Topics, Titles and Descriptions of Academic Courses Taught
KABBALAH AND JEWISH MYSTICISM
Zohar: The Essence of Jewish Mysticism (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
The Zohar, The Book of Enlightenment, allegedly authored by the great Sephardic rabbinical and literary genius, Moses de Leon, between 1280 and 1286 in North Central Spain, is regarded as the most important and influential book of the Western Esoteric Tradition, in addition to being the crowning achievement of the Jewish Mystical Tradition. This participatory one semester course will read and discuss The Zohar chapter by chapter, in order to access the imagination that went into its creation. We will imagine that The Zohar is a textual living being, an organic whole, whose intent was to create and extend a Jewish poesis concomitant with ancient notions of divinity. We will read together in class The Zohar on Genesis perusing Elohim, Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph (which includes Lilith and Samael) all the while receiving essential historical, biblical and extra-biblical commentary and resources, such as the Merkabah and Bereshit traditions, Jewish hermeneutics, mythology, occultism and the literary arts. We will briefly investigate spiritual and literary terms essential to Jewish mysticism such as Gematria, Gigul, Golem, Zelem, Ein Sof, Shekhinah, Hekhalot, Devekut, Tikkun and Shevirah. We will refer to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the 231 gates, the 32 mystical paths and Jewish meditation. We will also discuss the Ten Sefirot (divine emanations) as poems by which God writes himself in us through the great dramatis personae in The Hebrew Bible and will venture to write our own zoharic poems.
The Zohar, The Book of Enlightenment, allegedly authored by the great Sephardic rabbinical and literary genius, Moses de Leon between 1280 and 1286 in North Central Spain, is regarded as the most important and influential book of the Western Esoteric Tradition, in addition to being the crowning achievement of the Jewish Mystical Tradition. This participatory two semester long course will read and discuss The Zohar chapter by chapter, in order to access the imagination that went into its creation. We will imagine that The Zohar is a textual living being, an organic whole, whose intent was to create and extend a Jewish poesis concomitant with ancient notions of divinity. Part #2 opens with a reiteration of The Zohar on Exodus “The Birth of Moses” where through the Shekhinah Moses goes up to the Elohim. We will read and examine the Moses myth in The Zohar, and will think through The Zohar on the Burning Bush, Colors, Pharaoh, Israel, God, The Hebrew Letters, the Beautiful Maiden, the Sabbath and the Golden Calf. Semester #2 will end with The Zohar on Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy perusing Qorban & Olah, Sukkah, The Child, and The Wedding Celebration, to thresh out their intimate secrets. With attendant exegesis and discussion we will formulate a working hypothesis on the nature of The Zohar as a vibrant and relevant accompaniment to a 21st century ethos of mysticism as literature, psychology in both ordinary and transcendent domains of understanding.
Zohar: The Essence of Literary Kabbalah (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
Sefer Ha-Zohar (1280–1286), often translated as The Book of Radiance, The Book of Splendor as well as The Book of Enlightenment, is considered by scholars, fiction writers, poets and its vast audience of inspired readers, to be the seminal and titular literary work of esoterica produced by the West. The word “Zohar” means radiance, or splendor and is derived from the Hebrew letters Zayin, Heh & Resh from the biblical book Daniel 12:3, where it is written that “The enlightened will shine like the zohar of the sky.” Written in North–Central Spain at the end of the 13th century by Moses de Leon (1250-1305), The Zohar takes the form a midrash, a mystical novel and an epic poem simultaneously and pre–dates yet bares comparison with Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes and Milton. In this course we will briefly examine the cultural context in which The Zohar was written, discuss its many translations and study excerpts from its evocative stanzas. We will read The Zohar on the Torah, on Shekhinah and Tiferet, on Ruah and Neshamah, on Samael and Lilith, on Elohim, Hesed, the Adam Kadmon and the hidden light. We will discuss Shimon Bar Yohai, the Zohar’s protagonist, on Abram, the Soul-Breath, and the devarim, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Dwelling, The Old man and The Beautiful Maiden. By textual analysis, we will demonstrate how The Zohar is the center of the canon from which canonic literary Kabbalah stems.
