It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
1.1 Status quaestionis
Although there are notable studies of the development of scepticism in early modern Jewish thought (such as the writings of Giuseppe Veltri and Gideon Freudenthal), as well as wider reflections on scepticism and “the modern,” there is no sustained discussion of the place of doubt in the vast literature of modern Kabbalah. Moreover, there is no differentiation between attitudes towards doubt in its various sub-periods and schools. In particular, we do not have anything approaching a comprehensive treatment of the development of the theme of doubt in late modern Kabbalah,2 in spite of the textual fact that the terms safeq (doubt) and vaddʾay (for certain) are clearly keywords in modern Kabbalistic rhetoric and phraseology.3 Although the relationship between doubt and scepticism is complex, at the very least it nevertheless constitutes a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance.” As we shall see, some of the late modern Kabbalistic formulations of doubt point towards an engagement with deeper aspects of this concept, overlapping with sceptical themes and going against the grain of viewing doubt as an obstacle to faith and spiritual progress.4
1.2 Introducing the Present Study
This article seeks to address developments closer to our time by examining later innovations within two schools.5 Firstly (by expanding on work conducted decades ago by Shaul Magid), it will point to the remarkable centrality of doubt in the Sod Yešarim (Secret of the Righteous) corpus, which contains the teachings of R. Gershon Henikh Leiner of Radzin (1839–1891), the grandson of R. Mordekhai Yosef (and son of the latter’s direct heir, R. Ya‘akov Leiner of Radzin, 1814–1878).6 Secondly, it will look at both theoretical and autobiographical texts penned by R. David Kohen (“the Nazir” or Nazarite, 1887–1972), Kook’s most philosophically oriented student, though not his most influential one. The latter figure has so far been almost exclusively addressed in Hebrew scholarship.7 Kohen’s case is particularly instructive, as we are dealing with a university-trained figure who was extensively acquainted with both classical and modern philosophy (including explicit discussions of scepticism) in its original languages.8 In both test cases—which are of Eastern European origin and relatively close in time, although there are significant differences that will be addressed below—we are speaking of “second-tier” thinkers, who have been somewhat eclipsed in the public eye by their more famous teachers/ancestors, but who are nevertheless innovative and highly erudite in their own right.
The general premise here, deliberately moving from these specific case studies towards a wider historical argument regarding an important characteristic of modern Kabbalah, is that as modernity progressed, doubt occupied a more prominent and challenging place in Kabbalistic writing. This salience bridged geographical, ideological, and cultural divides. The advent of doubt in high modernity is exemplified by a statement made by a figure who was influential for both the Hasidim and their opponents, the eighteenth-century Italian Kabbalist R. ‘Emmanuel Hai Ricci, regarding one of the most debated topics of modern Kabbalah, ṣimṣum, or the contraction/withdrawal of divinity from the world:
All my life I was uncertain over the concept of Tzimtzum as to whether it is correct to believe that it is to be understood Kipshuto/literally or not. […] For it is possible to doubt both points of view however, the doubt related to one point of view is much greater than that related to the other.9
In this strikingly personal confession, a life-long quandary is resolved not with compelling evidence, but rather through the elimination of the view that raises greater doubt. Here, doubt does not relate to the ontological scheme of things, but rather to our own perception or view of the nature and extent of the divine presence in the world. As Hai Ricci goes on to say, we are ultimately dealing with realms in which human knowledge is woefully inadequate.10 Here, alongside a triumph of the seeming confidence in the revelatory nature of the modern Lurianic formulation of Kabbalah (exemplified by Hai Ricci’s own canonisation of this system), we can observe the emergence of doubt, not merely as an occurrence, but rather as guiding a methodological principle regarding one of its basic tenets.
2 R. Gershon Henikh Leiner’s Onto-Epistemology of Doubt
From the very outset of his extensive commentary on the Torah (entitled, like several of his other works, Sod Yešarim), Leiner places doubt at the centre of his ontology. The following text on the parašah (pericope) of Bereʾšit can readily be seen as merging ontology and epistemology:
In the matter of the tree of knowledge and the tree of life and Adam’s sin, […] the lower a world is, then the smaller its light, until such point that the tree of doubt [ilanaʾ de-sfeiqaʾ] is created, which is the entire being [hawayat] of the grasp of Man […]. And as God willed the being of the lowly world, there is within it the tree of doubt, which is the tree of knowledge of good and evil […]. And the matter of this tree of doubt is that just as the certainty of the existence of the emanator and His true essence are clear only to Him, Blessed be He, and all that is emanated is not very clear in the certainty of its existence […]. And indeed also in His [very] existence—[namely,] that there is a hidden creator and emanator—here too we have infinite levels in this knowledge […] until in this world of doubt all of knowledge of his existence is doubtful, for thus He willed that the work of the created would arrive so that they would worship him out of doubt and in this tree, and there is doubt in the world of this tree […] for even after several labors and attainments that Man may attain, all this is as the knowledge of doubt relative to the supernal worlds, only that God in His great grace, desiring the work of Man, shines for him amidst this doubt according to the vessel that he prepares in his work.11
In a highly innovative manner, Leiner renames and reframes the mythical entity of the tree of knowledge as the tree of doubt. He describes it using the central ontological term “being,” conjoined with the epistemological term tfisat, or “grasp.” The basis for this conjunction is that the tree is the end result of a long and gradual process of diminution of light (and thus the possibility of knowledge, framed here in illuminatory terms) and the descent of the worlds as part of the mechanism of emanation.12
Facing—far more than his predecessors did—the reality of Jewish atheism, Leiner openly admits that God’s very existence is certain and clear only in His presence, or at the level of the emanator.13 Beyond this, the very process of emanation as progressive concealment entails a plurality of onto-epistemological levels, culminating in our own “world of doubt.” This arena is the existential place of worship through doubt, so that even the attainment of certainty can only be relative to the ontological constraints of our world. It is instructive to compare this discussion of the limits of certainty regarding God’s existence with the second series of discourses on the Torah: there, Leiner writes that “the very existence of God was doubted by none, as even the early ones of the [Gentile] nations described Him as the God of Gods (b. Menaḥ. 110a) [despite also positing the existence of lesser deities].”14 However, not only is there no contradiction, but the latter text actually reinforces the contextual-historical interpretation offered here; namely, that doubt about God’s existence is a modern innovation (with certainty being the preserve of the ancients).15
A brief comment on the relationship between Leiner’s formulations and those of his grandfather (and the founder of his school) is now in order.16 Whilst the latter tends to regard doubt as belonging to a certain religious type, his grandson generalises, seeing this state as part of the existential human condition as such.17 I cannot enter into the complex question of the relationship between both these figures and the intermediary figure, R. Yaʿaqov Leiner, here, beyond pointing to the greater wealth of midrashic, zoharic, and Lurianic sources in the writings of R. Gershon Henikh compared with both his predecessors (namely, R. Mordekhai Yosef and R. Yaʿakov). His erudition may even be said to eclipse that of R. Mordekhai Yosef’s more famous student, R. Ṣadok ha-Kohen of Lublin.
