Structure, Innovation, and Diremptive Temporality:
The Use of Models to Study Continuity and Discontinuity in Kabbalistic Tradition
This study consists of two parts. The first is an examination of the hermeneutical presuppositions underlying the theory of models that Moshe Idel has applied to the study of Jewish mysticism. Idel has opted for a typological approach based on multiple explana- tory models, a methodology that purportedly proffers a polychromatic as opposed to a monochromatic orienta- tion associated with Scholem and the so-called school based on his teachings. The three major models delin- eated by Idel are the theosophical-theurgical, the ecstatic, and the magical or talismanic. Idel’s hermeneutic rests on the assumption that the phenom- enon of Jewish mysticism (as the phenomenon of reli- gion more generally) cannot be essentialized, and therefore no one methodological approach should be privileged as the exclusive means to ascertain it. In the second part of this study, I raise the possibility that affirming set patterns of thought and a unified system of symbols that link together kabbalists from different historical periods might not inevitably implicate the scholar in a methodological reductionism. Moving beyond a binary logic, which is still operative in the postmodern dichotomy of truth and dissimulation, I surmise that the polysemic nature of the text that may be elicited from kabbalistic sources is not dependent on the rejection of laying claim to an inherent and origi- nal intent that is recoverable through proper philolog- ical attunement. Multivocality and essentialism are not mutually exclusive. Kabbalah, I submit, is a cultur- al-literary phenomenon that illustrates an open sys- tem in which each moment is a mix of newness and repetition, each event a renewed singularity. The hermeneutical praxis appropriate to this system dis- plays a temporality linked to the conception of time in
its most rudimentary form as an instant of diremptive reiteration, the repetition of the same as different in the renewal of the different as same. The tendency to generalize, therefore, should not be misconstrued as viewing the variegated history of Jewish mystical doctrines and practices monolithically.
Wolfson Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University.
Author of the books:
The Book of the Pomegranate:
Moses de León’s Sefer ha-Rimmon (1988); Through a Speculum That Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (1994);
Along the Path: Studies in Kabbalistic Hermeneutics, Myth, and Symbolism (1995); Circle in the Square: Studies in the Use of Gender in Kabbalistic Symbolism (1995); Abraham Abulafia—
Kabbalist and Prophet:
Hermeneutics, Theosophy, and Theurgy (2000); Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination (2005); Alef, Mem, Tau: Kabbalistic Musings on Time, Truth, and Death (2006), Venturing Beyond—Law and Morality in Kabbalistic Mysticism (2006); Luminal Darkness: Imaginal Gleanings From Zoharic Literature (2007).
E-mail: [email protected] Key words:
diremptive temporality, essential- ism, heterogeneity, model, mono- chromatism, phenomenology, poly- morphism, polysemy, reductionism, synchronic polychromatism, system
Play is always lost when it seeks salvation in games.
In this study, I will examine the hermeneutical presuppositions underlying the theory of models that Moshe Idel has applied to the study of Jewish mysticism. A jour- nal dedicated to Idel’s academic achievements seems to me a most fitting context to undertake this discussion. On a personal side, I can relate that when I began to study with Professor Idel in the autumn of 1982, several years before the publication of his monumental Kabbalah: New Perspectives, he would often communicate to me that his desire was to advance the field by creating an atmosphere of genuine dialogue and exchange of ideas rather than preserving a cult of personality wherein the reputation and alleged authority of certain figures overshadow or even eradicate the research of others. Indeed, one of the invaluable lessons I learnt from Idel in the early stages of my career as a graduate student was that criticism in the scholarly domain should not be viewed as a personal affront but rather as a sign of intellectual esteem. I am confident that the honoree of this volume would agree that the greatest respect that can be paid him as a scholar is serious engagement with the ideas communicated in his work. What more can a thinker desire than the opportunity for his or her ruminations to serve as stimuli to inspire further speculation? Heidegger notoriously made the connection between thinking (denken) and thanking (danken), reminding us that thought, in its most elemental nature, is a mode of thankfulness. Surely, thinking in the footsteps of anoth- er must be accorded the status of high praise. In that spirit of homage and gratitude, I offer the following reflections.
From Essence to Model: Idel’s Phenomenological Method
Of the many contributions that Idel has made to the study of the medieval eso- teric and mystical tradition known as kabbalah, one of his most insistent methodologi- cal claims is that this phenomenon (even the use of the singular noun is problematic) is a conglomerate of different schools and tendencies and therefore any totalizing or monolithic interpretation must be rejected. Idel has opted for a typological approach based on multiple explanatory models, a methodology that purportedly proffers a poly- chromatic as opposed to a monochromatic orientation associated with Scholem and the so-called school based on his teachings. According to Idel, what is necessary is a gen- uinely “variegated phenomenology” of kabbalah that would better attend to the “spiri- tual polymorphism in Jewish mysticism.”1Thus, in his Messianic Mystics, Idel refers to his approach as synchronic polychromatism, for it “emphasizes the multiplicity of messianic concepts and events while attempting a typology that will not only take in considera- tion diversity in one limited period of time but also organize the much larger spectrum of literatures and events into more unified categories, or models.”2 The three major models delineated by Idel to study the phenomenon of messianism in Jewish mysticism are the theosophical-theurgical, the ecstatic, and the magical, a triad that will be well familiar to those who have read even a representative sample from his truly massive oeuvre. Idel further notes that synchronic polychromatism, as well as diachronic poly- chromatism, “should be organized into more unified diachronic conceptual schemes.”3 By making this comment, Idel seeks to balance the competing claims to continuity and discontinuity in understanding the transmission and innovation of ideas in the history
of Jewish mysticism. The diachronic conceptual schemes of which he speaks attend to what persists in the flow of time, and thereby neutralize the temptation to exaggerate the degree of novelty accorded the historicist orientation, whereas the synchronic dimension points to the innovative shifts that one can situate in any given historical context. That both “synchronic” and “diachronic” modify the word “polychromatism”
suggests that Idel is advocating for multivalency in either temporal framing. That is, even if we presume that there are structures that endure through time, we should not deny on that account the variegated nature of the phenomena either in their synchron- ic or in their diachronic manifestations. We can posit the continuity of an idea or of a symbol, but this does not bespeak uniformity of an essentializing nature.