The History of Jewish Mysticism (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
In this course we will peruse 3000 years of Jewish mysticism from Adam and The Tree of Life in Genesis through the life and work of the greatest scholar of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem (1897-1982). We will briefly look at the world of 1000 BCE, influenced by the Canaanites and the Egyptians, then The United Monarchy of David and The J–Author, to the Merkabah and Bereshit mysticism movements which emerged out of the Roman–Jewish wars through the German–Jewish piety movements of the 6th through 8th centuries CE. The Jewish diaspora in medieval Europe is divided between the Sephardim and the Ashkenazim, and produces two of the most important pre–kabbalistic sages, Rabbi Judah the Pious, and Rabbi Eliezar of Worms. The pre–kabbalistic book Sefer Yetzirah is composed, influencing the Golden Age of Spanish Hebrew poetry through the poetics of Solomon ibn Gabirol, and Bahya ibn Pakuda, which lead to the titular event of The Zohar in 1286. From The Zohar, emerges theKabbalist community of Safed under the spiritual guidance of Isaac Luria (1532–1572), which leads by metaphor to the Golem of Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague and Shabbetai Tzvi (1626–1676), the mystical messiah, resulting in the more normative Hasidism of the Baal Shem Tov (1700–1760), the pre–modernism movement of the Mithnagdim with the Gaon of Vilna (1720–1797), to Martin Buber, Franz Kafka and the Jewish renewal movement.
The Roots of Jewish Mysticism (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
In this introductory course, we examine and analyze the roots of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah represented by Adam, The Tree of Life, the Cherub, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel in The Hebrew Bible, 2nd century CE Galilean Merkabah and Bereshit mysticism, and medieval Spanish–Hebrew poetry. We will study excerpts from the three classic texts of Kabbalah: The Yetzirah, The Bahir and The Zohar. Then we will focus on the influence of Moses de Leon’s Zohar on Italian Renaissance Kabbalah, the Safed Kabbalah of Isaac Luria, the Golem of Prague, and Shabbetai Tzvi, the false messiah whose apostasy ushered in Hasidism. Our discussion topics will include: the ten Sefirot, the mystical shape of the Godhead, the 22–letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Tikkun Olam and gematria.
Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah Today (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
In this course we will examine the contemporary revival of Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah today. This revival is manifested in the academic scholarship of Gershom Scholem and the epic translations of Daniel C. Matt. It is also present in the Habad movement, the Jewish Renewal movement founded by Rabbi Zalman Schachter–Shalomi, which is widespread in the San Francisco Bay area. This revival can also be found in Jewish feminism and in the Kabbalah of the Los Angeles based Berg Center whose adherents include the celebrity super-star Madonna. In addition to discussing these contemporary manifestations, we will analyze what Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah mean to us today.
The Great Kabbalists: Abraham Abulafia, Moses de Leon, Isaac Luria (Temple Sinai, Oakland)
In this course we will investigate the lives and times of three of Judaism’s most influential Kabbalists, Abraham Abulafia (1240–1291), Moses de Leon (1250–1305), and Isaac Luria (1534–1572). We will investigate their writings and the historical and geographical conditions in which their unique visions of God emerged. By identifying these three kabbalists we will focus on the schools and movements that emerged from them. With Abraham Abulafia, ecstatic and meditative kabbalah entered Jewish life. With Moses de Leon, the canon of great Jewish sacred literature opened. With Isaac Luria, Jewish Messianism and Jewish renewal re–entered Jewish life. This course will also investigate the concepts of Unio Mystica (mystical union) in Abraham Abulafia, the sefirot (emanations) as dramatis personae in Moses de Leon’s Zohar, and zimzum (contraction), shevirah (breaking), and tikkun (restoration) in Isaac Luria’s kabbalistic metaphysics. We will end our investigation of Abulafia, de Leon, and Luria by showing and discussing their vast influence on Jewish life and the Jewish mystical experience.
