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Kabbalah and Contemporary Spiritual Revival: Historical, Sociological and Cultural Perspectives


International Workshop funded by The Israel Science Foundation, The Goren-Goldstein Center for Jewish Thought, and Ben Gurion University

Ben Gurion University, May 20-22, 2008


Titles and Abstracts


Yaakov Ariel

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

From Habad Emissaries to Kabbalah Centers:  New Jewish Religious Movements and the Revitalization of Judaism in the later decades of the Twentieth Century.



Between the late 18th century and the mid-twentieth century, traditional Judaism lost ground, while secular or liberal forms of Judaism came on the scene.  Following the Enlightenment, the emancipation of the Jews, modernization and mass immigration of Jews to Western Europe and the New World, the connection between Jewish identity and commitment to an observant Jewish life has weakened considerably. In the aftermath of the two world wars many traditional Jewish communities have ceased existing, mostly as a consequence of Nazi annihilation policies, Communist destruction of religious life, or emigration to Israel, America or other destinations. By that time, most remaining Jews have either liberalized their tradition or moved away from the synagogue all together.  By the mid-twentieth century, it seemed that the tide was moving only in one direction: from tradition and observance to non-observance or a more partial commitment to the fulfillment of the Jewish commandments.  The common wisdom of run-of –the-mill Jews in America at the time was that Americanized and modern ways of life meant giving up on the cultural characteristics of the “Old World” and its modes of being Jewish. 

Half a century later the picture has dramatically changed. Traditional modes of Judaism have reentered American Jewish culture, with hundreds of thousands of Jews showing new interest in repressed or abandoned rituals, artifacts, music and texts. By the turn of the 21st century, one can point to a movement of ‘return to tradition’, composed of tens of thousands of liberal or unaffiliated Jews who have joined the ranks of Orthodox Judaism, choosing to adopt an observant way of life. Others have formed more liberal or egalitarian communities that celebrate the Jewish tradition, such as independent havurot, women’s mynianim, and the Renewal movement. The incorporation of traditional rites and customs, as well as the embracing of the supernatural on the expense of more rational interpretations of Jewish teachings, has taken place in the liberal wings of Judaism as well.

Reconstructionist Judaism, which had initially started as a modernist, rationalist movement, has adopted a pluralistic and egalitarian version of neo-Hasidism. The Reform movement has reintroduced kippot, talitot, and shofarot and has included in its prayer books teachings of Hasidic masters. Kabbalah centers have attracted both Jews and non-Jews who have found merit in a set of teachings, which two generations earlier they would have considered to be anachronistic or bizarre.

This paradigm shift has reflected a new era in American Jewish life. Since the 1960s, many Americans have come to embrace the supernatural, searching for spiritual content in their lives and exploring new means to feel closer to the divine.  Jews have taken a renewed interest in the spiritual and mystical elements of their tradition as part of a larger cultural American trend. There were however agents of traditional Judaism who have set out to advocate liberal versions of traditional, often neo-Hasidic and at times neo-kabalistic Jewish practices and teachings. One of the first attempts of this kind can be traced to the sixth leader of the Habad Hasidic dynasty who believed that non-affiliated liberal Jews would find interest in Hasidic teachings. Another, more egalitarian center that advocated the reintroduction of spirituality into Jewish life had been the Ramah camps that the Conservative movement had organized for its youth. A particularly important role in the proliferation of new Jewish religious movements had been outreach leaders that had started as emissaries of Habad, but adopted a more egalitarian and pluralistic worldview. Such persons had played a particularly decisive role in the creation of a series of groups, ranging from an outreach center intended for Jewish members of the counterculture in San Francisco of the 1960s-1970s to the first havura in Somerville of 1968, to a neo-Hasidic synagogue for Jewish yuppies in the upper West Side of New York.

