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Kabbalah and Postmodernism

A Dialogue


Sandford L. Drob

Kabbalah and Postmodernism: A Dialogue challenges certain long-held philosophical and theological beliefs, including the assumptions that the insights of mystical experience are unavailable to human reason and inexpressible in linguistic terms, that the God of traditional theology either does or does not exist, that «systematic theology» must provide a univocal account of God, man, and the world, that «truth» is «absolute» and not continually subject to radical revision, and that the truth of propositions in philosophy and theology excludes the truth of their opposites and contradictions. Readers of Kabbalah and Postmodernism will be exposed to a comprehensive mode of theological thought that incorporates the very doubts that would otherwise lead one to challenge the possibility of theology and religion, and which both preserves the riches of the Jewish tradition and extends beyond Judaism to a non-dogmatic universal philosophy and ethic.


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2. Derrida and Jewish Mysticism 48


Chapter Two Derrida and Jewish Mysticism n a meeting with his friend, Jacques Derrida, the French-Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas 1906-1995), is said to have looked Derrida in the eye and said, “Jacques, you know what you remind me of? A heretical Kabbalist of the 16th century!” 1 Levinas’ reported observation seemed to confirm what I had suspected for quite some time, that an encounter with Derrida’s thought is potentially an important gateway to a contemporary, if antinomian, Kabbalistic philosophy and theology. 2 Derrida, Judaism and the Kabbalah The question of the influence of Judaism, and specifically, the Kabbalah on Derrida’s thought has surfaced now and again in recent literature on Jewish mysticism. Derrida himself frequently spoke of his life as a child and young man in Algeria as one in which he was alienated from three cultures; the French, the Arab and the Jewish. Born of Jewish parents, Derrida relates that his family was observant of Judaism only “banally” and that their observance was “external” and “not grounded by a true Jewish culture.” 3 In an essay entitled “Monolingualism of the Other,” Derrida tells us that the Jewish environment in which he was raised was so fanatically “Frenchifying” that “the inspiration of Jewish culture seemed to succumb to an asphyxia: a state of apparent death, a ceasing of respiration, a fainting fit, I Derrida and Jewish Mysticism 49 a cessation of the pulse.” 4 Derrida acknowledged that even as an adult he knew very little Hebrew and had a very...

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