Kabbalah and Postmodernism

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Email inquiries with my response are subject to editing. I will not post your comments if you do not want me to, so if you are not willing to have your inquiry or comments posted please let me know. 

Readers interested in this dialogue may wish to read:


The author explores Derrida's notions of differance and the trace in connection with similar notions in the Lurianic Kabbalah. From the article:

In one of his last meetings with Jacques Derrida, Emanauel Levinas is said to have asked Derrida to confess that he was in fact a modern day representative of the Lurianic Kabbalah. I learned of this from the death-of-God theologian, Thomas JJ Altizer, who related to me that he himself had heard this from Hillis Miller on the occasion of Miller’s introducing Altizer to Derrida. Whether apocryphal or true, the story seemed to confirm something I had suspected for quite some time, that an encounter with Derrida’s thought is an important gateway to a contemporary Kabbalistic philosophy and theology.

On 1/22/01 I received the following from: tom altizer (jonathanjackson@noln.com) January 22 2001

Great and we certainly need this site. How well you have done!

(For those of you who do not know him, Tom Altizer is a world-renowned (should I say "post-Christian") theologian with whom I was privileged to study when I was an undergraduate at Stony Brook in 1971-3. He introduced me to Gnosticism, Hegel, Jung, Nietzsche, and many other thinkers, and personally introduced me to Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Jewish Roconstructionism and a colleague of my own (then long-deceased) grandfather, Rabbi Max Drob (see biography under "Articles"). Dr. Altizer encouraged me to pursue my own path in Jewish faith, experience and theology. I am also indebted to him for many other things, including his radical and brilliant use of the concept of coincidentia oppositorum in connection with such polarities as theism and atheism, God and humanity, good and evil, which I subsequently "rediscovered" in Luria and the Zohar. His books, including his latest theological autobiography are available from Barnes and Noble.com. Thank you. Dr. Altizer, for your kind words! Sanford Drob)

Readers may also be interested in:


S. Drob: The Torah of the Tree of Life: Kabbalistic Reflections on the Hermeneutics of Infinity in Scholem, Idel, Dan, Fine and Tishby

Contemporary scholarship on the Kabbalah has focused considerable attention on the Kabbalist's views of language and interpretation. One reason for this is, as Moshe Idel and others have observed, is that there is an important affinity between the Kabbalistic conception of infinite layers of meaning in scripture and contemporary philosophical ideas regarding the infinite interpretability of both texts and the world. In this essay, I will review some recent scholarship on Kabbalistic hermeneutics. The author shows how a careful consideration of Kabbalistic notions of "infinite interpretation" can not only lead to a new understanding of the relevance of Kabbalah to contemporary thought, but also to a radical new understanding of the Kabbalah's attitude toward "Torah" and religious life.



9-3-04 Derrida and Jewish Mysticism

What was Derrida’s reply to Levinas’ ‘accusation’ of him being a modern day representative of Lurianic Kabbalah? Best Wishes,

Tom Bland

Response: With regard to your question, when Derrida, on another occasion was asked about his connection with mysticism he rejected the "charge" saying that mysticism, if it stands for anything, stands for the proposition that the absolute, the unity of all things, or God, can be present to a subject in a singular act of mystical consciousness. When interviewed on this very issue he responds by saying:  "I am not mystical and there is nothing mystical in my work. In fact my work is a deconstruction of values which found mysticism, i.e. of presence, view, of the absence of a marque, of the unspeakable."   Translated by PK, 1995- the German transcript of this interview is found in Florian Rötzer's book, Französische Philosophen im Gespräch, Munich 1986, pp. 67-87, here: 74 (Klaus Boer Verlag, ISBN 3-924963-21-5). I deal with this a bit more in the revised version of Derrid and the kabbalah which I just posted on my website. In sum, I don't think Derrida has it right about all forms of mysticism. SD

Dear Sanford,

I think when we look at Derrida’s work through his own definition of mysticism, his work is clearly not mysticism. However there seems to be a trace of the mystical that runs through his work. It is closer to Freud’s conception of the mystical has defined in a private correspondence with Georg Groddeck when he wrote, ‘Now every clever person comes to a point where he starts to turn mystical, where his most personal thinking begins.’ (Groddeck, The Meaning of Illness, Karnac, 1997.) Although I would not call Derrida a mystic, I do think there is the possibility of the mystical in his work.

‘In sum, I don't think Derrida has it right about all forms of mysticism.’

