Jacob's Ladder: Kabbalistic Allegory in Russian Literature

Jacob's Ladder: Kabbalistic Allegory in Russian Literature

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Marina Aptekman

Series: Borderlines: Russian and East-European Jewish Studies
ISBN: 9781934843383 (hardcover)
Pages: 252 pp.
Publication Date: June 2011

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Jacob’s Ladder discusses the reflection of kabbalistic allegory in Russian literature and provides a detailed analysis of the evolution of the perception of Kabbalah in Russian consciousness. Aptekman investigates the questions of when, how, and why Kabbalah has been used in Russian literary texts from Pre-Romanticism to Modernism and what particular role it played in the larger context of the Russian literary tradition. The correct understanding of this liaison helps the reader clarify many enigmatic images in Russian literary works of the last two centuries and to understand the roots of a particular cultural falsification that played an important role in the anti-Semitic mythology of the twentieth century.


Marina Aptekman is an assistant professor of Russian Language and Literature at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She received her PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Brown University in 2003. Her recent publications include articles “Forward to the Past or Two Radical Views on Russian Nationalist Future: Pyotr Krasnov’s Behind the Thistle and Vladimir Sorokin’s Day of Oprichnik” (SEEJ), and “Kabbalah, Judeo-Masonic Conspiracy and Post-Soviet Literary Discourse: from Political Tool to Virtual Reality” (The Russian Review).


Marina Aptekman makes skillful use of rich and diverse source materials, some new and others interpreted in an original and innovative way. This is an important and thought-provoking contribution to the field of Russian-Jewish cultural relations.
— Mikhail Krutikov, associate professor of Slavic Languages and Literature, University of Michigan
This book is a fascinating study of a largely unexplored subject—the role of Kabbalah in Russian literature from the mid 17th to the 20th century and the larger context in which literature developed. Focusing on images and allegories that derive, directly and indirectly, from Kabbalah, Aptekman shows how and why lt became an important element in mystical freemasonry, romanticism, and modernism. In addition, she limns the alternation between mystical and magical (or occult) interpretations of kabbalah and reveals how the occult interpretation came to be associated with black magic and, eventually, with the myth of a Judaeo-Masonic conspiracy.
— Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, professor of History, Fordham University
Those who are looking for names, sources, and themes related to the aspects of Kabbalah at the periods around the turns of the two centuries will find this book a useful tool.
— Henrietta Mondry University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Marina Aptekman’s thoroughly researched book Jacob’s Ladder makes a valuable contribution to both Russian and Jewish Studies by exploring the evolution of kabbalistic themes and allegories in literature and philosophy from pre-Romanticism to the Silver Age. This study opens up new ways of decoding and interpreting literary works by tracing the evolution of mystical kabbalistic allegories during three centuries of Russian literature.
— Nadja Berkovich, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign