3.1216 N/Q: Jewish mysticism; passover; SF (223)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Mon, 26 Mar 90 20:04:35 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1216. Monday, 26 Mar 1990.

(1) Date: Sun, 25 Mar 90 19:29:33 -0200 (157 lines)
From: onomata@bengus (nissan ephraim)
Subject: Jewish mysticism

(2) Date: Sun, 25 Mar 90 20:15:22 EST (14 lines)
From: ejs@well.uucp (Elissa Sampson)
Subject: passover

(3) Date: Mon, 26 Mar 90 11:23:29 EST (28 lines)
From: Sarah L. Higley <slhi@uhura.cc.rochester.edu>

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sun, 25 Mar 90 19:29:33 -0200
From: onomata@bengus (nissan ephraim)


Concerning Dennis Cintra Leite's reply to Jim Wilderotter
(in Humanist, Vol. 3, No. 1175, Thursday, 15 March 1990),
on Jewish mysticism, and about Umberto Eco's authority in the matter,
I would like to observe a few things, both because of my having
lived in Italy (actually, most of my life) during the years that
inspired some ideas in Eco's works, and because sometimes, until
very recently, I was asked to do some bibliographic research,
especially after my coming here to Israel in 1983, on Jewish mysticism
for a person (in Italy) who wanted to learn about it.

First of all, please let me observe that it is dangerous to consider
non-scholarly works in Jewish mysticism as competent. In particular,
Umberto Eco's work tells more on conspiracy theories in the contemporary
Italian culture -- an interesting theme for Ph.D. theses (advisors
hear hear) -- partly ascribable to the public perception of
events such as the conspiracy of Gen. De Lorenzo in the 1960s,
and of Junio Valerio Borghese in the 1970s, but -- especially --

a) the bombing of the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura in Milan,
(on December 12, 1969), that used to be a legal "Rashomon", and inaugurated
the "tension strategy" years, constellated by Fascist bombings
on trains, and followed by the "years of lead" punctuated
by the Red Brigades terrorism;
b) unclear allegations, during the 1970s and part of the 1980s, involving
Gelli's P2 Mason lodge, and an allegedly related to the murder (or very
unlikely suicide), by hanging under the Black Friars Bridge in London, of
a protagonist of Italian finance, Roberto Calvi.
(Many people tend to interpret it all as part of a conspiracy. I feel
this is very worrying. It assumes a unified intelligence behind history,
a domain where I think that, instead, human stupidity and messy organization
is an important -- though not all-important -- factor, that unfortunately
many historians consistently underevaluate, as they try to defend the
reputation of "Homo sapiens". Just kidding, but not too much.)

Add the transition, around 1982, to a no-longer-anti-Fascist collective
conscience (still guilt-free, anyway, albeit national self-denigration
is a sport like here in Israel, with slight but important differences),
and certain very intricated cultural and political operations or processes,
somewhat linked to that transition.

Well, this has nothing to do with Jewish mysticism. Not only: the evolution
-- a sorry deterioration, after the post-war respite -- of the image of
organized world Judaism in public perception, opinion making,
"schmaltz"-style (sometimes "Stuermer"-like) public media, and politics in
the 1980s (starting in the 1970s) has been such, that one has to be
suspicious of whichever "lesson" in Jewish exoteric doctrines one may
draw from an earnest novelist that tries to amuse by playing on
conspiracy theories. A dangerous game, as it is unclear where the game
ends: after all, Eco tries to say something on modern Italy, and,
through this, on humankind. (Cf. "Todo modo" by the recently deceased
Leonardo Sciascia, a sometimes too vocal and extreme novelist and public
moralist, but certainly one of the noblest characters in recent Italian
culture. By the way, here is an anecdote about Sciascia. A Sicilian,
he wrote much about the Mafia, its patterns, and its roots; once he was
in company of a newspaper editor and of two other persons. These two
exposed their personal theories about the Mafia and Sicily, and then
left, without Sciascia having replied at all. Prompted by the editor,
he told him: "What would you say if I started teaching the Jews about
the Talmud?" [Well, it would not be a crime. E.N.]).

Whereas I am neither an expert nor otherwise involved in the study of
Jewish mysticism, I have been doing some bibliographic search for an
Italian friend. For a good introduction to the subject, see
Gershom Scholem's books. he was a physicist turned the father
of scholarly inquiry into Jewish mysticism, because the Hebrew
University in Jerusalem, during the 1920s, could not endow
enough position for him and for Albert Einstein (the latter eventually
left, because of a stormy controversy with Haim Weizmann over the
educational approach: according to each other, Weizmann was a
"Realpolitiker", whereas Einstein was an incorrigible "utopist").
Scholem died in the mid-1980s, but his group is active in Jerusalem.
The address is: Dept. of Jewish Thought, The Hebrew University,
Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem. Whereas they don't publish a journal
specialized in Jewish mysticism, they do have a more general
journal, edited by Dr. Avri Bar-Levav: "Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought"
(The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem). Issues are practically
books, and some issues are actually proceedings. Regular issues
are practically all in Hebrew, but with English abstracts.
Instead, Vol. VI (physically, 2 books) and Vol. VIII
are proceedings, and are devoted to mysticism.
Vol. VI(1/2, 3/4) = Proceedings of the First International Conference
on the History of Jewish Mysticism.
Vol. VIII = Proceedings of the Third International Conference
on the History of Jewish Mysticism.
Each volume contains a Hebrew part and an English part. The latter starts
on the left. There is a double numeration. papers in English are:
In Vol. VI(1-2), pages up to 132.
In Vol. VI(3-4), pages up to 52*.
In Vol. VIII, pages up to 86*.
Papers are too specialistic for beginners. For these, I recommend
Scholem's books.
There is also a bibliography, R.M.B.I., of articles in various languages.
Bar-Levav told me about a book by Moshe Idel ("Kabbala, New Perspectives",
Yale University Press), and about the series "Studies in Ecstatic Kabbala",
of the State University of New York: it includes at least four volumes thus far.

