Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination

Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination

Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination

Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination


This long-awaited, magisterial study-an unparalleled blend of philosophy, poetry, and philology-draws on theories of sexuality, phenomenology, comparative religion, philological writings on Kabbalah, Russian formalism, Wittgenstein, Rosenzweig, William Blake, and the very physics of the time-space continuum to establish what will surely be a highwater mark in work on Kabbalah. Not only a study of texts, Language, Eros, Being is perhaps the fullest confrontation of the body in Jewish studies, if not in religious studies as a whole. Elliot R. Wolfson explores the complex gender symbolism that permeates Kabbalistic literature. Focusing on the nexus of asceticism and eroticism, he seeks to define the role of symbolic and poetically charged language in the erotically configured visionary imagination of the medieval Kabbalists. He demonstrates that the traditional Kabbalistic view of gender was a monolithic and androcentric one, in which the feminine was conceived as being derived from the masculine. He does not shrink from the negative implications of this doctrine, but seeks to make an honest acknowledgment of it as the first step toward the redemption of an ancient wisdom. Comparisons with other mystical traditions-including those in Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam-are a remarkable feature throughout the book. They will make it important well beyond Jewish studies, indeed, a must for historians of comparative religion, in particular of comparative mysticism. Praise for Elliot R. Wolfson:"Through a Speculum That Shines is an important and provocative contribution to the study of Jewish mysticism by one of the major scholars now working in this field."-Speculum


In taking the poets as testimony for things unknown,
they are citing authorities that cannot be trusted.


In the conclusion of his remarks upon receiving the 1977 Bialik Prize, GershomScholem commented:

The discovery of the tremendous poetic potential within Kabbalah, in its own lan
guage no less than in its poetry proper, which has also come down to us with great
richness—all these constitute a realm which has hardly been examined and which
holds the promise of great discoveries…. the tools have not yet been created for
understanding the lyric plane within language of the Kabbalists and the Hasidim.
Without creating these tools, this question cannot be fully encompassed. My own
secret longing to do so has not been fulfilled and remains unsatisfied. Thus, at the
conclusion of my remarks, allow me to express the wish that we may look forward
to someone who will remove the dust hiding the true face of such books as Sefer
ha-Temunah, Berit Menuhah
, or Hemdat Yamim, to reveal the poetic depths in their
imagery and that of many similar books.

When I happened upon the study of Jewish mysticism over two decades ago, of course, I could not have had any idea that the words of Scholem would serve as the guideword on my path, an evocation at the beginning, challenging and leading me on the way to crafting a poetics of kabbalah. It is futile to wonder if Scholem would have approved my attempts to heed the poetic assonance reverberating in the intricate imaginary worlds described in kabbalistic lore, but that matters little in accepting the responsibility of relating my work to him and expressing thereby gratitude of the highest order for a scholar, the thanking of thinking in the footsteps of the other.

My first major gesture in this direction was Through a Speculum That Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Judaism, published in 1994. in that work, I set out to lay the . . .

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