Shabbetai Tzvi: The Mystical Messiah & Jewish Messianism (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
Are messianic impulses and their extreme behaviors integral to the Jewish experience or are they aberrations, emerging from a host of political, cultural and theological pressures administered from more dominant cultures? This course will study the life of the self–proclaimed Jewish messiah Shabbetai Tzvi (1626–1676) and his prophet, Nathan of Gaza (1643–1680). Through these two figures, we will explore the foundations and perspectives of the messianic idea. We will review The Zohar on the messianic, Abraham Abulafia’s messianic pretensions, Isaac Luria’s universal call to Tikkun Olam and Tzvi’s influence on Hasidism. We will focus on the following questions: did Kabbalah by default inaugurate the messianic or is the messianic the ancient burden of Isaiah and Ezekiel? Is Nathan of Gaza the first spin–doctor of Kabbalah? What does this and all messianic pretensions say about the mystical experience and how does it relate to ordinary people and where they live?
Sigmund Freud and The Jewish Mystical Tradition (Temple Sinai, Oakland)
Was Sigmund Freud, in spite of his lifelong claims of atheism, a kabbalistic mystic indebted to the Jewish tradition from which the discipline of psychoanalysis is derived? In this course we will read those excerpts from Freud’s oeuvre which will seek to offer speculative answers to this radical question: The Interpretation of Dreams, Negation, The Problem of Anxiety, Analysis Terminable and Interminable, The Uncanny, A Note Upon the Mystic Writing–Pad, The Moses of Michelangelo and Moses and Monotheism. We will also briefly examine Freud’s sense of Jewish history from the zoharic period, the Chmielnicki period, the Sabbatian and Frankist episodes as well as from Hasidism. We will then examine anti–Semitism in Vienna, his break with C.G. Jung, his emergence as the high–priest of a new literati and his final years in London.
Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism (Temple Sinai, Oakland)
Written in excerpts in Vienna in the early 1930’s and finished in London in 1938, Sigmund Freud’s seminal book Moses and Monotheism, retains its haunting speculative brilliance today, as much as it did upon its original publication. In this course, we will read Moses and Monotheism in class and discuss Freud’s unique relationship to Egypt, Moses, Judaism and the Hebrew Bible.
Darkness and Light: A Modern Psychology of Kabbalah (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
With the seminal emergence of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the history of the divinatory arts, i.e., occult philosophy, Hermeticism, alchemy and Kabbalah, conflate into psychology and theories of mind. In this course, we will briefly review Freud’s and Jung’s literary output, and discuss the impact of their psychoanalytic insights on Kabbalah, the divinatory arts and on such contemporary figures as Thomas Moore, James Hillman and Ken Wilber. Building on the millennial theme that it is the creative balance between darkness and light that emulates wisdom and in so doing creates a whole and healthy person, we will end by discussing excerpts from Stanton Marlan’s recent book, Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness.
Anti-Prophets in Jewish Interpretation Today: Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
Prophesies are messages to the people from God, not predictions of the future. Prophets interpret those messages. Does an interpretation always have to be done in a prophetic mood? How are prophetic moods engaged or disengaged in the intellectual practice of Jewish interpretation? After exploring the seminal and controversial thought of Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida in the first part of the class, and Hannah Arendt, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Walter Benjamin in the second, students will leave contemplating both prophetic and anti-prophetic modes of Jewish interpretation in the twentieth century.
