Vocal Rites and Broken Theologies: Cleaving to Vocables in R. Israel Ba‘al Shem Tov’s Mysticism
Vocal Rites and Broken Theologies deals with the central practices of the founder of Hasidism, Rabbi Israel Ba‘al Shem Tov--known as the Besht--and its sources in the Safedian Kabbalah of Rabbi Moses Corovero. These include the loud pronunciation of the vocables during prayer, study of the Torah and eventually profane speech, as conducive to some form of union with the divine. Many traditions in his name allow the reconstruction of the specific importance of these vocal rituals, including an architecture of the “Hebrew” sounds. From the historical point of view, Moshe Idel shows that some forms of Greek/Hellenistic magic reached the Muslim culture, and were translated into Hebrew in the 13th century, thus enriching Kabbalistic views, especially in Renaissance Kabbalah and in the Safedian Kabbalah of Cordovero and his many followers. They have been adopted in Hasidism by its founder, and were put in relief. Provided the linguistic nature of this practice, it was adapted by popular circles in the mid-18th century, which conjugated it with a variety of theological motifs stemming from different types of theologies, which have been adapted to the vocal practices. This less theological and more ritual linguistic practice is an explanation for the wide adoption of Hasidism by popular circles and its ensuing success.
Moshe Idel has lived in Israel since 1963. He received his Ph.D. on Kabbalah and the topic of the Kabbalist Abraham Abulafia from Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He taught there from 1974 until 2008, where he held the Max Cooper Chair in Jewish Thought. He is currently a senior researcher at the Shalom Hartman Institute, and holds the Matanel Chair of Kabbalah at the Safed Academic College. His major areas of interest include Kabbalah, Hasidism, magic and the history of religion. Idel is a member of the Israeli Academy of Science and Humanities and the recipient of the Israel Prize in Jewish Thought, the Emmet Prize, and of the Rothschild Prize. Among his major books are Kabbalah: New Perspective (Yale U.P. 1988), Kabbalah and Eros (Yale UP 2005), Kabbalah in Italy (Yale U.P. 2010), and Ben: Sonship and Jewish Mysticism (Continuum 2007). Since 2013, he has served as the President of the World Union of Jewish Studies.