The Gerona Circle of Kabbalah

Influential kabbalists like Rabbi Azriel and Jacob ben Sheshet were, at times, criticized for their work.

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But the most important Kabbalistic works of this circle were written by Rabbi Azriel, probably before Rabbi Isaacís letter ever reached Gerona. (In fact, it may well be that Rabbi Azrielís prodigious literary output was the cause of Rabbi Isaacís admonition.) Rabbi Azrielís works represent an important step in the systematization of Kabbalistic symbolism and its application to various aspects of Jewish religious life. Rabbi Azriel, like other Gerona Kabbalists, was well educated in philosophy, and it is due to his mastery of that subject that many philosophical terms were incorporated into the Kabbalah. These often scholastic and unemotional terms became powerful and cherished symbols of an inner spiritual quest, laden with new layers of mystical significance. Some of the most profound and penetrating expressions of pre‑Zoharic Kabbalah are to be found in Rabbi Azrielís harmonious blend of philosophy and mysticism as found in his commentary to Talmudic legends and his shorter thematic treatises. (Rabbi Azrielís Perush ha-Aggadot was edited by I. Tishby and published in 1943 and reprinted in 1983.)

*On the Gerona circle, see G. Scholem, Ursprung und Anfšnge, pp. 324-407; and his Kabbalah, pp. 48-52. Finally, see his Hebrew book on the subject, ha-Qabbalah be-Gerona, ed. J. Ben-Shlomo (Jerusalem, 1964).

**The relationship between mysticism and ethics in the work of the Gerona Kabbalists is presented in detail by J. Dan, Jewish Mysticism and Jewish Ethics.

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Dr Joseph Dan

Dr. Joseph Dan, a world-renowned authority on Jewish mysticism, is the Gershom Scholem Professor of Kabbalah at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.