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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Martin S. Jaffee
RELIG 400
Seattle Campus

The Jewish Mystical Tradition

Jewish esoteric thought from antiquity to early modern times. Emergence of Spanish Kabbalah. The thought of Isaac Luria and its immense influence in Jewish history through other movements-specifically the mystical messiah. Sabbetai Sevi, and the rise of Hasidism. Recommended: RELIG 201 or RELIG 210.

Class description

This course invites students to consider the range of theological outlooks and patterns of life that are commonly defined by the term “Kabbalah” and to interpret their cultural meaning. After preliminary discussion of the antecedents of Kabbalah in the pre-Islamic Middle East, we will focus on the cultural significance of the Zohar, the central text of Kabbalah, that first appeared in late 13th-century Spain. This unit of the course will also survey such crucial post-Zoharic Kabbalistic movements as Lurianic Kabbalah, Sabbatianism and Hasidism. The final unit of the course concludes with reflections on the meaning of the recent explosion of interest in Kabbalah among Jewish and non-Jewish “New Age” communities in secular, post-Christian culture. We devote special attention to the influential teachings of Rabbi Philip Berg, founder of the Kabbalah Centre.

Student learning goals

Substantive Knowledge: • theoretical approaches to the study of mysticism as a form of religious expression • general patterns of the history of Judaism • major concepts and disciplines of the Jewish mystical tradition Transferable Skills: • Ability to interpret ideas in cultural context • Ability to decode complex and culturally unfamiliar texts • Ability to synthesize and evaluate historical arguments

Substantive Knowledge: • theoretical approaches to the study of mysticism as a form of religious expression • general patterns of the history of Judaism • major concepts and disciplines of the Jewish mystical tradition Transferable Skills: • Ability to interpret ideas in cultural context • Ability to decode complex and culturally unfamiliar texts • Ability to synthesize and evaluate historical arguments

Substantive Knowledge: • theoretical approaches to the study of mysticism as a form of religious expression • general patterns of the history of Judaism • major concepts and disciplines of the Jewish mystical tradition Transferable Skills: • Ability to interpret ideas in cultural context • Ability to decode complex and culturally unfamiliar texts • Ability to synthesize and evaluate historical arguments

Theoretical approaches to the study of mysticism as a form of religious esxpression

major concepts and disciplines of the Jewish mystical tradition

general patterns in the history of Judaism

learn to interpret ideas in their original historical setting

learn to decode complex and culturally alien texts

synthesize historical knowledge and criticize historical reconstructions

General method of instruction

Lectures and discussion of primary readings in translation.

Recommended preparation

Careful study of assigned readings and willingness to discuss them in class. > >

Class assignments and grading

• There are three take-home mid-terms (1/21, 2/2, and 2/25) and one final examination (TBA). The exams will be distributed roughly one week prior to the due date. Students will complete the exam at home and turn it in on the due date. Each exam is worth 25% of the final grade. My evaluation of student contributions to the life of the class in the form of pertinent questions and other oral contributions will constitute the “fudge factor” that can turn an exam average of 3.6 into a final grade of 3.8 (or vice versa!).

Basis on which Grades are Assigned: evaluation of written and oral work.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Martin S. Jaffee
Date: 11/24/2008