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Unification Above Magic Below: Nahmanides, Isaac of Acco, and Theurgical-Magical Interpretations of Sacrifice.

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Unification Above, Magic Below:

Nachmanides, Isaac of Acco, and Magical-Theurgical Interpretations of Sacrifice.

Ben Newman

Final Paper

Medieval Scientific Lit.


Astral magic is characterized by the idea that there are certain actions, if performed in the correct time and place, which can influence the powers of the constellations and thereby effect change in the terrestrial realm. Discussion of astral magic was widespread in the writings of 12th century Jewish theologians such as Moses Ibn Ezra, Judah Halevi, and Abraham Ibn Ezra.[1] Though many of these thinkers’ comments were obscure in regard to the relationship between astral magic and sacrifice, the connection was later clarified by Ramban and members of his school. Sacrificial worship was a “subject of bitter controversy in the middle ages”[2] largely due to Rambam’s rationalistic interpretation of sacrifice as being a concession by God to those Israelites who were still clinging to their pagan past. Many thinkers responded to Rambam, including Ramban. Ramban’s explanation of sacrifice contained psychological, magical-astral, and theurgical elements, which presented a strong response to Rambam’s rationalistic view.[3] Ramban’s disciples (e.g.- Rashba and Ritba) and their students built on Ramban’s view of sacrifices. According to Schwartz, there was a “split” among the interpreters of Ramban between those who supported a theurgical model of sacrifice, and those who supported a magical-astral model.[4] However, it is unclear how pronounced this distinction actually was. A clear example of where this distinction falls apart can be seen in Schwartz’s analysis of Isaac of Acco. Despite the fact that Isaac of Acco[5] expresses both the magical and theurgical opinions in Meirat Einayim[6], his supercommentary[7] to Nachmanides’ Torah commentary, Schwartz claims that Isaac’s primary model was theurgical, and that whenever he is discussing the magical model, he is simply quoting the opinion of others.[8] I question this claim regarding Isaac of Acco, and in addition, I question the (in my mind artificial) distinction which Schwartz draws between magical and theurgical models of sacrifice.

Sefer Ha-Bahir, a 12th century text,[9] considered by Scholem to be “the earliest work of kabbalistic literature,”[10] was one of the first texts to present a mystical interpretation of sacrifice. Many medieval kabbalistic interpretations of sacrifice, including that of Nachmanides, were heavily influenced[11] by the following statement from the Sefer Ha-Bahir:

Why is [a sacrifice] called a korban? Because it brings close [mekarev] the forms of the holy powers... And why is [the sacrifice] called a “pleasant smell”?... “Pleasant” [nihoah] is nothing other than descent, thus it is said, ‘and he descended’ {Lev. 9:22], The Targum translates this [into Aramaic as] we-nahit. This means that the spirit descends and unifies itself with those holy forms and is brought near by the sacrifice. Therefore [a sacrifice] is called a korban[12]

Here, we see the seed of the idea which formed the backbone of medieval mystical interpretations of sacrifice[13]—through the act of sacrifice the participant effects changes in the supernal world which cause the spirit of God to descend and unify itself with the supernal forms. Though the logistics and many of the mundane effects of this process are obscure in Sefer Ha-Bahir, commentators such as Ramban provide more in-depth explanations.

It is likely that the astral-magical interpretation of sacrifice put forth by Ramban (which will be discussed below) is, in part, a response to Rambam’s rationalistic explanations.[14] In the Guide for the Perplexed (III:32), Rambam explains sacrifice as a way of “amending opinions” by sacrificing “the very animals worshiped by the gentiles.”[15] In his opinion, since the Israelites coming out of Egypt were “steeped in idolatry”[16] when they received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, “it would have been extremely difficult to wean them away from the type of sacrificial worship to which they were accustomed through their idolatrous rites.” For this reason, God permitted sacrifice as a concession to help these Israelites adjust to monotheism. Rambam writes:

…it was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God…that he did not command us to give up and discontinue all these manners of service, for to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used…For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings…and commanded us to serve him in the same manner; namely…to offer sacrifices to him…[17]

In short, Rambam claims that sacrificial worship was a transitional practice which was intended to wean the Israelites from the pagan sacrifices to which they had become accustomed. Sacrifice was a remnant of the idolatrous character of Israel which was permitted provisionally while the Israelites were adjusting to monotheism.

Many medieval thinkers openly opposed Rambam’s rationalist view.[18] We have already seen a kabbalistic response to Rambam in the statement from Sefer ha-Bahir, mentioned above, which affirms a mystical, though admittedly obscure, interpretation of sacrifice. This view purports that the human act of sacrifice has a profound influence on the powers of the cosmos. Nachmanides was among the first thinkers to propose a clear and detailed mystical explanation of sacrifice to compete with Rambam’s rationalistic perspective. Ramban’s explanation provided much of the basis for later mystical interpretations of sacrifice. According to Schwartz, Nachmanides “…created a synthesis of the two models[of interpretation of sacrifice]—the theosophical-theurgical and the magical-astral.”[19] Perhaps Ramban was drawn to these explanations because he was “a healer who employed magical-astral techniques.”[20]

Raman provides a detailed description of the theurgical view of sacrifice as helping to unify certain Sefirot. One clear example of this occurs in Ramban’s comments on Leviticus 1:9. However, in this exposition I will limit my discussion to the magical-astral elements of his exegesis. In some passages, Ramban clearly combines the theurgical and magical-astral positions. This combination is particularly striking in Ramban’s comments regarding the goat for Azazel, which explicate the concept of ransom. He writes:

Now this is the secret of the matter. They used to worship "other gods," namely, the angels, bringing offerings of a sweet savor to them…Now the Torah has absolutely forbidden to accept them as deities, or to worship them in any manner. However, the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded us that on the Day of Atonement we should let loose a goat in the wilderness, to that "prince" [power] which rules over wastelands, and this [goat] is fitting for it because he is its master, and destruction and waste emanate from that power, which in turn is the cause of the stars of the sword, wars, quarrels, wounds, plagues, division and destruction. In short, it is the spirit of the sphere of Mars, and its portion among the nations is Esau [Rome], the people that inherited the sword and the wars, and among animals [its portion consists of] the se'irim (demons) and the goats. Also in its portion are the devils called "destroyers" in the language of our Rabbis, and in the language of Scripture: se'irim " (satyrs, demons), for thus he [i.e., Esau] and his nation were called sa'ir. " Now the intention in our sending away the goat to the desert was not that it should be an offering from us to it - Heaven forbid! Rather, our intention should be to fulfill the wish of our Creator, Who commanded us to do so.[21]