I would agree, for example, Derrida’s definition does not open a way into Buber’s sense of the mystical. All the best, Tom


Re: Post modernism and the Kabbalah. Charles Coon 1/31/03


I have read your article derived from working notes for a book you say you are preparing on postmodernism and Kabbalistic thought.  I will have to say that I found this article considerably more difficult than your other writings.  I am wondering if there is a predicted publication date for your book.  Postmodernism is becoming quite important in religion writing, as I am coming to appreciate.  Otherwise, I hope everything is going well with you.  I am still reading your writings with great pleasure.  Take Care, Charlie Coon



You are not the first person to tell me that my writings that relate to postmodernism, Derrida, Wittgenstein, etc. are difficult and I wonder if it is the nature of the subject matter or my manner of presentation.

Other than a couple of articles I have no publication scheduled at present----my publisher Jason Aronson is apparently selling or terminating his business and I will need to find a new publisher for my book on Jung and the one on Kabbalah and postmodernism when it is finished. Recently I have been preoccupied with the notion of coincidentia oppositorum (I have been reading Dennis McCort's "Going Beyond the Pairs") and the views of binary opposition that are present in mysticism and deconstruction. The mystics, like Hegel, view the interpenetration of the opposites as evidence of or a vehicle to Unity, whereas the deconstructionists view it as evidence of the bankruptcy of metaphysics and the impossibility of achieving a totalizing perspective on the world. I believe that the Lurianic notions of Shevirah (Rupture) and Tikkun (emendation/restoration) provide us with the opportunity to reconcile unity and difference but in a matter that is continually subject to revision. The Lurianic Kabbalah is a totalizing perspective that contains within it a dynamic (Shevirah and Tikkun) that provides for its own transcendence and revision. I think that the great contribution of postmodern thought to theology is its fundamental challenge to all dogma and the call to insert relativistic, revisionistic, perspectivalist ideas into our conception of God, the world and ourselves. I think we can do this without surrendering all notions of an Absolute; how to do this is a great intellectual challenge.


I hope that others will join in a dialog on Kabbalah and postmodern and deconstructionist thought.

Sanford Drob


On Egyptian Theology 5/4/02: From Mark

This might interest you, I was reading your article on Derrida and the Lurianic Kabbalah, and I found it fascinating. It sparked an interest to go over some parts in Erik Hornung's Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt. Here are some interesting points.

Page 255:
These characteristics strive after a universal scope, but do not become immeasurable. Again and again we saw how Egyptian gods can be extended endlessly, can enter into more and more names, combinations, manifestations, modes of action and response in the cult, and yet remain limited in their nature and existence. Here too Egyptian religion is the opposite of an "absolute religion." It places in doubt the "eternal values" to which we aspire and wrenches our thinking away from its all too familiar paths.

I am no expert on Derrida, but is this sort of what he proposed in the idea of play. This has sort of a postmodern ring to it, and is this also the Lurianic notion of values shattering to be repaired again.

Here is another interesting point from the book dealing with existence and differentiation.
P176: Then comes the surprising observation that there were "not yet two things"(CT II, 396b; III, 383a), an apparently unnecessary repetition, sure there was in any case "no thing at all". But this statement is an explicit expression of the Egyptian view that before creation there was an unity, which could not be divided into two things, just as the creator god is often called the "one who made himself into millions" (n. 105 above). "Two things" and "millions" are here the opposite poles of a single phenomenon----the diversity of the existent-----which is denied in the case of the nonexistent. Nonexistence is one and undifferentiated. The creator god mediates between it and the existent and separates them. He is the original one, who emerges from the nonexistent and marks the "beginning" of the process of coming into being by differentiating himself into the plurality of "millions"------the multiplicity of the gods.

Would I be correct in seeing similarities with Derrida in that it is difference that is the necessary precondition for Being. For example, in Hegelian logic Being and Nothing are the same due to the fact that Being is Indeterminate. Difference is a necessary precondition for a Determinate Being. Also would Keter be similar to the creator god that mediates between nonexistence (Ein Sof) and existence (differentiation), it is the point of manifestation for Being.

Again I probably can't think of any philosophy or philosopher that has Kabbalistic ideas that you probably don't already know of. The later Schelling with his idea of the dark drive in God, that is potential that realizes itself in Understanding (bright principle). For example, here are some quotes from

Even in God, the perfect comes from the imperfect
God, too, develops. God is actualizing Himself.
Prior to the Actual Perfect God of Wisdom and Good, God's Potential must exist
That is the Unconscious, Dark Drive that endeavors to represent Itself
Ultimately this Primordial Existence is no other than Volition (das Wollen).
The Predicates of the Primordial Existence can only belong to this Volition.
Such Predicates as i) Groundlessness (no cause = die Grundlosigkeit), ii) Eternity (die Ewigkeit), iii) Independence of Time (die Unabhängigkeit von der Zeit), and iv) Self Affirmation (die Selbstbejahnung), can only belong to Volition.
Therefore, the Ground for God's Existence is the Dark Aspiration (der dunkle Sehnsucht). It is the Drive of the Unconscious to become Conscious. The Goal of this Aspiration is Understanding, Logos, the Word. God finally reveals Himself in Logos, in the Word, in Understanding. When this dark Aspiration (dieser dunkle Sehnsucht) subordinates itself as matter and organ to Understanding, God becomes the Actual God, becomes Spirit and Love.

