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2 Sources of Devequt in Early Hasidism Nearly fifty years ago in a series of lectures delivered at Hebrew Union College in New York, Gershom Scholem identified devequt, or communion with God, as the focal point of early Hasidism and as the principal factor in determining its spiritual physiognomyl Scholem's insight that Hasidism placed greatest emphasis on awareness of the "real omnipresence and immanence of God"2 has gone until recently virtually unchallenged) Yet, aspects of his treatment of the subject have been augmented, questioned, and, in some cases, refuted in the considerable scholarly research, which has dealt with the history and meaning of the term devequt4 In the face of so much new material on the subject, Scholem's article can no longer be considered a sufficient account of devequt. The quantity and importance of recent insights clearly call for a fresh presentation of our subject.s Our goal, then, will be to review those aspects of recent research that contribute to a new account of the antecedents of devequt in Hasidism and to present a preliminary phenomenology of devequt in selected early Hasidic texts. Scholem begins his discussion of devequt with several very important medieval sources, Nahmanides' commentary on Deut. 11:22 and Maimonides ' Guide of the Perplexed, part 3, chapter 51. However, the term had been interpreted even earlier in ways which would be of interest to Hasidic thinkers. Indeed already in rabbinic literature the meaning of those verses, which speak of cleaving to God, are the subject of discussion.6 One trend of rabbinic interpretation is decidedly non-mystical.7 Assuming the impossibility of direct contact between the human and the divine, the biblical injunction "to cleave to Him" is understood as calling for a clear commitment to the way of God or some type of imitatio dei.S On the other hand, a number of teachings in the name of Rabbi Akiva and his followers call for a literal reading of the verse. "And you who are cleaving to YHVH, your God- actually cleaving."9 Here the meaning clearly goes beyond external action, no matter how God-like, and points to an inner state of connection to the deity. Thus, it is clear that in the early rabbinic period there was a tradition which understood biblical expressions of cleaving to God in a literal or mystical sense. Moreover, this inner mystical experience is already associated with 44 Uniter of Heaven and Earth the Holy Spirit. "Just as when someone is attached to impurity, an impure spirit rests upon him, it follows that when one is connected to the Shekhinah , the Holy Spirit rests upon him."lO However, one non-mystical rabbinic interpretation of devequt is also deserving of our attention since it is frequently cited in the early Hasidic writings of R. Ya'aqov Yosef of Polnoy and plays an important role in his theory of deveqllt. As an interpretation of Deut. 11:22, we find "and is it possible for a person to ascend to the supernal and cleave to fire?ll ... rather, cleave to the sages and their disciples."12 This view recoils at the notion of intimacy between the divine and human. The best means of cleaving to God is not only an association with those who are experts in His Torah, but also to actively support them.13 We shall soon see how R. Ya'aqov Yosef embraces both of these seemingly mutually exclusive understandings of devequt . For the present, however, we need only remark that while the interpretation which involves association with Torah sages has no apparent mystical connotation in the rabbinic sources themselves, there is nothing which would prevent it from being absorbed by mystical conceptions of the Torah that developed in the Middle Ages. While rabbinic literature does contain evidence of belief in the possibility of mystical experience, such experience receives no sustained or systematic analysis. Fully developed theories which explain the ways in which contact between the human and the divine can occur appear only in the Middle Ages. These theories are extremely dependent on terminologies borrowed from non-Jewish philosophical sources.14 The terminologies are, according to Moshe Ide!, of three distinct types: Aristotelian, Neoplatonic, and Hermetic . However, in many cases aspects from more than one terminology are combined in a particular presentation of devequt. The terminologies differ as to the entities said to be involved in the divine/human contact and in conceiving the contact as a result of human ascent or divine descent...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781438409658
Related ISBN
9780791438176
MARC Record
OCLC
42855920
Pages
309
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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