Both the restriction of certainty to much higher realms of the divine world and the pervasiveness of doubt in human perceptions of the divine (within the ontological level in which mankind is situated), which conjoinedly enable atheism (or at least agnosticism), are even more strongly pronounced in a later passage (on pericope Toldot in the book of Genesis). Here, the connection to the Lurianic trope of ṣimṣum is more prominent:
For darkness is that which contracts [meṣamṣem] and limits [magbil] the light […] for the light is not grasped by the human intellect because man was not granted the power to gaze at the clear light, for this world is the world of concealment and doubt. For God’s entire reality in this world is known as the tree of doubt, which is only doubt. For Man has no grasp of the certainty of the reality of God in this world, as thus was His will, to be worshipped through doubt, for in this world, there are those who deny His reality. And only to His worshippers is He glimpsed through darkness, for the beginning of the attainment of a person through his worship is only from seeing wonder [peliʾot] and awakening to feel who created all of this [see Isa 40:26], but even so, after all the awakening, he will see in the world the branching out [histaʿafut] of the attributes of God in diverse images. Were he able to gaze at the light, he would see that in the root all is one, but as he is in darkness, it seems as opposites.18
What this text adds is a much more detailed description of the upshot of these theoretical insights for ʿavodah, or the psychological process of divine worship, a key concern for this entire school. Due to the concealment of the divine light, itself designed to guarantee the existential condition of worship through doubt, the avenue open to the believer leads through wonder, an affect not unrelated to the phenomenology of scepticism.19 However, even after the awakening enabled by this opening, one can still only perceive a complex, diverse, and often contradictory reality rather than the source-reality of unity. In the illuminatory terms that are far more marked in this text, this partial perception of the divine is described as vision within darkness.20
Although these formulations are (to risk a pun) undoubtedly bold, we have not yet encountered the antinomian tinge that is commonly seen as the trademark of Izbiche-Radzin writing. This may seemingly be found in the volume on the festivals of Purim and Passover (in a discourse in honour of the final festival of Passover, celebrating the crossing of the Red Sea). Leiner’s prooftext (which enables him to demonstrate his virtuosity as an exegete of the aggadah) is the fantastic tale (b. Ḥul. 7a) of the dialogue between the talmudic saint (and wonder-worker) R. Pinhas ben Yair, en route to redeem captives, and the river Ginnai. Upon being asked by the saint to split its waters (this being the connection to the crossing of the Red Sea, as a comment on the story later in this passage elaborates), the river responds:
“You are on your way to perform the will of your Owner [qonkha]; I, too, am performing the will of my Owner. [For] you, doubtfully you will [succeed], doubtfully you will not, but I am certainly doing [God’s will by providing the course of nature].” The sage angrily threatens: “If you do not divide yourself, I will decree upon you that no water will ever pass through you.”21
Here, Leiner raises the obvious problem: “Seemingly, Ginnai answered [the sage] well!” He then explains:
Even though it is true that I only do so doubtfully […] yet my doubtful action is of far greater virtue than your certain action, for you were only commanded [as a natural force] to certainly act. So it follows that you have no place in the action of doubt [peʿulat ha-safeq], while as for my doubtful action, this doubt itself is the will of God thus, that I should act even though I am in doubt as to whether I will complete this action or not […] and thus it is within the power of my doubt to displace your certainty.22
The implication seems clear: action that is shadowed by doubt is powerfully superior to that which rests in certainty, and not only in cases of humans versus rivers. Yet a slightly later passage in this same commentary casts doubt on this reading:
The action of [or with] doubt encloses [magdir] the person and he constricts [meṣamṣem] himself due to the doubt, for all the restrictions [siyagim] and fences of Israel all stem from the tree of doubt, and even though they are only occasioned by doubt, so that they shall not deviate even a hairsbreadth from the target of God’s will; even so, these fences are included in the words of the Torah—for these fences themselves come from the depth of God’s will.23
Here, we see that the theme of the joint tropes of the tree of doubt and the ṣimṣum lead to hypernomian formulations, according a superior status to post-biblical regulations as expressing the very depth of the divine will. In other words, the Law is extended, rather than abrogated, by the very logic of doubt and transcending God’s apparent will in order to attain its depth that could also be employed in antinomian pursuits.24
The practice-directed implications of Leiner’s understanding of doubt are developed more fully in a passage on pericope Šofṭim in the book of Deuteronomy. After discussing the topic of this portion of the Torah, the role of the judges, he goes on to say:
And so it is for each individual soul: in any matter in which he finds himself in doubt, he needs to return it to the root of his intuitive knowledge [daʿat] so that it does not contain any ulterior interest [negiʿah] and thus he should clarify [yevarer] it in all gates of the soul25 until the conclusion of the action, and through this [procedure], he can clarify for himself all manner of doubts and infuse the action and [motivating] will with wisdom and intuitive knowledge. For as long as he is balanced in his intuitive knowledge,26 then he judges himself without any ulterior interest.27
Precisely because of the high level of trust in individual judgement found in the successive generations of Izbiche-Radzin Hasidism, the spectre of ulterior concerns (as opposed to genuine spiritual motivations) constantly haunts the discussions of individual decision-making. Here, the Lurianic-Hasidic trope of birur (employed in numerous contexts in the Izbiche-Radzin corpus, which cannot detain us here) is described as part of a detailed method for resolving the manifold manifestations of doubt.28 The main accompanying procedure is that of returning to the source of the aspect of daʿat (a key though not omnipresent player in the Kabbalistic field of the sefirot) and thus infusing the more pragmatic and motivational aspects of the individual’s psychic structure with deeper forms of input.29 Without mentioning the term “doubt,” Leiner described the pinnacle of this process in rather radical terms, transcending ʿavodah itself, earlier in this volume: “When a person is clarified, when he reaches the light of God […] that is to say, when he recognises that this is his root and that this is the light that God gave him at his root and that there is no work (ʿavodah) that reaches this place, for it is above all works.”30 if we compare this text to its predecessors, we find that while God intended to be worshipped in the midst of the darkness of doubt, it is possible, precisely through this labour, to reach a state of illumination in which one rests in one’s source.
A more eschatological formulation of the ultimate transcendence of doubt, also pointing at a tangent from the texts discussed up to this point, can be found in the final text examined in this section, again from the discussion of the concluding festival of Passover:
For truly, they are holy Israel, even without any action or work on their part […] for the holiness of Israel precedes all works. […] For the entire matter of doubt is only due to the concealment before the birur is completed in perfection. But in the future, after the perfection of the birur, God shall open and shine so that the tree of doubt, which is seen in this world, this was posited by God in his will, for this was his simple will […] that Israel will constrict themselves in their work in these doubts [referring to enactments stemming from doubt such as the second day of the festivals in the Exile] and as of itself [mimeileʾ] it will be clarified that there was no action and work from Israel in doubt, and that even the observance of this [second] day contained no doubt, for they intended [hitkawwnu le] the will of God, since God thus established his will at the beginning of creation, and Israel on their part were always drawn after the depth of will, and at the time that it was God’s will that the work should be from doubt, they were also drawn in [to] this and in this […] they were clarified […] and they are above all works. […] In the World-to-Come […] there will be no need for any constrictions […] for then the light of ʿatiqah (ancient) will shine for Israel without any garment.31
This lengthy text (excerpted from an even longer discourse) preserves the dialectic of seemingly antinomian formulations actually leading to nationally based hypernomianism (while also preserving the antinomian flavor through quietist formulations). It also encapsulates the various themes that we have hitherto encountered (almost explicitly cross-referencing the discourse on Genesis). Yet it is predicated on a much stronger distinction between the present era and the eschaton. Also, its employment of Kabbalistic language is more prominent, echoing the tendency of some writers influenced by this terminology to focus on a specific aspect of the supernal world. Here as in many other texts, Leiner foregrounds the crown of the Lurianic system of parṣufim (countenances): ʿattiq.32 In this specific text, it denotes luminous revelation that is devoid of concealing mediation.
