Esotericism and Prophecy in the Writings of Hillel Zeitlin
This article discusses Hebrew and Yiddish writings on prophecy and visionary experience authored by the eastern European Jewish writer and religious thinker Hillel Zeitlin (1871–1942). These texts, written over several decades in the early twentieth century, comprise both theoretical studies of religious and visionary experience as well as detailed records of Zeitlin’s own prophetic experiences, and reflect multiple objectives, such as articulating religious experience, defending the veracity of intuitive foreknowledge, and a turn to clairvoyance in response to social and political crisis. They likewise demonstrate the influence of two American writers, William James and Ralph Waldo Trine, who dealt with religious experience and the development of inner life. Whether directly responding to James or later formulating a system of intuitive clairvoyance inspired by Trine, Zeitlin utilized scientific language and esoteric systems of non- Jewish derivation such as mesmerism, New Thought, and parapsychology, which he integrated with hasidic and kabbalistic concepts. This article likewise analyses his enthusiastic reception of attempts by other Jewish writers to formulate scientific understandings of prophecy derived from parapsychology. Collectively, Zeitlin’s writings point to the place of broader esoteric currents within Jewish intellectual life in early-twentieth-century eastern Europe, a topic not previously subject to scholarly attention.
Jewish Thought; Hillel Zeitlin; Parapsychology; Dreams; Prophecy; William James; New Thought