Although Idel himself does not frame matters in this way, in my judgment, it is consistent with the orientation he has articulated in numerous writings to correlate his use of diachronic and synchronic with the twofold character of temporality as linear and circular. The diachronic would naturally be linked to that which stretches as a line over different temporal-spatial periods and the synchronic to that which is consolidat- ed as a point affixed in a particular interval of timespace. The convergence of the extended and punctiform modalities of time provides a discourse that would best toler- ate multiplicity in a specific historical juncture as well as over a span of different moments. It is worth citing Idel’s precise formulation:
Indeed, the major methodological assumption informing many of the discussions below is that literatures, events, and the experiences express- ing and concerning Jewish messianism should be understood as displaying a great variety of ideas, concepts, modes, and models. The multidimension- al nature of most of the messianic idea is quite evident, and it should be remembered that traditional concepts, found in the canonical writings, his- torical circumstances, personal aspirations, and apologetic and polemic stands conspired to produce the wide spectrum of messianic views which cannot be easily reduced to transformations, metamorphoses, or neutral- izations of one basic “messianic idea.” I believe that the implicit assump- tion that one such monolithic idea was in existence and that it is possible to describe it over many centuries, while reducing all its disparate versions to the status of neutralizations and liquidations, is hardly plausible and quite suspect within a nonorthodox mode of discourse, as the academic one is supposed to be.4
The “monolithic idea” alluded to by Idel is a reference to the studies of Scholem on the messianic dimensions in the history of Jewish mysticism,5and especially his well- known thesis regarding the neutralization of this ideal in the East-European Hasidism that emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.6It is not my concern here to evaluate the accuracy of Idel’s portrayal of the views on messianism offered by Scholem,7let alone the opinions of those who purportedly follow the lead of the latter and to whom membership in his alleged school has been assigned. I will focus rather on the conclusions one can draw about Idel’s own hermeneutic. What is clear and consis- tent is his reluctance to accept any single idea as a way to explain a multifaceted phe- nomenon, even though the emphasis on diachrony bespeaks his willingness to entertain continuity and some degree of permanence of structure, which is independent of and
yet always embedded within historical time.8In a second, and somewhat more polemi- cal passage from this work, Idel, proposes his “theory of models” based on “different paradigms of Kabbalistic messianism” as an alternative to the “essentialistic view” and
“monolithic phenomenology” of Scholem’s approach.9
Even though Idel’s comments deal specifically with messianism, we are justified to expand beyond this particular topic and to elicit a general assertion about the nature of Jewish mysticism. As Idel writes in the introduction to Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation, “The working hypothesis behind my approach to Jewish mysticism since the Middle Ages is that differing speculative models informed the thought, prax- is, and subsequently the writings of various Kabbalists and Hasidic masters. Far from representing a unified or monochromatic line of thought that allegedly has changed throughout history, the diverse Kabbalistic sorts of literature, and to a lesser extent var- ious Hasidic schools, have centered around at least three major models: the theosophi- cal-theurgical one, the ecstatic one, and the talismanic one.”10For Idel, therefore, the term “model” is a heuristic device meant to accommodate the confluence of change and stability in understanding the historical evolution of Jewish mysticism but without suc- cumbing to the mistake of other scholars whose “concern with a unified picture of the development of this lore has induced a rather monochromatic view of its phenomenol- ogy.”11
In an earlier work, Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic, Idel expended a significant amount of space explicating his use of the term “models.” It is worth our while to expli- cate this analysis in some detail. In the brief section in the introduction, “Essences, History, Models,” Idel traces his approach to the philosophical phenomenology of Husserl. To be sure, the use of phenomenology, set in opposition to a strictly textologi- cal or philological-historical approach, is attested already in Idel’s first major revision- ist book, Kabbalah: New Perspectives.12 Interestingly enough, however, he begins that study by noting that it “is based upon the assumption that there are two major trends in Kabbalah: the theosophical-theurgical and the ecstatic,”13a taxonomy and terminol- ogy that patently betray the influence of Scholem.14 In the same work, Idel credits Scholem with being the “founder of the phenomenology of Kabbalah,” though he notes that many of his phenomenological (as opposed to historical) studies came later in his career and particularly when he addressed a broader audience at the annual Eranos con- ferences in Ascona, which were typically attended by historians of religion, scholars of comparative mysticism, and psychoanalysts.15Idel thus differentiates his own orienta- tion from that of his predecessor: “Rather than concentrate upon the Kabbalistic schools—or trends, as Gershom Scholem designated them—and their historical sequence, I will take a phenomenological approach that will deal primarily with the major religious foci of the Kabbalah ... Instead of presenting a historical sequence of Kabbalists or of ideas, I adopt an essentialist attitudeto the contents of Kabbalistic mate- rial that places greater emphasis upon their religious countenance than on their precise location in place and time.”16From Idel’s perspective, the phenomenological and the historical were bifurcated too sharply by Scholem. In contrast, he envisions his own method—tellingly referred to as an “essentialist attitude,” a locution that reveals a dis- tinctive Husserlian influence, a point that Idel makes clear in a later publication—as one in which the concern with historical contextualization is subservient to the exposition of the “key concepts” of the phenomena as “atemporal modes.”17
The main approach in this book is phenomenological: my assumption is that the two main foci of Kabbalistic mysticism were the ecstatic-unitive and the theosophical-theurgical. While focusing primarily upon the descriptions of these two cores of Kabbalah, I shall also take into consider- ation the historical development of these two themes recurring in Kabbalistic literature. Thus, my approach uses phenomenology in order to isolate significant phenomena and only thereafter to elaborate upon the possible historical relationships between them.18
Idel delineates two main typological trends, which he applies as a grid to explore the whole of the history of kabbalah, but he nonetheless asserts adamantly that his method is polyvalent. He insists, accordingly, that the juxtaposition of the historical and the phenomenological methods does not derive from a “single approach” but rather from “various approaches that may propose solutions” to the difficulties that emerge from the textual sources. Idel even refers to himself as a “pragmatist,” as he is “direct- ed by the problems generated by the texts rather than attempting to superimpose one method upon all analyses.” Idel admits that his analysis is susceptible to a methodolog- ical “inconsistency,” but it is the price he is willing to pay in order to shun the “reduc- tionist attitude” that characterizes a “pure” methodology. Summing up his versatile strategy of reading, Idel writes: “Phenomenology, textology, history, and psychology must in principle be used intermittently and combined in order to do justice to all the various aspects of Kabbalistic texts and ideas.”19
In the monograph on Hasidism, Idel provides a more theoretically nuanced account of his panoramic approach,20casting it specifically in relation to Husserl’s con- cept of the “invariance of sense,” which presumes that “a certain objective content transcends the contingent aspect of a phenomenon.”21In line with the Husserlian con- cept of essences—immutable eidetic structures that nevertheless assume varied forms in the flux of time—Idel puts forward “certain models to better understand variegated phenomena that constitute both Kabbalah and Hasidism. ... Historical approaches, with their emphasis on change, must be complemented by phenomenological ones that deal with relatively stable essences.”22Idel acknowledges that it is not easy to account for
