling him to accomplish something he is otherwise unable to do. Indeed, this was the case with Vital's impregnations. Typically, `ibbur takes place by a past soul investing itself in an individual with whom it shares the same soul-root. Unlikegilgul, in which the soul is present throughout one's entire life, `ibbur occurs for a temporary period of time, until the impregnated soul accomplishes its goal. As many as three impregnations can take place at one time. In his dream diary, Vital specifies a number of individuals whose souls became impregnated within him or who were potential candidates for impregnation, including Rabbi Akiva, as we see here; Abbaye; Eleazar ben Arakh; Eleazar ben Shamua; Yeiva Sabba; Yohanan ben Zakkai; the prophet Samuel; and King Hezekiah. Vital was intensely preoccupied with behaving in such a way as to have these souls continue to impregnate themselves into his body.
Israel Sarug (or Saruq) taught his version of Lurianic Kabbalah in Italy between approximately 1592 and 1599. The appearance of Lurianic manuscripts in Italy even prior to Israel Sarug's activities there was demonstrated by Joseph Avivi, "Lurianic Writings in Italy Prior to 1620" (in Hebrew), cAlei Sefer 11 (1984): 91-134. Sarug's version of Lurianic teachings was published for the first time as Limmudei Atsilut in Lemberg (Lvov) in 1850, ironically enough, under Hayyim Vital's name, a fate that befell certain other writers as well. The question of whether Israel Sarug was actually a personal disciple of Isaac Luria's or instead learned Lurianic Kabbalah indirectly has animated kabbalistic scholarship for some time. Gershom Scholem argued, among other things, that insofar as Sarug's name is never mentioned in the sources associated with Luria's known disciples, especially in the most important lists of these individuals recorded by Hayyim Vital, Sarug's contention that he was Luria's disciple is unfounded. Ronit Meroz, on the other hand, has written a series of articles on this subject in which she argues, persuasively in my view, that Sarug had indeed known Luria personally. Meroz counters Scholem's view in various ways, including the argument that the lists contained in Vital's writing derive from a relatively late date, insofar as we know that Vital did not begin to study with Luria until some time, perhaps nine months, after the latter arrived in Safed. This leaves open the possibility that Sarug had indeed been a personal disciple during Luria's early period in Safed, in the months before Vital took up with him.
The period between the death of R. Hayyim Vital and the rise of the Sabbatean movement was marked by two seemingly paradoxical trends regarding messianism. On the one hand, there was an almost complete dearth of messianic pretenders; but on the other hand, there was also a furious production of literature concerning the messianic advent in the Jewish world. Various rabbis were occupied with messianic calculations and thought; outstanding among them was R. Manasseh ben Israel, whose attitudes were deeply connected to his converso background.
Looking at the map of Sabbatean propagation it is immediately clear that most of the cities that were centers of Sabbatean activism before the apostasy were converse centers as well, such as Izmir, Istanbul, Salonika, Livorno, Amsterdam, and Venice. It is thus particularly worthwhile exploring the background and messianic proclivities of this group.
A sizeable percentage of the important Jewish population of Spain converted to Catholicism voluntarily or by force between the years 1391, when pressure to convert started to become very heavy, and 1492, when Jews who held on to their faith were expelled. Among those spiritually stout Jews who left, a large proportion went to neighboring Portugal, where they had been promised asylum. But in 1497 the king decreed their expulsion from Portugal as well. When the hapless Jews came to the harbor to embark for more tolerant shores, they were incarcerated and forcibly converted. At the time of their expulsion from Spain, there was already a national Inquisition at work rooting out converses alleged to continue "Judaizing" in secret. The Portuguese Inquisition was not established until decades later, but converses were forbidden to leave either country, and they were in constant fear. Converses and Moriscos (descendants of Spanish Muslims) were systematically excluded from many important institutions and professions by a series of "purity of blood" statutes. Nevertheless, many converses did quite well for themselves in the Iberian peninsula, studying in universities, achieving considerable wealth, and rising to important offices in the government and even the church.
