Professor Moshe Idel
I'm a Jew born in a Romanian shtetl,
who lived in the communist world before moving to Israel
and becoming a Zionist,
and since then I've traveled around:
America, and now Russia.
I can compare all these places.
I became involved with Kabbalah entirely by chance.
I was planning to write a PhD thesis in philosophy.
I worked for a living as assistant.
There were all those manuscripts on Kabbalah to read for money.
There appeared to be a huge world full of unread material.
Gradually, I became attracted to it.
It was not as much mysticism that interested me
as the unknown kabbalistic material in the manuscripts.
Some very general principles apply within Kabbalah,
which are used for religious purposes.
Then there are things like practical Kabbalah,
used for very trivial or personal purposes.
Kabbalah deals with issues of the transfer, use, and meaning of power,
so its principles can also be applied to magic.
I have a great rapport with the kabbalists.
I talk to them, visit them at home and at the yeshiva,
and they visit me at home.
We've never had a problem -- to my knowledge.
There may well be great problems, but I am not aware of them.
I try to respect their beliefs
and avoid saying things they find difficult to hear
I don't impose my opinion on anyone.
The kabbalists feel the need to talk to me,
perhaps because they understand that
there are things they don't know which I can help with.
So up to now everything has gone very smoothly.
I didn't know Umberto Eco when he wrote Foucault's Pendulum,
but he'd read my books.
We first met a few months before it came out in Italian.
We talked; I gave him some material on Abulafia
which is featured in most of the later editions.
We are interested in the same things.
Eco cares about Christian Kabbalah,
but especially Abulafia.
Besides, there seems to be a connection,
which is a kind of friendship.
We meet sometimes;
he was in Jerusalem, I saw him in Milan,
we met in Paris and the U.S.
Once we presented Foucault's Pendulum in NYC together.
Of course, when I come to Russia, I teach Kabbalah.
It's been a unique experience: both teaching at RSUH in 1998,
and in 2000 at MSU, teaching Kabbalah in Hebrew
with a view of the Kremlin.
It may not seem so to the young,
but it does to the adults who knew a different world here,
and couldn't dream of what we have today.
But outside politics, Russia is a very religious place.
It is in a way quite mystical.
After all, I come here because they invite me.
The Russian soul has a strong mystical vein
without a connection to the hesychasm
which is professional, technical mysticism
which we know little about.
Few monasteries deal with it, even.
What I mean is the general outlook of the Russians on the world.
If you read Dostoevsky or Tolstoy,
you will note a difference from Balzac,
who was also mystically inclined, but in another way.
Here it is like part of the national character.
I think in Russia more than anywhere else
leading thinkers have looked to Jewish mysticism.
Take Solovyev, or Berdyaev,
who were directly influenced by it.
Not to mention people of Jewish origin,
The Russian culture boasts more traces of Kabbalah or mysticism
than most any other culture.