The Opposition in Nature and Human-being
The world reveals itself not only as the expedient order and beauty, but also as a rupture and disorder. What is perfect, rational, harmonious and expedient in the world is the product of Understanding. Contrary to this, such irrational residues as rupture, irregularity, deformity, illness and death have their origin in the dark Ground. Everything has within itself these two principles.
The egocentric will (der Eigenwille) is rooted in the Nature within God or the dark Ground, while the universal will comes from God's Understanding.

In God, the dark principle and the bright principle are inseparably unified, while in the human being, these two principles are separated.
Out of these two principles, the freedom of human volition makes the human independent.
The human-being can move from truth to falsity, can bring one's own egoism to dominance, and can lower the spiritual within oneself to the mere instrumentality.

Or with God's help, the human can remain intrinsic and can subordinate a particular love (desire) to the universal will of love.
The (morally) good is to overcome one's opposition. For everything is revealed in its opposites. If the human was overcome by temptation, it is one's own free choice and is a sin.

The (morally) evil is not a mere absence or non-existence of the (morally) good. The evil is something positive in itself.

The evil is to make the egoism independent, i.e., to reverse the proper order between the particular will and the universal will and separate the one from the other. The possibility of separation of those two wills exists in God's dark Ground. Namely, the potentiality of the evil exists in the Divine Dark Ground, and yet the actuality of the evil is the free act of the creature. Schelling also construed freedom in the same sense as Kant did and used the concept of "intelligible freedom" (die intelligible Freiheit). Freedom, according to Schelling, is not only far from compulsion, but also is clearly distinguishable from contingency or arbitrariness. The human being chooses his /her own intelligible essence beyond time. At the outset of creation, i.e., since Eternity, the human-being pre-destines (prädestinieren) himself/herself. Therefore, the human being is responsible for his/her own action in the sensory world, which is the necessary result of the free primary action.

I am no expert on Schelling, but it seems as if he is very influenced by the Kabbalah here. I have heard this is due to the fact that Schelling was influenced by Jacob Boehme in this part of his philosophy, and most German mystics were heavily influenced by the Kabbalah.


Author’s Response 5/4/02

Dear Mark

Thank you for your very interesting observations. The material regarding the Egyptian Gods is new to me and fascinating. Schelling is certainly an interesting figure: I treat his connection to the Kabbalah in Kabbalistic Metaphors, pp. 83-5 and tangentially in the chapter on Hegel. The material you quote from here almost sounds as if it could have been written by Schneur Zalman or any other early Chabad thinker. You're right about the Boehme connection: Hegel uses the terms Adam Kadmon and the Sefirot in a couple of places and I think he attributes these to Boehme. However, I also think that we are dealing with a perennial philosophy that manifests itself in like minds in different places and times.

Anyway, how did you come to be interested in this material. Are you a philosophy student? Would you mind if I posted your observations on my web page?

Sanford Drob

On  Goedel, Derrida, Wittgenstein and the Kabbalah  5/5/02 From Mark

Dear Dr.

I was thinking about Derrida, Wittgenstein and Kabbalah, and I have a theory, I would like to know your input on it. Have you ever heard of Goedel's Proof. That essentially the axioms that make a system consistent, cannot be proven by the system itself, it deals with completeness and consistency. Is the Tree of Life essentially a consistent but incomplete system? Is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil essentially the knowledge of the incompleteness of the Tree of Life, when Adam and Eve eat of the knowledge they have a consciousness which has the ability for knowledge beyond starting axioms, but that essentially makes their consciousness an inconsistent system. Now we have the concept of language games which is the never-ending altering of words to reach new scopes of understanding.

I probably oversimplified parts. I believe the correct interpretation is that Adam and Eve before eating from the Tree of Knowledge were kind of like a robot based on a consistent, incomplete system but complete for Eden. It is the Tree of Knowledge which is essentially the expansion of space and possibilities that a created dualism that made the consciousness of the human have the possibility for never-ending completeness, but now it can't be a strict consistent system. Forgive my redundancy.

