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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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3. Tzimtzum and Différance 65


Chapter Three Tzimtzum and Différance any of the major themes of Derrida’s thought emerge in his 1968 paper on “Différance.” In this chapter I will provide a reading of this paper and related writings, and will compare Derrida’s notions of “différance,” the “trace” and “Khora” with comparable Kabbalistic notions, including Tzimtzum (contraction), Ein-sof (the Infinite) and Din (distinction and judgment). In the process I hope to both deepen our understanding of these Kabbalistic symbols and their relation to contemporary theology. In order to gain insight into the relationship between Derrida’s ideas and the Lurianic metaphors, a considerable foundation must be laid regarding both the Kabbalistic doctrine of Tzimtzum and Derrida’s notion of “différance.” Only then différance’s relation to (and difference from) Tzimtzum and other Kabbalistic symbols can be adequately appreciated. The Doctrine of Tzimtzum In the Lurianic Kabbalah, the doctrine of Tzimtzum gives expression to the view that the fundamental act of creation is a negative one, a withdrawal, contraction and concealment of the divine presence. The concept or symbol of Tzimtzum is clearest in the writings of the disciples of Isaac Luria (1534- 72). However, earlier Kabbalists anticipated the basic idea. For example, Nachmanides, Rabbi Moses Ben Nachman (1194-1270), held that the divine wisdom (Chochmah) was created as a result of a Tzimtzum or contraction of M Kabbalah and Postmodernism 66 the divine light or will in the highest Sefirah. 1 The Zohar anticipated the notion of Tzimtzum in its doctrine that the light...

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