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Unio Mystica


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The union of the mystic's soul with God. In many religious traditions the ultimate aim of man is for his soul to be absorbed in the transcendent—in theistic religious traditions, in God—and not only in the Hereafter but in this life as well, in rare moments of religious ecstasy. The actual term unio mystica is not found in Jewish mysticism, such abstract expressions being foreign to Jewish thought in general. The question, therefore, is rather whether the phenomenon itself is found there under different headings. It has been suggested that, while the Jewish mystics do speak of communion with God, they draw back from any idea that there can be a complete union of the soul with God, in view of the strongest Jewish emphasis on the utter transcendence of the Deity.

The nearest thing to the union mystica in Jewish mysticism is the ideal of devekut, ‘attachment’ to God, but the great authority on Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem, has argued that devekut falls short of union with the divine. As Scholem puts it (Kabbalah (Jerusalem, 1974), 176): ‘Devekut results in a sense of beatitude and intimate union, yet it does not entirely eliminate the distance between the creature and its Creator, a distinction that most kabbalists, like most Hasidim, were careful not to obscure by claiming that there could be a complete unification of the soul and God.’ In view of the nature of the mystical experience generally, which the mystics themselves find it virtually impossible to describe to others, it is difficult to know how Scholem's distinction is to be drawn and Scholem himself seems to admit that for some of the Jewish mystics, at least, the unio mystica was thought of as possible.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.


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