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Towards the Mystical Experience of Modernity


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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Work in Brief
  • Precis
  • Mapping Rav Kook
  • Many Editorial Hands
  • Academic Approaches
  • The Missing Early Decades in Rav Kook'sCorpus
  • Towards Expressivism and the Subject
  • Rav Kook and the Medieval PhilosophicalTradition
  • The Early Writings
  • Self-Cultivation, Philosophical Ethics,Mussar
  • Chapter One: Childhood and Early Years: Between Mitnagdism, Hasidism and Haskalah 42 Rabbinic Humanism and Haskalah
  • Geographic and Cultural Background
  • Family Backgound
  • Social Changes: Haskalah's Shift fromEnlightenment to Radicalism
  • Rabbinic Maskilim
  • Childhood and Early Education
  • Studies in Lyutsin and Smorgon andEngagement with Haskalah
  • Betrothal and Aderet
  • Avraham Kook Goes to Volozhin
  • Marriage, Poverty and First RabbinicPost
  • Literary Debut
  • 'Ittur Sofrim
  • Loss
  • Chapter 2: All in the Mind: The Writings ofthe Zeimel Period
  • The Small-Town Rabbinate
  • Talmudic Commentary and a Sage'sDiscontents
  • Halakhic Writings and a Touch ofPhilosophy
  • Hevesh Pe'er
  • The Primacy of the Mind in Hevesh Pe'er
  • Midbar Shur
  • Moshe Hayim Luzzatto
  • Midbar Shur and the Pursuit ofPerfection, Jewish and Universal
  • An Elegy for His First Wife
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: Boisk at the Crossroads of Mussarand Tiqqun
  • Unease in Zeimel and the Influence ofEliasberg
  • Boisk
  • Developments in Yeshiva Culture and theMussar Movement
  • The Turn to Interiority as a Defining Themeof this Period
  • : The Self and Tiqqun
  • Lithuanian Kabbalah
  • Pinkasim 15 & 16
  • "The Rustlings of My Heart": RavKook and B.M. Levin
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4: 'Eyn Ayah: Intellect,Imagination, Self-Expression, Prophecy
  • 'Eyn Ayah and Modernity's ExpressivistTurn
  • The Work: Genre, Method and the Study ofAggadah in Rabbinic Circles
  • Two Introductions to the Work
  • Self-Perfection
  • Intellect, Imagination, Feeling
  • Perfection of the Individual and the Wholeand the Internalization of KabbalahStrategies of Containment
  • The Renewal of Prophecy and the Mission ofthe Artist
  • The Emergence of Dialectic
  • The Problem of Self-Love
  • The Study of Aggadah and SpiritualIndividualism
  • Concluding Remarks on Expressivism andSubjectivity
  • Chapter 5: The Turn Towards Nationalism:Between Ideology and Utopia, or, Ethics and Eschatology
  • Jewish Nationalism in Eastern Europe
  • Early Mentions of Nationalism and Hints ofApocalypse
  • First Responses to the Zionist Movement
  • First Response to Orthodox Anti-Zionism
  • Ha-Peles
  • The First Essay: Israel's UniversalMission
  • Interlude: Creation of the Mizrahi
  • The Second Essay: Mobilizing Literature
  • The Third Essay: Ethics, History andEschatology
  • Alexandrov's Response: Rav Kook and AhadHa-Am
  • 'Eyn Ayah Passages on History andEschatology
  • Assessing the Essays: Ideology andUtopia
  • Chapter 6:'The New Guide of the Perplexed' 'TheLast in Boisk': Making Sense of Heresy en Route to Zion
  • To Jaffa and Palestine
  • The Second Aliyah
  • 'The New Guide of the Perplexed'
  • 'The Last in Boisk': Heresy, Nietzsche,Apocalypse
  • The Journal
  • Messiah ben Joseph
  • Expressivism and the Song of Songs
  • Heresy and Eschatology
  • Ethics, Jesus, Nietzsche, Qelippah
  • Working with Heresy, Reworking Torah Studyand Theology
  • Leaving Boisk
  • Conclusion
  • Transformations in the Land of Israel
  • Seven Shifts: From To-Down to Bottom-Up
  • Philosophy, Mysticism, Experience
  • Implications for the Study of Religion:Theology as Autobiography
  • Implications for Rav Kook Studies
  • Berdyczewsky and Rav Kook: Between Ruptureand Dialectic

About the Author

Yehudah Mirsky is Full Professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. A former US State Department official, he has written widely on religion, politics, and culture for the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and many other publications. He won the Jewish Book Council's Sami Rohr Choice Award for his earlier work, Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution.


