Huss, Boaz. “Forward, to the East: Naphtali Herz Imber’s Perception of Kabbalah.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 12.3 (2013): 398-418.
Naphtali Herz Imber is famous as the author of the Jewish national anthem, “Hatikvah” (“The Hope”). He is also quite well known for his non-conformism, vagabond lifestyle, and excessive drinking. However, his interest in the occult and Kabbalah are much less known. Imber wrote several articles on Jewish mysticism, translated some kabbalistic texts, and published the first journal on Kabbalah—Uriel: A Monthly Magazine Devoted to Cabbalistic Science (of which only one issue appeared). Although much scholarly literature has been devoted to Imber and his famous poem, his interest in the occult and Jewish mysticism has not been investigated. This article will discuss Imber’s encounter with late-nineteenth-century esotericism, specifically the doctrines of Laurence and Alice Oliphant and the Theosophical Society. It presents Imber’s notions concerning Jewish mysticism and examines the impact that the Theosophical Society and the Oliphants’ principles had on his perception of Kabbalah. Finally, it discusses the connection between Imber’s Zionism and his interest in Kabbalah and shows that his perception of Jewish mysticism, which was greatly influenced by Western esoteric ideas, was shaped in the framework of fin de siècle Orientalism and Jewish nationalism. Imber’s positive evaluation of Jewish mysticism and its nationalistic interpretation anticipates the position of later Zionist scholars of Jewish mysticism, whose vision of Kabbalah and Hasidism largely shaped the way Jewish mysticism is perceived and studied today.