The proposed paper wishes to offer a map of new Jewish religious movements, during the 1950s-1980s, showing the not always well-known connections between the different groups and the mutual influences.  The exploration begins with the gradual turning of Habad from a highly contemplative Hasidic group into an order of Jewish evangelists. It will analyze the manner in which ideas and emissaries originating in Habad have made their ways into new groups and movements and from those groups moved to further influence other movements. My aim is to analyze these proliferations in light of larger developments in Jewish life in America and to explain why certain groups evolved in the manner they did while other chose different paths. The overall map can help us better understand the role of new religious movements within American Judaism at the turn of the 21st century.     



Yoram Bilu

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 

Making the Absent Rabbi Present: Virtuality, Iconophilia, and Apparitions in Messianic Chabad



The messianic surge among Chabad (Lubavitch) hasidim, which was focused on the seventh president of the movement, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, as the designated Messiah, did not subside after his death, in the Summer of 1994.  Given the importance of disciple-master relations in Hasidism, which in Chabad became all the more noted under the authoritative leadership of the charismatic Rabbi, the perseverance of the movement in its current encephalitic form is intriguing.  This is particularly true for the radically messianic Hasidim in Chabad who deny that the Rabbi-cum-Messiah has ever died and maintain that he is found, "in flesh and spirit," in his old abode, in 770 Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  My concern here is with the cultural practices employed by these hasidim to cope with the immense vacuum created by the loss.  These "practices of embodiment" include a wide variety of indexical, textual, discursive, and iconic devices.  The integrated use of this cultural tool kit enables the Hasidim to maintain a life routine in which the absent Rabbi is always at attendance.  While for many Hasidim he is a totally virtual Rabbi, an elaborate ritual system based on these practices of embodiment makes him very strongly felt, particularly in his abode at "770". In fact, some of the Hasidim maintain that the Rabbi became more accessible after 1994.  The place of modern media technology, and particularly the creative and pervasive uses of the Rabbi's popular icon, is an important means in making the absent Rabbi present.  The recent wave of apparitions in Chabad appears as an unsurprising derivative of these creative uses.   


Shlomo Fischer

Tel Aviv University 

Can New Individualist Spiritualism Also Coexist with Violence and Collective Commitments? New Spiritual Developments Among the Religious Zionist Community in Israel



Most contemporary research tends to view all contemporary spiritualist phenomena through the lens of "New Age" spirituality in the liberal West. This scholarship assumes that the individualism and the other-worldlyness of the new spirituality is incompatible with collective commitments and is intolerant of violence. I would like to challenge both of these views by an examination of new religious and spiritual phenomena among the West Bank settlers and the larger radical religious Zionist community that supports them.

 Recent years have witnessed the growth of a new religious orientation among the religious Zionist public and especially among its youth. This orientation places greater emphasis upon the individual, his/her religious experience and relation to God. This orientation has expressed itself in struggles over R. Kook's canon, in the introduction of new "Hasidic" theological themes and texts and in a new emphasis upon a personal and paradoxical faith.  This new orientation is congruent with other recent "individualist" cultural phenomena in this community: a new interest in the arts; an increased theological and literary interest in the body and sexuality as well as experimentation with autonomy and authenticity in religious education.
I argue that these phenomena are rooted in an expressivist theology which focuses upon how spiritual ideas are expressed in material media and how material living creatures (bodies) realize spiritual ideas and purposes.  In recent years, this community has shifted its emphasis from the self-expression and self-realization of cosmic and collective subjects such as the Nation to more personal and intimate spheres as well as the individual subject.

At the same time, as the struggles over the Disengagement from Gaza and Amona show, this community has not relinquished its collective commitments. Furthermore one aspect of the new personal and individualist cultural emphasis is a theological interest in and granting of religious meaning to instinct, aggression and violence.

I suggest that the individualism carried by the new religious Zionist spirituality and cultural orientation is an “inward,” “Lutheran” individualism. In this form of individualism the individual is not opposed to the collective. Rather one finds God and the nation at the root of one's soul. In addition, the expressivist orientation of this spirituality means that it is not “otherworldly” but rather finds religious meaning in material and bodily acts and in the realization of bodily drives including those of sex and aggression. The collective commitments can further legitimize violent orientations. This case study demonstrates the variety of contemporary spiritual movements. 