THE HEBREW BIBLE
Who was “J,” The First Author of The Hebrew Bible? (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
Generations of biblical scholars, historians and literary critics have labored to answer the following question: who was the first author of The Hebrew Bible? Known as “J,” the Yahwist, this mysterious literary genius is said to be responsible for writing parts of Genesis and Exodus as early as circa 1000 BCE. J’s story begins with the creation myth of Eden and ends with Moses’ unmarked grave. Who was J? What was J’s gender? Was J a scribe during Solomon’s reign? Was J David’s wife and Solomon’s mother, the famed Bathsheba, and did she have a relationship with The Court Historian, author of Second Samuel? In this course, via websites, digital images and slides, and informed by the work of E. A. Spieser, Frank Moore Cross, Harold Bloom and Richard Elliot Friedman, we will examine the life and writing of J in order to gain perceptions into the creative personality who wrote the foundational texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Poetry of the Sacred: Jelalludin Rumi, Moses de Leon, Dante Alighieri (University of California, Berkeley)
Illuminated by prosodic and metaphorical inventiveness, the sacred poetry of Judaism, Christianity and Islam reached its apogee with three medieval poets: the Persian–Afghani Sufi poet Jelalludin Rumi, the Castilian–Sephardic kabbalist Moses de Leon, and the Florentine–Catholic poet Dante Alighieri. In this course we will analyze Rumi’s Works of Sham of Tabiz and Book of Husam, Moses de Leon’s Zohar, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. We will study the texts and biographies of these poets individually; we will then compare and contrast the manner by which their poetry created the spiritual lexicon of the West and, by extension, our own sense of the sacred in poetry and the literary arts.
The Golem (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
The Golem is a “shapeless mass” according to Psalm 139:16, the unformed limbs of an anthropoid. This creature is at once the mystery of God’s imagination in creating Adam and Abraham’s secret doctrine of naming future generations through numerology. The Golem has no evocative and mythical equal in Jewish mysticism and has fascinated scholar and layman alike for over a thousand years. Come peruse the strange world of the Golem in this explorative course and see versions of the Golem in various sources, such as found in the Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation), the Zohar, in the works of Abraham Abulafia and Rabbi Loew of Prague, in Hasidism, German Expressionistic film, Yiddish culture and in the literature of Yudl Rosenberg, S. Ansky, Bruno Schulz, I.B. Singer and Cynthia Ozick.
Demons, Golems and Dybbuks: Monsters of the Jewish Imagination (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
In this course we will investigate and analyze the profound influence of 20th Jewish literature and imagination on the Western esoteric tradition which influenced the very essence of the supernatural. With the advent of the new Zohar translations, a resurgence of interest in golems, dybbuks, demons, demiurges and angels has occurred. The Zohar written in 13th century Spain, is the Bible of Jewish mysticism or Kabbalah, and is, along with The Hebrew Bible, The New Testament and The Koran, the canon from which the history of Western mysticism is born and reborn. We will read S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Satan In Goray, Tony Kushner’s Angels In America and Cynthia Ozick’s The Puttermesser Papers. Each author exemplifies in their own way the modern interest in the monsters of the Jewish imagination, and the general interest in mysticism today.
Shakespeare and Kabbalah (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
At an auspicious moment in Hamlet’s descent into silence, he declares that “There’s a divinity which shapes our ends/Rough-hew them how we will.” Is this shaping divinity the same one which shaped Adam and stirred the imagination of King David to compose poems roughing the periphery of imagination itself? What does King Lear have in common with the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible? Is Rosalind another name for Shekhinah? Is Macbeth a kind of kabbalistic notarikon and do he and Lady Macbeth bare comparisons with the Zohar’s Samael and Lilith? Is Macbeth riding Jacob’s Ladder only in the opposite direction? Is Prospero’s magic derived from the Sefer Yetzirah? When Hamlet asks us to imagine "the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns,” is he speaking of the kabbalistic concept of Sitrah Ahra, the other side? Does the traveler of the Sitrah Ahra actually return to us through the biblical prophet Daniel? Is there some unexplored relation between the dreaded Shylock and the false messiah Sabbatai Tzvi and what does Shylock really mean when he asks “Hath not a Jew eyes?” In this speculative course, we will explore the undercurrents of kabbalistic lore running through Shakespeare and examine whether or not Shakespeare’s oeuvre constitutes a kabbalistic reinterpretation of the Hebrew Bible, thus extending the Zohar’s achievements?
