SHOSHAN SODOT RETURNED TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE
On Tuesday, December 10 Abbot Placid Spearritt of the Benedictine Order of New Norcia presented the manuscript copy of the kabbalistic text Shoshan Sodot, recently found in a cupboard in the monastery (see cover story of issue #?) to the Jewish community, represented by the President of the Council of Orthodox Rabbis and Educators, Rabbi David Y A Freilich and Director of Jewish Studies at Carmel School, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Bernstein. The abbot’s decision to restore the book, a hand-written copy whose date has not yet been established, follows an appeal by the Council to which the New Norcia Community responded most positively.
The original Shoshan Sodot, written by Rabbi Moshe ben Yakov Ha-goleh of Kiev in 1495, is a work comprising elements of theoretical, meditative and practical Kabbalah based on the teachings of the Ramban (R. Moshe ben Nachman). It is different in nature than the more prolific works emerging from the teachings of the Arizal, R. Yitchak Luria of 16th century Tsfat, and thus classified as “pre-Lurianic”. It contains kavanot, or meditative visualisations of Divine Names with their appropriate letter and vowel permutations as well as those to be utilised in the recitation of the Shma and Amidah prayers. There are chart illustrations of the 10 Sefirot (the 10 Emanations of Creation) and their combinations into partzufim (Expressions) reflecting various mystical states of consciousness. The book concludes with a commentary on the ancient kabbalistic text (which some attribute to Avraham Avinu) of Sefer Yetzira, discussing the Hebrew letters of the alef bet with their astrological and sefirotic correspondences.
A Baal Shem Tov story appearing in a collection of Eliahu Klein entitled The Last Temptation of a Kabbalist (http://hasidicstories.com/Stories/The_Baal_Shem_Tov/temptation.html) makes reference to the book’s mystical powers and how it was on one occasion fatally misused.
Rabbi Bernstein will be taking the text with him to the chief rabbi of Lugano, the Admor of Biala Rabbi Ben-Zion Rabinowitz, who will complete the shelichut of bringing the book to Eretz Yisrael, where it can be properly conserved and researched in an environment respectful of its sanctity. Discussions with other rabbis in Israel are also underway to determine the most appropriate facilities for the conservation of the manuscript, which will remain on permanent loan from the Perth Jewish community.
On receiving the manuscript Rabbi Freilich expressed his profound gratitude to the monks of New Norcia on behalf of C.O.R.E., the Perth Jewish community as well as for klal yisroel (the entire Jewish people). In Rabbi Freilich’s reply to Abbot’s affirmative decision, he wrote: “…the generosity of the New Norcia Community imbues the concept of interfaith dialogue with depth, vitality and profound significance.”
Rabbi Bernstein, who was one of the initial party of four to investigate the book, said, “The restoration of the Shoshan Sodot to its Jewish source is a great mitzvah, and I have to commend Abbot Spearritt for his wisdom and ability to empathise with the spiritual value a book like this has for our people. I’ve been told that its return will also mean a tikkun neshama [soul rectification] for its author in Gan Eden.” He said the entire story of the retrieval of this book is still obscured in mystery on many different levels, including the mundane one of how it ended up in the monastery. While a stamp on the title page indicates it was once in Jewish hands, it has been historically “hidden from view” in New Norcia for nearly half- a-century. In 1966, however, Mr Harold Boas, a member of the Perth Jewish community, sent a microfilm copy of the text to Hebrew University, which has on record the existence of such a manuscript in “a monastery in Western Australia”. The monastery also has record of an inquiry made concerning a “Cabbalistic text” from around the same period of time.
Meanwhile, the Shoshan Sodot saga is extending its boundaries as David Solomon has been immersing himself in archival records in the British Museum and Oxford to compare the New Norcia version with the other extant copies on record (there are 17 known copies) as well as to shed more light on the mystery of its date. There is a possibility that it could be as old as the 16th century. Rabbi Eli Lewis, who is currently in Israel, where he has consulted the Admor of Biala and other rabbinic authorities, has presented digital CD copies of the text to Bar-Ilan University and Hebrew University.