Jonathan Garb

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Spiritual-Mystical Renaissance in the Contemporary Haredi World


The Haredi (so-called Ultra-Orthodox) world, especially in Israel, is currently undergoing an unprecedented revival of spiritual-mystical discourse and practice. In my methodological introduction I shall claim that capturing current phenomena of this nature, especially in an insular world, necessitates moving out of libraries into the "field" in pursuit of interviews with "insiders" and "internal" publications, together with participation in lectures and rituals. I shall compare the quandaries raised by such "participant observation" to those discussed in Loïc Wacquant's Body and Soul: Notes of an Apprentice Boxer. The substantive part of the lecture shall describe the proliferation and deepening of discourse in the worlds of Kabbalah, Hasidism and Mussar and introduce the major schools, figures, activities and writings of the contemporary Haredi spiritual world. Finally, I shall place these trends in the context of wider developments and changes in the Haredi world and in Israeli society in general. 



Wouter Hanegraaff

University of Amsterdam

Kabbalah in Gnosis Magazine (1985-1999)


The magazine Gnosis, edited by Jay Kinney, appeared from 1985 and 1999 and was the best-known popular journal in the English language devoted to the study of Western esotericism. Dominated by a relatively small number of devoted authors, it is the reflection of a certain esoteric “milieu”, and it is particularly representative of the “religionist” and broadly countercultural approach that has been predominant in this field at least since the 1970s and into the 1990s. In my contribution I will analyze this particular perspective and style of writing in the field of Western esotericism by concentrating in particular on how kabbalah has been presented and interpreted in Gnosis magazine during the fifteen years of its existence.



Graham Harvey

The Open University, UK

Paganism: negotiating between esotericism and animism



Several strands of Paganism emerged as popularised forms of esotericism but have always evidenced tensions with such roots. The tables of "correspondences" that are commonly presented in Pagan literature for learning and application in ritual and meditative practice are a strong indicator of esotericism. However, Pagans often complain about a perceived mania for "lists" and "head knowledge". In emphasising participative ceremonies, they reveal a remarkable counter tendency to the norm of Protestant European denigration of ritual. This not only seems to justify the frequent assertion that Paganism is "not New Age" but also highlights Paganism's alternative, non-esoteric trajectory. One illustration of this negotiation is the use of kabbalistic ten sephirot "tree" glyphs in Pagan literature about native tree symbolism. Emergent forms of explicit, radical polytheism and of animist realism among some Pagans (notably Heathens and eco-Pagans) are indicative of a trend identifiable as "indigenizing". This may also parallel moves among some Israelis to create a "Canaanite" movement. In this presentation, I develop the insights of colleagues (such as Hanegraaff, York, Blain and Johnson) and my own writing about "the new animism" to argue that Paganism and its key discourses about "nature" are best understood when the negotiation between esotericism and animism is recognised.



Boaz Huss

Ben Gurion University

Studying Contemporary Kabbalah: Achievements and challenges



In my opening remarks to the workshop, I will examine (briefly) the emerging field of Contemporary Kabbalah studies. I will discuss the history of the study of contemporary Kabbalah and examine the methodological and conceptual challenges that this study poses for the academic field of `Jewish Mysticism`.



Tamar Katriel

Haifa University

Precursors to contemporary New Age spirituality in Israeli cultural ethos



While research on the spread of New Age spirituality in Israel tends to consider this cultural trend in the context of the postmodern, globalized culture of the past two decades or so, this paper  traces the grassroots search for non-religious spirituality among some early Zionist groups in Palestine who were influenced by romantic and anti-rationalist European cultural strands. Like the cultural trajectories articulated by  today's New Age spirituality movement, the cultural experimentation of small pioneering groups of the1920s proposed an alternative to the action-oriented, modernist and pragmatic Israeli Zionist culture. The vision of the early groups, however, was grounded in a communal and dialogic interpretation of spirituality rather than in individualistic and self-oriented practices. Using the case study of the "soul talk" ethos of early pioneering groups (Katriel 2004), and tracing expressions of interest in far Eastern philosophies and literatures during the nation-building era, I will compare and contrast the sociological matrix of these so-called "secular" spirituality quests, past and present, arguing for a more nuanced historical view of contemporary spirituality practices.


