Richard Zimler: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon The Sephardic Cycle #1



Kindle Ebook The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon The Sephardic Cycle #1 · Richard Zimler – cafe1919.org

The Strength of WeaknessMystics are the smart alecks of the eligious world always exhibiting some degree of ironic detachment from the average believer They e tolerated but generally everyone is annoyed by their aloof strangeness The main gripe comes from eligious leaders Religious authority is exercised through two channels creedal attestation and conformity to itual But mystics have as much egard for creeds as the average computer user does for the Microsoft Users Agreement You sign it but who knows what it eally means and eally who cares And mystics live in their heads whether they e in public or not So established itual is of little importance even though they might participate in it fullyIt s the fact that mystics can t be eached by the organisational control tools of doctrine and liturgy that eally irritates eligious leaders most Medieval bishops were intensely suspicious of Meister Eckhart and his pals among the Rhineland Mystics Sufis are still persecuted by fellow Muslims And Orthodox abbis often eschew the Kabbalah and its devotees Mystics are only arely shown as heretics But they also arely fit the desired mould of a true believerEarly 16th century Portuguese Jews who delved into the arcana of Kabbalah were hit with a double whammy of hostility First from Christians who suspected any Jewish practice but especially those of the forcibly converted as intended to hurt them either spiritually or physically And then by fellow Jews who felt Kabbalah was another name for magic which is expressly forbidden by the Torah Turning inward to unlock spiritual discovery may be objectively harmless but it emains an abiding threat to those in chargeThis is the central theme of Zimler s narrative and I think the basis of its literary merit While The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon is structured as a mystery and contains immense historical detail the book not unlike Umberto Eco s Name of the Rose is than a simple genre study What semiotics was to Eco Kabbalah is to Zimler And it s the eal subject of the piece The fundamental concepts of semiotics are familiar enough to most eaders of literature signifiers and signifieds The first is comprised of sounds or words and the second of not things but concepts Signifiers and signified are united in a sort of linguistic dance in which each influences the other continuously This theme uns continuously in Eco as it does in other writers like Borges In fact Zimler borrows Borges s techniue by claiming an entirely factual base to his story in the discovery of a set of documentsKabbalah is a different matter entirely Kabbalah breaks the links between signifiers and signifieds even adically than in the Borges like pretence of fact It is literally a language without eferents except eferents to itself In theoretical terms Kabbalah has a grammar and a semantics but no pragmatics That is it can be used for communication among human beings but that communication is only about itself Everything is signifiers nothing is signified in Kabbalah But as with the non signification of the idea of zero in mathematics this has enormous significance Borges for example used it to create an entirely new genre of factional fiction inspired by kabbalistic method Kabbalah s vocabulary therefore is viciously and solely defined circularly by and within its own vocabulary One submits to it trustfully if at all but any attempt to analyse its terms is fruitless Kabbalah makes no claim to know what the connection is between its vocabulary and things in this world or any other concrete or conceptual It does point beyond itself like a Greek icon But it does not claim to express truth as a correspondence between words and things since it is not concerned about truth but about eality Epistemology the science of how we know what we know therefore is completely irrelevant to KabbalahWhat is elevant to Kabbalah is the expression of subjective experience Call it the experience of transcendence to give it an indicative category But even this is misleading because Kabbalah doesn t trade in the subjectiveobjective distinction Like all mysticism it seeks in fact to destroy any trace of this distinction in one s experience Even the term one s experience is antithetical to the spirit and intention of Kabbalah The meaning of Kabbalah is what it allows the perception of the eal totality of existenceOr so they tell me And this is what Zimler is getting The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon an international bestseller is an extraordinary novel that transports listeners into the universe of Jewish Kabbalah during the Lisbon massacre of April 1506 Just a few years earlier Jews living in Portugal were dragged to the baptismal font and forced to convert to Christianity Many of these New Christians persevered in their.