“why certain essences recur in historical and cultural circumstances that seem to invite dramatic changes in their expression,” but the one factor that seems best suited to explain this is the “interaction between different types of religious interests, models, and schools. ... Important forms of Jewish spirituality emerged not so much as the result of the confrontation between history, historical crises, or other socioeconomic circum- stances with mysticism, but from syntheses between religious aspirations, personalities, ideals, nomenclatures, and fears, and various mystical models.”23The method adopted by Idel “emphasizes the existence of mystical and magical models in Jewish thought that predate Hasidism and whose interaction can explain the emergence of certain specula- tive developments that have been attributed by modern scholars to the impact of his- torical circumstances.”24The word “model,” accordingly, refers to “patterns” that are discernible in history but which cannot be explained historically. Idel refers explicitly to his approach as phenomenological, but he notes that he is not loath to embrace the concept of models, since for him these models are elicited from and not imposed upon the observable phenomena. Idel also explains that he speaks of modelrather than system
“because a given system of thought ... can be described ... by more than one mystical, or magical, model. From this point of view, a system is not always a systematic corpus, namely a body of writing that espouses25a logically coherent way of thought.”26The term model, moreover, is to be distinguished from structure, as the latter “may stand for a more limited concept ...and which is not a matter of imitation. ... Structures, unlike models, are modes of thought that—to paraphrase Ricoeur’s view of the symbol—invite thought but only rarely action.” Alternatively expressed, a structure is a modus cog- nescendi, a way of knowing, whereas a model is a modus operandiand a modus vivendi, a way of acting and a way of living.27Referring to the specific example of Hasidism, Idel offers three ways to explain the ostensible restructuring of the mystical model in rela- tion to historical circumstances. The first, which is associated with Scholem, places the emphasis on historical crises or traumas to explain the shift; the second presumes that the patterns were already in existence and the particular historical conditions of a given time bring them to the surface; the third denies the historical factors and seeks to account for the development exclusively along systemic lines. While Idel is intrigued by the third possibility, he prefers the second alternative, which “attempts to combine some parameters of the historical situation with the complexities of the history of Jewish mysticism according to the panoramic approach.”28
Let me conclude this section by noting that beyond the specific instance of Jewish mysticism, Idel extends his explanatory principle to the study of religion more globally.
Thus, he begins the introduction to Ascensions on High in Jewish Mysticism: Pillars, Lines, Ladders, a book based on the Ioan P. Culianu lectures delivered at the Central European University in Budapest, with the recommendation that the scholar of religion adopt a
“methodological eclecticism” due to the fact that no one method on its own is sufficient to deal with religion comprehensively. “All methods generate approximations based on insights, on implied psychologies, sometimes even on explicit theologies and ideologies.
They assist us in understanding one or more aspects of a complex phenomenon that, in itself, cannot be explained by any single method. .. Since religion cannot be reified as an entity standing by itself, it would be wise not to subject it to analyses based on a single methodology.”29It is important to distinguish Idel’s appeal to the lack of essence in the phenomenon of religion and the consequent need to study it from multiple perspectives from the view expressed famously by Jonathan Z. Smith that religion “is solely the cre- ation of the scholar’s study” and hence it “has no existence apart from the academy,”30 or, in the comparable language of Talal Asad, there can be no “universal definition of religion ... because the definition is itself the historical product of discursive process- es.”31Idel does not accept this constructivist perspective, which has been affirmed by an increasing number of anthropologists and scholars of religion.32On the contrary, he accords legitimacy to religion as a distinct phenomenon that is independent of scholar- ly fabrication, but he resists the possibility that it may be defined by any single essence.
The anthropological or psychoanalytic reductionism that would deny religion autono- my is as reductionist and substantializing to Idel as any other methodology (even the conventional phenomenology of religion) that ostensibly ascribes a discernible core to religious experience. There appears to be some form of apophatic perspectivism at work here: religion cannot be reified as an entity that stands on its own, and therefore no one mode of discourse is sufficient to discuss it, but there is no suggestion that religion should be sublated into some other disciplinarian category. Be that as it may, the claim made by Idel on behalf of religion more generally conceptually parallels his particular
stance with regard to Jewish mysticism: insofar as the phenomenon cannot be essential- ized, no one methodological approach should be privileged as the exclusive means to ascertain it.
Open System, Novel Iteration, and Polychromatic Essentialism
In the second part of this study, I will scrutinize more closely the issue of typolog- ical taxonomy and the implicit assumptions regarding the temporality of the interpre- tative process. I would like to raise the possibility that affirming set patterns of thought and a unified system of symbols that link together kabbalists from different historical periods does not inevitably incriminate the scholar in a methodological reductionism. Is it not feasible to conceive of traditional kabbalists33espousing an essentialism that is polychromatic, which would justify a hermeneutical method that itself embraces a poly- chromatism that is essentialist? Moving beyond a binary logic, which is still operative in the postmodern dichotomy (in part traceable to the legacy of Derridean deconstruction) of truth and dissimulation, I would surmise that the polysemic nature of the text that may be elicited from kabbalistic sources (from the medieval period to the present) is not dependent on the rejection of laying claim to an inherent and original intent that is recoverable through proper philological attunement. The notion of the infinity of the text engenders a proliferation of interpretations unfolding in time, an idea that, prima facie, would seem to accord with Derrida’s idea of dissemination, the rejection of one unequivocal meaning in favor of the belief in an ongoing dispersal of meanings; the text, on this accord, changes with each new reading. But there is a critical difference: the unfolding of the text’s potentially infinite meaning would not be imaginable to a kabbal- ist if he did not presume that all of the interpretations were enfolded in the originary text to which a discrete, albeit aporeitic, signifier is assigned, that is, the ineffable name, YHWH, the name that declaims in its (non)utterance the nameless that is spoken when unspoken and unspoken when spoken. The name, then, is a transcendental signifier, a sign that points to that to which no sign can point, the essence whose essence it is to have no essence, the signifier without signified, the veil that is veiled in the veil of its own veiling. The originary text is a palimpsest from its inceptual inscripting/erasure—