"Mirsky teaches us how to read afresh a much-discussed writer and how to navigate a vast and at times bewildering corpus. This sterling intellectual biography will become the definitive work on the making of one of the greatest modern mystics, introducing and translating a wealth of lesser known or newly printed sources. Mirsky's exquisitely rich reading exposes the full range and complexity of the manifold contexts (medieval, Lithuanian, Zionist, theosophical, legal, and ethical) from which his hero emerged, without in any way obscuring his brilliant originality, as he invites us to viewings of Kook as an aspiring prophet, yet also as a master of exegesis and mourning poet. To not only hold all of these tensions, but also render them lucid to readers of all backgrounds, is nothing less than a feat of dedicated reflection and high-powered analysis. This is historical writing in its most eloquent, passionate and engaged form."-Jonathan Garb, author of A History of Kabbalah from the Early Modern Period to the Present Day
"Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook plays a central role in twentieth-century Jewish life and thought, and his influence in so many areas is profound. More works of scholarship have been devoted to him than any other modern rabbi, and these studies have concentrated on R. Kook's mature works, written when he was in the Land of Israel. Yehudah Mirsky's most recent book stands out as he focuses on the early writings of R. Kook, the ones completed before he left Europe. Anyone who wishes to understand how R. Kook became who he was, and the trajectory of his religious thought, must grapple with these early works, including the tensions that arise between his early thought and what he later expressed. There is no better guide in this matter than Mirsky, whose ear is attuned not only to what R. Kook says, but to how he says it and sometimes even more importantly, what he does not say. Mirsky also shows himself to be an expert translator of R. Kook, able to preserve the nuances of very difficult, and often poetic, formulations. The present work is a worthy successor to Mirsky's earlier book, the critically acclaimed Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution."
- Marc B. Shapiro, Weinberg Chair of Judaic Studies, University of Scranton
"Yehudah Mirsky's command of every relevant strand in contemporary Jewish thought is astonishing. A beautifully wrought, intellectually sophisticated, and moving portrait of the wrestlings of one of Judaism's most indispensable thinkers."
- Steven J. Zipperstein, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Stanford University
"Despite the astounding proliferation of studies relating to the life and works of R. A. I. Kook, the present volume is one which no student of his thought can afford to ignore. In this tour de force, Mirsky provides a detailed intellectual biography of the hitherto relatively ignored years preceding R. Kook's move to Palestine, an updated bibliography of unpublished writings now being released alongside original versions of previously censored works, and the wealth of secondary literature that these have evoked. Such factors are game-changers, inducing the replacing of misguided attempts to provide a coherent and systematic view of R. Kook's thought with appreciation of the role of chronological development in the evolution of his inner life and spiritual horizons. Mirsky's masterly style, the wealth and sophistication of his intriguing commentaries, and his policy of relegating specialized or tangential information to copious footnotes make this book a joy for professional scholars and interested laymen alike."
- Tamar Ross, Professor Emerita, Department of Jewish Thought, Bar Ilan University
"The significance of Avraham Yitzhak Ha-Cohen Kook in modern Jewish thought is generally recognized. However, he has been more lauded than understood or read. His writing is enigmatic and the limited knowledge about his early years has been a stumbling block for readers and students alike. The apparent impossibility of tracking down necessary sources and the difficulties of penetrating Rav Kook's prose dismayed even the most dedicated of them. A magic wand was needed. This book is that wand and Yehuda Mirsky is the magician who uncovered remarkable sources on Rav Kook's life and was able to transform opaqueness into clarity and the obscure into comprehensible. His book will be a standard starting point for anyone setting out to understand Rav Kook and his world. Readers of Towards the Mystical Experience of Modernity will find it hard to remember how they even tried to understand Rav Kook's writing before they read this book."
- Shaul Stampfer, Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University

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