Structure, Innovation, and Diremptive Temporality: The Use of Models to Study Continuity and Discontinuity in Kabbalistic Tradition

Elliot R. Wolfson


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 explanatory models, a methodology that purportedly proffers a polychromatic as opposed to a monochromatic orientation associated with Scholem and the so-called school based on his teachings. The three major models delineated by Idel are the theosophical-theurgical, the ecstatic, and the magical or talismanic. Idel s hermeneutic rests on the assumption that the phenomenon of Jewish mysticism (as the phenomenon of religion 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 original intent that is recoverable through proper philological attunement. Multivocality and essentialism are not mutually exclusive. Kabbalah, I submit, is a cultural-literary phenomenon that illustrates an open system in which each moment is a mix of newness and repetition, each event a renewed singularity. The hermeneutical praxis appropriate to this system displays 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.


diremptive temporality, essential- ism, heterogeneity, model, mono- chromatism, phenomenology, poly- morphism, polysemy, reductionism, synchronic polychromatism, system

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