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"Peering Through the Lattices"

Mystical, Magical, and Pietistic Dimensions in the Tosafist Period

Ephraim Kanarfogel

Publication Year: 2000

During the high Middle Ages, the tosafists flourished in northern Europe and revolutionized the study of the Talmud. These Jewish scholars did not participate in the philosophical and religious thought that concerned Christendom, and today they are seen as having played a limited role in mystical or esoteric studies. Ephraim Kanarfogel now challenges this conventional view of the tosafists, showing that many individuals were influenced by ascetic and pietistic practices and were involved with mystical and magical doctrines. He traces the presence of these disciplines in the pre-Crusade period, shows how they are intertwined, and suggests that the widely available Hekhalot literature was an important conduit for this material. He also demonstrates that the asceticism and esotericism of the German Pietists were an integral part of Ashkenazic rabbinic culture after the failure of Rashbam and other early tosafists to suppress these aspects of pre-Crusade thinking. The identification of these various forms of spirituality places the tosafists among those medieval rabbinic thinkers who sought to supplement their Talmudism with other areas of knowledge such as philosophy and kabbalah, demonstrating the compatibility of rabbinic culture and mysticism. These interests, argues Kanarfogel, explain both references to medieval Ashkenazic rabbinic figures in kabbalistic literature and the acceptance of certain ascetic and mystical practices by later Ashkenazic scholars. Drawing on original manuscript research, Kanarfogel makes available for the first time many passages produced by lesser known tosafists and rabbinic figures and integrates the findings of earlier and contemporary scholarship, much of it published only in Hebrew. "Peering through the Lattices" provides a greater appreciation for these texts and opens up new opportunities for scholarhship in Jewish history and thought.

Published by: Wayne State University Press


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pp. 7-10

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pp. 9-12

As often occurs in scholarship, findings and pathways that are chanced upon initially can ultimately yield significant results. After the completion of my Jewish Education and Society in the High Middle Ages, which focused primarily on the societal and curricular structures of education and rabbinic learning in medieval Ashkenaz, I began, mainly for a change of pace, to reread and to explore further kabbalistic and other mystical literature that appeared in ...

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pp. 13-15

The completion of a book represents an opportunity for appropriate recognition of those who contributed to its development and formulation, as well as to those who enhanced the author's intellectual, professional, and personal well-being. Unfortunately, I must begin by noting the untimely death of a lifelong mentor, Rabbi Hirsh Fishman z"l- I take some consolation in the fact that Rabbi Fishman had begun to replicate ...


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pp. 17-20

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Introduction: Perceptions of Tosafist Spirituality

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pp. 19-31

The tosafists did not inherit a philosophical tradition, nor did they have access to or interest in the developments and changes regarding philosophy and religious thought that were occurring throughout contemporary Christian society1 Scholars who have studied the creativity and literature of the tosafists have assigned them a very limited role in mystical or esoteric studies as well. These researchers maintain that only the German Pietists, who were ...

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1 Asceticism, Pietism, and Perishut

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pp. 33-92

The German Pietists combined their interest in esoteric studies with an extensive program of pietistic behaviors and outlooks. These included manifestations of asceticism and perishut such as acts of self-denial (beyond those observances mandated by Jewish law), the professing of extreme humility bordering on self-humiliation, and sustained or pronounced stringency in ritual matters.1 In order to identify and evaluate properly the presence of ascetic and pietistic practices within the larger rabbinic culture of medieval ...

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2 Pietistic Tendencies in Prayer and Ritual

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pp. 93-130

There were a number of rabbinic figures and tosafists in medieval Ashkenaz who subscribed to and worked with the exoteric biblical interpretations of the German Pietists, including the Pietists' particular usages of techniques such as gematria and notariqon, and their interpretation of patterns or anomalies within the masoretic text (tecamim shel Torah/HumasK)1 Moreover, there were those who accepted and promulgated the Pietists' readings and variants of liturgical ...

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3 Mysticism and Magic: Pre-Crusade Traditions and the Reaction of Early Tosafists

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pp. 131-188

There was substantial interest in torat ha-sod on the part of rabbinic scholars in pre-Crusade Germany, but it existed almost exclusively in Mainz and, within Mainz, among members of the Abun and Qalonymus families.1 R. Simeon b. Isaac ha-Gadol, whose pietism was noted at the beginning of the first chapter, included in his piyyutim such concepts as the ineffable Name of seventy letters

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4 Between Tosafists and German Pietists

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pp. 189-220

The dialectical method pioneered by Rabbenu Tarn and other early tosafists held sway in northern France and Germany throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.1 The influence of these scholars is perhaps also evident in those Tosafot texts that appear to downplay or modify mystical or magical interpretations proposed by Rashi and others.2 At the same time, however, ...

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5 Integration and Expansion during the Thirteenth Century

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pp. 221-249

Two of the most important thirteenth-century tosafist halakhists, R. Isaac b. Moses Or Zarucf of Vienna (d.c.1250) and R. Meir of Rothenburg (d.1293, who studied in his youth with R. Isaac), represent German rabbinic traditions. Nonetheless, they also spent considerable time studying with leading rabbinic scholars in northern France and should be considered, on balance, as the heirs ...

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6 Conclusions and Implications

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pp. 251-258

The data assembled and presented in this study suggest that ascetic practices and mystical and magical teachings were a recognizable part of the spiritual lives of a number of twelfth- and thirteenth-century tosafists. Although the bcfalei ha-Tosafot were known primarily for their achievements and advancements in the realm of talmudic studies, many of them were familiar with both the techniques ...

Appendix: Ashkenazic Rabbinic Scholars

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pp. 259-260

Index of Manuscript References

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pp. 261-264

Index of Names and Subjects

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pp. 265-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780814339947
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814325315

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2000