The Sabbatean prophets at the beginning and height of the movement in 1665-66 had been a heterogeneous group of scholars and lay people, the vast majority of whom were active in the Ottoman Empire. After the apostasy, however, this picture changed dramatically. A disproportionate number of those who carried on the faith in secret were rabbis and scholars. The venue too had changed: over the later decades of the seventeenth century both the believers in general and the prophets among them were found increasingly in Europe-eastern as well as western. Maggidim continued to appear, but their mode of expression had altered during the post-apostasy events. In addition to maggidism similar to that of Karo and Nathan, new types of prophecy arose whose physical manifestations were entirely different. Dreams became very central in certain circles, and divinatory techniques intended to predict the future of Shabbatai and the movement became widespread. These had been much less important at the height of the movement, when the future looked relatively clear. The increased importance of Kabbalah in post-apostasy prophecy was obviously related both to the higher level of education among many participants, and to the augury trend. The variety and content of Sabbatean prophecy in this later phase of the movement are of great interest; a few general descriptions of the persons and groups involved will serve as examples.
Was Gershom Scholem the best known historian of Kabballism correct in his claim that Sabbateanism fed directly into the rise of Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah) and Reform Judaism at the turn of the nineteenth century?
Aspects of Scholem's thesis about the impact of Sabbateanism on Jewish modernity can be upheld, but only if they are modified to fit the model of the anthropologists' Cargo Cult." As societies become modern, a desired outcome that had been wished for because of a religious (especially a messianic) reason sometimes continues to be a desired outcome for more secular reasons. In other words, there is a genuine continuity in the goal (for Scholem this would be the abandonment of strict ritual observance), while at the same time there is a definite break concerning the impetus for that end (from Sabbatean heresy to religious reform). In adopting the Cargo Cult model or others like it, however, one essentially loses any relationship between the causes or impetus of the original Sabbatean movement and the cause of the rise of Haskalah and Reform.
From the perspective of a global picture, the Sabbatean movement and its impact actually look somewhat different. The authority structure of Ottoman and European Jewish communities on both the communal and individual levels was already shifting before Shabbatai came on the scene. Few really powerful voices remained in the rabbinate; the Kabbalah had eroded the traditional sense of what constitutes an authoritative text in Judaism; and the conversos had formed a living conduit between the Jewish and Christian worlds. Nathan of Gaza, Abraham Miguel Cardoso, and Shabbatai Zvi, all rabbis, were in the throes of powerful ideological crises concerning the Torah, God's relationship to man, the nature of salvation and other issues. Even the Ashkenazi milieu, considered a bastion of traditionalism, was undergoing an upheaval.
It may be more valid to say, however, that the Sabbatean movement was a result of the forces of change that already existed in the Jewish community, rather than their cause. It was one more manifestation of the Jews' yearning to escape the exigencies of exilic life and forge a new and happier future under a new and happier conception of God's will. The structure of Jewish authority already showed cracks in the pillars, and it was not only radical philosophers like Spinoza who pushed to topple them. The new order promised by the messiah and observed by prophets had its source in the same aspiration-the difference was that kabbalists and ascetics pursued it differently than did the rationalists. Ultimately their descendants sought a better future starting where the seventeenth-century Jews left off-in both moderate and radical Sabbatean sectarianism, Hasidism, Haskalah, Enlightenment, Reform, Socialism, Zionism and assimilation.
The impetus for Sabbateanism was in a complex ideology, Lurianic Kabbalah, than to suggest that it was the result of ill-advised belief in latter-day prophecy. Scholem, the last of the German Jewish thinkers, naturally gravitated toward a meaningful ideological understanding of the Jews' attraction to Shabbatai. It was a noble heresy, a gnostic experiment, an epochal crisis of exile and redemption played out alone on the cosmic stage.
The more prosaic view of a people involved in a changing authority structure, who were prepared to believe in prophecy because important rabbis and non-Jews did so, whose beliefs about the messiah and the prophetic future were heavily shaped by Christian and Muslim influences, is not the stuff of an epic narrative. The Jews then look like fools instead of heroic mystical heretics.
Yet this was the period when the prosaic became the profound, the pedestrian became signal. In the very days of Shabbatai, alchemists were becoming chemists, lowly mathematics was proving to be the cornerstone of a new cosmtogy, astrology was turning into astronomy, and blood-letting quacks were learning to be effective physicians. Sabbateans and their prophecies were an organic part of this scene.