the multiple readings etched on its surface constitute the writing-over, the spectrality of the invisible emerging from beneath the layers of the visible, the disclosure of truth in the concealment of image through the concealment of truth in the disclosure of image. For the kabbalist exegete, the infinite, which is circumscribed in the text, is the theme that cannot be thematized, though it ceaselessly thematizes itself through con- cealing its concealment, disappearing in the advent of its coming-to-view, the no-show- ing that is the spectacle of mystical vision. Although a credible case can be made that the kabbalistic and postmodern hermeneutic share the view that there is no core inten- tionality to the text, the two tactics of reading differ on the question of the possibility of demarcating a “lived domain beyond all textual instances.”34Kabbalistic hermeneu- tics (at least in its classical formulation) rests on an ontological assumption that con- temporary readers would find objectionable: there is a presence that exceeds the text, a presence, to be sure, that is always a nonpresence, present as absent, and hence it can never be represented, but it is a presence nonetheless, the secret manifest in the non- manifestation of the secret, the nothing about which one cannot speak in contrast to
there being nothing about which to speak, the unsaying of apophasis as opposed to the dissimulation of dénégation.35In my estimation, the medieval kabbalists (as heirs to the Neoplatonic legacy) affirmed a logic that frees itself from the traditional philosophical opposition between presence and absence, an opposition that even Derrida was not able to discard completely in his deconstructing of Western metaphysics.36 The absence implied in the kabbalistic infinite would be deemed on Derridean terms to be a “nega- tive mode of presence.”37Thinking from the standpoint of the discourse of apophasis, however, it is possible, indeed desirable, to affirm the absence of presence in the pres- ence of absence. In the apophatic logic, there is no dichotomy, no chasm separating absence and presence that needs to be bridged; in the infinite, total absence and total presence are the same in virtue of being different, and, hence, absence is the only way for the presence to be present in the excess of lack that lacks all but the lack of excess.38 To interpret the kabbalah as if it were advocating a total collapse of divinity into the fold of the text, thereby effacing the transcendence of the beyond-being, the form of the formless, is an evocative reading, one to which I myself have occasionally succumbed,39 but it does not mean that it is the most responsible either historically or philological- ly.40
I am in full agreement with Idel that it is imperative that the scholar eschew sim- plifying the rich diversity of views that have been expressed by kabbalists through the generations. It is apposite here to invoke the sagacious words of Alfred North Whitehead. After acknowledging that the “aim of science is to seek the simplest expla- nations of complex facts,” Whitehead warned the reader that the “guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, Seek simplicity and distrust it.”41 This maxim can be applied to any individual who wants to enter the orchard of kabbalistic gnosis. The task of scientific research in this domain as well is to simplify complexity, but one should never lose sight of the complexity that has been simplified. Any mono- lithic presentation of kabbalah that levels out difference, whatever its practical or ped- agogical utility, is plainly a distortion whose dependability must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. On this point, there is no dispute. What I wish to pursue, how- ever, is the question as to whether the presumption on the part of the critical scholar that kabbalists have been informed by recurrent structures and repeated symbols can- not account for the complexity in one period of time as well as across generations. Must we assume that multivocality and essentialism are mutually exclusive? Are polymor- phism and monochromatism methodological paradigms that are necessarily opposi- tional? In my judgment, this is not inexorably so, as the very discernment of multiple forms is possible only against the background of remembering what has already been visually apprehended, a point well attested in phenomenological and psychological studies of human perception, memory, and imagination. From that perspective, it seems to me entirely possible, indeed preferable, to classify aspects of kabbalistic mysticism in generic terms, since classification in this manner in no way precludes or repudiates poly semy.42In fact, it seems to me entirely appropriate to think of kabbalists from dif- ferent historical periods and geographical localities as a confederation of semiotic com- munities, whose textual/semantic production (whether performed orally or in writing) demonstrates that heterogeneity does not inescapably rest on a presumption regarding the arbitrary nature of signification or on the relativization of linguistic discourse;
diversification is not the reverse process of integration but rather a dialectical feature encompassed by it; invariably, the variable becomes apparent through the prism of the
constant. Does not the very model of “models” tendered by Idel implicate one precisely in the paradox of this hermeneutic circle?
To summon Derridean language once again, it is because the truth understood by kabbalists is inherently metaphoric “that it does not escape syntax; and that it gives rise ... to a textwhich is not exhausted in the history of its meaning (signified concept or metaphoric tenor: thesis), in the visible or invisible presence of its theme (meaning and truth of Being). But it is also because the metaphoric does not reduce syntax, and on the contrary organizes its divisions within syntax, that it gets carried away with itself, can- not be what it is except in erasing itself, indefinitely constructing its destruction.”43The differing and deferring, which Derrida referred to by various neologisms, including dif- férance and destinerrance, subordinate metaphysics to metaphor, privileging thereby absence over presence, but the supplemental differend—the pharmakon, the trace, or the spectral—instable and meandering as it might be, is still established by syntactic rules. The larger logical conundrum that Derrida cannot elude is the fact that for some- thing to be discerned as indeterminate, indeterminacy itself must be determined.
Expressed somewhat crudely, his crusade against essentialism is nothing short of essen- tialist; his sponsorship of heterogeneity is strikingly homogenous.44Derrida’s depiction of metaphor as “indefinitely constructing its destruction” points to the fundamental paradox of deconstruction as a theory of literature: what is scripted is simultaneously, and always, constructed and destructed, destructed in its ongoing construction and con- structed in its abiding destruction, producing “its essence as its own disappearance, showing and hiding itself at the same time.”45 This account is not far from my own approach to interpreting kabbalistic texts.46
Let us recall another crucial discussion of Derrida, as it will shed light on the larg- er methodological questions being addressed in this essay. Commenting on a passage from Plato’s Laws (803b-e) in which the “serious things” that ought to command our attention are contrasted with the “playing of games,” Derrida remarked that one can detect therein “the theological assumption of play into games, the progressive neutral- ization of the singularityof play,” which led him to conclude that “Play is always lost when it seeks salvation in games.”47The contrast of play and game relates to the fact that the latter displays rules, which by nature are subject to generalization, whereas the former is incalculably random and therefore irreducibly singular. This “dialectical con- fiscation”48—the “disappearance of play into games”—ensues when the particular is placed under the stamp of the universal, a move that obscures the playfulness of play:
As soon as it comes into being and into language, play erases itself as such. Just as writing must erase itself as such before truth, etc. The point is there is no as suchwhere writing or play are concerned. Having no essence, introducing difference as the conclusion for the presence of essence, open- ing up the possibility of the double, the copy, the imitation, the simu- lacrum—the game and the graphē are constantly disappearing as they go along. They cannot, in classical affirmation, be affirmed without being negated.4
And yet, Derrida must admit, the “(non)logic of play,” as inscription itself is gov- erned by principles of proportionality and structurality. Derrida thus observes that at a critical moment in the Republic(368c-e), when theoretical discourse cannot find a way
of formulating the political order, Socrates turns to the grammatical metaphor.
