Old Series: Volume 4, Number 2 (June 1995)

Copyright (c) 1995 Postmodern Jewish Philosophy Network.
All rights reserved.

Office of Jewish Studies, Drew University, Madison, NJ 07940
Peter Ochs, Editor
Roger A. Badham, Assistant Editor
Patricia Glucksman, System Manager
Email Address: POCHS@DREW.EDU
Back issues are archived on worldwideweb:
Access URL “http://www.drew.edu/~pmjp”
Telephone: (201) 408-3222


POSTMODERN JEWISH REASONING(S). How does that sound to you? On May 22,
about eighteen of us joined host Eugene Borowitz for a delightful
conference at Hebrew Union College (NYC) on postmodern Jewish philosophy
and text reading. In-between sessions on Sifre Devarim and Mishnah Eduyot,
we reflected on what to call what we were doing (a practice we have
indulged in only too often in this journal). Philosophers, rabbis, text
scholars, literary folk, we gathered around selections from these texts,
read first in chevrutot, then in the context of background readings on
modern and postmodern pedagogy broadly considered: modes of transmitting
knowledge, that is, and thus of receiving and interpreting foundational
texts. Then we asked what we had been doing _ what patterns of behavior
were displayed? Many kinds of pattern, to be sure, but,if we had to label
the whole collection of them, we tended to agree that “philosophy” was too
determinate a term, even with the “postmodern Jewish” modifier.
“Reasoning(s)” won the hour (the day is too much to ask): a mark that there
were identifiable patterns of discursive behavior here, even if no one
pattern was privileged, nor any single way of decribing the patterns. Some
of us would have been happy with “Reasoning” (singular, but non-imperious
since as vaguely known as the divine word), others more suspicious of any
master(s),would have preferred something like “reasoningsssss….” But we
all tended to acknowledge our being engaged by a process that headed
somewhere and by a dialogue, at once, with one another, with these texts,
and with successive traditions of reading them that now begin to include
our various “postmodern Jewish” discourses.

The text scholars among us may not be perturbed if “philosophy”
per se has less of a hold on us, but it’s an unsettling thought for
students of Maimonides and Rosenzweig among us who are accustomed to
serving their Talmud with two lumps of Aristotle or Kant. In THE BODY
OF FAITH (Harper, 1983), Michael Wyschogrod offers what may prove to
be mediating words:

It is difficult to avoid asking why the Bible does not focus on
reason as [humanity’s] distinguishing characteristic . . . . The
Bible does not know of [the dissociation of matter and mind] . .
and speaks of [human beings] as being created in the image or
likeness of God without expecting that this will be taken
automatically to refer to the nonvisual likeness of an endowment,
such as reason. In addition, the whole framwork of definition is
foreign to the biblical mind, especially when applied to the
being around whom creation revolves . . .

And yet, reason plays a very important role in the Bible.
It is best, at this point, to stop talking about reason and to
begin talking about intelligence. Reason is a philosophical
construct with definite theoretical implications. Intelligence is
a working endowment rather than a theory and can be active in the
absence of a philosophical theory about the rationality of the
universe and the structure of mind that enables it to grasp the
rationality inherent in the world. Intelligence is a quality of
brightness that enables all normal human beings to some extent and
some to an extraordinary extent to grasp relations and
implications in complex situations. There are various forms of
intelligence, and an individual can excel in one and not in
another . . . . (pp. 4-5)

What shall we do, then? Shall we label the Network business PMJ
“Philosophy” and expand our understanding of the term? Try PMJ
“Intelligence?” The latter may get us into more trouble. Here is one vote
for moving to the title PMJ Reasoning [or PMJ Reasoning(s)] and for
beginning to use the term “reasoning” AS what Wyschogrod calls
“intelligence” (so that “reasoning” in his text would mean what
“philosophy” means in ours).

You might call this a call-in editorial. We will print your responses
in the next issues. It seems that calling-in is part of pmj reasoning, as
is dialogue, text study, some philosophic discipline, and gathering
together the way some of us did May 22, and the way we did last year at the
American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting and, hopefully, this year again
at the AAR (Nov 19 or 20 in Philadelphia). The general point of this
paragraph is that PMJ Reasoning may have a personality even if it has no a
priori essence and the personality (ies) may grow through our interactions.
The specific point is to discuss some of these interactions, past and


* AAR Additional Meeting Nov 19 or 20 1995:
The annual Postmodern Jewish Philosophy Network Meeting will offer a
discussion of “Kabbalah and Postmodern Philosophy: Rereading as Rewriting
in Lurianic Scriptural Exegesis,” led by Shaul Magid, Rice University. The
format will be the same one we enjoyed last year, with Aryeh Cohen’s paper.
Shaul’s paper, “Lurianic Exegesis on Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden,”
is included in this issue. We invite you to submit responses to his paper
in time for our late summer issue (submission deadline is Aug 15). We’ll
print the responses in the next issue and set up the AAR session as a study
of the Lurianic Exegesis in the light of Shaul’s paper and your responses.
Responses may be from 1-6pp and may address either the Lurianic text itself
or Shaul’s paper: they may therefore simply read (from out of your various
postmodern perspectives) or also reflect on methods of interpretation
displayed in the various levels of reading. If you may be late with a
response, please let us know so that we can set up the AAR session.

* AJS Meeting, Dec. David Seidenberg has put together a session on
Derrida at this year’s Association of Jewish Studies Annual Meeting.
Anticipating that, we include in this issue “Revelations/Derrida,” a
provocative paper on Derrida by Bernard Zelechow of York University. This
paper may bear some relation to what he is presenting at the AJS. Once
again, we invite you send us responses to Bernie’s paper, to be printed in
our issues up to December _ these may be responses to Bernie’s paper
itself, or to the texts he cites by Derrida. Later, we hope to present an
issue on Derrida, as stimulated by the AJS meeting.

Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion, NYC; hosted by
Eugene Borowitz (assisted by Peter Ochs).

Participants were: Leora Batnitsky, Eugene Borowitz, Perry Dane,
Edward Feld, Robert Gibbs, Michael Gottsegen, Lauren Granite, Larry
Hoffman, Susan Handelman, Gail Labowitz, Aaron Mackler, Peter Ochs,
Vanessa Ochs, William Plevan, Daniel Schwarz, David Seidenberg, Susan

Welcome to a Postmodern Jewish Study Group: with remarks by
Borowitz, Ochs, and Gibbs. Background reading for all sessions: a)
Eugene Borowitz, “Postmodern Judaism, One Theologian’s View”; b) Susan
Handelman: “The Torah of Criticism and the Criticism of Torah,
Recuperating the Pedagogical Moment” Journal of Religion 74#3 (1994):
356-371; c) Mark Schwehn, Exiles from Eden, Religion and the Academic
Vocation in America (Oxford 1993): Chs 1, 6.

First Session: “Remembering the Days of Old”: A discussion of the
Rabbinic Mesoret Self-Described _ Sifre Dvarim Piska 4. Facilitator:
Susan Handelman. Concluding remarks on how we studied: David
Seidenberg. Required Reading: a) Sifre Dvarim Piska # 310, 41, 48, 13,
306; b) Steven Fraade, From Tradition to Commentary (SUNY,1991): Ch 3:
“The Early Rabbinic Sage.”

Second Session: “Rules for Disagreement”: A discussion of Eduyot Perek
#1. Facilitator: Robert Gibbs. Concluding remarks on how studied: Leora
Batnitsky. Assignment for discussion: Propose an outline for how the whole
chapter of Eduyot 1 is redacted (on what basis are these mishnayot
collected, compared and arrayed?).

Third Session: Planning Session for a 1997 International
Conference on Postmodern Jewish Reasoning. Facilitator: Peter Ochs.

* Academy for Jewish Philosophy Annual Meeting: University of
Virginia, June 6-7, with host: David Novak (assisted by Peter Ochs). While
traditionally a forum for studies in modern and medieval Jewish philosophy,
the Academy moved this year in a direction more friendly to the kind of
text-based study the NETWORK has been cultivating. In place of individual
papers (pre-read), all participants were asked to submit 2 page abstracts
on one of the 3 session topics: i) Sanhedrin Perek Helek (session
facilitator, Jeffrey Macy); ii) Eschatology in Jewish Philosophy
(facilitator, Novak); iii) What is Jewish Philosophy? (facilitator, Ochs).
A fourth session was a panel by University of Virginia Faculty in Religious
Studies (Moslem, Protestant biblical theologian, and Catholic mystic on the
place of philosophy in their work). The sessions then moved from text-study
to brief statements/arguments and round-the-table discussion: the most
lively format some of us have seen in the Academy.

