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The Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah has attracted celebrities such as Madonna and Britney Spears, who have been photographed attending the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, Calif. In his quest for departmental honors, Daniel Fast ’05 (Succasunna, N.J.) is putting his own interest in Jewish mysticism to the test in a yearlong senior thesis that compares the current Kabbalah movement taught by the Kabbalah Centre with its older traditional counterpart.

“I am conducting an in-depth examination at three specific time periods in the Jewish mystical tradition known as Kabbalah,” he says.

Double majoring in English and religious studies, Fast has read the 13th century writings of Zohar, the primary text of the Jewish tradition during the Middle Ages, and the 14th century works from Jewish teacher Rabbi Isaac Luria, a famous Sephardic Kabbalist.

“I am explaining the two ancient historical traditions to see what [the men] taughtand what influence they had in Jewish thought,” he says.

He also is comparing the ancient teachings with a modern example of the Jewish tradition via the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, Calif.

“I am examining [the Kabbalah Centre’s] authenticity when matched up to the historic Kabbalah traditions,” he says. “I wish to understand the relevance of Kabbalah in the modern world.”

Advising Fast with his thesis, Robert Cohn, Philip and Muriel Berman Professor of Jewish Studies, says that Fast was “struck by the recent upsurge of interest in Jewish mysticism.”

“He is able to explain some of the abstruse beliefs of the kabbalists in comprehensible language,” he says. “He also seems to be enjoying the work.”

Although the ancient texts are difficult to comprehend, Cohn says that Fast is diligently working to understand them.

“Spirituality, in general, and specifically Jewish mysticism, has intrigued me for as long as I can remember,” Fast says.

Since his thesis is not a mainstream topic, Fast would like to make his paper available as a resource for other students. He adds that Cohn has encouraged his exploration of Judaism.

“He is always an interesting conversationalist,” Fast says. “He shows genuine interest in my work as a student.”

Fast plans to continue studying Judaism in graduate school. He believes that Lafayette has adequately prepared him for the transition.

“Lafayette is excellent in its ability to contribute to individual and intellectual development. The learning processis highly promoted,” he says.

Fast is a member of Hillel Society, a writer for The Lafayette, a music director for Lafayette radio station WJRH, and a staff editor for The Marquis, Lafayette’s literary magazine. He graduated from Roxbury High School.

Honors thesis projects are among several major opportunities at Lafayette that make the College a national leader in undergraduate research. Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at last year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News