Recently, the scholarly convention regarding the radical nature of the Izbiche teachings was challenged by Benjamin Brown.33 However, Brown, employing the very case study mode opted for here, focused only on the founder of the school, R. Mordekhai Yosef. On the one hand, the present case study, deliberately chosen from a lesser-researched corpus from the same tradition, points at the continued centrality of the nomian and even the hypernomian, challenging the antinomian interpretation prevalent in the scholarly discourse that is summarised and aptly critiqued by Brown. However, at least with regard to the vitality of doubt as the linch-pin of human reality and spiritual development, in response to secularisation, it is difficult not to describe Gershon Henikh’s teaching as radical, if we employ the very contextual approach that is called for by Brown. This will hopefully become even more apparent in a future wider study, in which I intend to place his positions against the background of a prevalent anti-sceptical Jewish tradition, both pre-modern and modern (as well as pointing to several related radical dimensions of his writing).
3 R. David Kohen: Kabbalah, Philosophy, and Doubt
There has been quite a bit of writing about R. Kohen’s transformational encounter with his teacher R. Kook in St. Galen (Switzerland) in 1915, culminating in the jubilant, transformative exclamation that “I have become a different person […] more than I hoped for I have found […] I have found a teacher.”34 Yet not much has been said about the role of doubt in this process. Already when writing to Kook to request the meeting and to explain what he hoped to achieve by it, Kohen describes himself as being “full of shame and doubt.”35 In his famous account of the meeting itself cited above, he depicts himself arriving equipped with R. Hayyim Vital’s manual of prophecy, Šaʿarei Qedušah (Gates of Holiness), after a purifying immersion in the Rhine river, and yet “full of doubt and anticipation.”36
Furthermore, when he wrote to his new teacher a mere week after the meeting, after what he describes in this missive as the creation of a new world, he reports a weakening of these exalted feelings, so that “slowly, slowly doubts were born.”37 Indeed, in the next spring, Kook’s son and far more influential student R. Ṣevi Yehuda (1891–1982), who participated in this first encounter, rebukes both Kohen and the Hasidic sources that he (unlike R. Ṣevi Yehuda himself) espoused. R. Ṣevi Yehuda’s critique focused on the instability entailed in such psycho-spiritual ups and downs. Kohen responded with a spirited defence of their value in terms of personal renewal.38
Here, we have a valuable glimpse into the role of doubt in the making of a late modern Kabbalist. A slightly psycho-biographical reading of all these sources in tandem points towards the necessity of doubt for an individualistic path of constant transformation, as opposed to the more ideological predilection of R. Ṣevi Yehuda, the eventual leader of the Kook circle, for “absolute certainty” (as he elsewhere described the process of redemption and revelation that lay at the heart of his doctrine).39 In other words, one can also view the contested theme of doubt as a vista into the socio-psychological dynamics of a prominent mystical circle.40
Returning to Kohen, his predilection for doubt, especially doubt unto despair regarding his attempt to attain prophecy, was more than a personal tendency.41 Rather, it was bound up in his very identity as a religious philosopher. In a telling passage in his programmatic article on Jewish religious philosophy, Kohen differentiates between apologetics, which works with already known truths, and the “birth pangs” of “true religious philosophy.” The latter “knows moments of pain and despair, and is situated in doubt and embarrassment, which purify it, until through seeking and prayer it escapes embarrassment, and finds the path.”42 For Kohen, apologetics is typified by the early medieval polymath R. Saadia Gaon, which he believed to be the reason why he was never mentioned by Maimonides, whom he considered the exemplar of true religious philosophy. Nonetheless, Kohen devoted entire volumes to a commentary on R. Saadia’s magnum opus, Emunot we-Deʿot.43 For Kohen, the value of R. Saadia’s writing lay precisely in the fact that his works constituted an antidote to doubt. Quoting his statement (at the end of the second discourse, which is on the unity of the creator) on perfect love, which contains no doubt, Kohen exclaims: “Doubts vanish, and one ascends to the supreme God.”44 As we shall see anon, the vanishing of doubt was a recurrent theme in Kohen’s thought and writing.
One must by no means overlook Kohen’s magnum opus, Qol ha-Nevuʾah (Voice of Prophecy), which provides a history of Kabbalah combined with that of Jewish religious philosophy from Philo to Hermann Cohen (including an extensive evaluation of non-Jewish philosophy from the pre-Socratics to Schopenhauer).45 In this and other ways, Kohen was consciously competing with the histories provided by his conversation partner Gershom Scholem, who is frequently mentioned in this work. In the recently published selection from the unfinished third part of the book, a treatise on the sefirot (what we have, unsurprisingly, is the section on the sefirah binah, with which Kohen personally identified), Kohen leads a Schopenhauerian discussion of the arts towards a surprising (and unnoticed in existing scholarship) excursion into Buberian philosophy:
When suspicion, or doubt, separates those who are joined, […] peace enters the quality of humility, which forgets the “I,” when it adheres to the Thou with love […]. But a danger of idolatry is involved here, found in the aspect of nogah [the husk, or negative potency that is closest to holiness] that adheres to the existent [yeš] […]46 were it not for the pure binah and the crown of the virtues of Hebrew morality [musar], humility.47 The innocent humility, in complete annihilation of the existent, the I and Thou, listens to the absolute voice, Him, the hidden, the Ein Sof [Infinite], Blessed be He.48
This is a rather complex text.49 On the one hand, the path to overcoming doubt is in self-forgetting in the face of the divine Thou. One should add that Kohen described this state, which is associated with binah, as one of the effects of his first meeting with Kook.50 As in the quote from R. Saadia, love is the antidote to doubt. However, the I–Thou relationship still contains an element of potentially idolatrous self-existence. Thus, it is only his chosen sefirah of binah that enables true self-forgetting, establishing a third principle beyond Martin Buber’s binary: Him.51 One can posit that the certain, doubtless state contains a certain element of pride.