On the Edge of Literary Art, God and Culture: Franz Kafka, Paul Celan, Edmond Jabes (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
Of the hundreds of Jewish poets and novelists that are blessed with canonic status, it is Franz Kafka (1883–1924), Paul Celan (1920–1970), and Edmond Jabes (1912–1991) that exemplify both the idea of the exemplary Jewish writer and the limits of literary art in general. In this course, we will read excerpts from these extraordinary minds and discuss how their poems and narratives are at once new and ancient, at once classically Jewish, universal and post–denominational. We will ask and seek to answer if Kafka, Celan and Jabes are the contemporary archetypes of our struggles and longings for God. We will also investigate in what ways they shared a literary relationship to Kabbalah and The Zohar, as well to their cultural heritage and displacement.
Franz Kafka: Exemplary Jewish Writer (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
Gregor Samsa awoke one day a vermin. K., the Land–Surveyor, comes to survey the land of a village castle he can never enter. Joseph K., bank functionary, is arrested and must defend his innocence against a charge about which he can get no information. The Hunter Gracchus finds that he is neither alive nor dead walking between life and death in a dark forest. The strange Odradek conjures images of the primordial Adam. Josephine, the mouse singer, sings the notes of a heart broken by lost memories. The Gatekeeper blocks the only entrance to the Law. Franz Kafka (1883–1924) invented a new form of writing and the dark sublime of a new kabbalah informed by traditional Jewish learning. This course will investigate the life and writing of Franz Kafka and the meaning of ideas referred to as “Kafkaesque.” We will peruse excerpts from Kafka’s novels, great short works, flash fiction, aphorisms, letters and diaries to extract an image of an exemplary Jewish writer whose influence is all but universal and talk about his impact on such luminaries of contemporary Judaism as Sigmund Freud, Gershom Scholem, Paul Celan and Edmond Jabes. Come and enter the mind of a great literary genius and see why, in fine, he is so very Jewish.
The Golden Age of Spanish–Jewish Poetry: Samuel Nagid, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Moses ibn Ezra, Abraham ibn Ezra, Judah Halevi (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
In a line of poetry from his most important and influential book of poetry Kingdom’s Crown (Keter Malkhut), the great Spanish–Jewish poet Solomon ibn Gabirol (1020–1057) wrote: “You are alive,/and those who reach your secret discover/delight in the world,/and eat and live forever…” With that line, the Golden Age of Spanish–Jewish poetry reaches a crescendo. To eat and live forever would be to eat of The Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. This eating is writing. This writing is poetry and no era in Jewish history has so celebrated the achievements of the stanza as the Golden Age of Spain. In this course we will focus on the poetry of Solomon ibn Gabirol and briefly peruse the work of Samuel the Nagid, Moses ibn Ezra, Judah Halevi and Abraham ibn Ezra. We will discuss a period of cultural tolerance for Jews, Muslims and Christians and investigate whether or not this golden and syncretic age of culture and poetry informed what would become the single most important work to appear at the end of this age, Moses de Leon’s Zohar, the masterpiece of kabbalah.
Perspectives on the Holocaust and Genocide Studies (Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park)
Sociology 305: Perspectives on the Holocaust and Genocide. In this 2007 course students read Doris Bergen’s War and Genocide, Lucille Eichengreen’s From Ashes to Life, James Waller’s Becoming Evil, Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz and Course Reading complied of maps, lexicons, articles and assessments. Course requirements include attendance at all the lectures and once weekly discussion sessions with faculty. Documentary films, videos, selected readings and texts supplement student learning. The Holocaust Lectures are videotaped and copies are sent to the Schulz Information Center Media Center for student, faculty and community access.
