by Haviva Pedaya

This study attempts to demonstrate that the early theosophical kabbalists, R. Ezra and R. Azriel of Gerona, tended to express an ecstatic-prophetic type of mystical experience. At the height of this experience, the kabbalist was thought to be opened up to the supernal pool and speech flowed freely from his mouth like water.

This ecstatic model is analysed in several different contexts: (a) its transmitter, R. Isaac the Blind (Sagi-Nahor), and the dualistic model of vessel and spirit rooted in the depths of his kabbalistic thought; (b) the striking mystical patterns of the schools of Jewish Suffic mysticism: R. Abraham b. Moses Maimonides, R. Obadiah his son, R. Joshua b. David his grandson, R. Abraham his great-grandson, and the author of Peraqim ba-Hazlaha); (c) the understanding of the emanation of the sefirot as a process of flowing from the spring after digging and clearing away the earth, as found in Sefer ha-Bahir, Sefer ha-Zohar, and the midrash.

From a methodological viewpoint, the study attempts to demonstrate that: (a) One cannot argue that the early kabbalists were theosophists (as opposed to ecstatics). However, the nature of the ecstasy which overtook them needs to be clarified. (b) In discussing ecstatic mystical experience, one is dealing with concepts involved in a process that becomes progressively obscure and, at its height, progressively broadened. The study attempts to identify the well-defined stages occurring within this process; (c) In the city of Barcelona there was an active seeking of mystical experience, within the framework of a structured (and not occasional) ecstatic model, from the time of the earliest kabbalists living there, even before the appearance of R. Abraham Abulafia. Consideration is given to the fact that Sufic writings were translated in this city, and that among those who lived or visited there were such personalities as R. Baruch Togarmi, R. Ezra of Gerona, R. Abraham Abulafia, R. Joseph ibn Aknin, R. Abraham Hasdai, R. Shem Tov Ardontiel, and R. Joseph b. Shalom Ashkenazi; (d) R. Ezra is known as a kabbalist having a deep knowledge of philosophical teachings and Sufic traditions, and in whose world mystical experience held a central place.

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