Abraham Abulafia (1240-1291)

  • Experience of God in the holy language

    Abraham Abulafia was a controversial figure in Spanish Judaism. As a Kabbalist, he got into conflict with the Jewish authorities in Spain. He also clashed with followers of Christianity when he obeyed an inner voice that told him he should convert Pope Nicholas III to Judaism. His attempt failed and he spent four weeks in prison as a result.

    The aim of Abulafia's Kabbalist teachings is to reach a “prophetic state”. The path to this ecstatic experience of God uses both physical and spiritual means. Apart from fasting, purification, breathing techniques, and certain movements, Abulafia recommends a form of meditation of a purely linguistic nature: the 'path of the names' (derech ha-schemot) and the 'path of the 22 letters' (derech kaph-beth otiyot).

    The holy scripture, the Torah, is broken down into its components, the letters, and these are recombined in different permutations. By using this technique the names of God hidden in the text may be revealed. Through deconstruction and reconstruction, an absolute text is finally created which only represents letter combinations of the holy name and leads the person meditating via language to an ecstatic experience of God.