Of particular note for postmodern philosophers were the following.

i) Novak’s paper on Eschatology, in which he criticized philosophic
doctrines of immortality of the soul and of eternity as opposed to the
post-foundational and, in his terms, rabbinically sound, doctrines of the
resurrection of the dead and of God’s “everlastingness.” He writes, for
example, that “resurrection of the dead is most consistent with the
anthropology of the Bible. . . . It assumes that life cannot be anything
but embodied. The soul (nefesh) is not a separate substance temporally
housed in flesh (basar ); rather it can be conceived as the range of
relations in which an embodied person (adam) is engaged. The relationship
with God is the upper limit of that range of relations. Therefore, when
that range of relations collapses into the body, the person is dead to all,
including God” (“Jewish Eschatology,” Academy for Jewish Philosophy 1995
Abstracts, pp. 1-2); ii) Papers on “Jewish Philosophy,” by Ze’ev Levy and
“Defining Postmodern Jewish Philosophy,” by Ochs, with responses by Richard
Cohen and others; iii) The fact that most Academy members responded with
great discomfort when asked to describe their methods for conducting Jewish
philosophy and the communities of inquiry to which they belonged. A telling
reply was “I am not limited to any particular community; I belong to
humanity, and there is no limit to what I might wonder about.” The reply
may mark some border between modern and postmodern Jewish inquiries.

The June, 1996 meeting is scheduled for Vanderbilt University,
with host Lenn Goodmann. The topic is “Liberty” (as a socio-political
concept), with preliminary readings on kingship in I Samuel and in
Sanhedrin 20b. NETWORK members may find this meeting of particular
interest. For information, contact Prof. Lenn Goodman, Department of
Philosophy, 111 Furman Hall, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
* Judaism and Postmodernism Conference, Lehigh University, June 19-20,
hosted by Laurence Silberstein (Berman Center for Jewish Studies, 9 West
Packer Ave., Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015-3082:
“ljs2@lehigh.edu”). Reports are not out yet on this gathering, but the
preliminary schedule looked enticing, with papers by Laura Levitt, Hannan
Hever, and Elliot Wolfson, and a discussion of Derrida.

* News About the Postmodern Jewish Philosophy Listserv: As many of
you are well aware, David Seidenberg, of the Jewish Theological Seminary,
has taken over stewardship of Norbert Samuelson’s listerv network, now
called The Postmodern Jewish Network: “pomo@jtsa.edu.” Inviting discussion
within and beyond the purview of “philosophy,” per se, David has attracted
a vigorous series of exchanges over the last three months. The topics of
over 120 postings have ranged from “nature and halakha” to “subjectivity
and community” to “liberal Judiasm in Israel.” Comments have appeared from
over thirty folks, including Alice Bach, Marc Bregman, Charlotte Fonrobert,
Robert Goldenberg, Susan Handelman, Martin Jaffee, Steven Kepnes, Harvey
Shapiro, Jeff Spitzer, Martin Srajek, Laurie Zoloth-Dorfman, etc. Some
NETWORK members may want to redact these discussions into dialogic essays
for this NETWORK and for other journals! (Postmodern reasoning seems also
to include redaction, commentary, and labor.)

This issue features the following sections:

Midrash: Lurianic Exegesis on Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden,” by
Shaul Magid.

Bernard Zelechow, York University.


Copyright notice: Individual authors whose words appear in this Network
retain all rights for hard copy redistribution or electronic retransmission
of their words outside the Network. For words not authored by individual
contributors, rights are retained by the editor of this Network.

Subscription: The NETWORK is sent free of charge to electronic mail
addrresses. Back issues are archived on worldwideweb: access URL
“http://www.drew.edu/~pmjp”. Harcopies cost $6/issue; $12 per volume
(3-4 issues). Send requests and payment to Jewish Studies – PMJP c/o
Peter Ochs, Drew University, Madison, NJ 07940.
Submissions: Electronic mail to: pochs@drew.edu. Disks (Mac or IBM)
Peter Ochs, Drew University, Madison, NJ 07940.


Dan Biber: “I am a psychologist in private practice in Charlotte, NC,
specializing infamily and marital therapy, and I hope to remain so until
managed care completely changes health delivery systems in this country.
For the past 19 years, I have taught two classes a semester – Theories of
Personality, Abnormal Psychology, and Theories of Counseling — at “the
other” Queens College, a small liberal arts school here in Charlotte. My
academic interest is the interface between psychology and religion. My
personal interest is philosophy of religion and biblical studies.”

BerylLevinger: “I am a graduate school professor and consultant in Third World
development issues. Judaically, I have done some graduate work at the
Jewish Theological Seminary and am active in a lay-led Torah study group
that meets weekly. I am currently organizing a retreat where some of the
post-modernist Jewish writings on the nature of God will be explored. Next
spring, I plan to take a leave of absence from my regular work to study
more extensively with Neil Gillman and others at JTS.”

Michael Satlow: “I currently teach Jewish Studies, especially Second
Temple and rabbinic history, literature, and thought, at the University of
Virginia. My primary research interest has been issues of rabbinic
secuality and gender construction, but I am now beginning to consider
other areas of social history, especially Jewish marriage in antiquity. I
am beginning a project of creating a hypertext environment for the
Babylonian Talmud, as a teaching tool.”

Ola Sgurdson: “I am a doctoral student in systematic theology at the
University of Lund, Swenden. My dissertation is on the reception of Karl
Barth’s theology in Swedish theology. I believe that Barth is
misunderstood in Swedish theology and could be more fruitfully understood
if seen in the context of postmodern philosophy. Among postmodern
philosophers, I find Jewish thinkers most interesting, since many of these
are neither nihilistic nor communitarian. Previously I wrote a small book
on moral and political philosophy for the Department of Education and
Educational research at Gothenburg University, Sweden. This takes up the
“problem” of multiculturalism; this means that in the future I have to do
something on theology of religions. I also teach hermenueutics at a
Methodist seminary in Gothenburg, where I live. I belong to the Chruch of
Sweden, a Lutheran church. Besides the articles in this NETWORK, which I
find to be of great interest for me, I would appreciate a section with
presentations on new books on postmodern Jewish philosophy. Information
about them is not very east to get in Sweden.”


From Theosophy to Midrash:
Lurianic Exegesis on Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden

Shaul Magid, Rice University

Excerpted for the NETWORK from a longer study, here is an attempt to
understand the nature of reading as practiced by the Lurianic kabbalists of
16th century Safed. By “reading” I mean how the Lurianic kabbalists
utilized the theosophic system inherited from Sefer Ha-Bahir and more
significantly the Zohar, to re-read or perhaps re-write Scripture.1 I will
not dwell on the important historical discussion of the emergence of the
Lurianic school nor will I discuss the messianic nature of Lurianic kabbala
as a response to the expulsion of 1492. I refer the reader to the various
studies by Gershom Scholem, Isaiah Tishby, Ronit Meroz, Joseph Avivi and
Moshe Idel on this topic.

The uniqueness of Lurianic exegesis emerges when juxtaposed to earlier
exegetical methodologies: the midrashic method of the rabbis, allegorical
interpretation introduced by Philo and later developed by Maimonides2, and
the theosophicmidrashic method of the Bahir and the Zohar. These three
differ from one another but share a common thread when juxtaposed to
Lurianic exegesis. While each tradition of interpretation mentioned may
wander from the base-text or biblical narrative, each retains at least a
nominal concern for the plain-sense meaning of the verses in question,
leaving the text open to alternative readings3. As Elliot Wolfson has
recently argued, even the Zohar, perhaps the most eisogetical of the three,
never closes the text or abandons peshat as a viable and relevant

My claim is that Lurianic kabbala deviates from these traditions by
claiming to transform the text, redeeming it, as it were, from the
pre-redemptive category of peshat as plain-sense meaning. This is not to
invalidate the entire category of peshat. Rather, peshat in Lurianic
exegesis emerges by reversing the entire midrashic program. Whereas the
allegorist, midrashist or medieval kabbalist allows a meta-textual thesis
to emerge from a reading of the base-text (Scripture), Lurianic exegesis
begins with a predetermined meta-text: the theosophical cosmogonycosmology
of rupture-sin-repair [tikkun]. In this way, the Lurianic kabbalist views
Scripture not as the base-text, but as the symbolic rendering of the
meta-text. To understand Scripture is then not to read the symbolic
meta-text out of the narrative _ the method of the Bahir and the Zohar _
but to de-symbolize the narrative and thus reveal its “true” (peshat)
meaning. The Zohar’s categories of peshat, drash and sod become obsolete in
the Lurianic corpus. There is no open-text in Lurianic exegesis, no
“deepening of peshat” or hyperliteralism. To the contrary, this kabbala
imposes an independent and non-exegetical system of quasi-prophetic
authority that imposes itself on Scripture and thus claims to render a
closed-text reading. Daniel Boyarin argues that the midrashic enterprise
“fills in the gaps” of narrative “by means of a hermeneutic of recombining
places of the canonized exemplar into a new discourse.”5 In Lurianic
exegesis, to the contrary, the theosophic “text” _ perceived as the fully
uncovered Torah of Sinai filtered through the Zohar _ fills in the gaps of
Scripture by placing scriptural passages into its extra-scriptural
framework of rupture-sin-repair. This exegesis is drawn from a body of
knowledge that is presented independently of tradition and, as such, cannot
be challenged by tradition: in Betty Roitman’s words, it belongs to a
reading that is “autonomous and invariable, chosen from among what the
kabbalah considers the values founding the world.”6 The Lurianic meta-texts
produced by this exegesis transform the Bible into a symbolic rendering of
the Lurianic cosmos.

