Originally published in The Times Literary Supplement 3388 (1967), p. 94.
Louis Jacobs: Seeker of Unity. 168pp. Vallentine, Mitchell. 25s.
Rabbi Louis Jacobs combines erudition with an industrious pen, and in a rapidly growing stream of publications shares the fruits of his learning with others. His standing as an authority on aspects of Jewish mysticism is already well established, and his latest book will be welcomed by all who are interested in this very difficult subject. Aaron of Starosselje was a disciple of Schneor Zalman, leader of the group of Habad Hasidim, and a rival of the son of Schneor Zalman, Dobh Baer, on whom Dr. Jacobs has already published a volume.
In the present study the author gives a short account of the life and work of Rabbi Aaron, followed by some background chapters necessary for the grasping of his thought. These are on the ten Sephiroth (which are fundamental to Kabbalistic teaching as the emanations whereby the Infinite brought the universe into being), the Tzimtzum, or “withdrawal” (whereby Isaac Luria sought to explain how the all-embracing God withdrew from himself into himself to leave room for the universe), and the school of Habad Hasidism. All this is preliminary to a study of the particular teaching of Rabbi Aaron, with its clue to the solution of many of the problems with which all the schools of mysticism wrestled in the contrast between God’s point of view and ours. As an illustration of the application of this method, his treatment of God’s foreknowledge and man’s freedom may be noted. He argues that while from man’s point of view he has freedom, since man is conditioned by time, from God’s point of view past, present and future are united in an indivisible moment, since he is not conditioned by time. The problem of how foreknowledge can be reconciled with the absence of a time sequence is neatly side-stepped by saying this is simply a restatement of the basic problem of how there can be a finite world at all.
Dr. Jacobs’s study is throughout objective and detached. He classes Rabbi Aaron as a panentheist. He is not a pantheist since he does not find God only in the universe; he is a panentheist because while he finds God to be more than the universe, the universe is held to be in Him. As the reader pursues his way under the guidance of Dr. Jacobs he must wrestle with the problem of how God withdraws to leave room for the universe and yet embraces the universe. This is the problem of unity which gives its title to this acute and stimulating study.