Earlier on in the same passage, Ramban claims that he bases the above comments on an interpretation of Ibn Ezra on the same passage. Though his comments are probably intentionally obscured, Ibn Ezra intimates that Azazel represents the above negative forces mentioned by Ramban. Ramban’s interpretation of the goat for Azazel, on the other hand, is abundantly clear. For Ramban, the goat for Azazel is an offering to a power which is simultaneously the spirit of the planet Mars, the guardian of the children of Esau, and the force which makes destruction and chaos. A sacrifice is sent out to this power in accordance with God’s command, for the purpose of appeasement—‘giving the devil his due.’ Ramban was cognizant of the fact that the goat for Azazel could be construed as idolatry. For him, “the difference between idolatry and such an act is a question of intention only.”[22] Later in the same passage, Ramban summarizes his view:

Thus the matter is explained, unless you pursue a further investigation from this subject to that of the Separate Intelligences and how the spirits [are affected by] the offerings - [the influence upon the spirits] being known through the study of necromancy, while that of the [Separate] Intelligences is known by means of certain allusions of the Torah to those who understand their secrets. I cannot explain more, for I would have to close the mouths of those who claim to be wise in the study of nature, following after that Greek [philosopher Aristotle] who denied everything except that which could be perceived by him [through the physical senses], and he, and his wicked disciples, were so proud as to suspect that whatever he could not conceive of through his reasoning is not true![23]

Here, Ramban shows his perspective on the influence of the planets on the earthly realm. He also seems to be alluding to Rambam and the rationalist Jewish philosophers who do not accept the idea of astral magic.

Ramban’s view of the astral-magical effects of sacrifice is not limited to the idea of ransom as expressed in his comment about Azazel. In another passage, Ramban comments on the rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 2:15 as referring to sacrifices. He writes:

The intent of the Rabbis in this interpretation is that plants and all living beings are in need of primary forces from which they derive the power of growth and that through the sacrifices there is an extension of the blessing to the higher powers… just as the Rabbis have said: There is not a single blade of grass below that does not have a constellation in heaven that smites it and says to it, "Grow."[24]

In this passage, we see that Ramban did not limit his astral-magical interpretation to the idea of the scapegoat. Here, constellations have power over life, and this power may be drawn on, influenced, and directed through the magical act of sacrifice.

According to Schwartz, there was a dual nature to Ramban’s interpretation. He writes: “On the one hand, the sacrifice harmonizes the world of the Sefirot through the celebrant’s intention…On the other, the sacrifice also attracts the influence of the Sefirot and the stars, and this emanation has beneficial results from the standpoint of material human needs.”[25] These two models of sacrifice correspond to what Schwartz calls “theurgical” and “magical astral.” Many of Ramban’s disciples and later kabbalists drew on these ideas. According to Schwartz, some preferred to focus on the theurgical-kabbalistic side of Ramban’s interpretation dealing with the unification of the Sefirot, while others dealt more heavily with the magical-astral implications of Ramban’s theory. Since the act of theurgy is intimately connected with a subsequent flow of divine energy and blessing to the lower worlds, it is unclear to me how Schwartz can distinguish between theurgy and magic as separate models. The disintegration of the distinction between the categories which Schwartz posits can be seen in his analysis of the opinion of R’ Isaac of Acco, a disciple of Rashba and Ritba, who discusses both the magical and theurgical models.

Rashba, in particular, among Ramban’s disciples focused on the astral-magical explanation. He even goes so far as to permit what many would consider idol worship in the following responsa:

For the Lord…divided the lands among the constellations and gave them dominion over the earth, so that a certain star will control a certain place, and so the different countries and places are divided in their faiths, one worshiping a certain image and one worshiping another, and whoever worships the star that controls that place is not considered an idolater, provided that he knows and realizes that that star and its dominion derive exclusively from the Lord…who gave it the ability to rule that land…[26]

In this passage, we again see the extent to which the line between idolatry and acceptable worship is a matter of intention. As long as the worshipper is aware that HaShem is the ruler and creator of all of the stars, Rashba permits an appeal to the power of the star which rules over one’s locale. Rashba’s opinion is therefore explicitly magical. This is also illustrated in one of Rashba’s responsa in which he admits the efficacy of the use of amulets for magical purposes.[27]

There are many other versions of Ramban’s interpretation of sacrifice in the works of his disciples and their circles. According to Schwartz, some concentrate on the theurgical aspects of Ramban’s analysis, while others focus more on the magical-astral aspects.[28] In general, the astral-magical model purports that through the act of sacrifice, one brings down the influence of celestial powers to affect his or her life here on earth, while the theurgical model explained sacrifice as simply unifying the divine realm.[29] Schwartz writes:

…those who concentrated on the effect of sacrifice in the theosophical world could not ignore Nachmanides' explanation of the scapegoat ritual or the traditions relating to Balaam's actions. In his explanation of the scapegoat, for example, Nachmanides explicitly names Mars as the source of the emanation. The theosophical interpreters, however, insist that this astral emanation is negative and that the goat was essentially a ransom (Heb. kofer) to neutralize the emanation. Similarly, Balaam's actions, which combined theurgy and astral magic, were confined to the negative aspect. On the other hand, when they explain the positive action of sacrifice, they make no reference to the magical-astral technique. In their view, the sole direct action of sacrifice is to nourish the world of Sefirot. Another group of interpreters, however, believed that sacrifice was also an instrument for attracting spirituality down to the terrestrial world.[30]

In Schwartz’s opinion, the adherents of the ‘theurgical’ position have no choice but to admit that in a sacrifice such as the scapegoat, supernal evil powers are being effected, and are thereby causing effects in the physical world. However, Schwartz maintains that these interpreters also deny the positive aspects of the magical-astral view of sacrifices, confining the changes which are effected by sacrifice to the supernal realm.[31]

Schwartz cites R’ Isaac of Acco as being one of the “most typical representatives of this approach [the theurgic], which ignores the magical-astral aspect and its immediate beneficial effect...”[32] Later in his analysis, he elaborates on his claim regarding Isaac of Acco. He writes:

The theurgical interpretation, in its purest possible form, is briefly mentioned in comments by a disciple of Rashba [?] quoted by R. Isaac of Acre, and in the words of R. Isaac himself, referring to the bringing near of malkhut and tif’eret… We will see later that R. Isaac cites traditions of a different nature in his book, but the interpretations that he offers in his own name are confined to the theurgical aspect.[33]

