Friday, March 17, 2017

The Wisdom of the Zohar: A Text Study

On Sunday afternoon, January 29, Lehrhaus and the JCCSF presented a study session with two of America's greatest scholars in Zohar and Kabbalah: Rabbi Arthur Green and Professor Daniel Matt. In an intimate setting these two friends and fellow travelers taught and discussed a selection from the Zohar and took questions from the participants and the moderator, Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan. 
Lehrhaus Judaica and the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco are grateful that this free program is made possible by the continuing support of the Lehrhaus Philosophy Circles by The Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation and the Koret Foundation.

(Episode 6)


Monday, December 19, 2016

Happy Hanukkah: Arthur Green's 'Guide' Delves into Kabbalah

This is a Hanukkah gift from Lehrhaus to all Philosophy Circle Students: "Arthur Green's 'Guide' Delves into Kabbalah," recorded December 13, 2004, on NPR's "Fresh Air."

You may recall that the Presidential election between George W Bush and John Kerry was won by Bush, however Bush's margin of victory in the popular vote was the smallest ever for a re-elected incumbent president.  Green addresses one of the campaign's accusations: that the moral high ground is held only by conservatives.  How that discussions emerges from the Zohar and leads into Hanukkah is yours to discover.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Buber - The Life of the Hasidim - Arthur Green, "These Are the Words" Hitlohavut

Hitlohavut means "rapture," enthusiasm," or "ecstasy." It generally refers to a state reached within prayer, though Hasidic masters sometimes report that it can happen outside prayer as well.
The root "lamed-hey-vav" means "flame." Hitlahavut means that the soul catches fire and is itself turned into flame. In such moments all obstacles to perceiving God everywhere are consumed in an instant; consciousness and the ecstatic flame are one.
Nowhere in Jewish spiritual literature is hitlohavut proclaimed as the goal of devotional life. It is a rare and precious moment that happens in the life of those who give themselves wholly to prayer. Usually it comes and goes almost in a flash. But no matter: the real impact of hitlahavut is in the memory of such moments. They are stored in the contemplative mind and become impportant steps on the road toward the much cooler but longer lasting goal fo d'veikut, an attachment to God in which one may live and act.
The great masters of Jewish prayer within Hasidism depated the value of ecstasy, and especially of its display in public worship. In circles where religious devotion was taught to be the highest good, it was natural for novices (especially young boys) to "show off" the intensity of their worship and the "heights" of loud and passionate prayer they could reach. Many older and more sophisticated worshippers found such behavior annoying and disturbing to the community at prayer. Others, however, felt a distinction should be made between such childish excesses and true expressions of hitlahavut, which should always be welcome in the community and never be deemed a cause for embarrassment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, and Sabbatai Sevi The Mystical Messiah

Dear Buber Students,

We are sharing two parallel approaches supporting the world of Hasidism and Martin Buber.  CLICK HERE  to see a slide show presentation on Shabbatai Sevi prepared by Peretz Wolf-Prusan, referencing "Shabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah," by Gershom Scholem.

Jennifer Clayman sent the following to her class.

Hi friends, in class this week we'll be discussing the first chapter of our book, whose title is the same as that of the book: Hasidism and Modern Man.  As we attempt to understand Buber's views on Hasidism, it will be helpful to have a sense of how Buber viewed the rise of Hasidism in the context of Jewish history.  In particular, he saw Hasidism as a response to the failed messianic movement of Shabbetai Zevi and other false Jewish messiahs of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Below you'll find some information about Shabbetai Zevi, excerpted from an article by Matt Plen on  If you have a chance, please read this before class on Thursday.  Thanks, Jen

Context: On Shabbetai Zevi, the False Messiah (from Matt Plen, on

“ the mid-17th century, belief in the false messiah Shabbetai Zevi spread like wildfire throughout the Jewish world, sweeping up entire communities and creating a crisis of faith unprecedented in Jewish history.

Shabbetai Tzvi was said to be born on the 9th of Av in 1626, to a wealthy family of merchants in Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey).