We should now turn to Kohen’s Pitḥei ha-Pardes, a didactic commentary on the above-noted Qlaḥ Pitḥei Ḥokhmah (from the Luzzatto circle), if only because it is the first consecutive commentary on the first major explicit Kabbalistic treatment of epistemological doubt.52 Unfortunately, at least in what is available to us, Kohen’s classes did not reach ptaḥim (gates) 86 and 89, which discuss the inherent doubts in the vision of the supernal configurations. However, this principle itself goes back to petaḥ 9, which clearly states:
For whoever wishes to know the essence of these powers should have to know the essence of divinity, for the sefirot are nothing but divinity, yet since the essence of divinity is totally unknown, the essence of the sefirot also cannot be known. And all that is known of them is only that they are given to be seen thus, and not that they are thus.53
In other words, the deep doubt regarding the visionary manifestation of the sefirot and other supernal aspects stems from their essential unknowability. Kohen, when commenting on this text, links the subjectivist foundation of the scepticism of Qlaḥ to the eighteenth-century classic of epistemology:
There is a vision here […]. But it is connected to binah, to supreme knowledge [daʿat].54 In the Critique of Pure Reason, intellect without sensation is blind, the sensed without intellect—deaf [!]. […]55 So according to Kant, the vision is the phenomenon, which is all that is known and apparent to Man, as opposed to the thing in itself, which we do not apprehend. And the phenomenon as seen as if from without is really nothing but a phenomenon for those who look at it […] [it is] subjective. And as for the visions [for Luzzatto],56 these are not reality in themselves, rather seen to the […] observer.57
Elsewhere, Kohen explicitly relates Kantian subjectivism to scepticism: in discussing the sefirah of binah as the origin of the process of questioning as such, he heralds the overcoming of “the view of sensualism and scepticism.”58 Though he regards Kantian epistemology as both a response to and an improvement on the sceptical approach of John Locke and David Hume, he seeks to go beyond the notion of a priori knowledge as pure reason (in his concise reading of Kant) to his “auditory prophetic logic.”59 For him, the latter “proves” that binah, as questioning, transcends mental representations. The rhetoric here is one of overcoming, while in fact the argument is that questioning is a purely mental process, removed only from representations (trailing with them the residue of sensory perception) and thus inherently undermining the sceptical neutralisation of reason in “English sensuality.”60 In other words, a lower form of scepticism is overcome, more thoroughly than in Kant’s system, by a Kabbalistic ontological metaphysics of questioning.
Nonetheless, one can reinforce this containment of scepticism, which is reminiscent of similar moves by his teacher Kook, thanks to a rich passage in the same recently published lecture series.61 After rapidly surveying the history of scepticism from Pyrrho to “the new sceptics” (presumably Locke and Hume) and admitting that “indeed, the basis of doubt is deep; there is almost no certainty without doubt,” he declares that “doubt withdraws [mistaleq] with the appearance of the spirit of wisdom, as in ‘the holy logic,’ ‘the original certainty.’”62 This is a reference to the lengthy section with the latter title in Kook’s Orot ha-Qodeš (Lights of Holiness), which was heavily edited by Kohen, and most likely to the following formulation in particular:
The shadows of doubts expand according to the degree to which the divine light is not grasped in the internality of the essence of life and according to its self-deepening—thus it shines and negates all doubt […]. And hence the spiritual economy of the order of life […], when made according to the holy content of the divine light, itself illuminates the light of supernal faith, from which all shadows of doubt flee.63
In a parallel text in the same volume of classes on the self-same Orot ha-Qodeš, Kohen writes in a much more personal mystico-poetic vein, explicitly contending with atheism. Here, it is clear that although, as we have seen, Kohen has a consciously panoramic stance, reaching back to Greek philosophy (which he read and even attempted to teach in the original language), ultimately his main concern, in both Kabbalah and philosophy, was with the modern period and with contemporary issues. Kohen exclaims:
Doubts, doubts, see how many sceptics there are, who doubt everything, the supreme. Oy, Oy, there are so many free ones [frei or ḥofši being the term still used for secular people in the 1960s, when this was written], free of all opinion, all metaphysics, all that is after nature, their empty intellect […]. Free, free of all higher knowledge, how did one [of them] say: I travelled the entire expanse of the heavens and did not find Him there.64
But when the supernal manifestations reveal themselves, all doubt withdraws […] supernal lights, sublime thoughts, true, real, certain. He who lives in the kawwanot [mystical intention] of prayers, the kawwanot of the ministers of the secrets of Torah [a term at times used for the great eighteenth-century Kabbalist R. Šalom Šarʿabi], then [for him] they are certain realities.
The river of the supreme binah […] is the brook of maybe [see Dan 8:2 and its Kabbalistic exegesis], maybe, and the maybe is the source of supreme certainty. And this will be explained more in [the lessons on] the holy logic.65
Moving from the last text, one should further consider the relationship between Kohen’s treatment of doubt and that of his teacher (especially as here, too, several of the texts discussed originate from classes that Kohen gave on Kook’s texts, which he himself had edited). Although there is some continuity in the dialectic of doubt and certainty (and here, as in other places, the student is closer than the son to the religious personality of Kook the elder), Kohen’s treatment is far more detailed, both in his profound acquaintance with philosophical texts and in his explicit employment of Kabbalistic terms (which are disguised in Kook’s works).66 Furthermore, Kohen’s ups and downs (and self-doubt) continued in his later years—and can even be described as a sense of failure—in his pursuit of prophecy, while his mentor experienced doubt regarding the halakhic status of his prophecy, but never about the experience itself.67
However, one should not err in reducing Kohen’s importance to his being part of a “Kook circle,” which is in itself a debatable notion (as noted above). Besides the value of the texts surveyed just now for the psychobiography of religious figures and for a phenomenology of doubt in relation to epistemology, as well as emotive concerns such as humility, one can point to the value of granting access to texts which have not only not been previously discussed in academic writing, but which have actually only very recently been printed. In terms of the longue durée, Kohen was (to date) the last manifestation of an attempt to synthesise Kabbalah with university-based scholarship and philosophical discourse. Striking past exemplars of this pattern include the seventeenth-century R. Avraham de Herrera (with whom Kohen almost explicitly identified) and the Sabbatean Abraham Miguel Cardozo.68
4 Comparative-Contextual Conclusion
While this article has in the main focused on the more extensive discourses by Leiner, it has also pointed to a parallel prominence of doubt in the slightly later texts by Kohen, who emerged from the same Eastern European rabbinic culture and drew on the same Kabbalistic tradition. There are speculations as to the possible influence of R. Mordekhai Yosef on R. Kook (and there is also some writing on the influence of his above-mentioned student R. Zadok).69 Yet it is doubtful, so to speak, that Sod Yešarim influenced either Kook, who usually indicated his sources, or Kohen, who was extremely meticulous about recording them.70 While the volumes of Leiner’s discourses on the holidays were printed in 1902 to 1908 (i.e., the time around 1904, when Kook relocated to Jaffa), the volumes on the Torah were only printed in 1971 and 1983 (after even Kohen was already deceased!). This being said, Leiner’s Tifʾeret ha-Ḥanokhi on the Zohar (which deserves a separate study) was first printed in Warsaw as early as 1900. In addition, in his earliest manuscript, the recently printed Meṣiʾut Qaṭan, the young R. Kook cites Leiner’s first halakhic essay Ṣefunei Ṭmunei Ḥol, which concerns the renewal of the tkhelet colouring of the ritual fringes and which was printed in Warsaw in 1887.71
Furthermore, albeit as late as 1965, a mere seven years before his death, Kohen wrote in a typically autobiographical mode: “Just now I received in the mail the book Mei ha-Šiloaḥ by the rebbe of Izbiche […] kindly dispatched to me by R. Šlomo Zalman Šragʾai, and he [Leiner] was the grandfather of R. Gershon Henikh of Radzin, instigator of the tkhehlet and the author of Orders of Purity [his main halakhic work].”72 One should carefully note that Kohen’s previous acquaintance with R. Gershon Henikh appears to be limited to his legal treatises and innovations. However, one should also recall that Kohen’s teacher, the above-noted R. Nai, studied with both R. Gershon Henikh and his father Yaʿakov.73
To what extent is a comparison between these two test cases of second-tier late modern figures instructive, also in terms of their contribution to the methods of intellectual history at large? The most apparent difference between the two corpuses examined here is in their genre: ego-documents (letters, diary entries) and so on and philosophical treatises as opposed to homiletics about the Bible and festivals (the latter form being very common in Hasidic discourse, both oral and written).74 This distinction is related to the substantially different social position of the two writers: Kohen, a recluse who, despite his teaching activities, was committed to long-term Nazarite vows, observed long periods of silence. As we have seen, he vied with R. Kook’s son for the position of successor to his teacher. In contradistinction, Leiner was the main (though not unchallenged) heir to a dynasty, and he was also a halakhic decisor who was held in high regard even outside the Hasidic world.75
More generally, Izbiche-Radzin’s theology can be described as a purely “internal” discourse, couched exclusively in terms of Hasidism and Lurianic Kabbalah, although, as we have seen, it explicitly responds to secularised agnosticism. The Kook school, drawing on its increasing exposure to European culture, as can be especially seen in Kohen’s first-hand engagement with philosophical texts, can be regarded as more “external.” Paradoxically, though one cannot deny the salience of doubt in Kohen’s writing, Leiner’s engagement with doubt (of which only a cross-section is presented here) is more profuse, more interlocked with other key terms, and in a sense, less inclined towards the containment of doubt (at least on the rhetorical level). Simply put, Leiner (even more than the founder of his school) accords doubt a place in the existential and individual process of spiritual development. On the other hand, for Kook and especially for his student Kohen (precisely because of his philosophical engagement), doubt is more of a brick in a metaphysical edifice. We have already noted the visual imagery that Leiner employs, which contrasts vividly with Kohen’s strong stress on auditory experience. Finally, on the basic historical level, the latter school was dramatically transformed by the relocation of Kook and later Kohen to the remarkably different context of Ottoman and later Mandatory Palestine, while Izbiche-Radzin remained embedded in Europe until after the Holocaust.