Schwartz references several passages from R. Isaac’s work Meirat Einayim in support of his opinion that Isaac did not support the magical-astral model of sacrifice.[34] His claim here is that Isaac only supports the magical-astral rationale in the name of others, however, when he is speaking his own opinion, he supports the theurgical model. Later, in the section of his article discussing the magical-astral model, Schwartz writes: “R. Isaac of Acre, in his book Me’irat ‘Einayim, cites an otherwise unnamed author, M.R.D.C.Y., probably R. David Cohen, a disciple of Nachmanides, who injected a magical-astral element into the reason for sacrifices.”[35] He then quotes two more passages[36] from Meirat Einayim (p. 143), which describe the magical process of the emanation of divine energy to the lower worlds which results from the unification of the Sefirot. Though both of these passages which Schwartz quotes from Meirat Einayim are magical, they are in the name of other kabbalists. One of these passages reads as follows:

I heard from the mouth of a wise kabbalist that one day a Jew and a Gentile - both great sages - came together to discuss matters of wisdom. The Gentile said to the Jew: '[ truly see that your God is a true God, your Torah (or 'your teachings') is a Torah of truth, the deeds of your forefathers - the prophets of truth - and that of your priests in the service of your Temple - which is the service of sacrifices - was true. For with regard to the supernal powers, even though everything is in the hands of the Supernal, nevertheless the powers need a drawer (mamshikh) to draw them forth, in order to nourish the [inhabitants of the] lower world, through sacrifices, prayer, pleasant song, and a pure and clean intention of the mind/heart bound to the supernal [powers]. For God, may He be blessed, gave the human being the power to do all of His Will, and by way of his [the human's] actions, he will draw onto himself supernal power. [If he acts for the good, he will draw onto himself good power, and if he acts in the opposite manner, then he will receive the opposite consequence.] All is in the hands of the human being.[37]

This passage clearly demonstrates the core of Isaac of Acco’s magical model of sacrifice. The story is indeed reported by R. Isaac as coming from the mouth of an anonymous kabbalist. However, it is unclear whether one should attribute any significance to this fact. On the contrary, it would seem that the magical position reported by R. Isaac is in fact representative of his own opinion, which I will attempt to convey below.

In his analysis of the meditative techniques of R. Isaac discussed in Meirat Einayim, Moshe Idel seems to contradict Schwartz’s claim that R. Isaac did not support the magical view of sacrifices.[38] At the end of a section from Meirat Einayim describing a meditative practice Isaac concludes with the statement: “…and your mind shall perform much…”[39] Regarding this Idel writes: “The expression, ‘your mind shall perform much,’ and the end of the previous passage from Me’irat ‘Enayim suggest an explicitly magical direction…”[40] Here we see that in Idel’s opinion, R. Isaac’s mystical practices are “explicitly magical.”

However, the passages which Idel cites are not directly related to R. Isaac’s view of sacrifice. In the following passages I will attempt to illustrate that R. Isaac holds a unique position regarding sacrifice which is at once theurgical and magical.

One of the primary elements of R. Isaac’s view of sacrifice derives from the kabbalistic myth of an “inner-divine flaw directly caused by human sin.”[41] In this myth the sin of Adam and Eve cause a flaw in the godhead which can only be fixed through the “theurgic power of devotional intention.”[42] R. Isaac writes:

When Adam saw 'Atarah[43] - She that nourishes and rules the entire world - he was drawn to Her alone, and he [therefore] cut the shoots. Because of this he was expelled. Afterward, he sacrificed an ox, for sacrifice (qorban) draws (meqarev) the supernal forces together. Through this sacrifice he unified the forces of the Two Faces (du-parzufin)...a complete and true unity.[44]

We see here that R. Isaac believed that there was a primordial fault which was created in the godhead when Adam ate from the tree, and that this fault is only fixed through sacrifice. He again draws on the quote mentioned above from Sefer Ha-Bahir to illustrate this point. Therefore for R. Isaac, sacrifice plays a pivotal role in the universal drama, restoring the forces which were present in the Garden of Eden. In Fishbane’s words: “The sin of worshipping ‘Atarah …is cosmically rectified through the devotional act of sacrifice, which serves to reconnect elements of the divine Being which were separated by human heresy.”[45] Though the magical implications of this view are not immediately obvious, perhaps they will become clear as more examples are brought forth. It is interesting to note that whether Adam performed sacrifices or not was one of the major disagreements between Ramban and Maimonides.[46] If Adam had actually brought sacrifices, this would contradict Maimonides’ claim (mentioned above) that sacrifices were instituted to wean the Israelites off of their idolatrous practices.

R. Isaac’s view that sacrifices repair a divine fault seems decidedly theurgic, though it could have magical implications. I will illustrate a clearer statement of Isaac’s position regarding sacrifice in the following extended passage. This passage[47] (from Meirat Einayim on Leviticus 16:8) will demonstrate Isaac’s magical-theurgical view of sacrifices. In addition to conventional sacrifices, he will discuss the goat for Azazel, and prayer (which the rabbis instituted to replace sacrifice). All three of these categories of service take on a clearly magical-theurgical character for R. Isaac.

After the death of[48] “The secret of ‘‘b’zot’ (With this) Aaron will come’[49]… is like the secret of ‘zot’ (this is) the sign of the covenant which I have established. The full intention of the Rav [Nachmanides], may his memory be a blessing, is to hint that the word ‘zot’ (this) indicates Atarah.[50] ‘This (zot) is the Torah’[51]—Atarah is called the spoken Torah. ‘This (zot) is my covenant’[52]—Atarah is called ‘covenant,’ and she is united with the Tzadik[53] in a true unification, the uniting is the secret of circumcision. ‘Happy is the person who does ‘this’ (zot)’[keeps Shabbat][54]—Atarah is called Shabbat. Therefore, the rabbis, may their memory be a blessing, would go out every Shabbat eve to say ‘come let us go out to greet the Shabbat Queen. Out of their worthy and true intention they would do it in the way that scripture says: ‘Therefore the children of Israel will keep the Shabbat to do the Shabbat...’[55] ‘Happy is the person who does this’—the one who does it [receives] shefa (divine flow), blessing, compassion, life, and will from its[ the Shabbat’s] holiness. ‘This (zot) is Jerusalem[56]—that is the Supernal Jerusalem. ‘This (zot) is that which their father spoke to them’[57]—for through Her [Atarah] Jacob blessed the tribes. ‘This (zot) [Moses said] for Judah[58]—for through her the kings of Judah would win in war through the authority of Kenesset Yisrael[59]. She is called Kenesset Yisrael for she is a gathering (kenisah) of everything, she is made up of everything. Therefore, she is called ‘Everything,’ like the Tzadik, who is [also] made up of everything. If you were to say[60] that since the Tzadik is made up of everything, and the Atarah is made up of everything, why is the Tzadik not called ‘an attribute of Judgement’(Din) like the Atarah? For we call the Tzadik the attribute of shalom, which is a hint at Compassion. Although it is called Peace (Shalom), for it connects and completes, and through it, all is perfected, in any case, Shalom comes from the side of Compassion. It is also called Good…[?]