“Structure is read as a form of writing in an instance where the intuition of sensible or intelligible presence happens to fail.”50We would not be far off the mark if we inverted this key statement: writing is to be read as a form of structure. I shall return to this mat- ter below, but at this juncture what is crucial to underscore is that the play of writing may mark the “disruptive intrusion of otherness and nonbeing, of nonbeing as other in the unity of being,”51 but the gesture of writing inevitably entails the production of something written, and the production of something written requires rules of grammar.
The incursion of writing is a cut that binds, like circumcision,52the event of singularity in which the name is enunciated, the singular event that recurs indefinitely as the gift- ing of time in the retreat of each moment. Ideally, the task of the writer is to bring forth something utterly unique, but this is not possible, since the words that one will use to communicate can never be unconditionally new.53Writing, therefore, imbibes the “rule of the impossible” (la régle-impossible),54a law that “demands the impossible ... because it is impossible, and because this very impossibility is the condition of the possibility of demand.”55 That Derrida is aware of this dilemma is evident from the following com- ment: “The scriptural ‘metaphor’ thus crops up every time difference and relation are irreducible, every time otherness introduces determination and puts a system in circu- lation.”56Even more transparent is the following remark of Derrida:
A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible. Its law and its rules are not, however, harbored in the inaccessibility of a secret; it is simply that they can never be booked, in the present, into anything that could rigorously be called a perception. … The dissimulation of the woven texture can in any case take centuries to undo its web: a web that envelops a web, undoing the web for centuries; reconstituting it too as an organism, indefinitely regenerating its own tissue behind the cutting trace, the decision of each reading. … The reading and writing supplement must be rigorously prescribed, but by the necessities of a game, by the logic of play, signs to which the system of all textual powers must be accorded and attuned.57
The indeterminacy of the twofold act of writing and reading—a pairing that “des- ignates neither undifferentiated (con)fusion nor identity at perfect rest”58—is con- demned to follow a system that is determined by the “necessities of a game” and the
“logic of play.” Derrida exhibits no ambiguity or ambivalence. He asserts rather emphat- ically: if one is not serious about this playfulness, then, one is plagued by the same fool- ishness as one who is too serious.59
In the last interview Derrida granted prior to his death, he conjured a familiar topos to reflect on the nature of his own career as a writer: “If I had invented my writ- ing, I would have done so as a perpetual revolution. For it is necessary in each situation to create an appropriate mode of exposition, to invent the law of the singular event, to take into account the presumed or desired addressee; and, at the same time, to make as if this writing will determine the reader, who will learn to read (to ‘live’) something he or she was not accustomed to receiving from anywhere else.”60The goal delineated by
Derrida, to keep the focus on the uniqueness of each reader, is surely laudable, but it is still reasonable to ask philosophically about the feasibility of this aspiration. What kind of law might the law of the singular eventbe? Can law ever be so radically individuated?
In an essay dedicated to elucidating Kafka’s celebrated parable “Before the Law,”
Derrida addressed the issue directly: “There is a singularity about relationship to the law, a law of singularity which must come into contact with the general or universal essence of the law without ever being able to do so. Now this text, this singular text … names or relates in its way this conflict without encounter between law and singulari- ty, this paradoxor enigmaof being-before-the-law.”61Given the fact that the provision of law by definition must exact some form of general applicability, for if a law were applied to only one individual, it would not fulfill the conditions of law and would sim- ply be a matter of habit—as Derrida himself observed in one essay, “law is always a law of repetition, and repetition is always submission to law”62—the insistence on a law of singularity without any relation whatsoever to generality is absurd and incoherent. He speaks of this encounter between law and singularity as the enigma or paradox of being before-the-law, but, by his own understanding (influenced by Heidegger’s description of the human experience of death) of the possibility of the impossible,63this is an impos- sibility that is not even possible as impossible, an impossible possibility, the experience of which Derrida offers as a definition of deconstruction,64but it is rather an impossible impossibility that is neither possible nor impossible and therefore completely irrele- vant. A writing that truly erases itself in its inscription would have to be an invisible writing, a writing that left no traces because it was never written, what Derrida himself (explicating Celan’s words from the poem “À la pointe acérée,”65Ungeschriebenes, zu / Sprache verhärtet) refers to as the “without writing, non-written, the unwritten” (sans écrit, anécrit, non-écrit).66To contemplate the gesture of not-writing (pas d’écriture)—the graphic equivalent to the phonic description of apophasis as the voiceless voice (la voix blanche)67—is quite different from the mandate to think about writing as an ambiguous marking of the trace. The latter may be viewed as a pre-script or as a post-script—the coming before is already a coming after having come before—an inscription of the invis- ible, which is not an entity that cannot be seen because it is hidden, but seeing that there is nothing to be seen but the unseeing, the white space, the blind spot, the condition for there to be any visibility at all, whereas the former is not an inscription, not a marking, nothing that leaves a trace, not even “the trace of a trace ... without presence and with- out absence.”68As Derrida reminds us, “Trace as memory is not a pure breaching that might be reappropriated at any time as simple presence; it is rather the ungraspable and invisible difference between the breaches.”69It is one thing to argue that the imperative of writing is to give space for singular events, to invent something new in every origi- nal iteration, but it is quite another thing to say that the singularity of what is to be writ- ten can have no relationship to the universal. In what language would such a text be inscripted? Derrida does entertain the possibility of an “inscription prior to writing, a proto-writing without a present origin,”70 a motif that he connects to the midrashic idea of a primordial Torah inscripted as white fire upon back fire, a “text written in let- ters that are still invisible.”71Even if we grant that the not-writing is identical with this arche-writing, a writing-before-writing, it still would be necessary to account for the translation of invisible letters into a text that can communicate to others. Does not the demand for absolute concreteness in writing elide into (or revert back to) an absolute
abstraction?72In his earlier work, Derrida had it right: otherness introduces determination and puts a system into circulation. Indeterminacy itself is determined as indeterminate by the canons of some form of determination that has been determined to be valid relative to a particular economy of socio-political meaning. As one interpreter of Derrida astute- ly noted, “pure heterogeneity, pure difference, pure becoming … cannot be apprehend- ed as such: a degree of admixture with their theoretical counterparts (homogeneity, identity, simultaneity) is required for apprehension to become possible.”73
The resistance to definite patterns and the characterization of the scholar’s demarcating those patterns as dogmatically imposing a totalizing interpretation on the material is itself a judgment that reflects a homogeneous reading of heterogeneity impelled by construing the deconstructive hermeneutic in a particular way.74The con- tention that there is no unifying vision that would account for the rich and wide-rang- ing views scattered about the landscape of kabbalistic teaching, the insistence that in fact there is no such thing as kabbalah but only what various kabbalists report, the avowal that any affirmation of an inner principle amounts to assuming the existence of a metaphysical postulate of a substantialist identity that effaces difference, and the resolve to refuse any interpretive scheme that would rule out exceptions by already including those exceptions within its purview, are themselves postmodern sensibilities that are imposed on the kabbalistic texts. The kabbalists, I would argue, have been com- mitted to precisely what is here being denied: their eclecticism is a facet of heterosemi- otic uniformity, their singularity a consequence of a monological pluralism. The diver- sity of opinions are not indicative of “various ontological schemes” informing “different hermeneutical modes of interpretation.”75On the contrary, the diversity itself is engen- dered by a shared ontology that informs a common hermeneutic. Is this assumption not operative in the very use of typology to provide a taxonomic grid to analyze and cate- gorize the material? Even for Abulafia, the kabbalist whence the typological classifica- tion is derived, the assertion that there are two types of kabbalah, the sefirotic and the prophetic, must be seen as a polemical rejoinder to the attack on him by Solomon ben Abraham Ibn Adret.76While there are incontestable discrepancies between Abulafia and the so-called theosophic kabbalists, the former repeatedly transgresses his own taxon- omy by affirming principles that were common to all kabbalists of his day, for instance, the identification of the Torah and the Tetragrammaton, the assumption that Hebrew is the matrix language of being, and the insistence that if one separates one of the ten sefirot, it is as if one were to create a division in the divine. Leaving aside the larger his- toriographic issue, the critical question is: can one both adhere to the presence of typo- logical models and aver that it is essentialist to presume replication of structure?
