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May 09, 1986 - Image 90

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-05-09

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Friday, May 9, 1986



Has Maggid Touched
Poet Julia Vinograd?


Special to The Jewish News

Remember the
11th Commandment:

"And Thou
Shalt be

r _1

r -N


You've read the
five books of
Moses. Isn't it
time to try the
Fifty-Two Issues
of the Detroit
Jewish News? It
may not be
holy, but it's
weekly! And
such a bargain.
To order your
own subscription
call 354-6060.

Shortly before his death in
1935, the saintly Chief Rabbi of
Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook,
a kabbalist, predicted the flower-
ing of a new age of Jewish mysti-
cism. At the time there was not
much evidence to support the
Today, a half-century after
Rabbi Kook's death, his predic-
tion is proving itself true in a
variety of ways. A revival of
interest in Kabbalah is at an all
time high. Ever since Gersholm
Scholem published his landmark
study Major Trends in Jewish
Mysticism in 1951, the floodgates
have been open. New manuals,
translations of esoteric works, in-
terpretations and commentaries
issue from world presses fre-
quently, addressed to the merely
curious, the devoutly spiritual,
the serious scholar and the popu-
lar reader.
philosophers specializing in
Jewish mysticism to their Jewish
studies faculties, novelists like
Chaim Potok and Cynthia Ozick,
to name two among many, em-
ploy kabbalistic materials in
their fictions. And Harold Bloom,
one of our most prolific critics,
has constructed an entire system
of literary theory on Kabbalah.
All this activity, of course, is
external to the study of the ttadi-
tional kabbalists in Safed, Israel
and elsewhere, about whose work
we hear little.
Yet this activity suggests that
a great deal more is going on
than we suspect. Take, for exam-
ple, the case of Julia Vinograd, a
well known street-poet in Ber-
keley, Calif., and the author of
more than 20 chapbooks of
poetry. She recently published a
remarkabe collection of 21 fas-
cinating dialogues between
Jerusalem and God in a slim vol-
ume entitled The Book Of
Jerusalem (Bench Press, San
Where did these poems come
from? They came from the mag-
gid that is, an agent of celestial
speech, who spontaneously com-
municated the verses to her. She
didn't know about maggidim, but
they've been around for centuries
and kabbalists, of which Ms. Vin-
ograd is not one, have courted
them from the start.
The best known kabbalist to
rely heavily on the maggid was
the 16th Century rabbi, Joseph
Caro who, over a period of 50
years, recorded the pronounce-
ments of his celestial guide in a
secret diary. It was published in
Poland a century 'later with the
title Maggid Mesharim and is
available in translation today.
Of course, the most famous oc-
cultist to attract maggidim in
contemporary times was the
Nobel-prize winning Irish poet,
William Butler Yeats.
Thoroughly familiar with Kab-
balah and a host of other esoteric
systems, Yeats tried repeatedly
for years to contact the spiritual
world, mainly through seances.
He was largely unsuccessful.
Then, in his 52nd year, 1917, he
married Georgie Hyde-Lees, who,

like him, had been well-trained
in occult lore. To please him she
undertook automatic writing
soon after their wedding.
Through this method, contact
was established with the
spiritual world almost im-
mediately, and a number of mag-
gidim whom Yeats called "the
communicators" turned up to
give him "metaphors for poetry."
While Yeats obviously knew a
great deal about Kabbalah mag-
gidim and esoteric symbols, Ms.
Vinograd does not. Her spon-
taneous dialogues are therefore
all the more interesting, particu-
larly in view of the fact that the
dialouges in The Book .0f
Jerusalem are consistent with
the kabbalistic myths that iden-
tify Jerusalem as the exter-
nalized beauty and wisdom of
God, that is, as The Skekinah, or
The Bride of God. The dialogues
are all love poems, fraught with
the tensions between the
Skekinah and God occasioned by
the disharmonies of the universe.
Though the two divine entities
love one antoher and talk fre-
quently, there is no union of their
divine essences.
This myth, too, Ms. Vinograd
professes not to have known, and
there is no reason to doubt her
word, though skeptics may be
tempted to hunt for a hoax. I
don't think they will find one.
My reason for accepting the
legitimacy of the poems is that
they are simply first-rate, the
best love poetry and the best im-
ages of "Jerusalem the Golden" I
have come across in ages. The
dialogues are fascinating, re-
minding me not only of Yeats' de-
lightful love poetry in the months
after he was first married ("Sol-
omon and the Witch" and "Sol-
omon to Sheba") but also of the
subtle and powerful music of
Wallace Stevens in such poems as
"Peter Quince at the Clavier,"
and "Sunday Morning."
Ms. Vinograd possesses a spec-
tacular ear, attuned to the sub-
tleties of biblical poetry and to
the rhythms, harmonies and dis-
harmonies of contemporary life,
and she is capable of combining
the past and the present in fresh,
vital, startling images. Here are
some sample lines, from the open-
ing poem "Jerusalem," though
they hardly do justice to the
dialogues which run to an aver-
age of about two printed pages
Naked Jerusalem sings in the
have a lover. He loves me so
the sun is darkened
when we touch . . . I have a lover
and a broken heart.
I cannot tell
the two apart.
I have a lover.
I have a lover
I have no other'.
These passages merely hint at
Ms. Vinograd's . unusual accom-
plishment, for the poems have a
continuity and a sparkling vital-
ity that is evident only from read-
ing them in succession.

Copyright 1986 Joseph Cohen.

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