There are those who say,[61] that since the Atarah is the principle of the reception from Fear (Pahad), therefore, she is also called a ‘quality of Judgement (midat ha-din).’ However, it [the quality of Judgement in Atarah] is weak, for the height [Judgement itself] is strong [kasha-hard]. Therefore, the rabbis, may their memory be a blessing, would always say that ‘Moshe spoke from the mouth of Gevurah [the Almighty]…’ They interpreted [that] it was the ‘city of Gibburim’ which this sage Moshe went up to, for he ‘learned Torah from the mouth of Gevurah, which hints at Pachad (Fear). For since the rabbi Moshe is the one who received from It, It is Moshe Rabbeinu’s, rabbi, may he rest in peace. They [the rabbis] used to say thus.

And since the Tsadik is called ‘a Palm,’ as it is said, ‘the righteous (the Tzadik) will blossom like a palm…’[62] The Torah said regarding Atarah, ‘your stature is like a palm tree…’[63]--Just as the palm, which is the Tzadik is made up of everything, so too the Atarah is made up of everything. You already know that the palm tree does not make fruit until one puts another palm tree next to it[64], like the image of male and female, the male palm next to its companion, the female palm. I have found, in the poverty of my opinion and in my insufficient intelligence, a hint that the Atarah is made up of everything, and all of the ‘qualities’ are sown in her. ‘The righteous will blossom like a palm,’--this is the Tzadik, ‘grow like a cedar in Lebanon,’ hints at ‘the structure’. Until Lebanon, which refers to Hesed. What is written after this? ‘Planted in the house of HaShem’—they are all planted and united without a separation, ‘in the house of HaShem’ which is Atarah. If this is true, it also follows that Tzadik [in this passage] hints at [the sefirah] Tzadik. ‘Planted,’ refers to Tzadik which is ‘zayin,’[65] and the Atarah, which is the ‘nun,’ [which were united]. In that time everything was planted and exalted and unified in a true unification. ‘In the house of HaShem,’ refers to Binah, which is a gate to the house of the supernal HaShem, the upper Shechinah.

‘And this (zot) is the terumah (the offering),[66]’—is referring to Atarah. ‘Take for yod[67] an offering’[68]. She is called ‘Terumah’ (an offering), and ‘Hallah’ [the priest’s share of the dough]. Just like a person gives an offering from the dough, so those who contemplate her, the sages and the prophets, lift her up. Due to their worthy intention, she is lifted up to receive divine flow [shefa], blessing, life, and will. ‘And try me now with this (zot),[69] hints at Atarah, which is a tenth. The fact that the tithe-offering is one out of ten hints at her in ‘the merit of the offerings.’[70] For the intention of sacrifice (korban) is to bring near (lakarev)[71] the powers, to unite Two Faces (du partzufin), in order to bring blessing on us from the holy place by way of truth and faith. If you look at the nature of the nature of a candle flame, you will see a strong proof of the secret of sacrifice. You will know that in truth a person needs to make sure his ears can hear the words of his prayer. This is certainly so, for they [the rabbis] decreed that prayer replaces sacrifice, and everything becomes one when the prayer leaves a holy mouth. Understand this very well.

Their secrets [the priestly garments] are related to ‘the man clothed in linen’[72]—which is from the side of Compassion. For all white [the clothes were white] is from [the sefirah of] Gedulah,[73] and [the angel] Michael’s power is from there [Gedulah, whiteness]. Therefore the rabbis said that Michael is the supernal high priest. For Michael has authority on high, and Aharon the priest and his seed have authority below [in the physical world].[74]

“And one lot for Azazel…”[75]—Know that this is the secret of the goat which is sent out to Azazel. Know for yourself from the secret of the verse: “I have made the earth, and created man upon it; I, my own hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.[76]” “There is nothing new under heaven,”[77] everything is already established and stands. “‘For I, HaShem, do not change,’”[78]—for He, May He Be Blessed, is himself the Light and the Will. He is the Wisdom, there is nothing before him of the work of his hands that changes desire and will. He appoints ministers and officials, each one having their own burden and their own service. He is righteous and just, and therefore, Israel needed to shut the mouth of Satan in their feeding him. This is [the meaning of] “you may let the wicked stuff themselves with it till they die.”[79] Give a dog a bone to contend with until his master has quiet in his eating in peace and happiness. If you are intelligent, everything is explained to you. Despite this, I will write here a few of the words of my teachers the tellers of truth, may their memory be a blessing. The rabbis said that this seir (goat) is Esau. As it is written: ‘Esau my brother is a hairy man [ish sa’ir]…’[80] ‘All their iniquities (avonotam) [unto a land which is cut off’ [read instead] the iniquities of the ' quiet man/man of integrity ' (avonoth tam), [as it says, And Jacob was a quiet man-tam (Gen. XXV, 27).][81] They said that they [the priests] would give a bribe to Samael so that he would not bring an accuser against Israel. Samael would say to the Holy Blessed One: ‘Your children Israel are like ministering angels…’[82] As the Rabbi [Nachmanides] brought forth: ‘he shall atone…for all the people of the assembly.’[83] This teaches that Samael is an accuser, and they bribe him with this goat (seir). How could they have brought a sacrifice to Samael? It is written: ‘He who sacrifices to any god, except only to the Lord, he shall be completely destroyed…’[84] But rather, for this [reason] they would cast lots. This is not so with the remainder of the sacrifices. They would not choose it without a lot so it would not look like they were worshipping Samael. But rather, since it would come according to the lot, there is nothing in this, for it is from HaShem, as it is written: “The lot is cast into the lap… [but the decision is wholly from HaShem]”[85] Immediately the judgment came out. Because of this, they would stand the two of them [the goats] before HaShem, the portion going to Azazel being from HaShem. [The name] Azazel is derived from strength and power [oz and ayal), which are the language of toughness, for Samael has no rule except over plague, war, and evil. This is like Esau, as it is written ‘And by your sword shall you live, [and shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass when you shall have the dominion, that you shall break his yoke from off your neck.][86] Therefore, they would send it to the desert, to a place of the destruction of his rule, and when Azazel took this bribe, he would not accuse [Israel.]

