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"It's Good to See the King: Visual Kabbalah and the Diagramming of the Divine"
The early modern period—spanning roughly from the late fifteenth through the late eighteenth centuries—is distinguished by several remarkable developments that are often associated with the modern world: it was an age of scientific discoveries, of the unprecedented dissemination of ideas through the newly-invented printing press, of the emergence of new national political structures, and of the breakdown of traditional sources of authority. Jews and Christians alike were transformed by these dramatic changes. Jews traveled and migrated more frequently and farther than ever before; boldly challenged the authority of their rabbis; used the press to spread Hebrew books, new and old, to ever wider-audiences; and mingled with Christians and others in unforeseen ways. In the 2014 Penn Lectures in Judaic Studies, Moving into Modernity: The Shaping of Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe, Katz Center fellows will explore many different aspects of this fascinating period.
Most students of kabbalistic literature find themselves “visualizing” its cosmogonic and cosmological teachings. The iconic “Tree of Life” is certainly the best known kabbalistic symbol, and is often the first thing conveyed to newcomers to this lore. What few realize is that complex graphical scrolls have been a genre of kabbalistic literature in their own right since the Renaissance, and that from the late seventeenth century such scrolls became an indispensable tool to Lurianic kabbalists. In this presentation, Dr. Chajes will introduce this little-known genre and explain the origins and functions of these amazing kabbalistic artifacts.
J. H. (Yossi) Chajes (Ph.D., Yale University 1999) is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Jewish History at the University of Haifa and the director of its Center for the Study of Jewish Culture. A former recipient of Fulbright, Rothchild, Wexner, and Hartman Fellowships, Chajes has also been a visiting professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and is currently a a returning fellow at the Katz Centyer for Advanced Judaic Studies. His book, Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism (2003), was listed by the Wall Street Journal as among the top five books ever written on spirit possession. He is currently directing the Israel Science Foundation supported “Ilanot Project”—an ambitious attempt to catalogue and describe all kabbalistic cosmological diagrams. Chajes, a classical pianist, was also a student of R. Shlomo Carlebach, and performed with R. Carlebach for many years. Today Chajes is in demand as a Carlebach Hazzan and is invited to congregations around the world to lead weekends of prayer, devotional study, and lectures.