However, there are also some intriguing commonalities. Both writers have great admiration for and exposure to the Lurianic corpus and the midrashim (though Kohen was more specifically oriented towards midrash halakha and Leiner was more conversant with the Zohar).76 The national element noted above plays a key role in both corpuses, as noted in previous scholarship.77 To put it more broadly, their shared and repeated contention with deep doubt and their willingness to find a place for it in the mystical scheme of things can be conjointly understood against the background of the progressive modernisation of Kabbalah, with doubt as a significant expression of the process. Indeed, despite my characterisation of Izbiche-Radzin theology as “internal,” in Leiner’s innovative and controversial halakhic writing, which is not addressed here, one can find a marked recourse to modern scientific discoveries and methods.78 Thus, we are not dealing with two isolated samples, but rather with two related expressions of wider trends in later Jewish European modernity. At the same time, they are instructive for appreciating the impressive variety of strategies that the late modern Kabbalistic world deployed in contending with the new currents of doubt.
It is fitting to conclude with a literary allusion to the above-noted Gershom Scholem. In the novel The Book of Lights by the American Jewish novelist Chaim Potok, Gershon, the young and troubled student of Professor Keter, or Gershom Scholem, explains the attraction of the ambiguity of Kabbalistic texts as follows: “Doubt is all that’s left to us.”79
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The research for this article was supported by Israel Science Foundation Grant no. 692/2020: “G.H. Leiner’s Sod Yesharim in Its Inter-Generational Context.”
See esp. Giuseppe Veltri, Alienated Wisdom: Enquiry into Jewish Philosophy and Scepticism, Studies and Texts in Scepticism 3 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018) (especially the discussions of scepticism and mysticism on 294–95); Gideon Freudenthal, “The Remedy to Linguistic Skepticism. Judaism as a Language of Action,” Naharaim: Zeitschrift für deutsch-jüdische Literatur und Kulturgeschichte 4 (2011): 67–76, as well as Aryeh Botwinick, Skepticism, Belief and the Modern: Maimonides to Nietzsche (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997). For a recent survey of forms of early modern scepticism (also challenging common wisdom on this period as the seat of a sceptical revival), see Stephan Schmid, “Three Varieties of Early Modern Scepticism,” in Sceptical Paths: Enquiry and Doubt from Antiquity to the Present, ed. Giuseppe Veltri, Racheli Haliva, Stephan Schmid, and Emidio Spinelli, Studies and Texts in Scepticism 6 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019), 181–201 (to which I shall return anon).
For “canonical” examples, selected from a great many instances from early, mid, and late modernity respectively, see Hayyim Vital, Derekh ʿEṣ Ḥayyim, ed. Meir Poppers (Jerusalem, 2013) (introduction), 2, 7; Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto, Daʿat Tvunot, ed. J. Spinner (Jerusalem, 2019), 19, 25, 35, 40, 74, 80, 83; Shlomo Elyashiv, Le-šem Ševo we-Aḥlamah: Haqdamot u-Šeʿarim (Petrakov, 1909), 29A (the latter being a study partner/teacher of Rabbi Kook, who will be discussed at length below). One should note that the term vaddʾay itself recurs in the Zohar, though probably not in the epistemological sense of certainty, but rather in the exegetical sense of hyper-literalism, like the parallel term mamaš (literally); see Elliot R. Wolfson, Luminal Darkness: Imaginal Gleanings from Zoharic Literature (Oxford: Oneworld, 2007), 70–71.
Compare to Veltri, Alienated Wisdom, 143, 165–67, 236 (discussing the early modern period) and especially the methodological discussion on 287–88 (as well as Schmid, “Three Varieties,” 183–84). For earlier periods, see, e.g., Christiana M. M. Olfert, “Skeptical Investigation and Its Perks: Diog. Laert. 9.69–70 and 79–89,” in Pyrrhonian Skepticism in Diogenes Laertius, ed. Katja M. Vogt (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015), 155.
For a general history of modern Kabbalah and its phases, see Jonathan Garb, A History of Kabbalah: From the Early Modern Period to the Present Day (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).
See Shaul Magid, Hasidism on the Margin: Reconciliation, Antinomianism, and Messianism in Izbica/Radzin Hasidism (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003) (for doubt, see esp. 88–99, 123–28, 144–47). Since Magid’s foundational discussion (based on his earlier PhD dissertation), additional key texts by Leiner have become available. For a recent bibliographical study, see Shimeon Fogel, “The Literary Activity of Rabbi Gershon Henokh Leiner of Radzyn” [Hebrew], Daat 68/69 (2010): 149–85.
See esp. Dov Schwartz, Challenge and Crisis in Rabbi Kook’s Circle [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: ‘Am ‘Oved, 2001); Schwartz, A Theological Profile of Religious Zionism [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: ‘Am Oved, 1999) (briefer English-language discussions are interspersed in Schwartz, Faith at the Crossroads: A Theological Profile of Religious Zionism, trans. Batya Stein [Leiden: Brill, 2002]).
For a biographical account of Kohen’s early years, see Yehuda Bitty, The Mystical Philosopher: Studies in Qol Ha-Nevu’ah [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Ha-Kibbutz Hameuchad, 2016).