Adam Klin-Oron

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Messages for the End: Eschatological Thought in 20th Century Channeling and its Israeli Varieties



The belief that the world is in the throes of a transformation from the turbulent and violent Age of Pisces to the harmonious and spiritual Age of Aquarius exists in the works of Channels from Alice Bailey to Lee Carroll, and has also reached the Israeli Channeling scene. I will map the history, and the current configuration, of the verities of eschatological thought as they appear in the works of New Age authors who claim to receive dictation from non-human sources. Emphasis will be placed upon differences in perception of the change to come: complete or partial, internal or external, sudden or gradual. Specifically, I will try to show which verities are prevalent in Israeli society, and what connection – if any – do they have with Jewish eschatological traditions. I will also discuss the nature of the new world to come, and the growing tendency to focus on the individual and the present at the expense of the social and the future apocalypse.


James R. Lewis

University of Wisconsin

The Science of Kabbalah



In the mind of the general public, science tends to be regarded as an objective arbiter of ‘Truth.’ Seeking to draw on the prestige of science, many religions have claimed to be ‘scientific’ in some way. The appeal of this legitimation strategy is reflected in the names of such religions as Christian Science, Science of Mind, and Scientology. Kabbalistic movements have not been immune to this pattern; even traditional Kabbalists asserted that Kabbalah anticipated science. The Kabbalah Centre, however, raises this claim to a new level. Drawing on approaches and rhetorical strategies developed within the New Age subculture, Philip Berg has made the appeal to science a cornerstone of his presentation of Kabbalah. In the present paper, I will analyze this deployment of discourse about science as a legitimation strategy designed to supplement – and in certain ways to reinforce – the appeal of Kabbalah as Ancient Wisdom.



Joseph Loss

Haifa University 

Transforming Experiences in the practice of Buddha Dhamma (the Path of the Buddha) in Contemporary Israel



Researchers of the growing phenomenon of Buddhism out of Asia are grappling with the ontological question of how to define their subjects of study that are not Asian immigrants, namely who is a converted Buddhist. Several answers have been offered and all were criticized as essentialist and therefore too excluding or extreme relativist and therefore too including.

In this lecture I will claim that the actual question is problematic because it is in the first place essentialist. Instead, I claim, the question posed should be how one becomes a Buddhist in a certain context, rather than who is a Buddhist. Similar shift can be useful, I believe, in the cultural study of other fields of current spirituality.

In this lecture I will describe basic features of the main event around which the process of adoption of the Path of the Buddha in Israel is circulating – the Dhamma course. As the experiential aspect of these courses is the central concern of the loyal Dhamma practitioners, I will analyze stories of the transformative most important experiences of these practitioners in order to articulate how the motives of a person that came to one course changed and made him come again to additional courses.




Zvi Mark

Bar-Ilan University

The Contemporary Renassaince of Breslov Hasidism—Ritual, Tikkun and Messianism


One of the most notable Jewish groups involved in the renaissance of mysticism and kabbalah in the last third of the twentieth century is that of the Breslov Hasidim.

R. Nachman of Breslov is today a cultural hero in Israeli society, and Breslov Hasidism is blossoming and more successful than it has ever been before. However, because a comprehensive study of the religious, cultural and sociological aspects of this phenomenon has yet to be undertaken, it is difficult to answer the question of the secret of the fascination of R. Nachman of Breslov and why he has, particularly in the last generation, attained such adulation and such a position of importance.

In my talk, I will limit myself to discussing certain components of this phenomenon—the clarification of which, I believe, can contribute to a more inclusive and complete study of these questions.

The first part of my talk will be dedicated to the connection between the Breslovian renaissance, with its extended influence, and the coming into being of neo-Breslovian messianic movements that are working with great fervor to spread R. Nachman’s teachings.