Beyond its general significance, the following statement by Alfred
North Whitehead illustrates the Lurianic understanding of the relationship
between base-text (Scripture) and meta-text (theosophy).

Why do we say the word ‘tree’ – spoken or written – is a symbol to
us of trees? Both the word itself and trees themselves enter into
our experience on equal terms; and it would just as sensible,
viewing the question, for the trees to symbolize the word.7

In the context of symbolic reading, one might say that, unlike allegory or
midrash, Lurianic exegesis views Scripture as the symbolic rendering of the
cosmos rather than the other way around: in Whitehead’s example, the
analogy is regarding the actual tree as symbol for the word “tree.”8

The allegorist gets at the deeper meaning by way of the literal
meaning of Scripture. Fraade suggest that Philo, “never claims to have
exhausted the biblical texts’ possible meanings. Even when he favors his
own, final allegorical interpretation over those that have preceded it, he
leaves open the possibility of still other, yet deeper meanings to be
uncovered . . . “9 Maimonides’ concern for the plain-sense meaning of
biblical language in the first part of the Guide exhibits his allegiance to
the base-text even as he offers allegorical interpretations that square
tradition with philosophical speculation.10 The midrashist, using
inner-biblical and inter-textual exegesis as tropes of reading, also trusts
that solutions to the problems posed by the text lie within the text
itself.11 Although theosophic in nature, the Bahir exhibits a similar
pattern.12 While theosophy is more independent in the Zohar and less rooted
in the midrashic wordplay style of the Bahir, Wolfson’s thesis that
conventional peshat still plays a role in the zoharic corpus is
convincing.13 The Zohar remains a pious reader of Scripture, identified
as the Garment of Torah (or exoteric Torah) whose innder “Soul” (or
esoteric Torah) is laid bare through the Zoharic reading.14 For Lurianic
kabbalah, however, these two Torot have become one, since, through its
reading of the Zohar, Lurianic Kabbalah is able to infuse the essence (the
esoteric Torah) into its symbolic forumulation (the exoteric Bible).
Inheriting the Soul of Torah in the Zohar, the Lurianists no longer have
to read Scripture; they may rewrite it, as it were, by desymbolizing it
into the explicit theosophy that is revealed to them. Since the Zoharic
midrash still leaves the Bible intact, as an open-text, the Lurianists
seek to complete the Zoharic repair of Scripture by “redeeming” it from
its symbolic garb.

This attempted “redemption” is illustrated in Lurianic readings
of the sin of Adam and Eve. I will have space in this essay to offer only
brief comments on how the Lurianic exegesis works in the following two

A Word About the Texts: The corpus of Lurianic literature is highly
complex and disorganized. Luria himself wrote almost nothing during his
brief time in Safed. Most of what exists from the Safed circle is the
product of various students, the most prolific and prominent being R.
Hayyim Vital and R. Hayyim Ya’akov Zemah. The foundational texts in the
Lurianic corpus are Etz Hayyim and the Shemonah She’arim, written by R.
Hayyim Vital and edited by his son R. Shmuel Vital in Damascus.15 Most of
Lurianic literature bearing the word Sha’ar in the title comes from the
Vitalian school. Other texts, some of which bear the title Sefer, come from
other members of the circle, the most prominent being R. Meir Poppers, R.
Ya’akov Hayyim Zemah, R. Nathan Shapira, R. Joseph Ibn Tabul, R. Moshe
Zakuto, and R. Israel Sarug.16 The texts presented here come from three
collections, Sha’ar Ha-Pesukim, Sefer Ha-Likkutim and Likkutei Torah, all
of which are running commentaries to the Torah. Sha’ar Ha-Pesukim is one of
the Vitalian Shemonah She’arim. R. Meir Poppers, in his Derekh Etz
Hayyim,17 call Sefer Ha-Likkutim (and Sefer Derushim) part of the “early
edition” the Lurianic corpus. This would make it part of the Vitalian
school as well.18 We know that the first edition of Sefer Ha-Likkutim
(published under that title) was edited by R. Benjamin Ha-Levi, a student
of Vital. Likkutei Torah, first printed in Zolkeiw in 1775 appears to be a
mosaic of various earlier material consisting largely of the second
section of R. Meir Poppers’ Nof Etz Hayyim combined with portions of R.
Ya’akov Zemah’s Ozrot Hayyim, Adam Yashar, and Sefer Derushim.

Text A – The Paradoxical Birth of Adam and Eve, Sefer Ha-Likkutim 5b

Preface: This text attempts to integrate the meta-textual notions of
zimzum and the rupture of the vessels (shvirat ha-kelim) into the biblical
depiction of the birth of Adam and Eve. The characters include the parzufim
(sephirotic clusters) Zeir Anpin and Nukva . They serve as catalysts
between the supernal world and the higher realm of the primordial parents
Abba and Imma, who reside in a realm unaffected by human action or
extraneous forces. Mayyin nukvin [feminine waters] serve to transmit
supernal energy from below to above, facilitating malefemale union in the

Text: [As a result of the rupture] Zeir Anpin (ZA) and Nukva were back
to back. If they were face to face, the kelippot would have grabbed onto
their backs. The mayyim nukvin [that which is elevated as the result of
either the performance of mitzvot or conjugal union] would have risen as
the result of the strength of the dinim which would have taken with them
the kelippot as well . . . However, for ZA and Nukva to unite and thus give
birth to Adam, they had to be face to face, yet this was impossible [for
the reason just explained] . . . What did they do? They passed on their
mayyim nukvin to their respective malkhuiot [the lowest portion of each
parzuf [which has no independent active component and thus remains
stationary] and rose to their palaces [the root of their existence, i.e.,
the place of the parzufim of Abba and Imma]. They rose to their chuppah in
the palace of Abba and Imma where the kelippot have no jurisdiction. There
they united [face to face] as it is said, And the Lord fashioned the rib
(Genesis 2:22).19 This whole episode can be understood with the
introduction just explained . . . Behold: before the birth of Adam and
Eve, the mayyim nukvin of the malkhuiot of ZA and Nukva were not
sufficiently pure. Therefore the mayyim nukvin of Binah [often
interchangeable with Imma] were used for the union in the palace of Abba
and Imma . . . However, as a result [of the use of that higher mayyim
nukvin] Adam and Eve would have emerged too pure and exalted [and thus
unable to perform the tikkun in the kelippot of the world below Yezira].
Therfore, ZA and Nukva had to descend to their original place in order to
bring down the sould that would become Adam and Eve [and thus humanity].
As a result, they had to return back to back to give birth to Adam and
Eve. This is what it means when it is said that Adam and Eve emerged from
ZA and Nukva back to back. If they were able to generate Adam and Eve face
to face, Adam and Eve would have emerged complete and all the worlds would
have been perfected . . .

Text B – Two Adams and the Inevitability of the Sin, Likkutei Torah

Preface: This text attempts to understand the apparent ambiguity in
the sin narrative that accompanies the creation of Eve. It uses a two Adam
theory, which as far as I know is unique to the Lurianic circle.
Kabbalistic tradition, beginning with the Zohar, divides the Garden of Eden
into upper and lower gardens. In Lurianic kabbala, the upper garden is in
the world of Beriah (yesod of Beriah) and the lower garden is in the world
of Asiah (malkhut of Asiah).20 Adam’s aloneness is the result of the
geographical change which takes place from the sin, an act which the text
suggests is decreed through God’s warning.

Text: “The Lord God took Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to
till it and tend it” (Genesis 2:15) And Lord God took Adam of Asiah.
Regarding Adam of Yezira it has already stated, The Lord God planted a
garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there Adam whom he had formed
(Genesis 2:8). Now (Genesis 2:15), it is speaking about Adam of Asiah. This
Adam was taken from [the world of] Beriah and placed in the Garden of Eden
ofYezira21 in order to serve as Nukva [the feminine] to Yezira. This is what
it means to till it and tend it [lit. to work it and guard it]. It is in
this garden [the world of Yezira] that work [avodah] and protection
[shemirah] are necessary because in this place [Yezira] the kelippot have
power. This is the nature of the warning, Of every tree of the garden you
may eat; you [Adam] can repair and thus benefit from all the other realms;
but as for the tree of knowledge good and evil, you must not eat of it
(Genesis 2:16,17); as the kelippot benefit and gain sustenance from this
tree. This verse is juxtaposed to the verse, it is not good for Adam to be
alone (Genesis 2:18) in the infinitive. As soon as this was said [lit. as
soon as the word went from His mouth], it was inevitable that he would eat,
sin and descend below . . . This is what is meant that it is not good for
Adam to be alone. This refers to Adam of Yezira, who would be alone without
his Nukva (Adam of Asiah). Until now, it was intended that the entire world
of Asiah would be Nukva of Yezira. Now [after Genesis 2:18] it was
necessary that Asiah22 would descend below [Yezira] and thus it would not
be good for Yezira [Adam of Yezira] to be alone without his Nukva.
Therefore, God “placed the cure before the disease.” So the Lord God case
a deep sleep upon Adam of Yezira. And God fashioned; this was the Binah of
Yezira and is the meaning of, and He fashioned [lit.built, from the root
boneh, similar to binah]. And Adam of Yezira said, This one at last
[lit.this time], Is bone of my bone And flesh of my flesh. Until now, his
Nukva was from another world below him, which is Asiah. But, this time
bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. For this (Zot) one shall surely be
called Women . . . And he ate from the tree (Genesis 3:6) This refers to
Adam of Asiah and his Nukva who descended below. This is the meaning of,
they made themselves loincloths, that is, garments. This is the physical
world. On this it is said, thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18) . . . . And
the Lord God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife, and clothed
them with the garment of the physical world.

