Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah

Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah (Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology).

Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals is the first book-length examination of the kabbalah’s mystical eating practices and experiences. With a focus on late-thirteenth-century Spanish Jewish mystical literature, author Joel Hecker examines the ways in which the Zohar and other contemporaneous literature portray mystical attainment in their homilies about food. What emerges is not only an examination of eating practices but also of the effects such practices and experiences have on the practitioners’ bodies.

Hecker accounts for the internal topography of the body as envisioned by kabbalists using anthropology, sociology, ritual studies, and gender theory. According to these mystics, the physical body interacts with the material world in order to effect changes within themselves and within Divinity. The kabbalists perceive the ideal body as one of abundance, with boundaries that allow for the intake of divine light and power and the outward overflow of fruitfulness and generosity; at the same time, the body retains sufficient integrity to impart a sense of completeness, serving as the perfect symbol for the Divinity itself.

Throughout the kabbalah, imagery of nourishment is used to symbolize the flow of divine blessing from the upper to the lower worlds, from masculine to feminine, and from Israel to the Godhead. The spiritual continuity of the body enables unions between the kabbalist and his food, table, chair, and wine, which are exemplified in the practices and experiences associated with food consumption; this continuity also applies to other aspects of embodiment, such as the kabbalist’s union with his fellow man. Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals elucidates the kabbalistic fraternity’s homosocial nature, in which gendered hierarchies of master and disciple are inextricably linked to the imagery and dynamics of nourishment and sexuality. Hecker eventually considers how the oral cavity and stomach, as well as the emotions associated with festive meals, are mobilized in medieval kabbalah to produce the soul of the mystical saint.