The second part will address unique Breslovian rituals that play an important role both in the daily life of the Hasidim and in the yearly Rosh Hashanah celebration, when all of the Hasidim gather together at the gravesite of R. Nachman in Uman, Ukraine.

In addition, I will address “rectification” as a key concept in understanding the meaning of these rituals and the secret of their power.


Jonatan Meir

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Revealed which Conceals: R. Shalom Sharabi’s Kabbalah, Esotericism and the Printing of Kabbalistic Books



The lecture will deal with an array of contemporary developments in the interpretation of the Kabbalah of R. Shalom Sharabi and their popular dissemination. The transition from the study of these doctrines within closed circles at the beginning of the twentieth century to widespread reception within eclectic and Hasidic traditions. Two Kabbalistic yeshivot in will be receive special analysis: Ahavat Shalom and Shuvi Nafshi, which follow the teachings of R. Shalom Sharabi, each in their own way. A certain tension distinguishes these groups in their attempts to interpret and disseminate Kabbalistic literature which will form the backdrop for appreciating the place of Kabbalah within ultra-religious circles in Israel today.


Jody Myers

Kabbalah for the Gentiles: Diverse Souls and Universalism in Contemporary Kabbalah



In this paper I will  examine the phenomenon of contemporary non-Jewish engagement with Kabbalah.  I will focus on the individual Jews and organized Jewish groups who affirm the appropriateness of teaching non-Jews Kabbalah as a spiritual discipline, or who are struggling to arrive at a coherent approach to the role of non-Jews in the study of Kabbalah.  The focus of my attention is on the Kabbalah Centre and ex-members of the Kabbalah Centre, Bnai Baruch, and others.  The theoretical rationales presented by the teachers, as well as the self-understanding of the non-Jewish recipients of this teaching, will be probed. 



Michel Rosenthal

Haifa University

 "Are you willing to cover your head?"  Notes on the spiritual economy of

blessings at Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak's lectures.


This paper describes and analyzes the spiritual economy at work in the lectures of a popular Israeli Rabbi who directs an "outreach" organization for convincing Jews to become more observant.  Often those who attend the lectures come for a specific purpose—to ask the Rabbi for a blessing.  The kind of blessing requested varies greatly—some ask on behalf of sick relatives, others for solutions to their infertility problems and yet others for their husband or wife to become more observant.  Usually, the Rabbi responds to these requests with a basic question:  “Are you willing to…?”  Those audience members that request blessings who might be identified as non-observant (by their dress, manner, etc.), are usually asked if they would be willing to receive a skullcap (kippah) and prayer shawl (tallit katan) or in the case of married women, to cover their head (with a scarf).  For that purpose, the Rabbi carries around skullcaps and white pieces of cloth for head scarves to distribute to audience members.  The individual that agrees is requested to come up to the stage (accompanied by canned music) to receive the head covering, while the blessing for a new occasion (sheyheyanu) is recited enthusiastically by the audience.  Ironically, the act of covering the body, a symbolic representation of a commitment to modesty and religious observance in general, is documented by the cameras for future audiences to view.  The once anonymous audience member exposes him/herself not only to those physically and temporally present but to members of the audience viewing the lecture through live video streaming on the website, and potential future viewers who choose to listen or view the lecture at a later date through the website.   If an individual’s blessing request is later fulfilled (i.e., a woman gets pregnant or a child recovers from an illness), Shofar (the Rabbi’s organization and production group) might also produce an edited film of the process  (see for example, a Filmed Miracle [Nes Metzulam]), films that have potentially even broader audiences than that of the recordings of specific lectures.   These edited films are screened at other lectures prior to the Rabbi's arrival or during the lecture itself, serving as a kind of proof-text on the efficacy of blessings and religious observance in general, and as a model for future blessing requests. 

