Item description for Safed Spirituality: Rules of Mystical Piety, the Beginning of Wisdom (Classics of Western Spirituality) by Lawrence Fine...
Overview This volume portrays aspects of the rich literature that developed in Safed, a Galilean city and one of the great centers of Jewish creativity, in the 16th century.
Publishers Description The most in-depth and scholarly panorama of Western spirituality ever attempted
In one series, the original writings of the universally acknowledged teachers of the Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, Islamic and Native American traditions have been critically selected, translated and introduced by internationally recognized scholars and spiritual leaders.
The texts are first-rate, and the introductions are informative and reliable. The books will be a welcome addition to the bookshelf of every literate religious persons". -- The Christian Century
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Studio: Paulist Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.06" Width: 6.05" Height: 0.61" Weight: 0.65 lbs.
Release Date Dec 1, 1988
Publisher Paulist Press
Series Classics Of Western Spirituality
ISBN 0809126125 ISBN13 9780809126125
Availability 0 units.
More About Lawrence Fine
Lawrence Fineis the Irene Kaplan Leiwant Chair of Jewish Studies at Mount Holyoke College.
Reviews - What do customers think about Safed Spirituality: Rules of Mystical Piety, the Beginning of Wisdom (Classics of Western Spirituality)?
Lots of food for thought Aug 16, 2005
Because I didn't know much about Jewish thought, I selected this book out of many because of keywords related to Kabbalah, ritual, mysticism as well as many known biblical characters. I found what I was promised, lots of rules of behavior, unexpected and touching humanity. The style of writing is easy to read, with much specificity and explanations. Very helpful basic resource for the uninitiated.
Limited Scope Sep 29, 2004
While I agree with the vast majority of what the prior reviewer wrote concerning the contents of this book, as stated by him, the author only addressed two of the major items on his list of important Safed topics. Not only that, but the title is Safed "Spirituality." The two topics picked are barely (if at all) spiritual. Admittedly, Kabbalistic mystics have written much of the Musar (Jewish ethical/moral literature)--Cordovero wrote "The Palm Tree of Deborah;" Luzzatto wrote "The Path of the Just," "The Way of God," and "The Knowing Heart;" etc. But that doesn't make them "spiritual" works. Perhaps, my definition differs from his? Still, I would think that Idel's "Kabbalah: New Perspectives" or Gikatilla's "Gates of Light" or Aryeh Kaplan's "Jewish Meditation," "Meditation and the Bible," and "Meditation and Kabbalah" would qualify as spiritual texts or at least as addressing spiritual topics. The present text does not do so. I do think that translating and publishing de Vidas classic Musar work is a valuable contribution to the scholarly literature, but I don't think this book will help to make Safed a household word. And, if it did, it would have the wrong flavor anyway. 16th Century Safed was perhaps the most fertile time/place for Jewish mystical and spiritual development ever (with the possible exception of the Baal Shem Tov's Hasidism). Unfortunately, this does not come across in this book. Hopefully, the author will follow up this text with a sequel that addresses the more spiritual aspects and innovations that began in Safed. As it is, the subtitle is far more accurate than the title which seems a bit misleading to me.
Ancient wisdom, modern insight Jul 15, 2003
The book 'Safed Spirituality: Rules of Mystical Piety, The Beginning of Wisdom' is a text produced by the Paulist Press for their series on the Classics of Western Spirituality (see the end of this review for more information. The translation of these texts were done by Professor Lawrence Fine, who also wrote the introduction. At the time of its printing, Fine was a professor of religious studies and Jewish studies at Indiana University, and I took a course in Jewish mysticism under his direction.
'The renaissance of Jewish mystical life that took place in the Galilean city of Safed in the sixteenth century is one of the most significant and remarkable chapters in the history of Judaism. The ideas that developed there, the rich literature that was produced, the stunning array of teachers it nurtured, established Safed as one of the great centers of Jewish creativity.' Given this glowing introduction to the place and time, it is remarkable that few people, including few Jewish people, have ever heard of Safed or Safed spirituality. In the preface by Louis Jacobs, the idea of normative Judaism's resistance to things mystical is explored. Certainly in an era where Hasidic Jews are no longer unknown people and Kabbalistic mysticism is made popular by pop stars and New Age spiritualists, to explore the great production of the community of Safed makes sense.
Safed spirituality had no qualms about reinventing the symbols, practices and traditions of Judaism, and in that has an interesting modern sensibility to it. However, the Safed community was careful not to push beyond the boundaries of `orthodox' Judaism, and so remains firmly a part of the greater Jewish communal experience. The Safed community benefited from a convergence of historical events, including the expulsion of Jews from various European kingdoms, most particularly the Spanish explusion of 1492, and from tolerance and trade within the Ottoman Empire at the time. Fine describes the Safed community of the 1500s as having five primary features that constituted innovations in Judaism:
Fine has selected two types of literature from the Safed community to present in this text. First, there is the Hanhagot, codes and practices of religious behaviour. Second, there is the Resh-it Hokhmah, which translates as The Beginning of Wisdom, an ethical-mystical text written by Elijah de Vidas.
The Hanhagot are, in effect, practical daily instructions. This is not out of keeping with greater Jewish custom and practice, where writings such as the Talmud are esteemed for their organisation principles and exacting prescriptions for action and behaviour. 'Forsaking speculative, theoretical, and analytical concerns, the Haghanot are usually composed of lists that, in a terse, systematic format, enumerate practical behavioral standards and expectations. In tone they are conspicuously directive and didactic. In this latter respect, the Haghanot are very much like Hebrew ethical wills, letters written by a father to his children before his death, or by a scholar to his community.'
There are six sets of texts presented here, by Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, Abraham ben Mordecai Galante, Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi Berukhim, Joseph Karo, and Isaac Luria. These include instructions as well as reflections, hymns and brief biographical statements of each spiritual leader. The instructions range from how to pray, how to observe Sabbath, how to conduct interpersonal relationships, and much more.
Elijah de Vidas' text on The Beginning of Wisdom is deeply steeped in Kabbalistic literature and practice. The entire book is divided into five `gates' each one of which is long and involved, exploring specific points of the mystical journey such as far, love, repentance, holiness and humility. While the Kabbalistic influence is very evident, Elijah de Vidas incorporated much non-kabbalistic literature from the medieval period into this work, as well as drawing on Talmudic and Midrashic texts, including the Bible.
The text included here is a condensation of de Vidas' book. This was done by Jacob Poyetto in 1580, one year after the publication of the original. Poyetto's abridgement contributed greatly to the readability and popularity of the book, and concentrates far more on practical aspects of de Vidas' text.
Fine includes an appendix that includes a description of the Sefirot, a useful glossary of Kabbalistic and Jewish mystical terms, a selected readings list divided by subject area, and a good number of notes from the texts.
This is indeed an interesting text highlighting spirituality from an influential period in Jewish history. It is worthwhile for anyone interested in Jewish history or in mysticism and spirituality generally.
The series of Classics of Western Spirituality is produced by the Paulist Press. With an impressive editorial board comprised of many of the top scholars from around the world, the CWS series includes texts from the most ancient of sources to very recent modern compositions. All texts in this series include significant portions of the original sources, with generous commentary in the form of introductions, notes, and appendices. With new volumes being produced all the time, the CWS series is a great achievement in religious studies and the study of spirituality.