Another interpretation: It is possible to say more on, “it is not good
for Adam to be alone” as an infinitive referring to Adam of Asiah. Until
now, all of the worlds were back to back. God wanted to repair Adam of
Asiah through nesirah23 [lit. division referring to, fashioning the rib]
which would have repaired all of the worlds. Therefore He said, I will make
him a helper k’negdo [opposite him]. Opposite him in the front [face to
face] and not the [back to back].24 On the verse, for as soon as you eat
of it, you shall die (Genesis 2:17). As soon as this went from His mouth it
was inevitable that it would be done and Adam would die . . . Therefore it
says, it is not good for Adam to be alone, it would be impossible for him
to reproduce (kayyam) as a man. At least he should reproduce with one of
his own.25 Therefore, he needed a women. Also, if it was inevitable for
him to eat and die he would do so without a woman.26 Therefore, after the
nesirah, “new faces” arrived.27 There was never any indication of the
possibility of his not sinning.28 Therefore, it says, if he is worthy she
will be a helper (ezer), if he is not worthy, she will be against him
(k’negdo).29 He was not worthy in that he had relations with her at the
wrong time, before Shabbat. Thus it says, and they were both naked
(Genesis 2:25) They saw the serpent involved in a sexual act and they
desired them.30 This is the meaning of, and they perceived they were naked
[arumim] (Genesis 3:7). As the sages said, 31 they saw the serpent
involved in conjugal relations and they desired them. Thus it says, and
they felt no shame (hitbosheshu), the serpent seduced them because they
felt no shame. Shabbat contains the same letters as shame (BShT). If they
would have waited until Shabbat, (i.e., if they felt shame [BShT]), the
serpent would have had no effect on them. They did not wait until Shabbat
(ShBT) which is (BShT),32. Therefore the serpent came upon them. The
serpent was the shrewdest (arum) . . .Genesis 3:1). Since they sinned they
saw themselves naked (arumim), that is, they were no longer able to
receive the light of Yezira and thus remained without a garment and
descended below. . . Then they became more physical, and made for
themselves loincloths.

The following section consists of brief explanations and
extrapolations on each text. The interpretations are my own and should not
be seen in any way as the definitive reading of the material. As for the
postmodern implications of this material, I defer to those whose training
makes them more equipped to make such determinations.

Text A: This text reflects the basic motif of Lurianic kabbala: cosmic
vulnerability resulting from the rupture of the vessels (shvirat ha-kelim).
When the Lurianists describe the birth of Adam and Eve, they are replaying
their understanding of the paradoxical relationship between light and
vessels in the Lurianic descirption of creation. The cosmic trope of “back
to back” and “front to front”33 reflects the Lurianic paradox of a union that
cannot be maintained.34 This cosmic paradox is then replayed in the unity and
disunity of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were conceived in an unnatural place
(the palace of Abba and Imma) and birthed in the proper location but in an
unnatural posture (back to back). As a result, they simultaneously contain
the loftiness of their conception and the alienation of their birth.

Other Lurianic texts make a strong connection between shvirat ha-kelim
(creation) and the sin (human action). According to these texts, the first
six days of creation constituted an organic process of tikkun or healing
which would have repaired shvirat ha-kelim and brought creation to its
conclusion had the sin not occurred. From this text, it appears that the
unnatural character of their conception and birth destined Adam and Eve to
act in a way that would replay the shvirah as sin, thus interrupting the
organic process of natural tikkun and placing the fate of creation on their
shoulders. For the Bible, humanity stands at the center of creation. The
Lurianic text plays out this theme in striking fashion by situating the
birth of humanity in the dysfunctional dynamic of the cosmos. So situated,
humanity is destined to reflect this dysfunctional dynamic in both its
physical and spiritual existences. At the basis of human existence is a
delicate balance of union and retreat (razo v’shov): a subtle re-reading of
what it means to be created, “in the image of God!”

Text B: This text reiterates more explicitly the inevitability of the
sin but does so by introducing a provocative theory of two Adams: Adam of
Yezira and Adam of Asiah. At first blush this appears to be a hermeneutic
tool to solve the apparent repetition of Genesis 2:8 and 2:15. Something
more profound is at work here, however. Adam of Asiah is really the higher
Adam as he descends from the world of Beriah (which stands above the world
of Yezira, where the second Adam resides). In the first part of the
narrative, Adam of Asiah serves as the feminine partner of Adam as Yezira
(his Nukva) as the world of Asiah has yet to become independent and serves
as Nukva (Malkhut) of the world of Yezira. It is Adam of Asiah who receives
the divine warnings35 not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge (Genesis 2:16,17),
since he stands on the cusp of the kelippot and is thus susceptible to
them. Adam of Yezira remains aloof and disengaged. When we move to Genesis
2:18 (it is not good for man to be alone), the narrative switches back to
Adam of Yezira, since the divine decree (Genesis 2:16,17) will inevitably
result in the descent of Adam of Asiah (the feminine partner of Adam of
Yezira) and leave Adam of Yezira without a partner. The verses dealing with
the creation of Eve refer to Adam of Yezira (who now accepts Eve as his
true wife [Genesis 2:23]) . This mythic interpretation falls under the
midrashic rubric of God’s, “creating the cure before the disease.” The
temporary “wife” of Adam (Adam of Asiah) is replaced by the permanent wife
(Eve) who shares the world of Yezira with her husband and remains secure
from the extraneous matter below.

I am struck above all by two features of this highly charged and
bizarre reading of Genesis 2: the androgynous nature of Adam of Asiah, who
is the female for Adam of Yezira and the male for his own Nukva ; and Eve’s
being created to fill a gap created by the sin, rather than emerging as the
culprit of the sin. The alternate interpretation offers a different twist:
the Eve verses refer to Adam of Asiah, and Eve is created as the result of
human mortality (one of the necessary consequences of the sin) in order for
humanity to procreate “according to their species.” It follows from this
reading that, if Adam were not destined to eat of the tree (and thus die),
the female would not be necessary: which may imply that the status of the
female in the redeemed world is highly ambiguous. I am inclined to think
that, according to the Lurianists, the female is a temporary creation to be
integrated into the male when procreation is no longer necessary.36

The alternate interpretation offers a highly suggestive, zoharic
image: witnessing conjugal relations between the serpent and some
undetermined partner, Adam and Eve are aroused to imitate their actions.37
Such a correlation between the serpent and Adam/Eve may be implied in the
Bible’s applying the word arum to both of them: “naked,” in Gen 2:25, 3:7
and “shrewd” in 3:1. Thus, the tone of Genesis 2:25 _ “the two of them were
naked . . . yet they felt no shame” _ goes from one of praise to one of
caution. Shame (BShT) and Shabbat (ShBT) become interchangeable in order to
show that the sin was the result of the lack of consciousness of Shabbat (
they had no BShT, they had no [sense of regard for] Shabbat). The
dysfunction of the cosmos in Text A is manifest in the misappropriated
letters B and Sh which would have been rectified if the organic (natural)
process of tikkun had completed its course. Hence 3:7, they perceived they
were naked, can be read to mean that they became arum (schrewd) like the

Both texts illustrate how Lurianic exegesis begins with a “meta-text,”
or a body of knowledge independent of Scripture but also revealed at Sinai
along with the exoteric Torah. For the Lurianists, the biblical narrative
is thus the symbolic representation of this meta-text. Only by identifying
the latter, and thus desymbolizing the text, can the kabbalist display the
true meaning of the former. The question of how the Lurianists read
Scripture is part of the larger question of reading as worship among
kabbalists in general. For the Lurianic kabbalists, who view worship in
general as redemptive in nature, Talmud Torah (reading) is an act which
redeems the text. Although an in-depth study of this phenomenon is beyond
the scope of this short essay, the reader of Lurianic texts should at least
be cognizant of the fact that, for the Lurianic kabbalists, reading serves
the same end as the performance of any mitzvah. What differs may be that
other mitzvot repair the supernal world whereas reading repairs the text.

1 On the notion of interpretation as re-writing Scripture, see P.S.
Alexander, “Retelling the Old Testament” in It is Written: Scripture
Citing Scripture: Essays in Honor of Barnabas Lindars, D.A. Carson
and H.G.M. Williamson, eds.(Cambridge, 1988): 99-121 and M. Fishbane,
“Inner-Biblical Exegesis: Types and Strategies of Interpretation in
Ancient Israel” in Garments of Torah (Bloomington, 1992): 3-19.

