A distinctive urban publisher since 1941

Wayne State University Press

0 items

Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals

Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah

Joel Hecker

Jewish Studies, Jewish Thought, Medieval History and Literature, Religion

Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

Available September 2023
ISBN: 9780814350935
Pages: 296 Size: 6x9
Published: April 2005
ISBN: 9780814331811
Pages: 296 Size: 6x9
Published: April 2005
ISBN: 9780814340035

This book is a superb and distinctive contribution to the study of ritual in Judaism in general, and Kabbalah in particular.

— Lawrence Fine

Focusing on the Jewish mystical literature of late thirteenth-century Spain, author Joel Hecker analyzes how the Zohar and other esoteric literature represent mystical attainment in their homilies about food. What emerges is not only consideration of eating practices but, more broadly, the effects such practices and experiences have on the bodies of practitioners.

Drawing on anthropology, sociology, ritual studies, and gender theory, Hecker shows that Kabbalists conceived the internal topography of the body as itself mystical. Nourishment imagery is used throughout Kabbalistic texts as a metaphor signifying the flow of divine blessing from the upper worlds to the lower, from masculine to feminine, and from Israel to the Godhead. The body’s spiritual continuity allows for unions between mystics and their food, table, chair, and wine and is exemplified in the practices and experiences surrounding the consumption of food. This continuity is also applicable to other aspects of embodiment, such as union with other people. Bringing this entire spectrum into focus, Hecker ultimately considers how Kabbalists use the oral cavity and stomach, and even the emotions associated with festive meals, to produce the soul of the mystical saint.

Joel Hecker is professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. A leading expert on the Zohar and medieval Kabbalah, Hecker is the translator and commentator of volume 11 and volume 12 of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition with Nathan Wolski, editor of the forthcoming Emotions and Jewish Mysticism, and author of numerous articles dealing with Kabbalah, ritual, and emotion in Jewish mysticism. He holds a PhD from New York University and rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University.

Hecker is to be highly commended for presenting a systematic study of the variegated aspects of eating within the non-systematic material found in the Zohar and related literature, such as Sefer Rimmonim ('The Book of the Pomegranates'). This work is accessible to non-specialists who subscribe to the popularity of present-day Kabbalah, as taught and practiced in popular culture; it was a pleasure to read."

– Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

This book is a superb and distinctive contribution to the study of ritual in Judaism in general, and Kabbalah in particular. By focusing on the meaning of food and the act of eating in medieval Kabbalah, Hecker broadens and deepens our understanding of the role of ritual performance in Jewish mysticism. A work of considerable methodological sophistication, it is also an important contribution to the history of religion."

– Lawrence Fine, Irene Kaplan Leiwant Chair of Jewish Studies, Mount Holyoke College

Hecker's book is notable for the fact that it does not strive to solve the interpretive difficulties presented by the Zohar but that it is able to capitalize on them to sketch a kabbalistic God that is simultaneously incarnate and carnal and a kabbalistic form of mystical experience that is simultaneously disembodies and embodied."

– History of Religions

Hecker's book offers an insightful and disciplined exploration of important themes in medieval religiosity."

– Speculum Journal of Medieval Studies