The Kabbalistic Culture of Eighteenth-Century Prague

Ezekiel Landau (the 'Noda Biyehudah') and his Contemporaries

By Sharon Flatto

Kabbalah, an esoteric lore whose study was traditionally restricted, played a surprisingly prominent and far-reaching role in 18th-century Prague. In this book - now available in paperback - author Sharon Flatto uncovers the centrality of this mystical tradition for Prague's influential Jewish community and its pre-eminent rabbinic authority, Ezekiel Landau, chief rabbi from 1754 to 1793. A towering 18th-century rabbinic leader who is best known for his halakhic responsa collection the Noda biyehudah, Landau is generally considered a staunch opponent of esoteric practices and public kabbalistic discourse. Flatto challenges this portrayal, exposing the importance of kabbalah in his work and thought, and demonstrating his novel use of teachings from diverse kabbalistic schools. She also identifies the historical events and cultural forces underlying his reluctance to discuss kabbalah publicly, including the rise of the hasidic movement and the acculturation spurred by the 1781 Habsburg Toleranzpatent. In telling this story, the study offers the first systematic overview of the 18th-century Jewish community of Prague, and the first critical account of Landau's life and writings, which continue to shape Jewish law and rabbinic thought to this day. Extensively examining Landau's rabbinic corpus, as well as a variety of archival and published German, Yiddish, and Hebrew sources, it provides a unique glimpse into the spiritual and psychological world of 18th-century Prague Jewry. By unravelling and exploring the many diverse threads that were woven into the fabric of Jewish life in 18th-century Prague, the book offers a comprehensive portrayal of rabbinic culture at its height in one of the largest and most important centres of European Jewry. *** "Remarkable intellectual biography...a major contribution to the understanding of the diffusion and the role of Kabbalah in Europe in the eighteenth century." -- Jean Baumgarten, H-Judaic *** "Constructs a map of Landau's views on kabbalistic matters...that changes how we look at eighteenth-century Judaism...Flatto's book is crucial for any attempt to understand eighteenth-century Jews." -- Joseph Davis, Jewish History *** "Offers a fascinating picture of Jewish culture in eighteenth-century Prague...based on rigorous analyses of texts and a wide-ranging collection of sources...sheds new light on hasidism and on modernization in Jewish religion. It does so in a very readable and clear manner." -- Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review [Subject: Jewish Studies, Religious Studies, History]

Publication Date: 9/3/2015
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781906764791