Hai Ricci, Yošer Levav, Batei ha-Lev, Bayit 1, Ḥeder 1, introduction; translated and annotated in Avinoam Fraenkel, Nefesh ha-Tzimtzum: Understanding Nefesh haChaim through the Key Concept of Tzimtzum and Related Writings (Jerusalem: Urim, 2015), 2:250. This text is quoted by R. David Kohen, one of the two main figures addressed here, in Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah (Lectures on Orot ha-Qodeš), ed. H. Hacohen et al., 3 vols. (Jerusalem: Nezer David, 2018–2019), 2:117. On the early modern disputation regarding the interpretation of ṣimṣum (literal or metaphorical), esp. in Italy, see, e.g., Nissim Yosha, Myth and Metaphor: Abraham Cohen Herera’s Philosophical Interpretation of Lurianic Kabbalah [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institute, 1994), 178–210; Moshe Idel, “Conceptualizations of Tzimtzum in Baroque Italian Kabbalah,” in The Value of the Particular: Lessons from Judaism and the Modern Jewish Experience. Festschrift for Steven T. Katz on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Michael Zank and Ingrid Anderson (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 28–54, as well as Rivka Shatz-Uffenheimer, “Ramhal’s Metaphysics in Its Ethical Context (A Study in ‘Qelaḥ Pitḥei Ḥokhma’)” [Hebrew], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 9 (1990): 361–96, and cf. Elliot R. Wolfson, “Tiqqun ha-Shekhinah’: Redemption and the Overcoming of Gender Dimorphism in the Messianic Kabbalah of Moses Hayyim Luzzatto,” History of Religions 36 (1997): 292 n. 8. For a specific discussion of Hai Ricci, see Tzvi Luboshitz, “An Early Version of the Ṣimṣum Debate in Immanuel Hay Ricchi’s Yosher Levav” [Hebrew], Kabbalah 42 (2018): 269–320.
See Fraenkel, Nefesh HaTzimtzum, 2:252.
Gershon Henikh Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Torah (Jerusalem, 2002), 5 (the Lurianic concept of vessels is also discussed earlier on the same page). For a very brief quote from this text (in the context of a wider discussion of the garden of Eden) and some parallels, see Magid, Hasidism on the Margin, 125–26. All translations from the two main corpuses discussed here are my own.
Shortly before this passage, Leiner makes an explicit reference to ṣimṣum. For a different distinction, between the certainty of the “higher world” as opposed to “enclothing oneself” (mitlabeš) in the tree of doubt at the level of hanhagat ha-middot (God’s guidance of the world through His attributes), see Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Torah, 216 (pericope Tazriaʿ).
This idea is explicit in a shorter text (Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Torah, 132, pericope Bo’) on the tree of doubt as “doubt regarding existence” (safeq ha-meṣiʾut), as result of the ṣimṣum process.
Gershon Henikh Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal Torah Tinyyanaʾ (Jerusalem, 2006), 257.
Compare, e.g., Sod Yeṣarim Tinyyanaʾ, 10, on “the first philosophers.”
In his introduction to Beit Ya‘akov, which was written by his father, R. Yaʿaqov Leiner (Leiner, Šaʿar ha-Emunah we-Yesod ha-Ḥasidut (Introduction to “Beit Ya‘akov”) [Bnei Brak: Mishor, 1996], the centrepiece of Magid’s monograph), R. Gershon Henikh (58) describes his grandfather’s writings as resolving all doubt and perplexity.
It is interesting that R. Mordekhai Yosef’s religious typology, which space does not permit us to discuss here, precedes those of William James, Max Weber, and Carl Jung by several decades.
Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Torah, 52.
I am not aware of a modern parallel to Keagan Brewer, Wonder and Skepticism in the Middle Ages (London: Routledge, 2016) (framed, like some of the present discussion, in terms of the history of emotions), but such a study is a desideratum (although there are of course studies devoted to wonder as such in the modern period). It is rather uncertain as to whether one should assume conceptual stability in the use of the term pliʾot over long periods of Jewish thought, starting with Sefer Yeṣirah (see Yehuda Liebes, Ars Poetica in “Sefer Yetsira” [Hebrew] [Tel Aviv: Schocken, 2000], 12, and the more adventurous interpretation, closer to Leiner’s usage, on 33), through medieval thinkers influenced by the Platonic notion of wonder as the beginning of philosophy (as in Theaet. 155d). It is all but certain that Leiner was not influenced to any degree by the discourse on wonder in Haskalah literature (see, e.g., David Sorkin, “The Early Haskalah,” in New Perspectives on the Haskalah, ed. Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin [Oxford and Portland, OR: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2011], 21). On the removal of doubt as concealment once the “veil (masveh) of hiding and forgetfulness is removed,” see Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Torah, 152 (pericope Yitro), another ʿavodah-centred text.
In contrast to the auditory and sonorous predilection of many earlier Hasidic texts, as recently described by Moshe Idel, Vocal Rites and Broken Theologies: Cleaving to Vocables in R. Israel Baʿal Shem Tov’s Mysticism (New York: Herder and Herder, 2019), at least in this text (and possibly in Leiner’s corpus as a whole), the “root metaphors” (to use the term propagated by Owen Barfield) are visual. Though there is almost certainly no question of influence, it may be interesting to compare Leiner’s notions of vision as the product of a dialectic of light and darkness to reminiscent locutions within Goethe’s theory of colour (see, e.g., Dennis L. Sepper, Goethe contra Newton: Polemics and the Project for a New Science of Color, paperback ed. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003], 84–84, 196–97). For Goethe’s religious sources, see Paul F.H. Lauxtermann, Schopenhauer’s Broken World-View: Colours and Ethics between Kant and Goethe (Dordrecht: Springer, 2000), 57. This study also discusses the later reception of Goethe’s theory.
Gershon Henikh Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Moʿadim (Purim and Pessaḥ) (Brooklyn: Lainer, 1992), pt. 2, 79B.
Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Moʿadim, pt. 2, 79B.
Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Moʿadim, pt. 2, 79B.
On hypernomianism in Kabbalah, see various studies by Elliot R. Wolfson (see especially Venturing Beyond: Law and Morality in Kabbalistic Mysticism [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006], 195–96, 232–40, 269–85). As may be seen from Wolfson’s discussions, in our text this concern is interlinked with a stress on nationality: “fences of Israel” (compare to Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Moʿadim, pt. 2, 101A). My focus here is on the close reading of this particular text and its comparison to others penned by Leiner rather than on the wider theme of hypernomianism and its implications for the historiography of the Izbiche-Radzin tradition and Jewish mysticism as a whole.
Reading the biblical expression “your gates” (Deut 16:18) in a hyper-literal manner (often found in Hasidic exegesis) as referring to each and every individual. On hyper-literal reading in earlier forms of Jewish mysticism, see Wolfson, Luminal Darkness, 70–71, 80–83.
This is a reference to the talmudic term šiqul ha-daʿat, which appears in tractate Sanhedrin (e.g., 6a, 33a) in the context of possible judiciary errors.
Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Torah, 303.
For the theme of birur in Mei ha-Šiloaḥ see Israel Koren, “‘Clarifications of Truth’ in Mordechai Joseph of Izbicha’s Mei ha-Shiloah,” Kabbalah 48 (2021): 197–258. See also Eli Yoggev, “Mei Hashiloaḥ Between Parallel Worlds: New Investigations into the Philosophy, Mysticism and Religious Outlook of Rabbi Mordecai Yosef Leiner of Izbica” (PhD diss., Bar Ilan University, 2017), 187–287.
It is tempting to interpret this process in the Lurianic terms (which again were clearly very familiar to Leiner) of drawing “intelligences” (moḥin) down into lower levels. (On the lack of moḥin as the primal cause of sin, see the Lurianic text quoted in Magid, Hasidism on the Margin, 312 n. 51.)
Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Torah, 44 (pericope Ḥayyei Śarah). Compare this with page 47 on the interplay of birur and da‘at.
Leiner, Sod Yešarim ʿal ha-Moʿadim, pt. 2, 101 A–B.
The Lurianic system is in turn based on the idrot layer of zoharic literature (see, for now, Pinchas Giller, Reading the Zohar: The Sacred Text of the Kabbalah [New York: Oxford University Press, 2001]).
See Benjamin Brown, “Theoretical Antinomianism and the Conservative Function of Utopia: Rabbi Mordekhai Yosef of Izbica as a Case Study,” The Journal of Religion 99 (2019): 312–40, as well as the wider implications drawn in Brown, “Substitutes for Mysticism: A General Model for the Theological Development of Hasidism in the Nineteenth Century,” History of Religions 56 (2017): 247–88.
Kohen’s introduction to Avraham Itzhak Kook, Orot ha-Qodeš, ed. D. Kohen, 4 vols. (Jerusalem: Mossad ha-Rav Kook, 1963–1964), 1:18. For a scholarly analysis, see, e.g., Bitty, The Mystical Philosopher, 140–45.
Manuscript cited in Bitty, The Mystical Philosopher, 141. On shame in modern Kabbalah, including R. Kook, see Jonathan Garb, “Shame as an Existential Emotion in Modern Kabbalah,” Jewish Social Studies 21 (2015): 83–116. Compare to the text on doubt and embarrassment below.
Kohen’s introduction to Kook, Orot ha-Qodeš, 1:17.
Manuscript quoted in Bitty, The Mystical Philosopher, 143.
David Kohn and Ṣevi Yehuda Kook, Dodi Le-Ṣevi, ed. H. Cohen and Y. Toledano, expanded ed. (Jerusalem: Nezer David, 2005), 43, 45. R. Ṣevi Yehuda’s approach is currently continued by his followers, who describe certainty as the heart of his teaching, amidst a very negative description of doubt (see E. Klein, A. Sontag, and M. Sro, eds., Tešuʿatam Haytah la-Neṣaḥ: Collected Talks on Purim [Jerusalem: Har ha-Mor, 2014], 256–64, and compare to 234–81).
See, e.g., Ṣevi Yehudah Kook, Le-Netivot Yiśraʾel (Beit El: Me-Avnei ha-Maqom, 2002), 1:172. R. Ṣevi Yehuda has also heretofore been almost entirely discussed in Hebrew.
The concept of the “Kook circle,” espoused mainly in the studies by Schwartz cited above, has been critiqued by Yonatan Meir, “Lights and Vessels: A New Inquiry into the ‘Circle’ of Rabbi Kook and the Editors of His Works” [Hebrew], Kabbalah 13 (2005): 163–247 (an opinion tacitly shared by Yosef Avivi, The Kabbalah of Rabbi A.I. Kook [Hebrew], 4 vols. [Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institute, 2018]).
On despair and doubt around the lonely prophetic quest, see the diary manuscript quoted and discussed in Bitty, The Mystical Philosopher, 243 (see also 196).
David Kohen, Nazir Ehav (Jerusalem: Nezer David, 1977), 2:315.
See David Kohen, Derekh Emuna: Commentary on Emunot we-Deʿot, ed. A. Ariel, 4 vols. (Jerusalem: Ariel, 2012–2014).
Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 1:146.
On Kohen, Scholem, Hermann Cohen, and Schopenhauer, see at length Tzemach Halperin, “Rav HaNazir as a Follower of Hermann Cohen” (PhD diss., Bar Ilan University, 2015). On the especial influence of Kabbalah on modern philosophy, see Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 1:339–40; 2:369 (and see 1:379 for de Herrera’s influence on Hegel).
On noga, see, e.g., Isaiah Tishby, The Doctrine of Evil and the “Kelippah” in Lurianic Kabbalism [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1984), 70–72, 107–8, 110–12, 141–43; Moshe Idel, “The ‘Tsadik’ and His Soul’s Sparks: From Kabbalah to Hasidism,” Jewish Quarterly Review 103 (2013): 211 n. 49; 221 n. 82.
On humility in Kohen’s writing, see Yuval Cherlow, “On Modesty and Regeneration: An Exchange of Letters Between R. Kook and R. David Cohen” [Hebrew], Iyyun: The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly 46 (1998): 441–50.
David Kohen, Qol Ha-Nevuʾah, 3rd. aug. ed. (Jerusalem: Nezer David, 2002), pt. 3, 26.
To fully explicate it, one would need to go beyond the scope of this article and address Kohen’s auditory philosophy (which guides his discussion of music shortly before this selection) at far greater length than in the discussions below.
Manuscript cited in Bitty, The Mystical Philosopher, 143.
See, most famously, Buber’s 1923 Ich und Du (translated into English as “I and Thou”).
Since then, several annotated editions of this work have appeared, of varying quality. The best are Hayyim Freidlander, ed., Qlaḥ Pitḥei Ḥokhmah (Bnei Brak, 1992), and Yosef Spinner, ed., Qlaḥ Pitḥei Ḥokhmah (Jerusalem, 2019).
Spinner, ed., Qlaḥ Pitḥei Ḥokhmah, 40.
I do not believe that he is referring to this term in the technical sense of the sefirah of that name.
It is likely that Kohen replaced “empty” with “deaf” when translating leer in line with his claim that pure intellect is of an auditory nature (as we shall soon see). The editor (n. 289) duly notes the pages in the 1954 Jerusalem edition of the Critique, where we have Kohen’s own underlining (the original being from Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (B75): Gedanken ohne Inhalt sind leer, Anschauungen ohne Begriffe sind blind). I have attempted to be faithful to Kohen’s own rendition rather than to earlier or recent Hebrew translations.
Here, Kohen follows the standard identification of the author of the text, including its internal commentary, as Luzzatto, a claim that he himself slightly doubted (see David Kohen, Pitḥei ha-Pardes: Lectures on Qlaḥ Pitḥei Ḥokhmah and Šaʿarei Orah, ed. E. Shilo [Jerusalem: Nezer David, 2009], 19–24).
Kohen, Pitḥei ha-Pardes, 126–29 (including the interpreted text; emphasis in original), and compare to Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 1:301. In my translation, I have amended a slight clumsiness in the rendition of Kohen’s lecture by his auditors and the editors of the lectures. See there the parallels drawn with R. Kook’s own discussions of Kant in various letters (and compare to 1:329–30). For Kohen’s main treatment of Kant, again emphasising Locke’s and especially Hume’s scepticism as the impetus for the development of his system, see Qol ha-Nevuʾah, 113–15. There, Kohen describes the adage on intellect without sensation as “the main error” in Kant’s system, opposing it to the views of Hermann Cohen and Shlomo Maimon, which allow for pure thought devoid of sensory input (binah in Kohen’s Kabbalistic rendition; compare to Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 2:422). It is clear that Kohen was significantly influenced by the integration of Kantian philosophy and Kabbalah in the late eighteenth-century Sefer ha-Brit by R. Pineḥas Eliyahu Horowitz (see, e.g., Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 2:317–18, and compare 1:278, as well as Avraham Itzhak Kook, Meṣiʾut Qaṭan, ed. H. Kohen [Jerusalem: Maggid, 2018], 95).