2 See Scholem, Origins of the Kabbala (Princeton, 1962): 386,387, “The
kabbalistic mysteries of the Torah are altogether different qualitatively
from those of which the philosophers speak. In philosophical usage,
especially in the works of Maimonides and his disciples, “secret” means
that which can be deduced speculatively by the application of rational
principles to the literal text of Scripture of the Aggadah. Sod, for
the philosophers, is the achievement of thought in disclosing a level
of meaning that unveils a rational truth contained in the world of
Scripture…In brief, sod is a rational concept determined by allegory.”
Cf. Jon Whitman, Allegory: The Dynamics of an Ancient and Medieval
Technique (Cambridge Ma., 1987).

3 For a discussion on the “open-text” nature of classical kabbalistic
exegesis see, B. Roitman, “Sacred Language and Open Text” in Midrash and
Literature, G.H. Hartman, S. Budick eds. (New Haven, 1986): 141-175
and R. Schatz, “Kabbala: Tradition or Innovation” [Hebrew] Masu’uot:
Studies in Kabbala and Jewsih Thought in Memory of Professor E. Gottlieb
(Jerusalem, 1994).

4 E. Wolfson, “Beautiful Maiden Without Eyes: Peshat and Drash in
Zoharic Hermeneutics” in The Midrashic Imagination, M. Fishbane, ed. (Albany,
1993):155-204, idem. “The Hermeneutics of Visionary Experience:
Revelation and Interpretation in the Zohar,” Religion 18 (1988). On Philonic
allegory open text, see David T. Runia, “The Structure of Philo’s
Allegorical Treatises: A Review of Two Recent Studies and Some Additional
Comments,” Vigiliae christianae 28 (1984); T.H. Tobin, The Creation of Man:
Philo and the History of Interpretation (Washington, D.C., 1983) and S.
Fraade, From Tradition to Commentary (Albany, 1991): 1-25 and notes.

5 Intertextuality and Midrash(Indiana, 1971): 40.

6 “Sacred Language and Open Text,” in Midrash and Literature, Hartman and
Budick eds. ( New Haven, 1986): 166-67.

7 A.N. Whitehead, Symbolism and its Meaning (Virginia, 1927): 11.

8 This seems obvious in light of the language theory of early
kabbala, especially the influence of Sefer Yezira, However, Sefer Yezira
is not an exegetical text and thus presents its theory of language largely
outside the purview of Scripture. Cf. P. Hayman, “Some Observations on
Sefer Yesira: (1) It’s Use of Scripture” Journal of Jewish Studies
(1984): 168-184, Scholem, “The Name of God and the Linguistic Theory of the
Kabbala” Diogenes 79 (1972): 59-80 and 80 (1972): 164-194 and J. Dan, “The
Language of Creation and its Grammar,” Tradition und Translation
(BerlinNew York, 1994): 42-63.

9 Fraade, From Tradition to Commentary: 8,9.

10 Cf. S. Rosenberg, “Maimonides as a Commentator on Scripture”
[Hebrew] Mekhkarei Yerushalayim 1 (1980).

11 Cf. M. Fishbane, “Inner-Biblical Exegesis: Types and Strategies of
Interpretation in Ancient Israel” in Garments of Torah (Indiana,
1989):3-19 and D. Weiss-Ha-Livni, Peshat and Drash (New York, 1991).

12 A good example can be found in Ha-Bahir # 50 on Proverbs 25:2, The
Glory of God is to hide a word.

13 See above note 4.

14 Zohar 2.99a; Cf. D, Cohen-Alloro, The Secret of the Garment in the
Zohar [Heb], (Jerusalem, 1987): 69ff.

15 For a general bibliographical outline of Vital’s writings, see G.
Scholem, Kabbala (New York, 1974) pp. 444-448.

16 A good example of this distinction may be the anonymous Sefer
Ha-Gilgulim, first published in Frankfort, 1684, and Vital’s Sha’ar
Ha-Gilgulim, part of the Shemoneh She’arim, published in 1875. There are
many examples of Lurianic literature from the Safed circle which do
not conform to this broad categorization. Cf. R. Moshe Yonah, Kanfei
Yonah, R. Joseph Ibn Tabul, Drush Hefzi Bah and R. Israel Sarug Sod

17 Karetz,1782: 57, 69

18 For a more comprehensive bibliographical analysis of the Lurianic
corpus, see J. Avivi, Binyan Ariel (Jerusalem, 1987); Ronit Meroz,
Redemption in the Lurianic Teaching [Hebrew] (dissertation, Hebrew
University, 1988) and R. Ya’akov Hillel’s Preface to his edition of R.
Hayyim Ya’akov Zemah, Kehillat Ya’akov (Jerusalem).

19 This is a reference to the nesirah or separation of the hermaphrodite
Adam into two independent genders. According to this, Adam was created
with two genitalia, the male in the front and the female in the back.
In order to procreate he had to be separated to allow for sexual
union. Cf. Sha’ar Ha-Pesukim: 22d,23a where a similar formulation is
given for the initial emanation of the parzufim Abba and Imma.

20 Cf. Pri Etz Hayyim: 81d-82b.

21 This is the upper garden, referred to as the garden of Beriah. It is
sometimes termed the garden of Yezira in that yesod of Beriah extends into
the world of Yezira. Alternatively, the upper garden is called yesod of
Beriah before the sin and Yezira after the sin. For yet another reading
see, Sha’ar Mamrei Rashbi: 36b where the upper garden is called Nukva of

22 It appears from this that Asiah follows Adam of Asiah in his
descent below. Therefore, Asiah which was before the sin Nukva of Yezira
(and thus Nukva for Adam of Yezira) becomes severed from Adam of Yezira.
Thus he is left without a mate.

23 The concept of nesirah is complex in Lurianic literature. Here it
refers specifically to the division of Adam in the creation of Eve, but it
serves as a fundmental point in Lurianic cosmology. For some examples, see
Etz Hayyim, Sha’ar Ha-Kelalim, Chapter 13, Sha’ar Ha-Kavannot, drush Rosh
Ha-Shana 1, p. 91ab, and drush 8, p. 98b, Sha’ar Mamrei Rashbi, p. 65 and
Sha’ar Ha-Pesukim p. 23b.

24 This is obviously in reference to Genesis Rabba which views Adam
before the separation as “two faces – back to back” (du parzufim)

25 This may refer to Genesis Rabba which has Adam having sex with all
the animals until Eve was created.

26 This also seems to imply that woman emerges after the decree of
mortality is rendered. Rather than seducing him to sin, which is a more
common rabbinic interpretation, she exists so that the species can continue
to exist.

27 The meaning of “new faces” is unclear. It may refer to Eve and Adam,
who are considered “new” creations after the nesirah. The result of the
nesirah is that they become two independent entities who can unite “face to
face” and thus procreate. After his consciousness (mohin) rises into the
womb of Imma which yields Eve, he receives “new consciousness” (mohin
hadashim) after which he awakens. This idea appears throughout the Lurianic

28 Therefore the creation of Eve already implied the sin of eating from
the tree. An implicit distinction is made here between the decree of
mortality and the sexual sin of Adam and Eve. Only the latter was the
result of Adam and Eve’s actions.

29 Rashi uses this rabbinic reading as peshat in the verse.

30 It’s not clear who the “them” refers to. Alternative Lurianic readings
of this episode have the serpent having relations with Lilith, which Adam
and Eve witness and are subsequently aroused toward each other.

31 This is referring to the Zohar, which is often referred to as Hazal
in Lurianic texts.

32 The implication is that Shabbat is the correct arrangement of the
letter BShT. This was the component of creation that remained to be
repaired in the afternoon of the sixth day. The re-reading of Genesis
(2:25), the two of them were naked…yet they felt no shame, is quite
remarkable. Conventional interpretations view this phenomenon in a positive
light, the lack of shame as the absence of desire. R. Meir Poppers turns it
on its head. Because they felt no shame (BShT) they were seduced by the
serpent. Their nakedness (arumim) is thus likened to the schrewdness (arum)
of the serpent. Their mistake was not to wait until shame became Shabbat,
whereby their nakedness (arumim) and likeness to the serpent, would

34 The intertext of this image may be Psalms 139:5, Back and front You
formed me.

35 The back to back, front to front motif may very well be drawn from
the midrashic image of the male and female cherubim’s in the Temple,
whose position reflected the status of the covenental relationship between
God and the Jewish People.

36 According to this rendering, these verses are not warnings but
divine decrees. The fact that they were uttered in the infinitive is highly
charged for the Lurianic exegete. Thus, the serpent’s statement, you are
not going to die (Genesis 3:4) is not seductive but rather a direct
challenge to the divine decree.

37 This theory has been recently argued by Elliot Wolfson in
earlier kabbalistic traditions. See his Circle in the Square (Albany,
1995). A reading in Likkutei Torah has Lillith as the serpent’s sexual
partner, evoking the classical image of Lillith as the demonic jealous
female who is constantly trying to destroy the union of Adam and Eve.



