Fast forward or the life of a scholar

By Felicia Waldman

Have you ever wondered how the life of a scholar looks like? Many of us think in a rather envious way about the fame (and – why not admit it? – the privileges) enjoyed by the internationally renowned researchers. But how do they actually lead their life? Is it any easier for them? Or, to put it more bluntly: what is the price of fame?

Between February 24 and March 1, Moshe Idel made a brief – yet productive! – stop in Romania, on his way to France. Idel was born in Targu Neamt (for the sake of our national pride!) and emigrated to Israel at the age of 16. He is now a professor at the “Max Copper” Department of Jewish Thought of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and researcher at the “Shalom Hartman” Institute in Tel Aviv, being one of the best known and most renowned researchers of the Kabbalah in the world, a genuine revolutionist of this field. He contributed, on the one hand, to the popularization of the topic beyond the boundaries of the scientific milieu, making it accessible to the public at large, and, on the other hand, to bringing the world academic research closer to the traditional Judaic conception of the Kabbalah.


Therefore, what surprises is not the fact that he is overwhelmed with invitations to teach courses or give conferences and lectures at the most prestigious universities in the world, such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, but the fact that, in between trips, he still finds the time to write highly popular articles and books – and, more than that, to promote them. In fact, this is the reason why he came to Romania: to attend the launch of the latest translations of his works. Following “Mesianism si Mistica” (“Messianism and Mystics”) and “Hasidism: intre Extaz si Magie” (“Hassidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic”) – published by the Hasefer Publishing House in 1996 and, respectively, in 2001 –, “Cabala: Noi Perspective” (“Kabbalah: New Perspectives”) – published by the Nemira Publishing House in 2001 –, and “Maimonide si Mistica Evreiasca” (“Maimonide and the Jewish Mystics”) – published by the Dacia Publishing House in 2001) –, the time has come for two other important books: “Golem” and “Cabala si Interpretare” (“Kabbalah and Interpretation”).


Moshe Idel’s visit to Romania can only make one think of that famous movie starring Sandra Bullock, “Speed”. Everything took place in a stunning rhythm: “Golem” (original title “Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions of the Artificial Anthropoid”, 1990), published by Hasefer, and translated by Rola Mahler Beilis, was launched on Wednesday, February 25, at the “Goldstein Goren” Center for Hebrew Studies of the University of Bucharest, in the presence of over 80 participants composing a well seasoned mosaic – from students and researchers to cultural personalities and representatives of the media. The launch was followed by a conference during which the author – a perfectionist – provided the audience, in his typical style, with new, exciting perspectives on the topic, discovered after the publication of the book.

Taking the opportunity of Moshe Idel’s visit to Romania, the University of Bucharest decided to make him a pleasant surprise. Thus, on the morning of Thursday, February 26, during an impressive ceremony organized by the Faculty of Letters together with the Faculty of Philosophy, Moshe Idel was awarded an honorary PhD degree, which added up to the series of similar titles awarded by other prestigious universities, including the “Babes-Bolyai” University in Cluj (yet another reason for national pride), and of special prizes conferred to him in time: the EMET Prize, given by the Prime Minister of Israel, the “Gershom Scholem” Prize for research in Kabbalah, given by the Israeli Academy for Sciences and Humanities, the “Present Tense” / “Joel H. Cavior” Literary Award for Religious Thought, the Jewish National Book Award, the Israel Prize for Jewish Thought etc. In the afternoon of the same day, Moshe Idel once again charmed his many admirers with a second conference, an exciting (honi soit qui mal y pense!) survey on Kabbalah and Eros, as erudite as it was funny and full of meaning, showing – accidentally – how easy to understand philosophy is!

Then, on Friday, February 27, “our traveler” went closer to his native region, to Iasi, where the other book, “Perfectiuni care Absorb: Cabala si Interpretare” (original title “Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation”, 2002) was launched. The book was published by the Polirom Publishing House, and translated by Horia Popescu. The event was organized by the Central Universitary Library and was attended by Alexandru Calinescu, Stefan Afloroaei and Nicu Gavriluta. Before the launch, the author held a conference at the “Al. I. Cuza” University, on “Kabbalah and the hermeneutic practices”. The local public (of which only 120 members managed to get into the auditorium of the Faculty of Philosophy), was literally seduced by the speaker’s subtleties and charisma. In an apocalyptic set, the professors ended up thronging the window ledges or standing, since the more vigilant (or faster!) students had “seized” all the seats.


During his short stay in Romania, Moshe Idel also found the time to give interviews to the Romanian National Television, Radio Iasi (on “Kabbalah and the Jewish tradition in Romania”, during Aurel Bruma’s show) and the “Cultura” (“The Culture”) magazine. The two conferences held in Bucharest will be, in their turn, published in the 4th issue of the “Studia Hebraica” magazine of the “Goldstein Goren” Center for Hebrew Studies, which will come out in December 2004.

And from here, Moshe Idel left for Paris, where his life will go on in the same rhythm – “Speed 2″!