Alef, Mem, Tau: Kabbalistic Musings on Time, Truth, and Death

Alef, Mem, Tau: Kabbalistic Musings on Time, Truth, and Death

Alef, Mem, Tau: Kabbalistic Musings on Time, Truth, and Death

Alef, Mem, Tau: Kabbalistic Musings on Time, Truth, and Death

Synopsis

This highly original, provocative, and poetic work explores the nexus of time, truth, and death in the symbolic world of medieval kabbalah. Demonstrating that the historical and theoretical relationship between kabbalah and western philosophy is far more intimate and extensive than any previous scholar has ever suggested, Elliot R. Wolfson draws an extraordinary range of thinkers such as Frederic Jameson, Martin Heidegger, Franz Rosenzweig, William Blake, Julia Kristeva, Friedrich Schelling, and a host of kabbalistic figures into deep conversation with one another. Alef, Mem, Tau also discusses Islamic mysticism and Buddhist thought in relation to the Jewish esoteric tradition as it opens the possibility of a temporal triumph of temporality and the conquering of time through time.

The framework for Wolfson's examination is the rabbinic teaching that the word emet, "truth," comprises the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, alef, mem, and tau, which serve, in turn, as semiotic signposts for the three tenses of time--past, present, and future. By heeding the letters of emet we discern the truth of time manifestly concealed in the time of truth, the beginning that cannot begin if it is to be the beginning, the middle that re/marks the place of origin and destiny, and the end that is the figuration of the impossible disclosing the impossibility of figuration, the finitude of death that facilitates the possibility of rebirth. The time of death does not mark the death of time, but time immortal, the moment of truth that bestows on the truth of the moment an endless beginning of a beginningless end, the truth of death encountered incessantly in retracing steps of time yet to be taken--between, before, beyond.

Excerpt

This book is based on the Taubman Lectures that I delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, February–March 2001. I wish to express my gratitude to Professor David Biale, who first approached me about preparing these lectures, and to Professor Daniel Boyarin, who followed up by extending an official invitation on behalf of the Program in Jewish Studies at Berkeley. the time I spent on the Berkeley campus was a turning point on my journey, both personally and professionally.

The goal of my lectures was to illumine the nexus of time, truth, and death elicited from the symbolic imaginary of the Jewish esoteric tradition known by both practitioners and scholars as kabbalah. the inspiration and framework for my exploration, however, was the rabbinic teaching that the word emet, “truth,” comprises the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet: alef, mem, and tau. These letters serve, in turn, as semiotic signposts for the three tenses of time: past, present, and future. Accordingly, I dedicated each of the three lectures to one of these letters, with the aim of elucidating the corresponding aspect of temporality. in revising the lectures for publication, I have added two introductory chapters. the first outlines the philosophical sources that have shaped my own hermeneutical understanding of time, which, invariably, entails a temporal understanding of hermeneutics. the second offers a conception of temporality, culled from a wide range of kabbalistic texts, that serves as the backdrop for the specific analyses in the three chapters on alef/past, mem/present, and tau/future.

I drew the material for my textual reasoning in the lectures almost exclusively . . .

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