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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