Two Concepts of God

For Moshe Idel Since the very inception of their discipline, scholars of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, have tried to define the object of their study based on its supposed relationship to myth. Gershom Scholem viewed the rise of Kabbalah in the Middle Ages as the return — with a vengeance — of myth. After having been repressed by Biblical and rabbinic traditions, it reemerged, cloaked in mystery and veiled in esotericism, to insinuate itself into the heart of Judaism, from which it would dictate the future of Jewish thought and history. Another school of thought, led by Moshe Idel and Yehuda Liebes, has denied that myth had ever been absent from Judaism, and has traced lines of continuity from the kabbalistic mythos to elements already present in the canonical texts of ancient Judaism. Whatever the precise relationship between myth and Kabbalah, medieval Jewish philosophy has been presented in no uncertain terms as Kabbalah’s nemesis. Under the influence of Maimonides, who defined much of its agenda, Jewish philosophy sought to purify God of any trace of anthropomorphism and to systematically eradicate any mythic elements from Jewish tradition. According to this account, then, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw the rise of two movements with diametrically opposed relationships to myth: Kabbalah and Jewish philosophy. The kabbalists are said to have had the upper hand because they tapped into the primordial wellsprings of myth and irrigated every corner of Jewish existence from it, while the philosophers uprooted Judaism from its source of vitality and turned it into an alienated and abstract religious culture. Scholem conceived of this contest as a medieval precursor of the great cultural clash between Romanticism and the Enlightenment in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The conceptual framework that he used to analyze Kabbalah borrowed considerably from the way Romanticism

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