Jewish Men and Women of the French Resistance (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
In this course, co-taught by the husband and wife team of Daniel Y. Harris, M.Div and Tracy L. Harris, PhD, we will investigate via film and literature the extraordinary lives of those Jewish men and women in the French Resistance. To appreciate the ethos of this social phenomenon, we will work within the historical context of the oppressive conditions in France as a divided country before, during and after the Second World War. In addition to discussing the lives of resistance fighters Jean–Pierre Levy, Daniel Mayer, Yves Oppert & Paulette Oppert, we will read excerpts from Marguerite Duras, Simone Weil, Margaret Collins Weitz’s Sisters in the Resistance: How Women Fought to Free France 1940–1945, Lucie Aubrac’s Outwitting the Gestapo and view the film, Lucie Aubrac, directed by Claude Berri and starring Carole Bouquet and Daniel Auteuil.
Mystical Anti-Semitism: The Myth of Satan (Lehrhaus Judaica, Berkeley)
The Devil, whether he is called Satan, Samael, Beelzebub, Lucifer or Mephistopheles, is one of the most powerful and universally identifiable images in the history of civilization. In this history course, we will peruse the multi–layered mythology of Satan and his relationship with the Jewish people, via art, literature, theology, papal decree, governmental law and propaganda. We will assess Joel Carmichael’s haunting book, The Satanizing of the Jews: Origins and Development of Mystical Anti–Semitism, Elaine Pagel’s The Origin of Satan, as well as Joshua Trachtenberg’s Jewish Magic and Superstition. We will discuss the ways in which Western civilization has come to identify the image of the Jew with the myth of Satan. We will finish our investigation by asking the dramatic question: what are and have been the negative and positive implications of aligning the Jewish people with Satan?
POETRY WRITING WORKSHOPS
In Our Own Voices: An Interactive Poetry Writing Workshop (The Reutlinger Center for Jewish Living, Danville)
In this interactive poetry and writing workshop we will feature the writings to be composed by workshop attendees. We will together work to compose, critique, edit, and revise the narratives, memoirs, poems, prose, diaries and fragments that make up our literary lives and will then read these “works–in–progress” in class. In addition to our written work, we will devote portions of class time to reading a selection of American–Jewish poets including Alter Brody, David Ignatow, George Oppen, Shirley Kaufman, Philip Levine, Mark Strand and John Hollander. The focus and intent of this course is to bring the written word to life and to make each course attendee feel comfortable and inspired in translating their experiences into fresh and evocative writing.
The Kabbalah Salon: An Interactive Poetry Writing Workshop (Private Students, Berkeley)
Based upon the stanzaic analysis and textual critique of The Zohar, the seminal opus of Jewish Mysticism written in 13th century Spain by the literary genius, Moses de Leon, the students in this workshop effort to compose mystical and/or mythical poetry. Class sessions will comprise of reading excerpts from The Zohar and reading student poems based on one line from the zoharic text. In addition to reading our work and The Zohar, we will read literary work inspired by the zoharic tradition: Isaac Luria, John Milton, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, John Donne, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelly, Heinrich Heine, Walt Whitman, Ralf Waldo Emerson, William Butler Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Paul Celan and Allen Mandelbaum.
ADDITIONAL COURSE TOPICS
- The Heritage of Civilization (adapted from Abba Eban)
- Paul Celan and Holocaust Poetry
- The Philosophical Roots of Antisemitism
- Jews and the Visual Arts in the 20th century
- The Great Yiddish and Hebrew Authors in Translation
- Martin Buber and the Age of Hasidic Tales
- The Hebrew Bible, The New Testament & The Koran: A Comparative Analysis
- Jewish Philosophy: Philo, Saadya Gaon, Maimonides and Beyond
- Continental Philosophy from Kant to Adorno
- Harold Bloom: Canonic Jewish Literary Critic
- The Age of Gershom Scholem
- Yeats, Blake, Dante and Kabbalah