EVENT: Kabbalah Lecture Series in Budapest
Kabbalah Lecture Series in Budapest
14 & 29 March, 26 April, 11 & 24 May 2023
ELTE Faculty of Humanities, Kerényi Hall (1088 Budapest, Múzeum krt. 4/F)
Attendance is free of charge.
Organised and co-hosted by
Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) &
Jewish Theological Seminary—University of Jewish Studies (OR-ZSE)
The Kabbalah lecture series in Budapest offers scholars, students, and the public the opportunity to gain insight into some of the latest results of modern Kabbalah scholarship. The five guest speakers will present novel, hitherto little understood aspects of the long and variegated history of Kabbalah and Kabbalah research from the early modern period up until the present time. The speakers will deliver talks on topics from their field of expertise, exploring questions on Kabbalah and book culture, Jewish Magic, Freemasonry, Mysticism, and Protestantism.
Image courtesy by Kyle McGill
The Shelf Life of Kabbalah in Early Modern Europe
14 March 2023 (Tuesday), 18:00
What does it mean to reveal secrets? The Hebrew word “kabbalah” means “reception” or “tradition,” and often implies the oral transmission of divine secrets from teacher to student. However, Jewish esoteric knowledge has also been inseparable from written texts, both in manuscript and in print. Inspired by the methods of the “history of the book,” this lecture will examine some of the kabbalistic books printed across early modern Europe. We will look at the Italian editions of classics like the Zohar in the sixteenth century; the expansion of the kabbalistic library in Central and Northern Europe in the seventeenth century; and the flourishing of kabbalistic book culture in Eastern Europe in the eighteenth century. The publication of kabbalistic books was one of the central achievements of Hebrew printers and scholars, a frequent cause of controversy and a source of cultural pride. By considering the materiality of these printed books in their historical contexts, the spiritual worlds of the kabbalists will come into clearer focus.
Avinoam J. Stillman studies kabbalah, the history of the book, and the early modern Jewish diaspora. He is a doctoral candidate at Freie Universität Berlin, having completed his MA at Ben Gurion University. He is also a co-founder of Blima Books, an independent press based in Jerusalem and Berlin and dedicated to “Radical Jewish Literature.”
Kabbalah and Jewish Magic: Points of Contact and Divergence
29 March 2023 (Wednesday), 18:00
Focusing on a cache of magical recipe books produced in early modern East-Central Europe, my talk will probe points of contact and divergence between Jewish magic and Kabbalah. By parsing select examples drawn from a collection of more than one hundred Jewish books of secrets, extant today in manuscript notebooks that were written between 1600–1800, the talk will critically examine the magical deployment of the Sefirot, the use of classical elements of the Jewish liturgy, as well as the magical manipulation of divine names. I will also examine the visual elements of our sources to trace the relationship between text and image in the construction and transmission of Jewish esoteric knowledge. A close examination of these elements will allow us to foreground the extent to which these two epistemic fields—Kabbalah and magic—interacted and shaped each other in the early modern period.
Dr Andrea Gondos is a scholar of Kabbalah in the early modern period. Her recently published book, Kabbalah in Print: The Study and Popularization of Jewish Mysticism in Early Modernity (New York: SUNY, 2020), examines the organization of kabbalistic knowledge and the use of new literary genres and pedagogic techniques in its popularization in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She was recently a Trinity Fellow at Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies (April–June 2022) and has held post-doctoral fellowships at the Katz Centre of Advanced Judaic Studies in Philadelphia, and in Israel at Tel Aviv University and at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. At present, she is an Emmy Noether Post-Doctoral Fellow in the research group, “Patterns of Knowledge Circulation” at Freie Universität and her current research focuses on the intersection of magic, medicine, and gender in early modern Ashkenazi manuscripts of books of secrets, and recipe compilations.