Let me turn now to the topic of gender construction, which will help put into sharper relief the points of convergence and divergence between the two interpretive paths that emerge from a common root. In Kabbalah and Eros, Idel is highly critical of the conclusion I have reached, taking issue with my opinion that traditional kabbalists have uniformly privileged the masculine, viewing the female as ontologically derivative from the male. I am accused of assuming (following the lead of Isaiah Tishby) that kabbalists operated with a “pansymbolic approach ... based on a common psychic structure.”77Idel is skeptical of such an approach, as it supposedly promotes a metaphysics (or ontology) that is “homogenous” and a psychology that is “collective.” Championing diversity and heterogeneity, Idel contends that kabbalistic writings, even from the same historical period, “may display a metaphysical complexity emerging from the accumulation of
earlier and divergent stands, exposed in different forms of organization of knowledge, and functioning together.”78Ostensibly ignoring this diversity, I have concocted a “uni- fied kabbalistic metaphysics which is phallocentric,” a “monistic” approach that glori- fies “androcentric exclusivity.”79Even worse my approach “reduces medieval cultural worlds to modern or postmodern theories, and it may transform scholarship into an exercise in projecting the modern into the medieval; in short, this approach is prone to become an anachronistic game.”80Reiterating the point at the summary of a more sus- tained, though by his own admission not a comprehensive, criticism of my theory of gender construction and the metamorphosis implied thereby, Idel writes:
In my opinion, any attempt to articulate a comprehensive system that operates upon premises which reflect modern gender studies may con- stitute an anachronistic projection if there is no specific assessment of the gendered underpinning of the system itself. Assumptions concerning the esoteric nature of the underlying gender theories may reflect more a mod- ern psychoanalytical approach than a disclosure of a hidden dimension of medieval mystical texts. We should not reduce life in the Middle Ages to some simplistic clichés reflecting a conservative attitude; neither should we read those texts as adumbrating the details of the modern theories of gender.81
I will refrain from responding to the allegation that I have offered “simplistic clichés” based on contemporary psychoanalytic and gender theories instead of provid- ing a “specific assessment of the gendered underpinning of the system itself.” Needless to say, I beg to differ, but my concern here is to address two other issues at the heart of Idel’s critique, the issue of generalization and that of anachronism, insofar as these are more pertinent to the main concern of this essay, the hermeneutical presuppositions related to the question of continuity and discontinuity in the study of kabbalistic lore.
I have already noted Idel’s charge that I am guilty of adopting a pansymbolic approach, ignoring the diversity of the sources. Idel even takes issue with my referring to the “zoharic kabbalah” or the “zoharic authorship,” since these terms suggest that I may have conflated “the basic differences between the various layers of the Zohar.”82 Idel is implicitly invoking here the research of Yehuda Liebes, who has argued for mul- tiple authors of the zoharic text.83Liebes is mentioned explicitly in a second passage as the basis for the assumption that “theosophical diversity is recognized as a hallmark of Zoharic thought.”84The positing of multiple strata in the zoharic text should sensitize the scholar to the fact that “even within the same theosophical system, we must be aware of the existence of genealogically and phenomenologically different forms of nar- rative, which have different forms of inner logic, different histories, and different pat- terns of literary treatment, and which therefore should not be merged in a harmonistic or homogeneous explanation.” My approach, by contrast, is based on a “totalizing read- ing” of “different theosophical narratives as if they are part of one unified pattern.”85I readily admit that I have assumed a unified pattern for the zoharic literature. But this supposition does not equal a rejection of the hypothesis proffered by Liebes. One can posit several authors of a treatise and continue to speak on hermeneutical grounds of a unifying factor that allows for difference; the weave of the textual fabric does not dis- rupt the possibility of iteration that renews itself indefinitely. Scholars of Zoharcan ben-
efit from the wisdom and experience of biblicists who do not deny the form-critical approach but who nevertheless discern repeating thought-patterns.86
I would propose that plurivocality and fragmentariness need to be kept distinct.
Too often, it seems, they are confused, and one assumes that the former automatically implies the latter. To argue for a plurality of voices, however, does not necessarily mean that all we have are fragments. The overarching sense of the whole may, in fact, rever- berate only through a polyphony of voices. In the case of the zoharic text, it is possible, in my opinion, to apply a “holistic analysis,”87even if we entertain the possibility of multiple layers at the compositional level. The poststructuralist approach that I have adopted both allows for these different strata and maintains that there is an overall sys- tem that engenders the particulars. The tendency to generalize, therefore, should not be misconstrued as viewing the variegated history of Jewish mystical doctrines and practices monolithically. The belief that it is justifiable to speak in general terms does not come at the expense of ignoring specific details and historical contingencies. On the contrary, the generic claims are rooted in and must be tested against textual particular- ities. I do think, however, that it is plausible, indeed mandatory, to speak of kabbalistic lore in terms of structures of thought that persist through time. Repetition of these structures does not presuppose an ontological condition of presence that suppresses difference in the name of sameness. The history of kabbalism as a religious phenome- non illustrates that it is precisely the presumed immutability of system that occasions novel interpretation. In the wisdom of the tradition, if a teaching is old, it is because it is new, but it is new because it is old. The simultaneity of truth as novel and erstwhile is a fundamental axiom of interpretation—linked to the conception of time in its most rudimentary form as an instant of diremptive reiteration, the repetition of the same as different in the renewal of the different as same—legitimated not by reason but by prophetic experience that confirms in cultural memory the presumed unbroken chain of the oral tradition.88System, consequently, is precisely what accounts for interruption of order by chaos, the intervention of the moment that renders the flow of time contin- uously discontinuous and discontinuously continuous. The recognition of multiplicity does not negate unity if we understand the latter as a system that comprises multiple subsytems, an economy of meaning that incorporates manifold economies.