Further, ‘Samael’ is like [the word] left (smol), which is the evil inclination. As it is written: ‘A wise man’s heart is to the right (limino), but a foolish man’s heart is to the left (lismolo).’[87] The ‘right heart’ is the good inclination, and the ‘left heart’ is the evil inclination. This means that since they [the priests] would engage in worship and then return in repentance, they would remove the evil inclination from themselves, and send it [the evil inclination] to a place which does not produce fruit, which is the desert. He is called Azazel because of difficulties, and they would only send it [the goat] after the other goat sacrifice which is its companion, which is the good inclination, which they would sacrifice to HaShem. This is the bribe that they would give. They would close and blind the eyes of the evil inclination, as it is written, ‘the bribe blinds…’[88]—and the word Samael is derived from blindness.

Further, on this point, I should incidentally mention here hidden matters on whose foundation all the worlds stand. You should know that the entire world depends on ten Sefirot, and is maintained by them, and we need to contemplate this, for everything continues and spreads out from there, from reason to reason, and everything is [ultimately] from the cause of causes, and the reason of reasons, may He be blessed. The seven Sefirot which direct the world include the quality of Judgement, the quality of Compassion, and the line which is between them. Corresponding to these seven, there are seven firmaments, and the light and brilliance of the seven spreads out in all of the firmaments. The angels that are in them [the firmaments] bow down to the quality whose light and brilliance fills the firmament [which they are in], doing the will of HaShem through that very quality which is commanding them. For this reason, there is found among them angels of Judgement, angels of Compassion, and angels in between…

p. 155 L. 18

From this you can understand the secret of Azazel which we received. For he is Samael. This is what is written in Pirkei de’Rebbi Eliezer. It is [Azazel] called this [Samael] since it is derived from the quality of harsh Judgement. For this reason on the Day of Atonement they would send him a goat to push him away to a high mountain…

There are many elements in this passage which are relevant to R. Isaac’s view of sacrifices. First, however, I would like to briefly discuss the issue of when we know when R. Isaac is expressing his own opinion, and not that of another. Schwartz assumes, as discussed above, that when R. Isaac cites another source, even an anonymous source, this is not representing his own opinion. To me, this issue seems to be intertwined with the “eclectic”[89] nature of the text Meirat Einayim, which has been a subject of scholarly interest recently.[90] According to Fishbane, the genre of Meirat Einayim is an “interpretive anthologization,” in which R’ Isaac accepts a variety of diverse kabbalistic opinions as equally true. Quoting R’ Isaac, Fishbane writes:

The intelligent individual will make peace between (will reconcile) these different receptions (,ukce), just as it is proper for a wise individual to make peace between the different teachings of sages, and to reconcile each and every word by the way of truth, and not to completely reject the word of wisdom of one in favor of that of another. If God gave you the intellect to do this, then you will know that all [of these words of wisdom] are true.[91]

It would seem from this quote that R’ Isaac wants the reader to believe that all of the opinions represented in Meirat Einayim are simultaneously true. If this is so, then Schwartz’s characterization of R’ Isaac’s opinion on sacrifices is incomplete. When R’ Isaac is discussing the opinion of another, he does not label it as ‘true’ or ‘false’, but rather, he is able to accept differing opinions as simultaneously true.

On the other hand, Boaz Huss[92] has recently discussed the fact that Isaac of Acco has a four-fold hermeneutical model called NiSAN (which is an acronym for “Nistar (hidden), Sod (secret), ‘Emet (truth), and ‘Emet Nekhonah (correct truth).”[93]) Huss claims that

“…the NiSAN method was directed not only at explicating texts, but also at achieving ecstatic experience through the exegetical activity. The structure of the NiSAN system expresses R. Isaac of Acre’s critique of the dominant intellectual and mystical schools of the day, and posits his unique form of Kabbalah as the supreme form of knowledge.”[94]

According to Huss, the first level of R. Isaac interpretive method is relating to the human and psychological realm, the second level is relating to the angelic world, and the last two levels refer to the world of the Sefirot. The idea that R. Isaac does present a coherent opinion in his work may help Schwartz’s case for limiting R. Isaac’s view of sacrifice to theurgy (and not magic).

However, in light of Fishbane’s analysis[95] it would seem that Isaac’s NiSAN method of interpretation does not exclude any realm of kabbalistic discourse, and accepts all of the traditions which he presents as equally valid. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Meirat Einayim’s literary genre is an anthology, as Fishbane and Idel have suggested[96] (as mentioned above.) In other words, Isaac lists many opinions in the text without ranking them hierarchically and choosing one as truer than the other. Moshe Idel also expresses a similar opinion of the work in Absorbing Perfections. [97] It would therefore seem that whenever Isaac expresses an opinion in this text, we can assume that it is his own, unless he explicitly states that he is expressing an opinion which is not ‘true.’ I will now return to an analysis of the extended passage above assuming that when R. Isaac disagrees with any given kabbalistic opinion he will explicitly express this disagreement. Otherwise, we will assume that he agrees with all of the opinions he is presenting (most of which belong to Nachmanides).

In the above passage, R. Isaac begins by interpreting Nachmanides’ vague comments regarding the word ‘zot.’ He makes an extremely compelling case that Ramban is hinting that the word zot (this) mentioned in Leviticus 16:3 is referring to the Shechinah (in R. Isaac’s language Atarah). While interpreting this word, he begins to discuss the process of theurgy. He claims that Atarah is united with Tzadik in a perfect unification. Early on in his commentary, R. Isaac suggests that this unification produces a magical effect for the person unifying the two supernal forces. For example, he writes “the one who does it [receives] shefa (divine flow), blessing, compassion, like and will…”[98] and “through her [the Shechinah] the kings of Judah would win in war…”

Isaac then begins a theosophical discussion, describing the relationship between Tzadik and Atarah. He points out that Atarah receives from the left side of the Tree, from Pachad (Fear), while Tzadik receives from the right side of the tree, from Compassion.[99] In the following paragraph, Isaac compares these two Sefirot to palm trees. This metaphor, as stated above, is similar to one used in some of the later sections of Sefer ha-Bahir (197, 172).

In the next paragraph, Isaac begins to address the role of sacrifice in unification of the Sefirot. He explicitly compares Atarah to “an offering”. In addition, he adds a new element which we have not discussed before, this is that the act of animal sacrifice itself is not needed to perform unification of the Sefirot. Even someone who “contemplates” Atarah lifts her up. He then brings forth the example from Sefer ha-Bahir regarding the theurgical power of sacrifice which was discussed earlier in this exposition.[100] He writes: “For the intention of sacrifice (korban) is to bring near (lakarev)[101] the powers, to unite Two Faces (du partzufin), in order to bring blessing on us from the holy place by way of truth and faith.” In this excerpt, in addition to the influence of the Bahir, we can see the theurgical idea of sefirotic unification and its magical effect, bringing blessing down from the upper worlds to our human world. Though Isaac is interpreting Ramban here, it is clear to me that this is his own opinion—Isaac believed that through devotion (sacrifice, contemplation or prayer) one causes a theurgical effect, which in turn transmits blessing to this world. Thus Isaac of Acco believed in a theurgical and magical model of sacrifice.