Ephraim Nissan

Department of Mathematics & Computer Science,
Ben Gurion University of the Negev,
P.O. Box 653, Beer-Sheva 84105, Israel.

BITNET address: onomata@bengus.bitnet

By the way, concerning the same topic: one thing that amazes me,
is that both the semiologist and novelist Umberto Eco (that
a subscriber from Brazil optimistically indicated as a reliable
authority about Jewish mysticism) and my advisor from Italy,
Marco Somalvico, are involved with AI and interested in mysticism:
Eco is one of the two honorary members of AI*IA, the new Associazione
Italiana di Intelligenza Artificiale (together with a physicist
who worked on neural networks already in the 1950s), whereas
Somalvico is, among the Italian fathers of artificial intelligence,
the one that is perhaps best known to the public. Well, Somalvico
has been writing the entry about artificial intelligence for the
new edition of the "Enciclopedia Italiana" (sic: Italian does
not place a y here-----^ ), and has used Kabbalistic concepts.
None of Eco and Somalvico are Jewish, and none knows Hebrew.
They are interested in mysticism as a hobby, but Somalvico
has cumulated an amazing knowledge in the domain by methodic
reading, during the 1980s. These interests remind me of Pico
della Mirandola, the Renaissance humanist who established the
Christian Kabbalah after tasting the Jewish one. Pico della
Mirandola is popularly known, in Italy, because of his total recall:
once he even bet his neck he could recall the Bible by heart
IN THE REVERSE. An executioner was there to decapitate him at
the first error, but there was no need for him to intervene...
On the other hand, practically there is no study of Jewish mysticism
among present Italian Jewish scholars or rabbis. In the 18th
century there was Ramhal (well-known rabbis of old are most often
known by an acronym of their name, or by the title of their main
book, or by the acronym thereof), and in the 19th -- Benamozeg
of Leghorn, who represents a transition phase between practice
and modern scholarly inquiry. The Leghornese school was rooted
in the traditions of the exiles from Spain, and besides, Leghorn
was a major center of Hebrew typesetting (including of the "Zohar",
the main text of the Kabbalah). However, the modern rabbinical
tradition in Italy is related to the rationalism of Samuel (Shemuel)
David Luzzatto ( = Shadal = S.D.L), a contemporary of Benamozeg,
and was marked first by an assimilationistic trend, and then by
the loss of an entire generation of rabbis during World War II,
and is now close to Neo-Orthodoxy, that is not attracted by mysticism.
I mention these details in order to complete the information given
on interest in Jewish mysticism in modern Italy.

Regards, Ephraim Nissan

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------29----
Date: Sun, 25 Mar 90 20:15:22 EST
From: ejs@well.uucp (Elissa Sampson)
Subject: passover

Traditionally Passover is known for its songs, not its poems. At the
end of every standard orthodox Haggadah are a dozen to two dozen songs.
I'm told by people more knowledgable than myself that the form of some
of these is quite ancient - such as One Kid, One Kid (Ha Gadya) and
it does somewhat song like poetry since it scans it Aramaic. It just
wouldn't scan in English is the problem.

Oops - typo above. It should read somewhat sound like poetry.

Elissa Sampson
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------38----
Date: Mon, 26 Mar 90 11:23:29 EST
From: Sarah L. Higley <slhi@uhura.cc.rochester.edu>

Date: 26 March 1990
From: Sarah Higley, Internet: slhi@uhura.cc.rochester.edu
UUCP: rutgers!rochester!ur-cc!slhi
Subject: JUSTIFIABLY: a response to Robert Kirsner

Mr. Kirsner writes March 24 that THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951),
with the exception of 2001, "can justifiably be called the ONLY
science-fiction film ever made in the US, the others being either Space
Opera or Disneyoid Fantasy."

With all due respect, I must take exception. Where is your
"justifiably"? You've left out BLADERUNNER (based on Philip Dick's DO
ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP) which-- despite the fact that it has
been roasted by persnickity film reviewers who can only read a popular
"mainstream" semiotics-- still remains one of the most impressive sf
movies ever made, in the US or elsewhere. It has gone on to become a
cult film and has attracted persistent comment from film theorists and
feminists. It's hardly a Space Opera or a Disneyoid fantasy and it
stands well within the popular "cyberpunk" sf movement of the eighties.
While it certainly is not the same style as the fifties movie you praise
and which is worth your praise, you nevertheless leave me curious as to
your criterion for science fiction?