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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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9. Creation Ex Nihilo and the Impossible Messiah 205


Chapter Nine Creation Ex Nihilo and the Impossible Messiah Nothingness and Negation in the Theosophical Kabbalah ostmodern thought can be characterized by its interest in paradox, subversion, inversion, absence, reversal and impossibility; in short by a preoccupation with "negation" in all of its variant forms. This is one reason why the role of “nothingness” and “negation” in Jewish mysticism has drawn the attention of contemporary scholars of Kabbalah and Hasidism. 1 As Daniel Matt (who serves as our initial guide to the Jewish mystical conception of nothingness) has observed, the symbol of Ayin (Nothingness) serves to characterize not only the Kabbalists’ Absolute, Ein- sof, but their entire theosophical system; everything not only originates and returns to Ayin, but Ayin is also the motive force for both the world’s and humanity’s development. Indeed, as we have seen, the dynamics of the Lurianic system turn on three moments of “negation:” the original nothingness, Ayin, from which Ein-sof authors His own being; the Tzimtzum (Contraction) through which Ein-sof creates the world; and the Shevirah (Breakage) which shatters the status quo and sets the stage for the world’s redemption. As early as Sefer Yetzirah, we find the doctrine of creation out of nothingness: “He formed something actual out of chaos and made what is not P Kabbalah and Postmodernism 206 (eino) into what is (yeshmo).” 2 Later, certain Kabbalists held that “nothingness” itself has a positive role in creation. According to R. Joseph Ben Scholem of Barcelona [c. 1300], nothing is ever created or...

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