Joint Straus/Tikvah Fellow
Academic Year 2009-2010
Moshe Idel is Max Cooper Professor in Jewish Thought, Department of Jewish Thought at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and Senior Researcher at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Born in 1947 in Romania, he arrived in 1963 to Israel and lectures since 1975 at the Hebrew University. He received the Israel Prize for Jewish Thought in 1999, the Emmet Prize in 2002, and is member of the Israeli Academy since 2006. He has served as visiting Professor at the JTS of America, UCLA, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and College de France. Among his publications are Old Worlds, New Mirror, On Jewish Mysticism and Twentieth-Century Thought, (Penn UP, 2010), Kabbalah: New Perspectives (Yale UP 1988), Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (Yale UP 2002), and Ben: Sonship and Jewish Mysticism (Continuum, 2007).
Lawyers and Mystics in Medieval Judaism
I distinguish between three major modes of thinking in Judaism: the Biblical, the Rabbinic and the Speculative. Each emerged in different millennia: the first in the first millennium BCE, the second in the first millennium CE, the third in the second millennium CE. While the first deals with two major topics: the sacred history and the commandments, which means what happened and what should be done, the second deals mainly with how it should be done, characteristic of the Rabbinic, legalistic thought. The third mode is characterized by asking other questions: why. Speculative theories emerging during the Middle Ages, address the concerns of the two earlier modes, attempting at supplying rationales for the commandments, within broader religious worldviews.
During my tenure at the Straus Institute I shall concentrate my inquiries to the dynamics of the concatenation between the three modes of Jewish thought, emphasizing the intellectual superstructures that were added upon the legalistic structures, especially by thinkers who were on the one hand legalistic figures and on the other hand Kabbalists or philosophers. I shall be concerned especially with the thought of the anonymous Sefer ha-Qanah, a Byzantine 14th century Kabbalistic commentary on the commandments, and on that of the 16th century R. Joseph Karo.