NAHMANIDES: KABBALA, HALAKHA AND SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP
by Moshe Idel
Geronese kabbala has commonly been conceived of as a relatively homogeneous school, within which Nahmanides has been allocated a rather modest role. The prevailing assumption was that the main formative master had been Rabbi Isaac Sagi Nahor. The present study attempts to distinguish two different Cabbalistic schools in Catalonia. One was active in Gerona, inspired by the theosophical views stemming from the tradition of Rabbi Isaac Sagi Nahor. This school, at least in its writings, is much more inclined to exoteric expositions, often interpreted by means of philosophical concepts. The other school, starting in Gerona, where its major exponent was Nahmanides, moved to Barcelona, where it flowered for several decades, long after the disappearance of the Geronese school.
The Barcelona school, instituted by Nahmanides, may be described as constituted by foremost elite figures, namely kabbalists who also had halakhic standing, while the Geronese kabbalists belonged to what may be described as the secondary elite, namely intellectuals who were lesser halakhists and played a lesser role in the life of their communities. While the former school was more concerned with the secrets of the Torah, and inclined to esotericism, the latter was more interested in the secrets of Sefer Yezira and ma'ase bereshit, namely in speculations related to cosmogonical and putative theosophical processes.
The present article assumes that, in view of the different politics concerning the disclosure of kabbalistic secrets and the difference in content, a certain tension existed between Nahmanides and Rabbi Jonah Gerondi, on one side, and Rabbi Isaac Sagi Nahor, on the other. This confrontation may be discerned from the epistle sent by the latter to the Geronese kabbalists.
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