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The main gripe comes from religious leaders. Religious authority is exercised through two channels: creedal attestation and conformity to ritual. But mystics have as much regard for creeds as the average computer user does for the Microsoft Users Agreement. You The Strength of Weakness Mystics are the smart alecks of the religious world, always exhibiting some degree of ironic detachment from the average believer.

You sign it but who knows what it really means, and really, who cares. So established ritual is of little importance even though they might participate in it fully. Medieval bishops were intensely suspicious of Meister Eckhart and his pals among the Rhineland Mystics. Sufis are still persecuted by fellow-Muslims. And Orthodox rabbis often eschew the Kabbalah and its devotees. Mystics are only rarely shown as heretics.

But they also rarely fit the desired mould of a true believer. Early 16th century Portuguese Jews who delved into the arcana of Kabbalah were hit with a double-whammy of hostility. First from Christians who suspected any Jewish practice - but especially those of the forcibly converted - as intended to hurt them either spiritually or physically. And then by fellow-Jews who felt Kabbalah was another name for magic, which is expressly forbidden by the Torah.

Turning inward to unlock spiritual discovery may be objectively harmless but it remains an abiding threat to those in charge. What semiotics was to Eco, Kabbalah is to Zimler. The first is comprised of sounds or words and the second of, not things, but concepts. Signifiers and signified are united in a sort of linguistic dance in which each influences the other continuously. This theme runs continuously in Eco, as it does in other writers like Borges.

Kabbalah is a different matter entirely. Kabbalah breaks the links between signifiers and signifieds even more radically than in the Borges-like pretence of fact. It is literally a language without referents, except referents to itself.

In theoretical terms Kabbalah has a grammar and a semantics but no pragmatics. That is, it can be used for communication among human beings but that communication is only about itself. Everything is signifiers, nothing is signified in Kabbalah. But as with the non-signification of the idea of zero in mathematics, this has enormous significance.

One submits to it trustfully, if at all, but any attempt to analyse its terms is fruitless. Kabbalah makes no claim to know what the connection is between its vocabulary and things in this world or any other, concrete or conceptual. It does point beyond itself, like a Greek icon. But it does not claim to express truth as a correspondence between words and things since it is not concerned about truth but about reality. Epistemology the science of how we know what we know, therefore, is completely irrelevant to Kabbalah.

What is relevant to Kabbalah is the expression of subjective experience. Call it the experience of transcendence to give it an indicative category.

The meaning of Kabbalah is what it allows: the perception of the real totality of existence. Or so they tell me. And this is what Zimler is getting at amidst the mass of narrative and historical detail in The Last Kabbalist. The reader must trust the author to provide ultimate enlightenment. This is precisely the function of kabbalistic language: the involvement of a person in the cosmic mystery, which will eschatologically reveal its meaning.

It is this incomprehensibility which is also so clearly a part of Kabbalah. Not in the sense that Kabbalah as such is irrational or impenetrable but that the world itself is so. Kabbalah does not rationalise the mess of the world, it reveals it. The gross injustices done to the Jews of Lisbon, therefore, are a reflection of similar injustices endured even in heaven.

There is no gnostic tendency in Kabbalah. That is, there is nothing which suggests that this world will be saved by its destruction and assimilation into a heavenly ideal. Improvement is not a matter of apocalyptic upheaval but of constant, often tedious, sometimes dangerous graft, sheer hard work.

By seeking retribution Berekiah is, in fact, doing his duty to improve both the world Below and the world Above. In theological terms, it is the responsibility of mankind as agents of the divine to continuously re-create a defective but not inherently evil cosmos.

This is not a tale of blind, obsessive, revenge but of cosmic improvement. The protagonist knows this from the moment he receives the keys to his family home in Lisbon. He returns from his exile in Constantinople only with great apprehension, and certainly not with any blood-lust.

Finally, as I mentioned above, Kabbalah, although it intends no explicit opposition to established authority, implicitly undermines all authority by isolating itself from the instruments of political power. The political powers involved in the book include not just the Catholic Church and the Portuguese Crown as the direct instigators of injustice to Judaism, but also the powers-that-be within Judaism itself, rabbis and other leaders of the community.

These latter would like to suppress if not persecute kabbalistic practice. Peaceful relations not justice is their principle goal. So in a very specific sense the book, is about the Kabbalah as a strategy of resistance to power, as a liberation not just from power, but from the need for power to escape power.

There is of course an overriding irony to the entire story. Followers of Kabbalah essentially just want to be left alone. But the demands of Kabbalah force the issue of justice, thus involving the Kabbalist intimately in the sordid affairs of the world.

A remarkable tale, therefore, that has far more to say that is apparent at first reading. Zimler is a smart aleck of the first rank. More power to him. Or perhaps less if he is indeed a follower of Kabbalah.


El último cabalista de Lisboa

Em , travou com su- cesso uma batalha legal em nome de um velho carpinteiro de cinquenta e nove anos chamado Ayaz Lugo, que tinha fcado com o brao e a mo direita paralisados num acidente de carro. Lugo morreu em junho de A mulher falecera seis anos antes e no tinham flhos. No seu testamento, Lugo, agrade- cido, deixara a sua casa a Abraham Vital. Vim a fcar na casa de Lugo durante a minha estadia de sete meses em Istambul, quando a estive em a estudar a poesia sefardita, especialmente as baladas. Foi-me gentilmente cedida por Abraham Vital sem aceitar qualquer paga. Tnhamo-nos conhecido atravs de um amigo comum, o meu orientador de tese, Doutor Isaac Silva Rosa, da Universidade de Berkeley, antes, e agora da Universidade do Porto, em Por- tugal.


O Último Cabalista de Lisboa - Richard C. Zimler



O Último Cabalista de Lisboa, Richard Zimler


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