In addition, Isaac adds a very interesting element to his interpretation of sacrifice which we have not considered before. He writes: “You will know that in truth a person needs to make sure his ears can hear the words of his prayer. This is certainly so, for they [the rabbis] decreed that prayer replaces sacrifice, and everything becomes one when the prayer leaves a holy mouth.”[102] For Isaac of Acco, the unification which was caused through sacrifice is also achievable through a prayer which is recited in the proper fashion. Fishbane writes regarding this passage: “What is most remarkable about this particular text, however, is the emphasis that is laid on the vocalized words of prayer as a theurgical stimulus for metaphysical unification. By implication, Isaac asserts that the sound of the human voice in prayer functions in a parallel fashion to the smoke of ancient sacrifice.”[103] Fishbane quotes several sections from Meirat Einayim which discuss this idea. Here is one passage which he quotes which is particularly relevant to our discussion:

By the power of the righteous ones of Israel - those who know the secret of unification - through the power of their good deeds, through sacrifice or through prayer, for prayer was established in the place of sacrifice, through their proper and pure intention, and through their clear mind bound above, above all the blessings, [from all this] the power of will, life, blessing, bright, clear, and radiant light, is drawn forth and descends from the Cause of Causes onto 'Atarah, and from Her to all the inhabitants of the world…[104]

Here we see clearly stated that not only does Isaac believe in a theurgical-magical model of sacrifice, but that he sees prayer and good deeds (with the proper intention) as being just as efficacious as sacrifice in performing unification and bringing down these blessing to our world. Though these two examples should suffice to demonstrate Isaac’s idea that prayer performs the same magical function as sacrifice, throughout Meirat Einayim he discusses this concept, and many examples could be brought forth.[105] However, it is worth noting that he applies this idea to specific prayers (e.g.- the Shema and Amidah) discussing how one should recite these prayers in order to be most effective in unifying the supernal forces.[106]

Let return us to our discussion of the extended quote above. If we were to analyze this quote according to the NiSAN model (mentioned above) the sections we have dealt with so far would seem to deal with the levels of ‘Emet and ‘Emet Nechonah, which relate to the sefirotic world. The section which follows this would seem to deal with the interpretive level of Sod which discusses angels. He discusses the angel Michael in relation to Raman’s commentary on the priestly garments. Isaac again illustrates the intimate relationship between the upper and lower worlds. According to Isaac, Aharon, the priest of this world, corresponds to Michael, the priest of the divine world. This seems to be a direct interpretation of Ramban, who quotes a passage from Leviticus Rabbah: “As the Service performed above, so is the Service below…”[107]

Next, Isaac begins to discuss the goat for Azazel. His interpretation seems to derive directly from that of Ramban. Since God is simple and unchanging, God needs to appoint the angels as representatives to perform His will in the physical world. When a goat is sent out for Azazel, who Isaac equates (after Ramban) with Samael, negativity, and Esau, it is not idol worship, but a bribe to keep Samael from harming Israel. He writes: “He appoints ministers and officials, each one having their own burden and their own service. He is righteous and just, and therefore, Israel needed to shut the mouth of Satan in their feeding him.” However, it would seem that Isaac spends more time than Ramban justifying why the goat for Azazel is not idol worship.

The next revolutionary idea which Isaac presents would probably be placed in the category “Nistar” in the NiSAN model. He equates the goat for Azazel and the goat for HaShem with the evil and good inclinations respectively. This is clearly a psychological interpretation of the sacrifices. The goat for Azazel is meant to blind the evil inclination through bribery. After this interpretation of the goat for Azazel, Isaac returns to a theosophical discussion. It is obvious from this excerpt that Isaac believed that sacrifice can effect change on a variety of different levels, psychological, magical, and theurgical. In addition, since for Isaac prayer has replaced sacrifice, the unification effected through sacrifice (which produces an effect on the human world) can be achieved through prayer, contemplation, and good deeds.

In light of the above analysis, Schwartz’s perspective on Isaac of Acco’s model of sacrifice and his distinction between the theurgical and magical-astral models of sacrifice can be called into question. Isaac (in his own words) clearly views sacrifice as having a magical effect. In addition, taking into consideration Fishbane and Idel’s analyses of Isaac’s hermeneutical method (see above) Schwartz’s claim that Isaac does not believe the statements which he presents in the name of others is quite shaky. Therefore, it seems quite possible that Schwartz’s distinction between theurgical and magical-astral interpretations of sacrifice is flawed. Indeed, logically, unification in the upper realms generally implies some kind of effect on the human realm. Interestingly, regarding Jacob Sikili (another disciple of Rashba who Schwartz claims holds a solely theurgical model) Schwartz writes: “Although Sikili, as we have said, is aware of the possible marriage of the theosophical and astral aspects of emanation, he still proposes a theurgical interpretation of the secret of sacrifices.”[108] In light of this ambiguity, perhaps Schwartz should revise his categories of theurgical and astral-magical. Though it would seem that there is always a magical effect produced by theurgy, some of Ramban’s interpreters do not mention the planets as bestowing a magical effect, while Ramban himself is clear in his commentary that Azazel represents the planet Mars.[109] In contrast to Schwartz’s distinction between magical-astral and theurgical models of sacrifice, perhaps it would be more useful to explore a new distinction between magical-astral and magical-theurgical models. However, perhaps the problem does not lie in Schwartz’s categories, but rather in the scholarly technique of grouping many diverse thinkers’ opinions into these kinds of broad sweeping categories. Is it not hard enough to systematically analyze the thought of one thinker?

[1] Schwartz, Dov. “From Theurgy to Magic: The Evolution of the Magical Talismanic Justification of Sacrifice in the Circle of Nachmanides and his Interpreters,” Aleph 1 (2001), p. 213.

[2] Tishby, Isaiah. The Wisdom of the Zohar Vol. III, trans. by David Goldstein, The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization Washington D.C., (1949, 1987) p. 878

[3] See Schwartz, p. 178

[4] Schwartz, pp. 184-5.

[5] Who learned with many of the great rabbis of the 13th and 14th centuries including both Rashba and Ritba. See Fishbane, E.’ doctoral dissertation: Contemplative Practice and the Transmission of the Kabbalah: A Study of Isaac of Acco’s Me’irat ‘Einayim,, Brandeis University (2003), pp. 34, 55, 88, 89

[6] See below.