T amidst the mass of narrative and historical detail in The Last Kabbalist Zimler s use of mystery with just a sprinkling of kabbalistic vocabulary is enough to keep the eader interested But notice that the genre of mystery depends on the eader s trust in what the deconstructionists now call echoing Kabbalah the deferral of meaning The eader must trust the author to provide ultimate enlightenment This is precisely the function of kabbalistic language the involvement of a person in the cosmic mystery which will eschatologically eveal its meaning The genre therefore isn t at all arbitrary but entirely appropriate as hinted at by the author in his prefaceZimler s story also makes much of the factual perfidy of the Portuguese Christians who in the first instance force mass Jewish conversion and subseuently slaughter these Jews for easons that are incomprehensible It is this incomprehensibility which is also so clearly a part of Kabbalah Not in the sense that Kabbalah as such is irrational or impenetrable but that the world itself is so And it is so both here in the visible world and there in that above since these two are images of one another Kabbalah does not ationalise the mess of the world it eveals itThe gross injustices done to the Jews of Lisbon therefore are a eflection of similar injustices endured even in heaven There is no gnostic tendency in Kabbalah That is there is nothing which suggests that this world will be saved by its destruction and assimilation into a heavenly ideal Improvement is not a matter of apocalyptic upheaval but of constant often tedious sometimes dangerous graft sheer hard work Conseuently it is necessary for Zimler s protagonist Berekiah to pursue justice for his slain uncle at the isk of his own life By seeking etribution Berekiah is in fact doing his duty to improve both the world Below and the world Above In theological terms it is the esponsibility of mankind as agents of the divine to continuously e create a defective but not inherently evil cosmos This is not a tale of blind obsessive evenge but of cosmic improvement The protagonist knows this from the moment he eceives the keys to his family home in Lisbon He eturns from his exile in Constantinople only with great apprehension and certainly not with any blood lustFinally as I mentioned above Kabbalah although it intends no explicit opposition to established authority implicitly undermines all authority by isolating itself from the instruments of political power The political powers involved in the book include not just the Catholic Church and the Portuguese Crown as the direct instigators of injustice to Judaism but also the powers that be within Judaism itself abbis and other leaders of the community These latter would like to suppress if not persecute kabbalistic practice Peaceful elations not justice is their principle goal So in a very specific sense the book is about the Kabbalah as a strategy of esistance to power as a liberation not just from power but from the need for power to escape power There is of course an overriding irony to the entire story Followers of Kabbalah essentially just want to be left alone But the demands of Kabbalah force the issue of justice thus involving the Kabbalist intimately in the sordid affairs of the world A emarkable tale therefore that has far to say that is apparent at first eadingZimler is a smart aleck of the first ank More power to him Or perhaps less if he is indeed a follower of Kabbalah This was not a book but a landscape the landscape of Portugal into which the Spanish Inuisition had spread The author gives us many details of the daily life of the New Christians the Jews forced to convert to Christianity and then shows in graphic detail how that life was shattered and the blood an out What he doesn t give us are characters who make any sense I couldn t sympathize with the main characters or visualize the minor ones they all an together The Muslim friend of the hero of the book is a magic toke It s difficult for me to express just how much I adored this book I picked it up intending to ead a couple chapters in the tub before going to bed early I ended eading until the water was cold and my oom mates banged on the door When I finally finished I immediately wanted to eread it to get of the detailsreturnreturnIt s captivating and exciting making you want to devour the text in big gulps Putting this. Jewish prayers and ituals in secret and at great isk; the hidden arcane practices of the kabbalists a mystical sect of Jews continued as wellOne such secret Jew was Berekiah Zarco an intelligent young manuscript illuminator Inflamed by love and evenge he searches in the crucible of the aging pogrom for the killer of his beloved uncle Abraham a enowned.

