Cover image for The Kabbalistic Tree / האילן הקבלי By J. H. Chajes

The Kabbalistic Tree / האילן הקבלי

J. H. Chajes


$99.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09345-1

456 pages
8" × 10"
258 color/6 b&w illustrations

Dimyonot: Jews and the Cultural Imagination

The Kabbalistic Tree / האילן הקבלי

J. H. Chajes

“A monumental achievement that will be valuable to scholars and general readers interested in Judaism, religion, and art history.”


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Ilanot—parchment sheets presenting the kabbalistic “tree of life”—have been at the center of Jewish mystical practice for the past seven hundred years. Written by leading ilanot expert J. H. Chajes, The Kabbalistic Tree is a comprehensive and gorgeously illustrated history of these arboreal “maps of God.”

This book documents when, where, and why Jews began to visualize and to draw the mystical shape of the Divine as a Porphyrian tree. At once maps, mandalas, and memory palaces, ilanot provided kabbalists with diagrammatic representations of their structured image of God. Scrolling an ilan parchment in contemplative study, the kabbalist participated mimetically in tikkun, the development and perfection of Divinity. Chajes reveals the complex lore behind these objects. His survey begins with the classical ilanot of pre-expulsion Spain, Byzantine Crete, Kurdistan, Yemen, and Renaissance Italy. A close examination of the ilanot inspired by the Kabbalah taught by R. Isaac Luria in sixteenth-century Safed follows, and Chajes concludes with explorations of modern ilan amulets and printed ilanot. With attention to the contexts of their creation and how they were used, The Kabbalistic Tree investigates ilanot from collections around the world, including forty from the incomparable Gross Family Collection.

With 250 never-before-seen images reproduced in stunning quality, this chronological and typological survey is a singular combination of exquisite art and foundational scholarship. Specialists in early modern history, religion, art history, and esotericism, as well as those fascinated by Kabbalah and its iconography, will enthusiastically embrace Chajes’s iconic work.

“A monumental achievement that will be valuable to scholars and general readers interested in Judaism, religion, and art history.”
“A superb accomplishment.”
The Kabbalistic Tree is a carefully curated and richly interpreted visual resource.”
“Chajes has made these trees of ink on parchment and paper sing out loud and clear, redeeming them from obscurity and thus simultaneously enriching the fields of the history of visual aesthetics and the history of Jewish culture.”
“J. H. Chajes’s spectacular book offers a comprehensive and fascinating study of the diagrammatic visualization of Kabbalistic knowledge. Chajes’s meticulous study of the arboreal Kabbalistic diagrams is an outstanding contribution to the study of Kabbalah, early modern and modern Jewish history, and Jewish visual culture.”
“Until this volume there has been no work that endeavours to provide scholars and laypeople with a broad overall and particular description of the ilanot in all of their varieties, twists, and turns. This enterprise is fascinating and truly illuminating, and no one to this day has touched even a fraction of what the book has to offer.”
“A tour de force! A brilliant analysis of an astonishing object. Dense with texts and drawings, these Kabbalistic scrolls finally receive the scholarly attention they so deserve. In his analysis of these cosmological visualizations, Chajes treats image and text as an inseparable totality. The result is a model for the analysis of ‘iconotexts.’ A richly illustrated work of great erudition and intellectual imagination and a fascinating read.”
“Late in the Middle Ages—mysteriously, graphically, and in a strikingly abstract, yet concrete fashion—Kabbalistic trees began sprouting from Judaism’s alphabet-saturated ground. J. H. Chajes’s magnificent study takes us for the first time into the history of their emergence and burgeoning, where visual and verbal vectors align, and the ‘double-helix of Kabbalah’ is revealed. This is a path-breaking book, years in the making and thrilling to read.”
“A feast for the eyes and for the mind, The Kabbalistic Tree should be essential reading for all of us eager to imagine a Judaism for the future.”

J. H. Chajes is Sir Isaac Wolfson Professor of Jewish Thought at the University of Haifa. He is the author of Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism, coeditor of The Visualization of Knowledge in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, and the director of the Ilanot Project.


Abbreviations and Notes to the Reader

Introduction: A First History of a Forgotten Genre

1. The Emergence of the Kabbalistic Tree

2. Classical Ilanot

3. Visualizing Lurianic Kabbalah

4. Ilanot 2.0: The Emergence of the Lurianic Ilan

5. Luria Compounded

6. Ilan Amulets

7. The Printed Ilan


Appendix: Catalogue of the Gross Family Ilanot Collection

Collector’s Afterword, by William Gross




Download a PDF sample chapter here: Introduction

Listen to Prof. Yossi Chajes discuss his research into kabbalistic trees on the Seforimchatter podcast.