[7] See Fishbane, p. 57.

[8] Schwartz, on pp. 186-7 writes: “R. Isaac cites traditions of a different nature in his book, but the interpretations that he offers in his own name are confined to the theurgical aspect.”

[9] Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah, Meridian Books, New York (1978), p. 315.

[10] Scholem p. 312

[11] Tishby p. 880

[12] Sefer HaBahir 109 (translation mine with help from Kaplan, Aryeh, The Bahir, Samuel Weiser Inc., 1979, p. 41 and Margaliyot as quoted by Schwartz [Ibid. Schwartz, p. 171])

[13] Note that in Meirat Einayim (ed. Goldreich) p. 144, R. Isaac of Acco is explicit about his indebtedness to Sefer HaBahir for his opinion on sacrifices.

[14] See the following two articles for a more in-depth analysis of the disagreement between Rambam and Ramban: Stern, J. “The Fall and Rise of Myth in Ritual: Maimonides versus Nahmanides on the Huqqim, Astrology, and the War Against Idolatry,” in The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Vol. 6, 1997, pp. 185-263; Pinchot, R. “The Deeper Conflict Between Maimonides and Ramban over the Sacrifices,” in Tradition, 33:3, 1999, pp. 24-33.

[15] Schwartz, p. 182

[16] Tishby pp. 878

[17] Translation from Tishby p. 879 where he is quoting Friedlander’s translation.

[18] Tishby pp. 879-880

[19] Schwartz, pp. 167-8.

[20] This is the opinion of Rashba in Minhat Kenaot, see D. Margalit, Hachmei Yisrael ke-Rofim (Jerusalem 1962), pp. 131-33. This reference comes from Schwartz p. 167.

[21] Chavel pp. 219-20 (this quote also appears in Schwartz’s article referenced above).

[22] Schwartz p. 174

[23] Chavel, Charles B. Ramban (Nachmanides): Commentary on the Torah, Vol. 3. Shilo Publishing, New York (1974), p. 222

[24] Chavel (Vol. I) pp. 70-71 (also mentioned in Schwartz article.) A very similar passage also occurs later in Ramban’s commentary (Chavel p. 86).

[25] Schwartz p. 180

[26] Schwartz pp. 200-1

[27] In Teshuvot HaRashba, Minhat Kenaot, part 21, pp. 285-6, Rashba writes: “I say that in truth, I was asked by one of the men of wisdom who are in your land about making a form of the lion in metal for healing. I permitted it, for I said that I did not see any prohibition in making the form for healing…The Great Teacher Ramban, may his memory be a blessing, permitted it and did it, and we are no greater than him in wisdom or knowledge, or fear of sin…”

[28] Schwartz, p. 184: “Some, however, singled out the theurgical aspect—fertilizing sefirot with emanations—while others emphasized the magical-astral meaning of this action.”

[29] Schwartz, pp. 184-5.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid. p. 185.

[33] Ibid. pp. 186-7 [emphasis mine.]

[34] E.g.- Meirat Einayim pp. 149, 150.

[35] Schwartz, p. 190.

[36] Ibid., pp. 190, 194-5 (cf. Fishbane, pp.181-3 in reference to this second quote.)

[37] Translation: Fishbane, p. 182.

[38] Idel, Moshe. The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia, SUNY Press, New York, 1988, pp. 33-4.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid. p. 34

[41] Fishbane, p. 144.

[42] Ibid.

[43] The sefirah of Malchut/Shechinah.

[44] Meirat Einayim pp. 30-1. Fishbane p. 145 [translation Fishbane]

[45] Ibid.

[46] Pinchot p. 26: “But Rambam’s most devastating attack on Maimonides’ views claimed that sacrifices to God were offered up from the very beginning of mankind. According to Ramban, sacrifices were not just an invention of the Egyptians and the Chaldeans that had to be eliminated from Israel’s psyche after their sojourn in Egypt.” See also Chavel (Vol. I) pp.70, 86, where the phrase leovdah uleshomrah is interpreted by Ramban (via the rabbis) to refer to sacrifice.

[47] Meirat Einayim pp. 152-155 (ed. Goldreich), [translation mine.]

[48] Leviticus 16:1, this translation is my own translation of Nahmanides, with some help from Chavel (p. 214).

[49] Leviticus 16:3 (Isaac of Acco directly quotes from Ramban here). Refer to Ramban to see how Isaac of Acco is interpreting his interpretation.

[50] Atarah is Isaac of Acco’s term for the sefirah otherwise known as Malchut or Shechinah. This view (that zot refers to the Shechinah) also appears in the Zohar (Tikkuney Zohar 19, p. 40a).

[51] Deuteronomy 4:44

[52] Genesis 17:10

[53] It would seem that this is the sefirah of Yesod, but it may also refer to Tiferet.

[54] Isaiah 56:2 (this is referring here to the person who ‘keeps Shabbat’)

[55] Exodus 31:16

[56] Ezekiel 5:5

[57] Genesis 49:28

[58] Deuteronomy 33:7

[59] I have not translated this term, as he probably intended it in a kabbalistic manner to refer to the sefirah of Malkhut (Atarah.)

[60] The use of these terms im tomar(if you were to say),and yesh lomar (there are those who say) (question and answer) is typical of Tosafist language (see Perlmutter, H. Tools for Tosafos. Targum Press, New York (1996), p. 38). This would make sense given that Samson of Sens’ franco-german tosafist schools dominated Acco (See Fishbane, E.’ doctoral dissertation: Contemplative Practice and the Transmission of the Kabbalah: A Study of Isaac of Acco’s Me’irat ‘Einayim,, Brandeis University (2003), p. 40) where Isaac spent his younger years.

[61] See footnote above.

[62] Tehillim 92:13

[63] Shir HaShirim 7:8, also quoted by Rambam (Chavel, p. 214)

[64] A similar passage occurs in Sefer HaBahir 197, 172, where the sefirot and Adam and Eve are likened to ‘date palms’.

[65] This may be a sexual euphemism.

[66] Shemot 25:3. R’ Isaac is returning to his interpretation of Rambam’s commentary on Leviticus.

[67] Isaac of Acco follows the interpretation of Rashi on this passage from Shemot, which interprets the word li (lamed yod) usually translated as ‘to me,’ as ‘to yod’, meaning to the name of God (see Rashi here).

[68] Ibid., 25:2.

[69] Malachi 3:10, after Ramban Leviticus 16:3.

[70] These are Rabmban’s words.

[71] This is after a passage from Sefer HaBahir (109) which is widely quoted in these circles which states that a korban (a sacrifice) is called a korban because it brings near (mekarev) the supernal powers. See also Schwartz, p. 171.