Viewing these blessing requests as an exemplar of contemporary religious mediation, this paper examines the ways the body is implicated in the process:  1)as the object of the blessing (i.e., heal the illness, infertility, etc.), 2) as the relevant site for repentance (e.g., cover your hair or head); 3)as  the subject of visual recordings and films; and 4)as the actual and intended audience.   It concludes with reflections upon the role of visual media in the spiritual economy of Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak's enterprise within the broader context of contemporary Judaism.



Omri Ruah Midbar

Ben Gurion University

A Comparative Study of Current Spiritualities through three Musical Versions of ‘Im Nin'alu


In 1984, at height of her success, Ofra Haza devoted an entire album to traditional Yemenite songs (entitled Yemenite Songs); in it the first song was ‘Im Nin'alu’ (“If [the Gates] are Closed”). Two decades later, the singer Madonna recorded the ‘Isaac’ song (for the album ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’), where there are quotes from the ‘Im Nin'alu’ song performed by the Israeli singer Yitzhak Sinwani. The connection between the two versions, of Haza and Madonna, was made by the Israeli DJ Ofer Nissim in 2006 through a ‘Trance’ style Remix. Ofer Nissim quoted various segments where Haza, Madonna and Sinwani sing.

Although the three artists employ the same song, the three pieces they created represent three distinct religious / spiritual phenomena. Each of the pieces holds different significance for ‘Im Nin'alu’ in the spiritual world of the musician. Haza subscribed to a traditional spirituality, and sang a song that expressed an authentic returning to her own roots. Madonna expressed a post-modern kind of spirituality, and used the quotation as an expression of an ethnic’s "other", which is in her eyes an authentic expression of pure spirituality. Nissim used the 'Trance’ music to create a sense of elation, and the musical quotes are one of the means he uses to lead the dancing audience into an oceanic experience. In Nissim’s version all the musical segments are treated as music of an ‘other’, in that way, while the listener experiences a feeling of merging with the crowd, the music loses its sense of uniqueness.

The story of the song’s three musical versions is the story of different trends in current spirituality. In the post-modern condition many people feel a need for spirituality in their lives – some of them return to their original culture, to their traditional spirituality and get closer to their ethnic roots; some of them search for spiritual answers in the culture  of  the ‘other’ (many times in the ‘East’); others are satisfied with a spiritual experience without to considering its source or its essence.


Marianna Ruah-Midbar

University of Haifa, Tel-Aviv University, Shalom Hartman Institute

Jewish Spirituality in the New Age – Emerging Jewish-Israeli Phenomena in the Junction with New Age Culture



New Age culture is situated at the crux of an intense cultural revolution, based upon a shift from “religious” values to “spiritual” ones. This is illustrated, for example, in the movement’s harsh criticism of traditional, religious institutions and its preference for the Perennialist philosophy. This distinction proves fertile for analyzing recent spiritual phenomena emerging in the crossroads of Jewish identity (primarily Israeli) and New Age culture; phenomena that are usually non-religious, in the traditional, orthodox sense, yet at the same time, mostly non-“secular.”

In this lecture, I shall discuss new forms of Jewish identity that are currently emerging in the (Israeli) encounter with New Age culture. I shall define ten types of spiritual movements that have yet to be examined (apart from the first two) in current research in the field of Jewish identity formation. They are: Kabbalistic doctrines based upon the Ashlag school; Neo-Hasidism and Jewish renewal; alternative Sabbath & Festivals celebrations and biblical interpretation; Channeling of Jewish teachings, personalities, and entities; Jewish/Hebrew shamanism, paganism, magic and eco-feminism; Jewish New Agey syncretistic schools; new Jewish theoretical systems; soul-body oriented Jewish practices; Jewish spiritual consultation/mentoring; new Jewish ritual objects.

Defining and examining these ten types reveals the emphases, contents and ideals of the new Jewish identity that is now being formed in the spirit of New Age, and the current reinvention of Jewish tradition. 


