Originally published in Conservative Judaism, 16th June 1997.
The Schocken Book of Mystical Testimonies
New York: Schocken Books, 329 pages
Rabbi Louis Jacobs is no stranger to the readers of this journal. In his many fruitful years in the rabbinate, Rabbi Jacobs has served as a model of the rabbi/scholar, producing fine essays and books to illumine the teachings of Judaism for scholar and layperson alike. Over the years, some of his most helpful compilations have gone out of print, which is especially regrettable when their vitality and utility has in no way diminished with the passing of time. One such book is his Book of Mystical Testimonies, now thankfully restored to print by Schocken Press.
This wonderful book contains the accounts of mystics throughout the millennia as they have recorded their experiences in encountering the divine. Such autobiographical testimony is particularly rare in Jewish mystical circles, which makes these words all the more precious. Beyond providing gripping reading as eye witness accounts of God’s glory in the world, these testimonies together create a larger picture of the history that Jewish mysticism has taken over time. Beginning with the First chapter of Ezekiel, and his strange vision of the chariot and the divine image, running through Maimonides’ instructions for how to attain prophetic insight, to the communications of the Maggid to Rabbi Yosef Karo (and another Maggid’s words to Rabbi Hayyim Luzzatto) to more modern encounters with mysticism in hassidut, this book offers a “you-were-there” picture of the contours and developments in Jewish mystical thought.
Rabbi Jacobs has selected wonderful texts to bring to his readers, and each selection is graced with a helpful introduction and valuable notes and commentary at the end. Coupled with a solid narrative history of Jewish mysticism, this book offers a solid introduction to Jewish mystical thought & experience in many ages and places. Given that kabbalah is enjoying such a powerful resurgence in non-Orthodox circles today, Jacobs has placed helpful tool in our hands for grounding that mystical search within the context of rabbinic study and observance, which is precisely where the kabbalah belongs.