[72] Isaac of Acco is returning to interpreting Ramban’s commentary (now on Leviticus 16:4). “The man clothed in linen” is from Ezekiel 9:11, symbolizing God’s mercy (see Chavel p. 215). Here Ramban quotes Leviticus Rabbah’s (21:11) statement: “as above, so below (Ibid.)”

[73] Alias the sefirah of Hesed (see Cordovero’s Pardes Rimmonim, 2:11a)

[74] This idea also appears in the beginning of Sefer Ha-Pliah. Also see Gur Aryeh on BaMidbar 35:29.

[75] R’ Isaac is again returning to Ramban’s commentary (now on Leviticus 16:8)

[76] Isaiah 45:21 [translation Soncino].

[77] Kohelet 1:16

[78] Malachi 3:6

[79] Baba Kamma 69a (trans. Soncino)

[80] Bereshit 27:11. This follows the commentary of Nahmanides to Leviticus 16:8.

[81] Bereshit Rabbah 65:10-15 (a comment on the above verse about Esau). This is my translation with the help of Soncino and Chavel. Isaac of Acco and Nahmanides are obviously drawing widely from this passage which likens Esau to the goat on the day of atonement. Here is a short excerpt: “Even so, the wicked Esau is polluted by sin throughout the year and has nought wherewith to procure forgiveness, whereas Jacob is defiled by sin throughout the year, but has the Day of Atonement wherewith to procure forgiveness. R. Isaac observed: This interpretation is farfetched [but the same idea may be deduced from this verse]: And the goat (sa'ir) shall bear upon him (Lev. XVI, 22)-this alludes to Esau, as it says, BEHOLD, ESAU MY BROTHER IS A MAN A SA'IR; All their iniquities (‘awwonotham) unto a land which is cut off (Lev. Ioc. cit.)-the iniquities of the ' quiet man ' (’awwonoth tam), as it says, And Jacob was a quiet man-tam (Gen. XXV, 27) [trans. Soncino].”

[82] R’ Isaac is drawing from the passage from Pirkei de’Rebbi Eliezer (46) which Nahmanides quotes in his interpretation of Leviticus 16:8. Nahmanides writes: “When Samael saw that he could find no sin on the Day of Atonement amongst them [the children of Israel], he said to the Holy One, blessed be he ‘Master of All worlds! You have one people on earth who are comparable to ministering angels in the heavens…” [trans. Chavel] This is similar to a passage from Kedushin 72a: “Rabbi said to Levi: ‘Show me the persians.’ — ‘They are like the armies of the House of David,’ he replied. ‘Show me the Guebers.’ — ‘They are like the destroying angels.’ ‘Show me the Ishmaelites.’ — ‘They are like the demons of the privy.’ ‘Show me the scholars of Babylon.’ — ‘They are like the Ministering Angels.” [trans. Soncino] See also Midrash Mishlei 9, where Jewish scholars are compared to ministering angels.

[83] Leviticus 16:33 after Ramban [referring to Samael being an accuser].

[84] Shemot 22:19 [trans. Soncino].

[85] Mishlei 16:33 [trans. Soncino].

[86] Bereshit 27:40

[87] Kohelet 10:2

[88] Shemot 23:8, also see Devarim 16:16.

[89] Fishbane p. 99

[90] Idel pp. 449-460. Fishbane (entire dissertation).

[91] Fishbane pp. 99-100

[92] Huss, B. “NiSAN—The Wife of the Infinite: The Mystical Hermeneutics of Rabbi Isaac of Acre,” in Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts 5 (2000), pp. 155-181.

[93] Ibid. p. 156

[94] Ibid. pp. 156-7.

[95] Fishbane p. 63: “Unlike a systematic work, in which an author might endeavor to construct a consistent and single-minded intellectual argument, the written work of an eclectic thinker such as Isaac of Acre represents an effort to function as a reliable conduit for the vast array of opinions and views espoused by predecessors and contemporaries in the kabbalistic arts of interpretation. He reports and these various perspectives, and he frequently offers his own conclusions, whether they be in accord or discord with the views of others.” Fishbane later writes (p.99) “As an eclectic, Isaac of Acre cites and paraphrases a wide array of teachings, constructing thereby a mosaic of oral and textual reception. He frequently inserts his own voice and perspectives into these matters, but his primary goal seems to be the reliable transmission of ,ukce (receptions) in a genre of discourse that may be characterized by interpretive antholigization.”; Fishbane continues, (p. 100); “Isaac of Acre thus adheres to what we may call a pluralistic hermeneutic. The task of the truly enlightened individual is to realize that there is no essential hierarchy in kabbalistic interpretive meaning, so long as the views involved were all transmitted through proper channels of reception…I would argue that we encounter here a non-determinate and unstable meaning structure, insofar as Isaac seeks to posit a conception of meaning which is not restricted to one fixed line of argument and interpretation.” According to Fishbane, through certain characteristic phrases throughout his writing, R’ Isaac “…calls on the kabbalist to harmonize or reconcile interpretations that may seem on the surface incompatable.” In a footnote (p. 101), Fishbane synopsizes appendix 3 of Moshe Idel’s new book Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation, New Haven, Yale University Press (2002) pp.457-458: he notes that according to Idel “such kabbalists [Isaac of Acco and his contemporaries] were open to the implementation and coexistence of numerous hermeneutical strategies and meanings…”

[96] Fishbane p. 101, Idel pp. 457-8

[97] Fishbane p. 101, Idel pp. 457-8

[98] See above (where he is referring to the effects of the unification performed on Shabbat). Also see Meirat Einayim p. 100 for a discussion of the Shabbat unification.

[99] Also known as Din (Judgement) or Gevurah (Strength)

[100] Sefer HaBahir 109. This begins: “Why is a sacrifice called a korban?

[101] This is after a passage from Sefer HaBahir (109) which is widely quoted in these circles which states that a korban (a sacrifice) is called a korban because it brings near (mekarev) the supernal powers. See also Schwartz, p. 171.

[102] See above.

[103] Fishbane, p. 149.

[104] Ibid. p. 177 quoting Meirat Einayim p. 126.

[105] Fishbane, p. 301 says that R. Isaac has “interchangeable paradigms of sacrifice and prayer.”

[106] See Meirat Einayim pp. 100, 211, 213 (on Shma unification) and p. 89 for Amidah unification.

[107] Leviticus Rabbah 21:11 Interestingly, the idea of sacrifice as a form of ransom to the evil powers occurs in Leviticus Rabbah 21:10.

[108] Schwartz p. 190.

[109] See also Chavel (Vol. I) p. 85.

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