The notion of system that I am affirming is indebted to the thinking of Franz Rosenzweig expressed especially in a letter to Rudolf Ehrenburg (dated 12 December 1917).89 According to Rosenzweig, system does not denote an architectural structure that is formed by assembling individual stones whose meaning is determined only by the sense of the whole, but rather it bespeaks a striving on the part of all individual enti- ties qua individual for relationship and interconnectivity; the viability of system is relat- ed to affirming a unity perpetually in the making, a sense of the whole that is not order but chaos, a totality that must always lie “beyond a conscious horizon.” Rosenzweig notes that, in the Hegelian system, each individual position is anchored only in the whole and is thus related exclusively to two others, the one that immediately precedes it and the one that immediately succeeds it. In the system affirmed by Rosenzweig, the genuine novelty of each temporal moment is not determined by its occupying a median position in a linear sequence between what came before and what comes after. On the contrary, to the extent that the moment is authentically novel, it is experienced as the constant resumption of what is always yet to be, the return of what has never been, the vertical intervention that opens the horizontal time-line to the spherical fullness of
In the 1925 essay “Das neue Denken,” in which Rosenzweig offers the reader a guide to reading his theopoetic masterpiece, Der Stern der Erlösung, he remarked that the latter is not a “Jewish book” or a “philosophy of religion,” but it is a “system of philoso- phy,” which sought “to bring about the total renewal of thinking.”91The system pro- pounded by Rosenzweig is situated in the interstice between philosophy and theology,92 but it emerges from the “intuitive knowledge of experience” (anschaulichen Wissen der Erfahrung) of God, human, and world,93which serves as the epistemic basis for the vision to come of the All, a seeing of the eternal star in the countenance of the configuration that is truth.94An allusion to this vision, whence the path goes forth and to which it returns, can be found in another passage in “Das neue Denken.” Reflecting on the nature of the philosophic book, of which the Star is exemplary, Rosenzweig notes that “the whole (Ganze) becomes surveyable at a glance (Blick).” This momentary glimpse of the whole in the new thinking is to be contrasted with the conception of totality in the old thinking, insofar as the time of its occurrence “cannot be predicted” and it is not “at exactly the same point for two readers.”95It is nevertheless an integral part of the sys- tem that Rosenzweig constructed from his own vision, a “beholding the ‘world-likeness in the countenance of God’ (Weltgleichnisses im Gottesantlitz),” a “seizing of all being in the immediacy of a moment (eines Augenblicks) and blink of an eye (Augen-blicks)” in which
“the limit of humanity is entered.”96The broken All is reconfigured in this immediate sight of the whole, the whole that, like the moment in which it is seen, the blink of the eye, is the not yet that has already been and therefore is always still to come.
At the heart of Rosenzweig’s conception of systematicity is his view that under- standing occurs always in the present, “time in the most temporal sense” (Zeit im zeitlich- sten Sinn).97This insight runs parallel to Rosenzweig’s account of revelation in the Star based on the premise that “God’s love is always wholly in the moment.”98The knot of divine love takes an infinity of time to unravel, but at the center of that love is the utter- ance of the divine commandment that “knows only the moment: it waits for the out- come right within the moment of its growing audible. … The commandment is thus—
pure present (reine Gegenwart). … Revelation is in the present (gegenwärtig), and indeed it is the present par excellence … the presently lived experience.”99Revelation, therefore, is an experience (Erlebnis) that imbibes the paradox of being “always new only because it is immemorially old” (Die Offenbarung ist also allzeit neu, nur weil sie uralt ist).100 The eruption of the revelatory event (Ereignis) must “begin already at the same moment, in the sinking away it must already begin again; its perishing must be at the same time a beginning again. … So this moment must have more as its content than the mere moment. The moment shows something always new to the eye every time it opens.”101 This moment, which has the potentiality to be perpetually renewed, and thus it carries within itself the “diversity of the old and new,” is identified by Rosenzweig as an “hour”
or the “fixed moment” in which “its end can flow again into its beginning because it has a middle, or rather many moments of the middle between its beginning and its end.
With beginning, middle and end, it can become what the mere sequence of single ever new moments can never become: a circle that flows back in itself. … In the hour, the moment is therefore turned into that which, when it should have perished, always newly begins again and thus into the imperishable, the nunc stans, eternity.”102 Compressed in the “single moment” is “pure temporality” (reinen Zeitlichkeit)—signifi-
cantly, this is demarcated as the “purely temporally lived life of Goethe”—whereby “life has become entirely temporal, or, put differently, time has an entirely living, an entire- ly real river flowing through the vast space above the crags of the moment; no sooner can eternity fall upon time. Life, and all life, must be entirely living (ganz lebendig) before it can become eternal life (ewiges Leben).”103In the moment, the blink-of-the-eye, time is fully temporal, and hence eternal, a time beyond the calibration of ordinary time, but a time nonetheless, indeed the fullness of time.
