Abraham Abdulafia

A1OHP7szjjLBiographical Information
– Born in Saragossa, Spain in 1240, Died sometime around or after 1291.
– Traveled to Italy, Sicily, Greece, and Israel after the death of his father.
– Heavily influenced by the Sefer Yetsirah and the teachings of Abraham Maimonides; as well as Rabbi Judah the Pious of Regensburg, Rabbi Eleazar of Worms, and Iyyun (Dan, HAF pg 121).

“Whereas the theosophic kabbalists focused their attention on the hypostatic potencies [i.e. the underlying powers] that made up the divine realm, Abulafia turned his attention to cultivating a mystical system: that could assist one in achieving a state of unio mystica [i.e. union with God], which he identified as prophecy.

“He thus called his system “prophetic kabbalah” (kabbalah nevu’it), though modern scholars have referred to it as ecstatic kabbalah in so far as it is aimed at producing a state of mystical ecstasy wherein the boundaries separating the self from God are overcome.”
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/abraham-abulafia-ecstatic-kabbalah/

“Although the first part of his life did resemble these more conventional models, he eventually became an itinerant mystic, traveling from town to town, attracting students, and leading a mystical life apart from communal and familial obligations.”
http://www.learnkabbalah.com/abraham_abulafia/

– Stressed what is now commonly referred to as “Ecstatic Kabbalah” that “emphasize the visionary and experiential aspects” that drew especially from analyzing, evaluating, and shuffling of the Hebrew Letters and numbers to seek the Divine Intellect.  (Dan, K.I. pg. 30)

-Use of meditation on the names of God as a means to expand one’s consciousness.
(Matt, E.K. pg. 12)

-Grew to believe himself a Messiah and a Prophet, which lead to tensions between Abulafia and Solomon Adret of Barcelona and ultimately Abulafia went into hiding to the island of Comino.

-Dan and Matt both state that Abulafia was influenced by Sufism (and possibly yoga {Matt pg. 12} and other schools of esoterics and mystics {Dan H.A.F. pg. 121}).

Abulafia’s World: His Life In Context

Abraham AbulafiaScreen Shot 2015-10-11 at 4.18.53 PM

-For much of the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, The Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) was under the control of The Moors, a North African Muslim people.

-In 1212, the Christian kings of northern Spain (who had been gradually regaining territories held by The Moors) pushed the Muslims into the southern portion of the peninsula.  In the Muslim controlled territories, as well as in the Christian territories, Jews suffered periods of oppression and periods of prosperity.

-Saragossa, Abulafia’s place of birth, had historically been under Muslim control, but by the time of Abulafia’s birth, it was part of the Kingdom of Aragon.

-The 750 year period that ended with King Ferdinand II of Aragon conquering the city of Granada on January 2, 1492 was called the Reconquista, where over the course of that long period of time the smaller Christian kingdoms of the north slowly began taking Muslim territories, and through in-fighting and the marriage of Ferdinand to Isabella I of Castile had become a unified kingdom of Spain.

-In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella instituted the Spanish Inquisition, targeting primarily “morranos and moriscos” (Muslims and Jews who had, by force, recently converted to Christianity but were suspected or accused of reverting to their non-Christian traditions) and shortly after conquering Granada, in 1496, Spain ordered the expulsion of the Jews who did not convert to Christianity from the kingdom.

Discussion Question Round I

Given the changing climate of Abulafia’s native Spain and the degrading relations between Christians and Muslims on the Peninsula, how could this have influenced his teachings and tendency towards unique interpretations and methods?

Could the changing (and often violent) conditions in Spain during the Reconquista fueled Abulafia’s messianic and prophetic tendencies later in his life?

