ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hartley Lachter, PhD
Hartley Lachter is the Philip and Muriel Berman Professor of Jewish Studies, and Director of the Berman Center for Jewish Studies at Lehigh University, where he is also the Chair of the Religion Studies department. He holds a B.A. in philosophy and Jewish Studies, and an M.A in biblical interpretation from McGill University. He also holds a Ph.D. in medieval Jewish mysticism from New York University. Dr. Lachter’s research focuses on the development of Kabbalah in relation to Jewish- Christian polemics in western European culture. He is the author of a book entitled Kabbalistic Revolution: Reimagining Judaism in Medieval Spain. Dr. Lachter has offered many adult education courses, and he has lectured widely in North America, Europe and Israel. He lives in Allentown, PA, with his wife Jessica Cooperman, and his two daughters, Zoe and Mollie.
“Professor Lachter’s course will certainly introduce new and wide audiences to the fascinating area of the study of Jewish mysticism. Students will be guided carefully, in a well-structured progression, through two millennia and a rich variety of centers, schools and figures. The judicious selection of translations will grant exposure to the sources themselves and enable appreciation of their mystical, literary and historical depths. A balanced set of suggestions for further reading will assist those who aspire in going even deeper into this domain. The course concludes by an appreciation of the astounding proliferation of Jewish mysticism in the contemporary globalized culture. Yet all this, without compromising scholarly accuracy and depth, against the background of “pop Kabbalah.” Jonathan Garb, Gershom Scholem Professor of Kabbalah Hebrew University of Jerusalem
ABOUT THE COURSE
Congratulations on your decision to continue your studies with the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning. The Florence Melton School is a gateway to Jewish literacy, where students like you have the opportunity to study in a non- denominational, non-judgmental, pluralistic environment with Jews from across the denominational perspective.
As a Melton course associated with Hebrew University of Jerusalem, these lessons have not been assembled with the intention of creating a class of mystics. This course is designed to help you become familiar with Jewish mystical and kabbalistic literature, and to understand the importance that Kabbalah and mystical theologies have had in Jewish history.
At the same time, the academic focus of the course doesn’t mean that it isn’t interesting and inspiring. Though the course will not turn you into kabbalists or show you how to have divine visions or hear the voice of a maggid, it will give you an appreciation of how Jews throughout history have embraced such ideas and made them the core of their own Jewish identity. Put differently, the study of Jewish mystical texts in this course is a study of the Jewish people. All of the texts discussed in this course were written by Jews who were trying to understand themselves, their place in the world, and their relationship with God.
Many of the kabbalistic texts will seem a bit esoteric, difficult to understand or make sense of. To help ease you into the learning, each lesson opens with a challenge. This introductory challenge section addresses the topic of the lesson from a contemporary standpoint, alluding to a timeless quest or a specifically modern challenge that Kabbalah has addressed. The purpose of the text(s) in this section is to create awareness of the topic at hand in accessible language. In this way, as you are exposed to the rest of the texts in the lesson you will have a helpful lens through which to read and understand them.
“Jewish Mysticism: Tracing the History of Kabbalah” aims to familiarize adult Jewish learners with the historical development of Jewish mysticism, and to help understand some of the rich classic texts that have been central to the mystical and kabbalistic tradition. To this end, the lessons of this course are arranged chronologically. The featured texts reflect the central ideas and key concepts that best convey the essence of the particular time periods in which they were composed and studied.
“Jewish Mysticism: Tracing the History of Kabbalah” encourages learners to think through some of the ways that the particular lens of the mystical and esoteric has been employed throughout Jewish history to understand the meaning of Judaism. By exploring in some detail the ways that Jewish mystical texts engage with Torah, mitzvot, and human existence, we hope that you will be empowered to consider the many ways that the rabbinic tradition has been embraced and continues to serve as a vehicle for living a meaningful Jewish life.
As the course progresses, the re-emergence and transformation of certain motifs provides an opportunity for discussing the fascinating progression of Jewish mysticism over time. The passages included in the course reflect the most important authors and texts from each time period; however, as is to be expected from any course that condenses a long and rich literary tradition into ten lessons, not all mystical works are reflected in the selections made. Accessibility played a significant role in text selection, and as such, the excerpts from kabbalistic texts that are translated and presented in this course are among those that encapsulate important ideas in a way that is readable and comprehensible to students with limited or no prior knowledge of the subject matter. The texts that are included in the course have been chosen to both advance the learners’ knowledge of Jewish mysticism and relate, in many cases, to enduring issues in Judaism, thus creating a rich platform for dialogue about their relevance for Jewish life, both past and present.
Following the lessons is a summary of the development of Jewish mystical trends and ideas over the centuries as presented in the course, offering you the opportunity to draw upon it for historical context.
It is our hope that your study of the mystical and kabbalistic texts in the course will “rouse” you with a “renewed love” for the study of Torah, and will serve as an important step in charting your personal course for lifelong Jewish learning.