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Confraternity

For several years during the second quarter of the eighteenth century, a handful of Jewish mystics in Padua opened their secret society to others interested but not adept in Kabbalah. The town’s youngest and most charismatic kabbalist, Moses H. ayim Luzzatto (ca. 1707–ca. 1746), led the charge while seeking to emulate and manifest the unity of God. Group protocols bound the spiritual interests of all participants as “one man” and detailed the activities necessary for fulfilling their potential as a harmonious, unified body. Drawing men of various backgrounds and abilities, Luzzatto advocated a broad-based pietism rooted in Kabbalah but applicable in all socio-economic classes as a means to attain the long-awaited messianic redemption and establish what he later termed a “perfected community” (µymlçh ≈wbyq).1 Earlier versions of this paper were given at the 49th Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies in Washington, DC, and at the conference Inadvertent Innovators: Religion & Modernity in the Eighteenth Century at Villa La Collina, Lake Como, Italy. Thanks to Iris Idelson-Shein, Maoz Kahana, and Rebekka Voß for the invitation to Como, and to Jeffrey Culang, Matt Goldish, Anthony Grafton, Elke Morlok, Benjamin Ravid, Pinchas Roth, and the journal’s anonymous readers for helpful comments on the text. 1 Moses H. ayim Luzzatto, Derekh Ha-shem—The Way of God, trans. Aryeh Kaplan (New York: Feldheim, 1981), 2:2:3, 2:2:8, 2:3:8. Copyright ! by Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume 81, Number 1 (January 2020) 45 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF IDEAS ✦ JANUARY 2020 In general, scholars have depicted kabbalists and kabbalistic confraternities in terms of exclusivity. Physical and psychological separation from the social order functioned as a necessary step in mystical contemplation, and most Jewish scholars, let alone the vast majority of the literate population, did not comprehend or delve into abstract theosophical cosmologies. Padua’s kabbalistic culture in the eighteenth century, however, contradicts what we might assume was fundamental to the social history of Kabbalah. While physical separation was essential to participants’ perfection—they met separately and identified as a distinct entity—it had its moral limit, subordinate to a mission of uniting all of creation under a single spiritual banner. In kabbalistic thought, this entailed bonding with the divine, unifying upper and lower worlds, and receiving revelation, all of which consisted of myriad components and expressed elite intellectual emphases.2 In its historical context, however, pietistic separation involved discontent with social realities and a belief that they could establish a new socio-religious order. As a scion of wealthy Venetian merchants without financial or familial ties to rabbinic authorities, Luzzatto developed an idiosyncratic view of himself, the rabbinate, and society. He advocated for an intentional inclusivity whereby all (Jewish men) could consciously, emotionally, and spiritually join in his mystical efforts. In just a few years, his kabbalistic-messianic circle expanded its ranks, made fantastic claims that elicited intense condemnation from rabbinates abroad, and challenged assumptions about early modern Jewish confraternities. This article examines the communal intentions of Luzzatto and his fellow kabbalists. In light of scholarship on the institutional origins of early modern Italian Jewish communities,3 it explores the lack of cohesiveness and 2 For ways in which Luzzatto and his fellow kabbalists sought to initiate and fulfill the long-awaited messianic redemption, see Isaiah Tishby, Messianic Mysticism: Moses Hayim Luzzatto and the Padua School, trans. Morris Hoffman (London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2008); Elisheva Carlebach, “Redemption and Persecution in the Eyes of Moses Hayim Luzzatto and His Circle,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 54 (1987): 1–29; Elliot Wolfson, “ ‘Tiqqun ha-Shekhinah’: Redemption and the Overcoming of Gender Dimorphism in the Messianic Kabbalah of Moses Hayyim Luzzatto,” History of Religions 36, no. 4 (1997): 289–332; Jonathan Garb, “The Circle of Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto in Its Eighteenth-Century Context,” EighteenthCentury Studies 44, no. 2 (2011): 189–202; and Garb, Kabbalist in the Heart of the Storm: R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Press, 2014). 3 On the formation of Italian Jewish communities in the early modern period, see Reuven Bonfil, “Ha-kehilah ha-yehudit be-italiyah be-tekufat ha-renesans,” in Kehal yisrael: hashilton ha-‘atsmi ha-yehudi le-dorotav, ed. Avraham Grossman and Yosef Kaplan (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, 2004), 2:197–220; Bernard D. Cooperman, “Ethnicity and Institution Building among Jews in Early Modern Rome,” AJS Review 30, no. 1 (2006): 119–45; Stephanie B. Siegmund, The Medici State and the Ghetto of Florence: The Construction of an Early Modern Jewish Community (Stanford: 46 Sclar ✦ Moses H. ayim Luzzatto’s Pietistic Confraternity the meanings of community as factors in the rise of Padua’s kabbalistic assembly. What was the social and religious context in contemporary Padua? Did Luzzatto’s theories of communal perfection rely on precedent, and what bonded the members of the group? What was the spiritual intention, and even justification, for Luzzatto’s theory of perfecting community? Although the group functioned as a confraternity (h. evra), its hierarchical structure indicates that Luzzatto guided activity and mores as though he were the head of an advanced yeshiva. He determined the internal level of secrecy, instructed all involved in compulsory lessons, and operated as the archetype of holiness. Yet, his was far from the only voice expressed. Participants independently determined the extent of their involvement, and several contributors produced their own work and carried on successful rabbinic and kabbalistic careers. Moreover, internal protocols required adaptable sensibility, insisting on full commitment to Luzzatto as a spiritual leader, cohesiveness among associates (µyrbj), and openness to new members. Thus, between approximately 1725 and 1735, Padua’s congregation of kabbalists, aspiring kabbalists, and interested partners functioned in some liminal space with transitioning identity—in part confraternity, yeshiva, and sub-community. The men involved in these efforts reflected the larger social, religious, and political contexts from which they stemmed. Written by David Sclar

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