Bernard Zelechow, York University (Toronto)

This brief synopsis is an appraisal of Derrida’s later works. The
emphasis is on his overtly autobiographical writings and the implications
of these essays for Derridian interpretation. Is there a new Derrida? Or,
is it all a matter of where one is placed? Can one write autobiography
masked as textual commentary? Do intimations of mortality bring forth
confession or, as Derrida would have it, “circumfession?” Derrida’s first
project explored the possibility of first philosophy. Could philosophy be
propositionless? Could philosophy ground the negative in identity?
Derrida’s work exposed two heterogeneous systems, ontological and
grammatical, thereby refocussing criticism on the exclusivity of textuality
and its corollaries, transcription and transformation. The projects’
results are dense scholastic and Talmudic commentaries that demonstrate
mournfully the logical impossibility of doing the thing that he loves,

Derrida is a perceptive, witty reader of texts. That, however, should
not blind the reader to the simple conceptual apparatus that he manipulates
so subversively. The “logical” canon of metaphysics turned on its head
shapes the Derridian discourse. If the tradition of metaphysics from Plato
to Hegel moved from ontological ground to the history of philosophy,
Derrida re/moves from the history of philosophy to the impossibility of
ontology. Appropriately, Derrida espouses a position that falls between
literature and philosophy. Strategically, he substitutes hermeneutical
canons for logocentrism. Instead of a universe, he posits an aesthetic
text. Metaphors replace objects, difference/differance supersede identity.
Derrida undermines the traditional ascription of self-identity of texts by
“showing” the undecidability of textual meaning.

Derrida’s later work focuses on the grammatical nature of personal
pronouns, the last bastion of presence and self-identity. Is there anything
in a name? Does speaking it take precedence over writing it? Can you speak
it “correctly?” Do I maintain authority in speaking my own name? Writing
it? Derrida shows that even personal pronouns lack transparency and
presence. There is nothing “naturally” inviolable in a name, when written
names are part of the train of signifiers signifying death, the author’s
death, the death of the self. Derrida’s work leads to the edge of the

Incongruously, denying the inviolability of personal pronouns leads
Derrida to focus on personal history. It is all a matter of where one
begins. Derrida authors this Kierkegaardian phrase. In Acts of Literature
he announces without amplification that his work is autobiographical, that
his writing is a struggle to create a personal literary-historical
communication. Derrida’s openness about his intentions (yes, intentions)
distinguishes these essays from the earlier works.

Acts of Literature opens with an interview entitled “Acts as
Literature.” The title suggests unambiguously Derrida’s belief that
literature is a moral doing in the world for writer and reader. It becomes
for him, as for Kafka before him, a matter of life and death. In what
appears to be a reversal of early positions, Derrida asserts that
undecidability is a call for responsible reading/writing. The dangerous
supplement (residue) is paradoxically what make undecidability a moral
category. Like Kierkegaard Derrida proclaims the call to decision.
Ironically decidability is transfigured undecidability.

Derrida’s justification for privileging literature morally is its
singularity and uniqueness. Literature bears the mark/ and we can remark/
of a signature and a date. Nonetheless, Derrida maintains a bond with his
philosophical orientation. Literature’s essential particularity makes
reading impossible. The singular cannot bet ranslated. However, Derrida
insists that the impossibility of translation makes translatability a
necessity. His double-edged definition allows him to insist that the
uniqueness of a literary text and the singularity of its context insures
its cryptesia. Translated, Derrida means that knowing is a partial
interpretation of the infinite totality which remains, must remain, opaque.
The writer joins the reader in beginning where s/he begins, is placed where
s/he is placed.

Appropriately in these essays, Derrida’s metaphysic transcends the
demonstration of unreadability. Literature is, in what Buber called
existence, the in-between. This literary in-between is autobiography.
Literature, he hopes, is what he does. All reading/writing that is literary
is autobiographical. All philosophical writing is really autobiographical
and potentially literary. For philosophy to think otherwise is bad faith.
But Derrida insists that philosophy by definition, to be authentic, must
always be in bad faith. The last disclosure focuses sharply on what
Derrida’s project has been from the beginning; that is, to undermine the
logical, eternal, rational, absolute, universal with its opposites, the
singular, autobiographical, historical, and contextually dependent
communication. The universal proclaims the transparency of its truths while
the autobiographical exemplifies opacity in the crypt of persons, persona,
masks necessitating translation (interpretation).

Derrida reveals the meaning of autobiography/ literature in an
astonishing joint project with Geof Bennington. Bennington attempts a
positivist reading of Derrida. To what extent can Bennington encompass
Derrida’s truth? Derrida’s double contrapuntal contribution demonstrates
the impossibility of Bennington’s task. He offers his “circumfession” with
commentary on St. Augustine’s Confessions. Its theme is, literally,
metaphorically, religiously, culturally, creatively, circumcision. The
circumfession confirms Acts of Literature and illuminates the project on
blindness and his political statements about the Maasstricht Treaty. It
authenticates Derrida’s commitment to autobiographical writing. In
hyperbolic writing, Derrida reveals (conceals) that his act of writing
transfers blood to ink. Writing is circumcision and autobiography is
prayer. While Derrida assures us that confessions have nothing to do with
truth, that confessions lie, and he is the greatest liar, the links he
makes between circumcision, the sign of Jewishness and the absence of his
Hebrew name on his “baptismal certificate,” points to a truth at the core
of his existence.

The “old” Derrida remains present in the circumfession. His themes are
creative repetitions similar to a Nietzschean eternal recurrence. The
repeated sameness is different each time. Derrida sheds profuse metaphoric
and literal tears to illuminate his unarticulated autobiographical agenda.
First, identity, the metaphysical self-identity is more than a
philosophical canon in his life. It signifies autobiographical and cultural
trauma, difference/ differance in Derrida’s worldview. Second, the reader
learns the truth of Kierkegaard’s phrase that everything depends on where
one is placed. The circumfession discloses as truths/lies, the tale, so he
says, of the child, Derrida, unconscious of his Jewishness, expelled
suddenly from the Garden of French Catholic culture by the Vichy regime. It
reveals the promise, disappointment and compulsion for Derrida from bearing
a variant of the Hebrew name, Elijah. Circumcision, the dominant and
infinitely repeated theme is not only an “external” sign of election as in
Augustine, but also the central event of Derrida’s life. It is the
undecidable of his life. It is his metaphor for the task of writing, the
exclusion from his beloved French classical culture, the weight of a Jewish
past, the guilt of a non-Jewish future (his sons remain uncircumcised), a
failed conversion, an incomplete circumcision.

It is all a matter of where one is placed. Athens and Jerusalem make
up Derrida’s worldview. But it isn’t Levinas’ Jerusalem. Nor is it
classical Athens. The “circumfession” reveals an ever present equivocal
Jerusalem that subverts the Derridian Athens. It expresses the depths of
ambivalence, tension, love-hate, Derrida feels about a wanting Judaism and
a betraying French Catholicism.

His mother’s terminal illness and his bout with paralytic Lyme Disease
provides the arras-like context of the circumfession. Ambiguous identity,
personal and metaphysical, dominates every page. Why did his parents have
him circumcised but raise him without religious identity? Or so he says!
Why the negative inscription of difference, without ontological meaning?
The complaint is hurled primarily at his mother. The text displays anger,
attempts to explain his mother’s, all mothers’ action, as love,
protectiveness, necessary sacrifice. But the accusation against his mother
remains the link to Latin Catholicism. Motherhood, paradoxically ties
Derrida to his ambivalent relationship to St. Augustine. Derrida’s tearful
agonized rhetoric reveals his belief that he is caught between two
unfulfilled signs, two mothers. Circumcision marks him but is a failed
sign. His mother’s attitude toward Jewishness contrasts ambivalently with
Augustine’s Monica. For Monica, Augustine’s Christian conversion (the
circumcision of the heart) was complete. It conveyed identity, presence.
According to Derrida Georgette (his mother), had him marked, but suppressed
the sign: the absence of his Hebrew name on his birth certificate. To add
insult to the injury, Derrida is marked by the name of the messianic sign.
Derrida understands circumcision as a wound, a wound with a difference, one
engendering guilt. Even if you, the reader don’t make the association,
Derrida does. But Derrida’s complaint calls for a sceptical response. If
he blames his mother he is also thankful. He reveals that conversion means

Derrida writes enigmatically, in riddles, hyperbolically. He repeats
that confessions are lies. But he is too devoted to Nietzsche for us to
believe him. Lies tell their own truth. His complaint about his natural
mother is only the half of it. His identity is at stake. Derrida protests
that he is not a marranos _ neither Jew nor Christian. He says this truth
emerges from the innermost recesses of his consciousness. But Marranos did
not speak their loss. The comparison is both odious and full of pathos.
Circumcision and loss _ all spoken in the same breath with the compulsive
repetition of the loss of innocence resulting from his expulsion from the
lycee during the Petain regime _ point to the loss of another mother:
Latin-French Catholic culture _ Marianne not Georgette. His expulsion from
the lycee during the Vichy regime is the metaphoric excision or
circumcision. In a candid moment Derrida acknowledges hyperbolically that
his revenge is the destruction of a “world” in the name of truth. But
Derrida lies to himself. The pain of excision, expulsion, loss, becomes the
rationale for positively averring the circumcision of his beloved sons. But
is this one more example of Derrida’s famed blind spots? Does he believe
that by sparing his sons the physical marking that he has excised the
metaphoric marking? How, with his obsession, could that be possible? What,
we may wonder, do his sons accuse him of? He hints but does not say.