In 1648, Shabbetai Tzvi declared himself to be the messiah but did not make much of an impression on the Smyrna community which had become accustomed to his eccentricities. Nonetheless, the rabbis banished him from his hometown, and he spent much of the 1650s traveling through Greece and Turkey.

The turning point in his messianic career came in 1665 as the result of a meeting with his self-appointed prophet, Nathan of Gaza.

Nathan...initiated a mass movement of repentance, fasting and ascetic acts to prepare the way for the coming redemption. In September 1665, he announced that a fundamental cosmic shift had taken place and that within the year, without war, Shabbetai Tzvi would take the Turkish Sultan’s crown and make the Sultan his servant.

What made the Jewish world so receptive to the false messianism of Shabbetai Tzvi? In 1648-49, Cossack bands led by Bogdan Chmielnicki massacred 300,000 Jews in the Ukraine amid unprecedented acts of cruelty. Many communities that escaped were then devastated in the Russian-Swedish war of 1655. In this context, the Jewish people’s historical dream of redemption from the bondage of exile took on a new degree of urgency and desperation. In these communities, Shabbetai Tzvi found a receptive audience.

In 1666 Shabbetai Tzvi was arrested in Constantinople. After a period of imprisonment — during which he held court as messiah, replaced the fast of the 9th of Av with a festival celebrating his birthday and began to sign his letters “I am the Lord your God Shabbetai Tzvi”–he was denounced for fomenting sedition and brought before the Sultan. Now in a depressive state, he denied ever having made messianic claims. Offered the choice of apostasy or death, he chose to convert to Islam. Shabbetai Tzvi became Aziz Mehmed Effendi, and, with a royal pension, lived until 1676, outwardly a Muslim but secretly participating in Jewish ritual. His letters reveal that at the time of his death, he still believed in his messianic mission.

The movement survived into the early 18th century, when the Shabbateans divided into two camps: moderates who combined their secret messianic faith with adherence to Jewish law, and radicals who set about covertly spreading the heretical doctrine that the “nullification of the Torah was its true fulfillment.” This radical wing of the Shabbatean movement achieved a short-lived revival under Jacob Frank, a Polish Jew who, in 1756, was heralded as the reincarnation of Shabbetai Tzvi.

Shabbateanism subsequently died out as a significant feature of Jewish life, but its long-term impact was far-reaching. Its most immediate influence was in the formulation of a new version of Jewish mysticism–the Hasidic movement, born in late 18th century Poland. The quietistic, inwardly spiritual tone of early Hasidism was a conscious reaction against the messianic excesses of the Shabbeteans, while the Hasidim’s unconditional faith in their rebbe or tzaddik had as its precedent the dynamic between Shabbetai Tzvi and his followers.”

Thursday, November 10, 2016

New Resources from our teachers

New web links

Jeremy Phillip Brown, Ph.D. who by day is at the University of San Francisco’s  Department of Theology & Religious Studies / Swig Program in Jewish Studies & Social Justice and by night leads the Zohar Philosophy Circle in Marin is sharing a new source sheet.

Brown - Sources and Parallels to Zohar on Birth of Prophet

Yosef Rosen, Ph.D. candidate at UCB, shares these resources for the Martin Buber Philosophy Circles (he leads the Berkeley and Downtown San Francisco Buber classes).

Scholem-Buber controversy Oct 1, 1961

Scholem-Buber controversy Sep 1, 1963

Buber Timeline

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Wisdom of the Zohar: A Text Study


Take a deep dive in to the Zohar with two of its leading authorities. Daniel Matt, a leading authority on Kabbalah, is joined by Rabbi Arthur Green, a preeminent authority on Jewish thought and spirituality. This mystical study session will distill some of the unique wisdom of the Zohar and discover why it’s an important and alluring work for our time. 

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan moderates.

Presented in partnership with Lehrhaus Judaica and made possible by the continuing support of the Lehrhaus Philosophy Circles by the Ingrid D. Tauber Philanthropic Fund of the JCF and the Koret Foundation.


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