The Kabbalistic Shovel in Masonic Textual Archaeology: Kabbalah in Nineteenth-Century Freemasonry
26 April 2023 (Wednesday), 18:00
In the liberal atmosphere of the July Monarchy (1830–1848) new scientificity was gaining ground in historiography. The Rankean ideal of exploring wie es eigentlich gewesen qua the objective of historical enquiry became the guiding principle of positivism, an approach that relied on primary sources, source criticism, and comparative historical method. The religious freedom of the period secured free enquiry into the history of religions, which had a strong syncretising characteristic. In Masonic science, the quest for uncovering the shared essence of all religions that was putatively preserved in Freemasonry became an important theme in contemporary masonic literature. The talk will demonstrate how Kabbalah, the ancient lore of the Jewish people, was looked upon in this milieu as a tool that could uncover this essence. Through visual and textual Kabbalistic-Masonic sources I will also address the question of how Kabbalistic ideas were used by Jewish Freemasons to provide underpinnings for the Jewish origin of Freemasonry narrative in order to fight discrimination against Jews within the fraternity.
Dr Peter Lanchidi earned his PhD at the Ben-Gurion University as an Azrieli Fellow and has a background in Jewish studies, art history and aesthetics. Previously, he worked in legal practice for several years. His research focuses on the interplay between Kabbalah and Freemasonry, nineteenth-century Masonic visual material, and Jewish-Christian relations within Freemasonry. Currently, he teaches in the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest and is part of an Israeli research project on Jewish Western Esotericism.
Kabbalah and the Invention of Jewish Mysticism
11 May 2023 (Thursday), 18:00
The term Jewish Mysticism, and the identification of Kabbalah, Hassidism, and a few other Jewish texts and movements, as Jewish expressions of a universal mystical phenomenon, which first appeared in the early nineteenth century, is largely accepted today, both by scholars and by the larger public. In my lecture, I would like to present the main arguments of my recent book, Mystifying Kabbalah, in which I historicize and problematize the category “Jewish Mysticism” and the identification of Kabbalah and Hassidism as Jewish expressions of a universal mystical religious phenomenon. The two main questions that I will address in the lecture are, first, how did the term “Jewish mysticism”, that appeared for the first time in the writing of Christian theologians in the early nineteenth century, became the main concept, according to which Kabbalah and Hasidism are branded, researched, interpreted, and in some cases, practiced. Second, how did the conceptualization of Kabbalah and Hasidism as Jewish mysticism direct, shape – but also limit – the way Kabbalah and Hasidism are studied in the Academia.
Professor Boaz Huss is the Aron Bernstein Chair in Jewish History at the dept. of Jewish Thought and the chairperson of the Goldstein-Goren International Center for Jewish Thought at the Ben-Gurion University. His research interests include history of Kabbalah, Contemporary Kabbalah, Western Esotericism, New Age Culture and New Religious Movements in Israel. His recent publications include The Cosmic Movement: Sources, Contexts, Impact (Bialik Press, 2021, together with Julie Chajes), Mystifying Kabbalah: Academic Scholarship, National Theology, and New Age Spirituality, Oxford University Press, 2020, and The Zohar: Reception and Impact, Liverpool University Press, 2016.
“The Old Jewish Church Agreed with Us:” Dogmatic Protestant Appropriations of Kabbalah
Níels Páll Eggerz
24 May 2023 (Wednesday), 18:00
This talk analyzes the rigorously dogmatic and highly idiosyncratic readings of kabbalistic literature (and other texts believed to be kabbalistic) employed by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Protestant theologians and Hebraists, who were perfectly convinced that the works they interpreted contained in essence the doctrines of their own religion, albeit in an obscured or distorted from. Regardless of confession, early modern Protestants were profoundly convinced that they were professing the successfully reconstituted primeval religion of the ancient Israelites. Consequently, they did not regard their clearly novel ideas and hermeneutics as innovations but as restorations. In line with this, they perceived not only other Christian denominations but certainly also Judaism as distortions of their own religion. In their desire to prove the alleged antiquity of their faith, they looked to supposedly ancient texts like for instance the Zohar, the central work of Kabbalah, and felt vindicated in countless passages. They collected these passages in anthologies and penned treatises on the supposed theology of ancient Israel agreeing with their own, often employing the very same techniques they otherwise used to make sense of the Old Testament.
Dr Níels Páll Eggerz studied Modern History, Ancient History, and Judaic Studies at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. In October 2020 he earned his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Between April 2021 and August 2022, he was employed at the Bavarian Research Center for Interreligious Discourses at the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen. After a one-semester postdoc fellowship at the Maimonides Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Hamburg, he is currently a research associate at the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main, where he is part of the project Kabbalah as a Paradigm of Transfer between Judaism and Christianity.