Chava Weissler

Performing Kabbalah/“Kabbalah” in the Jewish Renewal Movement



Among those groups in North America that have adapted Kabbalistic ideas, teachings, and techniques is ALEPH – Alliance fore Jewish Renewal.  To understand what “Kabbalah” means to participants in Jewish Renewal, however, we must go beyond an analysis of ideas and concepts and look at performance and embodiment.  In worship services and meditation exercises, in song and in visual art, indeed, even in baking bread, members enact the Sefirot (divine Emanations), the Four Worlds, and, central to the movement, the quest for devekut, the experience of deep connection with the divine. Examining performative rather than discursive ways of assimilating Kabbalah is crucial to understanding its role in the movement. 


Rachel Werczberger

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Jewish Self-Healing - The Case of Jewish Spiritual Renewal in Israel



One of the possible sociological explanations for the resurgence of Jewish mysticism in the form of New Age religiosity in Israeli Society and the construction of new religious identities among Israeli secular is the decline of the hegemonic secular- national- identity in Israeli society. Seen in this context, Jewish Spiritual Renewal (JSR) in Israel can be understood as an attempt to create a new religious Jewish identity based on the integration of Hasidic Judaism and New Age spirituality. Uniting various mystical traditions, both Jewish and non Jewish, JSR developed under the endogenous influence of American Judaism, contemporary spirituality and the New Age Movement, introducing new styles of ritual and textual scholarship.

Influenced by New-Age spirituality, JSR adherents perceive Jewish ritual and text as instrumental for their personal spiritual transformation and healing. These notions resonate with the New Age emphasis on the self and its need for transformation, self-development, actualization and healing. My lecture will review several ways in which JSR transforms Jewish ritual into a ritual of self-healing, via the integration of the New Age notion of a sacred self and therapeutic practices.





Philip Wexler

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Toward a Social Psychology of Contemporary Spirit



Approaches to a social psychology of spirituality are reviewed, drawing upon traditions of classical sociology, social movement theory, and interpretive scholarship in Jewish mysticism. Interactional processes, including particularly, commodification and sublimation and desublimation, are emphasized as partial explanations of the variety of contemporary forms of spirituality.

Within this social analytic and interpretive scholarship of mystical Judaism, an alternative is initiated, that works more directly from classical sources of Jewish mysticism - taking limited examples from the streams of Kabbalah and Hasidism. This alternative aims to compare selected ideals of "mystical interactions" with contemporary, hegemonic patterns of social interaction. The question raised is whether these ideal forms of interaction are in any way relevant to current social realities and whether, even further, they may provide an "indigenous theory" of social psychology.


Elliot R. Wolfson

New York University

Apocalyptic Transposition and the Status of the Non-Jew in Habad Mysticism



One of the foundational ideas in Habad philosophy is the ontological difference between the psychic and somatic constitution of the Jew and non-Jew. Every one of the seven masters in the Lubavitch dynasty have posited a qualitative distinction between the soul of the Jew and the soul of all other ethnicities. The most striking way that this dogma has been expressed is the claim that non-Jews possess an animal soul that derives from the demonic, whereas Jews possess a divine soul that endows them with the capacity to uplift their animal soul and to transform it into a vessel for holiness. An alternative way that this essential difference is marked is by the claim that only Jews are endowed with the aspect of soul known as yechidah in virtue of which the individual can be reincorporated into the light of the Infinite, the incomposite unity of the nondifferentiated One. A distinctive ontological position is accorded to the Jews, therefore, as it is presumed that only they possess the aspect of the divine that is the essence of the Infinite, the “inner point of the heart,” and therefore they alone are capable of devequt or bittul. Even the campaign to promulgate the seven Noahide laws on the part of Menachem Mendel Schneersohn rests on the presumed irreducible difference between the holy nation of Israel and all other nations. And yet, the seeds to undermine this perspective are found in Habad teaching as well, since the light of the Infinite is characterized as nondifferentiated unity, a coincidentia oppositorum where there is no longer any basis to distinguish light and darkness, holy and impure, and, consequently, the hard and fast distinction between Jew and non-Jew can similarly be challenged. The overcoming of this fundamental distinction can be considered one of the most innovative changes in contemporary kabbalistic spirituality.