Sod Ha-Shabbat -  The Mystery of the Shabbat

Elliot Ginsburg

The present volume is a translation of, and critical commentary to, Sod ha-Shabbat, a treatise on the mystical Sabbath by the influential Spanish-Turkish Kabbalist, R. Meir ibn Gabbai (1480/81-after 1543). Ibn Gabbai's text is part of a larger composition, the Tola'at Ya'aqov, which he completed in 1507. The merit of Sod ha-Shabbat is twofold: 1) it is the most systematic treatment of the Sabbath in classical Kabbalah; 2) it is a summary work: standing at the end of a Kabbalistic era, composed on the eve of the Safed Renaissance, it brings together many disparate strands from the classical mystical tradition.

The present volume assumes the following structure: The translation is preceded by an Introduction to Meir ibn Gabbai's life and work, and followed by extensive critical notes which serve three major functions: to clarify philological problems arising from manuscript variants and general problems of translation; to place the work in broader historical context by mapping influences and noting significant parallels; and to raise certain broader theoretical issues regarding myth and the ritual process.

This is the second book in my two-volume study of the mystical Sabbath prior to the Safed Renaissance. The first volume, The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah (SUNY Press: Albany, 1989) is a synthetic study of the Sabbath drawn from a full range of mystical sources. In it the conceptual canvas was deliberately stretched wide; here it is kept smaller, more tightly circumscribed. Yet what variety lurks within Meir ibn Gabbai's text! Sod ha-Shabbat is a rich and sometimes difficult work, replete with legal dialectic, encoded mystical allusions and multiple layers of meaning. One "opens" a text and enters a world, 'olam u-melo'o. So this book is not, perhaps, to be read so much as studied: to be eyed keenly, puzzled over, contemplated and — slowly savored.

Répertoire bibliographique / Bibliographic Repertory