Between the Mundane and the Divine:
Images, Technologies and Kabbalah in the Early Modern Period
This three lecture session focuses on interrelations between daily life and esoteric knowledge in early modern Kabbalistic thought and practice. It demonstrates the ways in which contemporary technologies designed esoteric ideas among students of R. Isaac Luria (ha-Ari), and exposes a technical praxis of divination for gaining esoteric knowledge regarding daily issues.
Machines, Wheels and Cranes: New Methods of Activating God in Early Modern Kabbalah
Dr. Uri Safrai
A new Kabbalistic literary genre dedicated to prayer intentions and known as sifrut ha-kavanot became apparent in the Sixteenth century. Many books were written in order to explain the technique in which the daily prayer activates God and draws the divine flow down to the world. The study of these writings is challenging since they are highly detailed and complicated. In this paper I offer to approach this literature by way of exploring the metaphors kabbalists used in describing how prayers function in activating the divine worlds. Focusing on these metaphors reveals the connection between Lurianic ideas and contemporary mechanical developments such as cranes, water-mills, drilling equipment etc. Kabbalist were aware of these developments, which marked the advantage of man over nature, and used them for describing the efficacy of prayers. By doing so they marked the advantage of humans not only over nature but also over God.
God as a Printer: Images and Theology in R. Israel Saruq's Kabbalah
Dr. Eliezer Baumgarten
R. Israel Saruq, one of R. Isaac Luria's most prominent student's, arrived in Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century and began teaching Lurianic Kabbalah in an exclusive way. His method of understanding and teaching the Lurianic Kabbalah was characterized mainly by its unique images. Whereas R. Chaim Vital concentrated on the divine body and the lights emerging out of it, R. Yisrael Saruq spoke of the creation of primordial letters, and of the ways in which these letters were intertwined to create a primordial language. In this lecture I will discuss the unique images typical of Saruq's Kabbalah. I will show that these images derived from the printing technology of Saruq's time, a technology that played a central role in the sixteenth-century culture. I will further elaborate on the doctrine of emanation which described God as the printer of the world and which was developed by several kabbalists throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Between Safed and Ancona: Manuscripts of Practical Kabbalah and Divination in the Early Modern Period
Prof. Yuval Harari
In 1535, Elisha, son of Gad, (of Ancona) wrote in Safed his book of practical Kabbalah which he called Ets ha-Da'at. This compilation of about 150 magic recipes is unique not because of its content but because of its paratexts – a rhymed introduction composed by the author as well as four indices which he prepared and placed at the beginning of the book. The copy of Ets ha-Da'at in manuscript London, BL Or 12362 is even more surprising since this is the only book of magic recipes known to us that was ornamented from beginning to end. A Comparison of the visual elements of this manuscript with those of manuscript Moscow, RSL Guenzburg 1072 – a book of divination called Magid Davar – teaches that they were both copied by Yehiel Galico, an artist-scribe who worked in Ancona in mid sixteenth century. In my lecture I will present the two manuscripts and point to their common artistic style which ties them together. I will then focus on the divinatory compilation Magid Daver and show how the technical-mathematical use of the eighteen tables of the book served for gaining hidden knowledge concerning various issues of daily life.