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Down is painful because you want to know The loose ends are not neatly tied up at the end of each chapter nor at the end which is wonderful I hate it when an author ties up the story with a neat little bowreturnreturnThe book operates on several levels It s a historical novel about Jews in Portugal anti semitism forced conversion eactions to the plague kabbalah and bonds of friendship and blood It also deals with the masks that people wear in varying social situations and losing yourself in those masks Jewish eligious practice and the Kaballah are not surpisingly very important to how the mystery plays itself out Then there is the murder mystery friends and family lost and feared dead and stolen property I m making this sound ponderous but Zimler keeps all those balls in the air and doesn t am his opinions down our throatreturnreturnThis novel isn t only for Jews or mystery fans It s a brilliant work of fiction that most anyone would love Buy a copy for yourself and a copy to give away 1 NOV 2015 it s a e ead 7 NOV 2015 this is a book to ead slowly in order to savor the goodness It is still a 5 Do you know what it means to look at a headless baby sitting in a shovel It is as if all the languages in the world have been forgotten as if all the books ever written have given up to dust And that you are glad for it In this extraordinary book Zimler takes us back to the beginning of the 16th century in Portugal a time of unspeakable cruelty against Jews for no eason but their faith making us live the bloody and horrific events along with Bereuias Zarco who being a new Christian witnesses first hand the terrible conseuences of that irrational hatred But The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon is even than that eport about the cruelty humans are capable of It is a story about loss pain evenge and faith all of them so well conjugated with the plot that I couldn t help feeling like I was there too I was there when Bereuias found the dead body of his beloved uncle the eason why everything started and felt his loss and pain I was there when inside him started to burn a desire of evenge a need stronger than anything else to find the assassin and kill him I was there when the Jews were mourning the loss of so many loved ones burned alive by the old Christians I was there when Bereuias ealized that there are things his faith can t survive that he was losing his faith in God I was there during the whole time he was investigating the murder unconvering secrets his uncle kept from him while dealing with everything else I was there when he finally found the killer felt his age his pain his loss And along with such an amazing well built plot comes also ealistic and extremelly well created characters Bereuias our clever protagonist who found in himself the strenght to go after an assassin while dealing with his inner demons his own grief and his pain that were making him doubt everything even his faith and allowing an intense hatred towards the old Christians to grow inside him an undeniable proof of what irrational hatred can eceive in eturn Farid a deaf mute Muslin who was Bereuias best friend and help while solving the case gifted with an eye for detail and an unwavering faith Sim o Carlos and Diego friends of Bereuias uncle and living proofs of what fear is capable of However a book like this isn t the type of book anyone can ead References to the Judaist tradition and philosofic conversations can be found almost every page making the eading even harder than it had necessarily to be considering the theme The little and sudden appeareances of the supernatural out of nowhere in a book that seems such an awfully ealist eport of human cruelty are also a negative point as it broke my whole mood while eading making me feel confused But overall this book is good The way Zimler is capable of picturing all that unreasonable violence all that hatred and its devasting conseuences the struggles to keep faith alive when you can t help but wonder how God could allow something like that happen the fear that makes people capable of the most awful actions the pain of losing the loved ones under such terrible cirscunstaces at the same time that develops a mystery plot is surely extraordinary and proof of his talent Therefore I would ecommed it to any eader who is fan of Historical Fiction stories Blesssd are all of God s self portraits You can also find this eview on my blog. Kabbalist and manuscript illuminator discovered murdered in a hidden synagogue along with a young girl in dishabille Risking his life in streets seething with mayhem Berekiah tracks down answers among Christians New Christians Jews and the fellow kabbalists of his uncle whose secret language and codes by turns light and obscure the way to the truth he see.

Richard Zimler was born in Roslyn Heights a suburb of New York in 1956 After earning a bachelor's degree in comparative religion from Duke University 1977 and a master's degree in journalism from Stanford University 1982 he worked for eight years as a journalist mainly in the San Francisco Bay area In 1990 he moved to Porto Portugal where he taught journalism for sixteen years first