Flipping into Ecstasy: Towards a Syncopal Understanding of Mystical Hasidic Somersaults

Zvi Leshem

Abstrakt

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira (1889–1943), Rebbe of the Polish Hasidic group of Piaseczno, was one of the outstanding Jewish mystics of the
twentieth century. In an undated entry in his personal spiritual diary Tsav ve-ziruz, he describes an occasion when he somersaulted at a Torah Scroll dedication ceremony. This remarkable passage, which has gone largely unnoticed in research on the Piaseczno Rebbe, offers a unique insight into R. Shapira’s mystical practices and aspirations. This paper provides a brief survey of literature on Hasidic somersaults and attempts to clarify R. Shapira’s description of his own experience. The nature of this mystical technique is interpreted in the context of other Jewish mystical practices in order to explain on the basis of the theory of syncope, how a somersault can serve as a mystical technique.

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