The critique of Kabbalah in Leon Modena's "Ari Nohem"

Yaacob H Dweck, University of Pennsylvania


By tracing the total history of a single text, Ari Nohem (Heb. A Roaring Lion), composed in Venice by Leon Modena in 1639, this dissertation reconstructs a shift in the status of Kabbalah in early modern Jewish society. A medieval form of Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah continued to be transmitted as a form of esoteric wisdom through the late fifteenth century. In the early modern period a confluence of factors including the mass migration of Jews, the printing of kabbalistic books, and the interest of prominent Renaissance intellectuals, all contributed to the redefinition of Kabbalah as an exoteric element of Jewish thought and practice. In documenting this shift, Leon Modena's critique of Kabbalah offers a self-conscious reflection on the historical status of Judaism, an intellectual position historians usually associate with the beginnings of modern Judaism at the turn of the nineteenth century. The later history of the text, between the time of its composition in 1639 and its first printing in 1840, offers ample evidence that Modena's work was not an isolated discussion on the nature of Jewish tradition. The reactions of numerous Jewish intellectuals in Italy and elsewhere who read Ari Nohem in manuscript, indicate that the status of Kabbalah was the subject of vigorous and continuous debate. ^ Chapter one situates Ari Nohem within the written culture of early modern Venice, capital of Hebrew printing and center of a dynamic Hebrew scribal culture. Chapters two and three study Leon Modena as a reader of medieval Jewish texts, including the Zohar and Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, and argue that Ari Nohem constitutes a formative episode in the reception history of these canonical works. Chapter four treats Modena's response to Kabbalah as an import to Venice from Safed, a town in Palestine that was the center of a Jewish mystical revival. Chapter five argues that Modena rejected the attempt by Christian theologians and humanists to appropriate Kabbalah as an essential component of an ancient wisdom. The epilogue traces the circulation of Ari Nohem in manuscript from its composition in 1639 until its first printing in 1840. ^

Subject Area

History, Modern|Jewish Studies

Recommended Citation

Dweck, Yaacob H, "The critique of Kabbalah in Leon Modena's "Ari Nohem"" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3328550.