This circumfession dissimulates. It is undecidable whether Derrida is
blind to what he says or is disingenuous. Derrida says that he shed all
things Jewish. The undercurrent is that it is too late. But too late for
what, for whom? What did he have to rid himsel fof? Yet again, he accuses
his parents of failing to give Jewish content to his life. But, in another
work, Memories of the Blind, Derrida alludes cryptically to knowledge of
Jewish practices. He tells us that his father performed the mitzvah of
presiding over the chevra kaddusha (burial society). Moreover, in the
circumfession he describes the act of “schlagging kappures.” Some Jews and
most gentile readers wouldn’t know what this means. Derrida’s knowledge of
arcane customs doesn’t guarantee a religious life but suggests lived
experience. But would a gentile reader understand anything beyond a picture
of a decapitation? Are Jews barbaric? Do we face a self-hating Jew being
either consciously malicious or one who is unaware? Derrida gives some
warrant for the questions. Immediately after describing “kappures” he
portrays his attendance at a Yom Kippur service in a New York “reformed”
synagogue. The tone, and the lacunae suggests that attendance did nothing
for his spiritual life. The quotation marks around “reformed” in context
suggest illegitimacy.

“Reformed” is a curious word. There is no form of Judaism called
“Reformed.” There is a branch of Judaism called Reform. Its name suggests
an ongoing process of change sometimes toward tradition, often away from
it. There is a reformed church movement, implying completion. Is this
locution a slip of the pen or is Derrida being nasty? Or, does the reader
face a Derrida who unconsciously identifies “authentic” Judaism with what
he rejects as “too late”- in his case sephardic practice. Reform truly
undermines his postJewish vulnerability. It is much harder to reject
something that aims to incorporate contemporary Jewish sentiment than
something that appears archaic and remote to the postmodern mind.

A chance comment at a conference on the Final Solution sets the stage
metaphorically for his most dramatic true/false confession. A young “idiot”
asks Derrida what he did to help the Jews during the Holocaust. Stung to
the core, after all Derrida had been expelled from his French Catholic
cultural Eden merely for being Jewish, Derrida realizes suddenly that the
student didn’t know that he, Derrida, is a Jew. This comes as a surprise
to Derrida, just as cultural anti-semitism of the left surprised him! How,
one thinks, can the person who argues about undecidability, be so
surprised? The reader hadn’t noticed anything specifically Jewish in
either his choice of subject matter or his language. Perhaps Derrida didn’t
know that himself until . . . .

Derrida’s truth about himself is ambivalent. He attacks his Jewish
contemporaries who, having suffered similar indignity now reclaim their
Jewishness, through circumcision, learning and practice. We infer that
Derrida believes them to be inauthentic. He concludes his circumfession
with the extraordinary statement that he represents what is left of
Judaism. He understands his career as a revenge on French Catholic culture.
He says ” . . . and the last of the Jews that I still am is doing nothing
other than destroying the world on the pretext of making truth . . . ” It
is unlikely accidental that he then identifies with the Grail. His
ambivalence emerges again. Derrida undoubtedly knows Levi-Strauss’
interpretation of it. Levi-Strauss’ view subverts the Gentile world view.
Hei dentifies the Grail with the Jewish myth of incest aborted (theJesus
story) as opposed to the Greek incest Oedipal tale. Leslie Fiedler makes
the final leap and identifies the Grail with the foreskin severed during
circumcision. Even if Derrida never heard of Fiedler, I am sure he would
appreciate Fiedler’s reading on the subject.

Although Derrida denies the possibility of truthful contextual
reading, paradoxically, the “circumfession” provides just such a reading
strategy. It addresses the issues of placement and intertextuality. Geoff
Bennington suggests that the agony of Jewishness revealed circumfessionally
does not mean that Derrida writes Jewish philosophy. Basically Bennington
is correct. But Bennington underestimates the importance of the hurt
expressed by Derrida about the betrayal of Latin Christian culture and
Jewish modes of thought. It would be fruitless to seek coded Jewish
messages in Derrida’s writings. Significantly, however, from the very
earliest essays Derrida attacks logocentrism as ethnocentricity. Moreover,
his intellectual autobiography suggests something of a relation to his
personal life. This, notwithstanding his assertion that the autobiography
is not the same as the life. There is a connection. Derrida’s love of Latin
Christian culture is tinged by suspicion caused by betrayal. The clarity
and lightness of that culture is subject to the sly marginal suspicious
light of marranos consciousness. It is no wonder that Derrida’s favourite
authors should include Nietzsche, the lapsed Christian at the radical edge;
Kafka, the writer twice removed from Latin Catholic culture _ a Jew, a
minority within a minority, writing in minority language (German), in a
host culture radically opposed to the Western metaphysical identity; and
Joyce, a self-imposed marginalized Irishman who fancied himself the
expression of the Jewish condition. His three heros all seek a “home,” a
home that represents a new condition. Nietzsche sought it in the logic of
music; Joyce, in the deconstruction and reconstruction of English (he
rejected Gaelic); and Kafka, at the end of his life, in the possibilities
of Judaism.

It is a matter of where one is placed, where one begins. Derrida’s
questions are all pseudo-questions, unanswerable questions. Does Derrida
ask these questions repeatedly because he remains blind to their
impossibility or because Latin Christianity is blind? The answer is truly
undecidable. Derrida asks the question again and again and always comes to
recognize the impossibility of rendering a judgement. But he never changes
the question. Derrida must live the paradoxes of his marranos cultural
inheritance. Judaism balances the unitary sovereignty (identity) in Latin
Catholic metaphysics with the divided sovereignty of Hebrew biblical
culture (covenant), Latin closure with Jewish intellectual openness. True,
the metaphysical self is an impossibility, but the paradoxical biblical
self is absurd but existent; the philosopher’s God isn’t present, but the
biblical God is paradoxically infinitely present and infinitely removed.
Philosophy cannot be read, while the biblical texts invite interpretation
(or, in Derrida’s language, translation). Notwithstanding Derrida’s
revelations, he remains blind to the possibilities of the universality of
biblical insight in face of ethnocentric logocentrism.

Perhaps, Derrida transcends ambivalence (as far as transcendence is
possible for him) in his late commentary on Kant. In this work, Derrida
defends enlightenment critique against contemporary mystogogues. Critique
and deconstruction are the same, with the added touch of Jewish irony and
Nietzschean passion. Like the minor prophet whose words close the Hebrew
canon, Derrida offers consolation without reconciliation. He offers an
apocalypse without apocalypse, a closure without end, and an end without
end. Derrida gives us an openness and a sanctified task.

” The end approaches, now it is too late to tell the truth about the
apocalypse. But what are you doing, all of you will insist, to what ends do
you want to come when you come to tell us, ‘here now, let’s go, come, the
apocalypse, its finished, I tell you this, that’s what’s happening.’ Is
that not the final end, the ultimate apocalypse?”


responses to Shaul Magid’s paper are due August 15. Plan to join us at
the AAR.

paper are welcome, from now through mid-autumn.


