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Tuning the soul: music as spiritual process in the teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav

Smith, C.; (2008) Tuning the soul: music as spiritual process in the teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This study examines the notion of music as a spiritual process in Nahman of Bratzlav’s thought. Nahman’s teachings, his tales and his biography are analyzed in relation to his rabbinic and kabbalistic sources, focusing on the doctrine of the ‘good points’ and its musical dimension, both literal and metaphoric. The first section introduces the doctrine of the 'good points’, exploring the rich Kabbalistic symbolic of ‘points’ as sefirot that represent ‘beginning’ or ‘centre’ in time, space and the human soul, as well as their use in the sense of musical notes. It establishes the connection between ‘good points’ and hesed (‘loving kindness’). The second section focuses on Nahman’s use of the Talmudic legend of David’s lyre and its kabbalistic interpretations. It shows how music is invested with the power to subdue the imagination and overcome negative spiritual forces, while David, the ‘skilled musician’, is held to be a model of religious devotion. The third section analyses the tzadiq’s personality as a reflection of his dual function, in society as well as in the supernal realm. It focuses on his portrayal as a cantor, who brings out the ‘good’ points’ in each individual and elevates them to holiness through music. The fourth section highlights the importance of creativity and renewal in Nahman’s worldview, expressed in the constant transformation of ‘loving kindness’ into ever new melodies. This transformation bridges the gap that separates human experience, which is finite and temporal, from the infinite, ex-temporal quality of the transcendent God.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Tuning the soul: music as spiritual process in the teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav
Language:English
Additional information:Pending digitisation
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Hebrew and Jewish Studies

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