There may well be some Hegelian influence here (see, e.g., Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 2:491–92).
For questions vanishing by means of supernal niggun (sacral melody), see the editor’s note to Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 2:109 n. 49. On Humean scepticism as a general (early) modern variety of scepticism and as a key to understanding Kant, see Schmid, “Three Varieties,” 190–94, 197–98. I cannot enter here into the question of the accuracy of Kohen’s claims as to the basic continuity between the sceptical thought of Locke and Hume.
Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 2:195–98 (and see also 76–77, 253). Compare to Michael N. Foster, Kant and Skepticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008). For Kohen’s elder contemporary R. Itzhak Breuer (1883–1946) and his attempt to synthesise Kabbalah and Kantian philosophy based on a far more positive appreciation of the latter, see Alan L. Mittleman, Between Kant and Kabbalah: An Introduction to Isaac Breuer’s Philosophy of Judaism (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1990). Breuer conversed with Kook on several occasions (on parallels between their approaches, see for now Rivka Horwitz’s introduction to Isaac Breuer, Signposts [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Mossad ha-Rav Kook, 2007) (this being the last essay penned by the main academic commentator on Breuer) and had at least some acquaintance with Kohen (see Bitty, The Mystical Philosopher, 129), whose teacher, R. Menahem Mendel Nai, was on good terms with his father R. Shlomo Zalman Breuer (see the biographical survey by Harel ha-Cohen in Kohen, Pitḥei ha-Pardes, 20). I do not know of a discussion dedicated to Breuer’s rather accepting view of doubt regarding the tenets of religion (see for now Breuer, Signposts, 69).
See, e.g., Avraham Itzhak Kook, Maʾamrei ha-Raʾayah, rev. ed. (Jerusalem: Golda Katz Foundation, 1988), 99, as well as the text cited now (and compare to Kook, Orot ha-Qodeš, 1:205–7. See also Jonathan Garb, The Chosen Will Become Herds: Studies in Twentieth-Century Kabbalah, trans. Yaffah Berkovits-Murciano (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 84, 88, for a rare moment of self-doubt in R. Kook’s mystical career. One can differentiate between R. Kook’s tolerance for states of doubt and his more reserved attitude towards scepticism as a philosophical stance: here, see Kook’s diary entries (many of which did not make it past R. Kohen’s editing of these passages in Orot ha-Qodeš), such as Šemonah Qevaṣim (Eight Notebooks) (Jerusalem, 1999), vol. 1, notebook 1, pars. 535, 641; vol. 2, notebook 5, pars. 116, 183.
Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 2:166 (compare to 354 and to 1:203).
Kook, Orot ha-Qodeš, 1:209 (bold in the original). It is worth noting the overwhelmingly visual imagery here, contrasting with Kohen’s explicitly auditory predilection.
The quote was attributed to the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961.
Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 2:44.
For this interesting, though not entirely unique choice, see now at length Avivi, The Kabbalah. See Halperin, “Rav HaNazir,” 241, for a treatment of Kohen’s discussions of Kant with his teacher.
Compare the texts cited in Garb, The Chosen, 84–89, to Kohen, Nazir Eiḥav, vol. 1, esp. 289–90, 295–96.
See Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 2:286, 285–86, 426, in praise of the blend of philosophy and Kabbalah in early modern Italy (de Herrera being one example given) and describing Luzzatto as in some sense continuing that direction. See also Bitty, Mystical Philosopher, 139. For R. Kook’s description of de Herrera as a model, see his Pinqasei ha-Raʾayah (Jerusalem: Makhon ha-Retzia, 2017), 4:88.
See Garb, The Chosen, 49–50, 83–84; Hayyim Yeshaya Hadari, “Two High Priests,” in Ha-Reiyah: A Collection of Articles on the Doctrine of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak ha-Kohen Kook, ed. Y. Raphael (Jerusalem: Mossad ha-Rav Kook, 1966), 154–68; Hayyim Hirsch, “Ahavat Ṣedek”: The Defence of the Jews and Their Exalted Degree in the Thought of Rabbi Kook and R. Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 2001).
Although, as we have seen, Kohen differed from R. Ṣevi Yehuda in his espousal of Hasidic sources, he appears to have been mostly familiar with the “logical Hasidism” of Habad (see Kohen, Qol ha-Nevuʾah, 26) and that of Bratzlav (I have heard from a highly reliable source that there is a manuscript containing his reflections on its founder, R. Nahman, in the semi-catalogued Nezer David archives. On the first two generations of Bratzlav writing, see Kohen, Ḥug ha-Raʾayah, 2:257, 295, 298, 381, 386).
Kook, Meṣiʾut Qaṭan, 153. Kook cites it as “Quntres Ptil Tkhelet” (see n. 297). On this early period of writing, see Yehuda Mirsky, Towards the Mystical Experience of Modernity: The Making of Rav Kook 1865–1904 (Brookline, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2021).
Kohen, Meṣiʾut Qaṭan, 249 (also mentioning the strongly Kabbalistic Komarno school of Hasidism, and see also 240). Šragʾai, the mayor of Jerusalem during 1950–1952, was a Radzin Hasid and wrote several books on the history and thought of the dynasty. As this account by Kohen was published very recently, one can perhaps look forward to more such discoveries as the planned further volumes are published (one just as this article was finalised).
See the above-noted essay by Harel ha-Cohen in Kohen, Pitḥei ha-pardes, 19.
On modern ego-documents, both Jewish and general, see, e.g., Joseph H. Chajes, “Accounting for the Self: Preliminary Generic-Historical Reflections on Early Modern Jewish Egodocuments,” Jewish Quarterly Review 95 (2005): 1–15; Rudolf Dekker, “Jacques Presser’s Heritage: Egodocuments in the Study of History,” Memoria y Civilización 5 (2002): 13–37.
At a convention of Radzin Hasidim in 2011, the author heard an elderly Hasid describe the esteem in which R. Hayyim Soloveitchik, the paragon of talmudic analytics, held Leiner’s halakhic writings and teaching. The difference of approach around the issues discussed here between Leiner and his brother R. Šmuel Dov Ašer Leiner, who broke off and led a minority branch after the death of their father, will be addressed in a future study.
On Kohen and midrash halakha, see Yedidyah Hacohen, “Rabbi David Cohen Hanazir’s Commentary on Halachic and Aggadic Midrashim, and His Interpretative Methodology” (PhD diss., Bar-Ilan University, 2017). The marginal place of the Zohar in Kohen’s corpus is interesting, reinforcing my claim above as to his modern focus: while granting the entire zoharic literature a mere three pages (146–48) in his magnum opus Qol ha-Nevuʾah, he devoted a long series of lectures (published in Pitḥei ha-Pardes, 595–654) to the Zohar’s contemporary and curricular competitor, Šaʿarei Orah (The Gates of Light) by R. Yosef Gikatilia.
As the role of national mysticism in Izbiche-Radzin writing is still less well known, a reference is called for: see Yaakov Elman, “The History of Gentile Wisdom according to R. Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin,” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 3 (1993): 153–87.
See Shaul Magid, “‘A Thread of Blue’: Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner of Radzyn and His Search for Continuity in Response to Modernity.” Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry 11 (1998): 31–52. One should note that these texts were already in print even before R. Kook left Europe.
Chaim Potok, The Book of Lights (New York: Ballantine Books, 1982), 308.