“ALPER@IX.NETCOM.COM” Janice Alper, JES, Atlanta, Ga.
“BRADARTSON@AOL.COM” Brad Artson,Congregation Eilat, CA
“V5345E@TEMPLEVM.BITNET” Sid Axxinn, Temple U.
“RBADHAM@DREW.DREW.EDU” Roger Badham, Drew U.
“YFPY0060@VM1.YORKU.CA” David Bakan, Willowdale, Ontario
“BALINSKY@MERLE.ACNS.NWU.EDU” Michael Balinsky, Northwestern U
“BAUER917@RAVEN.CSRV.UIDAHO.EDU” Dustin Bauer, U. Idaho
“NB2@EVANSVILLE.EDU” Edward A. Beach, U. of Evansville
“BELIAKB@CGS.EDU” Haim Dov Beliak, Claremont C.
“PYRAP@CSV.WARWICK.AC.UK” Andrew E. Benjamin, U. of Warwick
“GBERG@ALISON.SBC.EDU” Gerry Berg, Sweet Briar C, Virginia
“KRAUT@BCVMS.BC.EDU” Avi Bernstein, Stanford Univ
“RELBT551@EMORYU1.CC.EMORY.EDU” Timothy Beul, Emory University
“KPB@ACPUB.DUKE.EDU” Kalman Bland, Duke U.
“SIMCHABOB@AOL.COM” Steven Bob, Glen Ellyn, Illinois
“TLKAMI@UTA.FI” Aviva Bower, Finland
“BOYARIN@CSSC.NEWSCHOOL.EDU” Jonathan Boyarin, The New School
“REB@EARTHLINK.NET” Robert Braun, Los Angeles, CA
“BRIDGES@APOLLO.MONTCLAIR.EDU” Tom Bridges, Montclair Cllg
“BRESDAN@UKANVAX” Daniel Breslauer, U. of Kansas
“DHB2@MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU” Don Breslauer, U. of Michigan
“BUCKLEY@LOYOLA.EDU” James Buckley, Loyola C, Baltimore
“CARR@EMX.CC.UTEXAS.EDU” Steve Carr, U. of Texas
“75320.2253@COMPUSERV.COM” Phil Cohen, Brandeis
“RACOHEN@UNCCVM.UNCC.EDU” Richard Cohen, U of North Carolina
“PHILIPC@STJOHNS.AUCKLAND.AC.NZ” Philip Culbertson, St. Johns, Auckland
“DANE@CRAB.RUTGERS.EDU” Perry Dane, Rutgers Law School
“LADAVIS@JTSA.EDU” Laurie Davis, JTSA, New York, NY
“B6933873@MAIL.WSU.EDU” Gilad Ehven
“CHARLOT@U.WASHINGTON.EDU” Charlotte Fonrobert, U. of Washington
“HARVEY.FORMAN@TIGERTEAM.ORG” Harvey Forman, Tigerteam
“FRASTED@YALEVM.BITNET” Steven Fraade, Yale U.
“HEIM@VAX2.CONCORDIA.CA” Barbara Galli, McGill U.
“MGARBER@DHVX20.CSUDH.EDU” Marilyn Garber, Cal State
“RGOLDENBERG@CCMAIL.SUNYSB.EDU” Robert Goldenberg, Stony Brook
“LGRANITE@DREW.EDU” Lauren Granite, Drew U
“YGREEN@ROLLINS.BITNET” Yudit Greenberg, Rollins C
“ANHAHN@JTSA.EDU” Andrew Hahn, JTSA, New York
“SIMONWIE@CLASS.ORG” Paul Hamburg, Simon Wiesenthal Cntr
“HAASXXPJ@VUCTRVAX.BITNET” Peter Haas, Vanderbilt U.
“MARV_HAMMERMAN@HPATC2.desk.hp.com” Marv Hammerman
“SRH@STRAUSS.UDEL.EDU” Sara Horowitz, U. Delaware
“RMARK@NISUS-SOFT.COM” Mark Hurvitz, San Diego, CA
“RABBISTEVE@AOL.COM” Steven L. Jacobs, Tmpl. B’Nai Shalom
“JAFFEE@WASHINGTON.EDU” Martin Jaffee, U. of Washington
“HJOSEPH@VAX2.CONCORDIA.CA” Howard Joseph, Concordia U. Canada
“KAGAN@LEMOYNE.BITNET” Michael A. Kagan, Le Moyne Cllg
“KAPLOWTZ@PRINCETON.EDU” Mark Kaplowitz, Princeton U.
“MKATZ@EAGLE.WESLEYAN.EDU” Marilyn Katz, Wesleyan U.
“SKEPNES@COLGATEU.EDU” Steven Kepnes, Colgate U.
“KNOBEL@MERLE.ACNS.NWU.EDU” Peter Knobel, Beth Emet, Evanston, IL
“KRINSKY@STUDENTS.WISC.EDU” Alan Krinsky, Wisconsin U.
“JULEVINGSTON@JTSA.EDU” Judd Kruger Levingston, JTS
“75034.2656@COMPUSERVE.COM” Brian Lass, Toronto, Canada
“NLEVENE@FAS.HARVARD.EDU” Nancy Levene, Harvard U.
“BERYLL@EDC.ORG” Beryl Levinger, JTS
“RHHI902@UVM.HAIFA.AC.IL” Ze’ev Levy, U. of Haifa
“NEILLITT@AOL.COM” Neil Zatz Litt, Philadelphia, PA
“LUSTHAUS@MACALSTR.EDU” Dan Lusthaus, Macalester C
“MACKLER@DUQ3.CC.DUQ.EDU” Aaron Mackler, Duquesne U.
“SMAGID@RUF.RICE.EDU” Shaul Magid, Rice U.
“BMESCH@LYNX.DAC.NEU.EDU” Barry Mesch, Hebrew C., Brookline, MA
“MENDES@HUM.HUJI.AC.IL” Paul Mendes-Flohr, Hebrew U.
“JACOB.E.MESKIN@WILLIAMS.EDU” Jacob Meskin, Williams College
“MJM@TELEPORT.COM” Marty Morgenbesser
“LMOTZKIN@SKIDMORE.EDU” Linda Motzkin, Skidmore C
“JNATHANS@LRC.MED.UWO.CA” Jay Nathanson, U. of Western Ontario
“POCHS@DREW.EDU” Peter Ochs, Drew U.
“VOCHS@DREW.EDU” Vanessa Ochs, Drew U.
“FOLIVE@CC.FC.PT” Manuel Duarte Olivera, Lisbon, Portugal
“RANDY.OMERSHERMAN.1@ND.EDU” Randy Omer Sherman, U. Notre Dame
“HEIM@VAX2.CONCORDIA.CA” Michael Oppenheim, Concordia U.
“0007001642@mcimail.com” Michael Paley, Wexner Fdn.
“ISH@UMICH.EDU” Bill Plevan, U of Michigan
“HILLEL@UMAXC.WEEG.UIOWA.EDU” Jeff Portman, U. of Iowa
“MORDECAI_POTASH@NYMC.EDU” Mordecai Potash, NY Medical C
“PUDEPIED@DIRCON.CO.UK” John Puddefoot, Eaton College, UK
“USERGF0J@UMICHUM.BITNET” Sara Rappe, U. of Michigan
“V5118E@TEMPLEVM.BITNET” Norbert Samuelson, Temple U.
“DANIELS@PHOENIX.PRINCETON.EDU” Daniel Schwartz, Princeton U.
“70313.2445@COMPUSERVE.COM” Lew Schwartz, Mt. Freedom, NJ
“STEVENS397@AOL.COM” Steven Schwartz, New Jersey
“AS4481R@ACAD.DRAKE.EDU” Allen Scult, Drake U.
“MMSBC@CUNYVM.BITNET” Mel Scult, Brooklyn Cllg
“HSHAPIRO@LYNX.DAC.NEU.EDU” Harvey Shapiro, Hebrew College
“76252.517@COMPUSERVE.COM” Rami M. Shapiro, Miami, Florida
“DAVID.B.SIFF@DARTMOUTH.EDU” David Siff, Dartmouth C
“REH94OLS@MACPOST.STUDENT.LU.SE” Ola Sigurdson, Gothenburg, Sweden
“LJS2@LEHIGH.EDU” Larry Silberstein, Lehigh U.
“RSILAK@CCLU.LV” Regnars Silakalns, Lativa U.
“JSMNTMPL@TEMPLEVM” Julius Simon, Temple U.
“MICHAEL.A.SIGNER.1@ND.EDU” Michael Signer, U. Notre Dame
“ASOFFER@AOL.COM” Alfred Soffer, Glenview, Illinois
“RSPEAR@AOL.COM” Scott Spear, Oakland, California
“MSRAJEK@FIREFLY.PRAIRIENET.ORG” Martin Srajek, Illinois Wesleyan U
“6500OS@UCSBUXA.UCSB.EDU” Oren Stier, UC Santa Barbara
“73122.1413@COMPUSERVE.COM” Ira Stone, Tmpl Zion-Beth Israel
“TEMES@HUSC.HARVARD.EDU” Peter Temes, Harvard U.
“LTHOMAS@SUVM.BITNET” Laurence Thomas, Syracuse U.
“GURFEL@UMBC” Alan Udoff, Baltimore Hebrew U.
“VDLINGPL@ALPHA.UNISA.AC.ZA” Gerhard van der Linde, U.South Africa
“WALLERSTEIN@AESOP.RUTGERS.EDU” Bernard Wallerstein, S Orange, NJ
“WEINBERT@SERVAX.FIU.EDU” Theodore Weinberger, Florida Int. U.
“STEDITH@RUF.RICE.EDU” Edith Wyschorgrad, Rice U.
“YUDEL@WELL.SF.CA.US” Larry Yudelson, JTA, Boston
“MZANK@BU.EDU” Michael Zank, Boston U
“BERNIEZ@VM2.YORKU.CA” Bernie Zelechow, York U.
“LZOLOTH@WELL.SF.CA.US” Laurie Zoloth-Dorfman, Berkeley, CA.


Annette Aronowicz, Franklin and Marshall
Almut Bruckstein, Hebrew U., Jerusalem
Nina Cardin, CLAL
Edwin Ellman, Ohio
Jose Faur, Brooklyn
Steven Fine, Baltimore
Michael Fishbane, U. Chicago
Mark Friedman, Shaare Zedek Cong.
Michael Gottsegen, CLAL
Jack Greenberg, NJ
David Weiss Halivni. Columbia U.
Barry J. Hammer, Maine
Steven Jacobs, Temple B’nai Shalom
Leon Klenicki, ADL, NYC
Michael Kogan, Montclair State U.
David Kraemer, Jewish Theological Seminary
David Novak, U. Virgina
Thomas Ogletree, Yale Divinity School
Adi Ophir, Tel Aviv U.
Michael Rosenak, Hebrew U.
Fred Saide, NJ
Richard Sarason, Hebrew Union College
Jonathan Seidel, UCLA
Avraham Shapira, Tel Aviv U.
Susan Shapiro, Columbia U.
Kenneth Seeskin, Northwestern U.
Paul Tuchman, Temple Beth El
Elliot Wolfson, New York U.
Michael Wyschogrod, U. of Houston
Martin Yaffee, U. North Texas
Edward Zinbarg, Drew U.