Abulafia’s Writings and Teachings

“One must take the letters ‘ms yhw, first as instructed in the written form which is an external thing, to combine them, and afterwards one takes them from the book with their combinations, and transfers them to one’s tongue and mouth, and pronounces them until one knows them by heart.  Afterwards, he shall take them from his mouth [already] combined, and transfer them to his heart, and set his mind to understand what is shown him in every language that he knows, until nothing is left of them.”
(from “Ozar ‘Eden Ganuz”)

“And begin by combining this name, namely YHWH at the beginning alone, and examine all its combinations and move it and turn it about like a wheel returning around, from front and back, like a scroll, and do not let it rest, but when you see its matter strengthened because of the great motion, because of the fear of confusion of your imagination and the rolling about of your thoughts, and when you let it rest, return to it and ask [it] until there shall come to your hand a word of wisdom from it, do not abandon it.
(from “Hayye ha-Nefes”)

– “Be prepared for thy god, o Israelite!  Make thyself ready to direct thy heart to God alone.  Cleanse the body and choose a lonely house where none shall hear thy voice.  Sit there in thy closet and do not reveal thy secret to any man.  If thou canst, do it by day in the house, but it is best if thou completest it during the night… then be careful to abstract all thy thought from the vanities of the world.

Discussion Question Round 2
Does the deconstruction of the letters into new/different words, and the use of multiple methods (written, spoken, and mental) have any similarities to writings we have already discussed this semester?  How are they unique from other writings we have discussed?  Does this methodology have any similarities to any non-Jewish mystical or esoteric traditions that you may be familiar with?

Sufism
As mentioned earlier (and in the reading) it is believed that Abulafia pulled influence from Sufism (and possibly yoga and other traditions).

“Every upright Muslim expects to see God after death, but the Sufis are the impatient ones.  They want God now–moment by moment, day by day, in this very life.”
(from Huston Smith’s forward to “Essential Sufism” pg. ix)

“The aim of Sufism is the elimination of all veils between the individual and God.” “For the Sufis, not only love but also self-knowledge leads to knowledge of God.”
(from Sheikh Ragip Robert Frager Al Jerrahi’s introduction to “Essential Sufism” pg. 1-2)

“As a religious movement, Sufism is characterized by a medley of divergent philosophical and religious trends, as though it were an empty caldron into which have been poured the principles of Christian monasticism and Hindu asceticism, along with a sprinkling of Buddhist and Tantric thought, a touch of Islamic Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, and finally, a few elements of Shi’ism, Manichaeism, and Central Asian shamanism thrown in for good measure.”
(from Reza Aslan’s “No God But God” pg. 204)

The Basics of Sufism:

The Islamic Creed of Faith
I believe in God,
And in God’s angels,
And in the Holy Books,
And in God’s Messengers,
And in the Day of Resurrection,
And in destiny,
That all good and bad come from God,
And that there is life after this life.

The Four Stages of Sufism (explanations per Ibn ‘Arabi)
1- shariah (religious law)- “the law guarantees individual rights and ethical relations between people.”
2- tariquh (the mystical path)- “The dervishes are expected to treat one another as brothers and sisters–to open their homes, their hearts, and their purses to one another.”
3- haqiqah (Truth)- “The advanced Sufis at this level realize that all things are from God, that they are really only caretakers and that they “possess” nothing.  Those who realize Truth have gone beyond attachment to possessions and beyond attachments to externals in general, including fame and position.”
4- marifah (Gnosis)- “the individual has realized that all is God, that nothing and no one is separate from God.”

Basic Practices:

Striving to keep God in one’s mind, prayer (invites the Sufi into God’s presence), repetition of mystical formula, Divine Name, temporary inner state of awareness of God that overwhelms one to the point where one separate from the world, and an inner state of constant invocation and mindfulness.

Chanting the 99 Names, or Divine Attributes, of God; whirling (rotating counter-clockwise while raising arms to heaven), contemplating one’s own death, eradicating ego, all the while living in and as part of the everyday world.

Discussion Question Round 3
Can we see similarities between these characteristics of Sufism in Abulafia’s writings and teachings?
Can we see connections and similarities between Sufism and Kabbalah?