The conception of time underlying my own hermeneutic is in accord with Rosenzweig’s perspective according to which the old and the new are dialectically inter- twined. To assume, as I do, that structures of thought may be recovered philologically, structures influenced but not causally determined by historical factors, does not subject kabbalistic texts to a standard of rigid homogeneity that ignores the specificity and inimitability of actual texts. Structure accounts for heterogeneity, system for unpre- dictability; it is precisely by seeing the recurring pattern that the changes become most visible. The perspective that I have culled from Rosenzweig may be compared profitably to the thinking of Derrida.104Let us recall the aforecited insight of his regarding the inevitability of otherness putting a system into circulation. What can we make of this juxtaposition, the ideal of system and the movement of circulation? The deportment of the former will be discerned from the manner of the latter. To circulate is to venture toward an exit that is a return, a turning-around, a recycling, not, however, as a closed circle whose beginning is fixed in its end and its end in its beginning. On the contrary, the return that comes by way of exit is an open circle that brings one back to where one has always been as never having been before, a place strangely familiar, not an exit to return nor a return to exit, but a return that is an exit, an exit that is a return.105
“Circulation will always be circulation of the truth: toward the truth. Cause and effect of the circle, causa sui, proper course and destiny of the letter.”106In this circulation, cause and effect are interchangeable, and everything occurs together, “at the same time,”
which is, ontically speaking, no time, an insight that Derrida flags as the absurdity “that constitutes the aporia as aporia.”107Distinguishing the views of Husserl and Levinas, Derrida wrote: “A system is neither finite nor infinite. A structural totality escapes this alternative in its functioning. It escapes the archaeological and the eschatological, and inscribes them in itself.”108The meaningfulness of the system is not determined by ref- erence to an ultimate beginning or to an ultimate end. There is no beginning and there is no end. The creative process is such that one imagines that one is always starting anew, but what appears as new is, in truth, a mix of newness and repetition, each event is a renewed singularity.109
Kabbalah, I submit, is a cultural-literary phenomenon that illustrates a system of this sort, a structural totality for which beginning cannot be remembered nor end antic- ipated. It is conceivable to imagine the contours of this system as a totality without pre- suming a fixed terminus at the start or at the finish. In the open system, where the whole always was and is in the making, and hence can never be subject to being broken, since brokenness is part of its very constitution, the only time that is real is the time of the present. In the hermeneutical praxis, accordingly, originality and repetition are not mutually exclusive, but well forth from the spot where the novel is recurringly ancient and the ancient interminably novel. As Gilles Deleuze put it:
We produce something new only on condition that we repeat—once
in the mode which constitutes the past, and once more in the present of metamorphosis. Moreover, what is produced, the absolutely new itself, is in turn nothing but repetition: the third repetition, this time by excess, the repetition of the future as eternal return. … The order of time has broken the circle of the Same and arranged time in a series only in order to re- form, a circle of the Other at the end of the series. … The form of time is there only for the revelation of the formless in the eternal return. … In this manner, the ground has been superseded by a groundlessness, a universal ungrounding which turns upon itself and causes only the yet-to-come to return.110
The merging of novelty and repetition in the Deleuzian interpretation of Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence well suits both the kabbalistic material and the appropriate scholarly apparatus to study it. The production of something new—
equally for the kabbalist and for the scholar of kabbalah—comes about through the mechanism of repeating that proceeds from the formlessness of time’s form; indeed, the absolutely new is nothing but repetition, albeit the repetition of what is yet-to-come.
Following the logic of this temporal comportment, we come to the conclusion that the distinction between conservative and innovative orientations, at least if treated in a binary fashion, is not a faithful translation of the complex hermeneutical interplay that characterizes the creativity of the kabbalist.111On the face of it, some kabbalists may have preferred the rhetoric of conservatism to the rhetoric of innovation, but in the last analysis, one as the other would have maintained that the expansion of the tradition is itself part of the perpetuation of the tradition, just as the perpetuation of the tradition is part of its expansion. Kabbalists singled out as most representative of the conserva- tive orientation, for example, Nahmanides, conceal the innovativeness of their thinking in the guise of a received wisdom, whereas kabbalists singled out as most representative of the innovative orientation, for example, Abraham Abulafia and Moses de León, repeatedly affirm the antiquity of the ideas they transmit.
Operating with this diremptive conception of time, the charge of anachronism itself becomes anachronistic. As the contemporary philosopher David Wood observed:
“The recognition of multiplicity amidst apparent unity illustrates the importance of models in guiding interpretation but does not tell us anything specific about time.”112 The matter of time is to be determined independently of the models we elicit from or inflict upon our sources—I do not think this distinction is very useful, as the circularity of the hermeneutic experience dictates that eisegesis and exegesis cannot be separated categorically. With this alternate conception of temporality in mind, one can argue credibly for the use of current theories to explicate older structures that provide the parameters within which the discontinuous continuity of the kabbalah continues to evolve. The contribution of scholars, especially when dissenting opinions are respectful- ly expressed, is an integral part of the process.
1 Moshe Idel, “Kabbalah-Research: From Monochromatism to Orphism,” Studia Judaica8 (1999): 15-46, esp. 27-32.
2 Moshe Idel, Messianic Mystics(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 17.
4Ibid., pp. 17-18.
5The locution “messianic idea” is derived from the first two essays in Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality(New York:
Schocken Books, 1971), pp. 1-48.
6Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism(New York: Schocken Books, 1954), pp. 329-330; idem, Messianic Idea, pp. 176-202. As Idel rightly points out (see fol- lowing note for reference), Scholem’s views accord with the position of Buber. See Martin Buber, The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism, edited and translated by Maurice Friedman (New York: Horizon Press, 1960), pp. 107-112.
7For a more extensive discussion, see Moshe Idel, Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), pp. 16-17; and idem, Messianic Mystics, pp. 212-213, 237-238.
8 The point is missed by Byron L. Sherwin, Kabbalah: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism(Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006), who appropriates Idel’s theory of models for his own attempt to provide an account of Jewish mystical teachings and practices. The method he adopts from Idel is crudely distinguished from the histor- ical approach of Scholem: “Though keenly aware of major trends in Jewish mysticism, Idel has presented Jewish mystical teachings and experience by identifying certain phe- nomenologically based models of Jewish mysticism. … The presentation of Jewish mys- tical ideas, experience, and practices in the present book follows Idel’s approach by focusing on models rather than by presenting Jewish mysticism primarily as an unfold- ing historical phenomenon in Judaism characterized by certain movements or major historical trends” (p. 26 n. 1). The relationship between history and phenomenology is more complex in Idel’s early typological categories and in his later theory of models. A more felicitous and sophisticated use of a model approach can be found in the work of Idel’s student, Jonathan Garb, “Kinds of Power: Rabbinic Texts and the Kabbalah,”
Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts6 (2001): 45-71, and in greater detail in idem, Manifestations of Power in Jewish Mysticism: From Rabbinic Literature to Safedian Kabbalah(Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2005), pp. 14-23, 47-71 (Hebrew).
9Idel, Messianic Mystics, p. 33
10 Moshe Idel, Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988), p. 12.
11Ibid., p. 15.
12Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988), pp. 22-25.
13Ibid., p. xi. The source for the typological distinction that has dominated criti- cal scholarship on medieval Jewish mysticism can be traced to Abulafia himself, who introduces the “two types of kabbalah” is his epistle to Judah Salomon, the Iggeret Zo’t li- Yehudah, a polemical response to the attack on him mounted by Solomon ben Abraham Ibn Adret. See Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, p. xii; Elliot R. Wolfson, Abraham Abulafia—
Kabbalist and Prophet: Hermeneutics, Theosophy, and Theurgy(Los Angeles: Cherub, 2000), pp. 94-99.
14 The expression “major trends” is obviously derived from the lectures that