Now language games is essentially the ability for words to have multiple meanings and has root in the open possibility and inconsistency of consciousness acquired from the eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.



Author’s Response 5/9/02


Thanks for your astute observations. This is all very interesting. I will have to give much more thought to your ideas re Godel's theorum, but the way I see the Lurianic system is that it is a system that is both without a "foundation" and which by its very nature is always incomplete, i.e. breaking apart and transcending itself towards something new and different. This is the very rhythm of Shevirah and Tikkun.

On Tikkun

Dear Dr. Drob:

This brings up what I consider to be the unique aspect in Judaism, Tikkun. Correct me if I am wrong in this, but the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is just like an empty space, now the shattering happens so that a rebuilding can happen to correct all of that empty space. The Tree of Life is the values for a set system, The Tree of Knowledge is empty space(possibility), the shattering must happen to destroy the system, then there must be a rebuilding to encompass and correct the empty space.

The East seems to take a somewhat different perspective with the idea of Karma, and the Tree of Soma, and The Tree of Seeds. Essentially the Tree of Seeds is just part of the phenomenal agitation that is the successive rebirths depending on ones Karma, and the Tree of Soma is conjoinment to the Absolute. The goal in the East seems to be to move towards the Tree of Soma and gain the final liberation, one desires to escape the wheels of Karma. Besides that I see many similarities between the Ein Sof and Brahman which you have definitely noticed. BTW, you comment on the personal / impersonal deity in the dialog section. I am curious as to your thoughts on this, Buber speaks of an I It, I Thou relationship. Now the I thou relationship causes the consciousness to have a natural attracting to the quality and see it's relationship with everything. So when an individual perceives of Gevurah, is the conscious engagement with the God Form, Elohim, just the manner of having an I Thou with Gevurah, and making it more real to the individual and seeing it's relationship to everything else better.



Dear Mark:

Thanks for your patience. I'm intrigued by what you say regarding the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, but I would like to learn more. Is the equation of the Tree of Knowledge with "empty space" and "possibility" something that appears in the tradition, or is it your own idea. I have the same question with respect to your understanding of the "Tree of Life." How is it that you get to these equations? Also, why do you say that it is empty space that must be corrected in Tikkun? Aren't the values and system the one's that are in need of being corrected and restored? Also your thoughts about the Indian tress are interesting. I'd like you to direct me to where I can laern something more about "seeds" and "Soma."

With regard to Buber's I-thou and the Lurianic Kabbalah, I think that there is a contradiction or contrary here in need of reconciliation. Buber, you may know, criticized Jung for his Gnosticism, i.e. for his locating the divine in the depths of the individual's self or psyche as opposed to locating Him in the encounters between two distinct subjectivities. I think that the same criticism can be directed towards at least a common interpreattion of the Kabbalah--and mysticism in general--which sees the divine as something interior to consciousness, rather than appearing in one's dialogic encounters with others and the world. There is, as I see it, a potential coincidentia oppositorum between these dialogic (personal) and mystical (impersonal) views of God. However, it is not a coincidentia that I have worked out fully as yet. I wonder what your thoughts are on this.

Sanford Drob


5/29 Mark to SD

Dear Dr. Drob:

The ideas I had about the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge were kinda thoughts of mine, I had from reading your site.   To clarify things much better, I recently read a section in Deconstruction in a Nutshell, in the scetion in which Derrida talks about the idea of Khora, I like his description of it as Place, in the singular.  This Place (Khora) creates unknown possibilities, this place(empty space) must be corrected.  But it seems as if there is always more empty places from this original Place.  Your dialectic summed it up beautifully.  The other interesting thing in that book (Desconstruction in a Nutshell) was the difference between Justice from the perspective of Heidegger and Derrida.  It seems that Heidegger is focused on a gathering(Versammlung), this seems to be a little like the Partzuf idea, this arranging of the soul structure in the proper order.   Also, I am trying to find the exact locations for the Tree of Soma / Tree of Seeds.   I  believe it is in the Buddharamsa Sutta book 1, verses 1 -20, it is in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and for a Zoroastrian source it is in the Bundahishn.

On a Personal God 5/30/02


Dear Dr. Drob:

I find the idea of the personal and impersonal God to be interesting. I wonder if the outlook Buber takes to Jung is that of a false dichotomy. I just got your book, Symbols of the Kabbalah, and I am skimming it now, and I noticed the place in which you stated that Vedanta and Kabbalah does not see a dichotomy between the psyche and world, and essentially they are a unify, whereas psychology and Gnosticism don't blend them in as well. For example, I believe that Raja Yoga sees man as essentially needing to regain his true self and unify with God, the focus is on the "I", whereas Bhakti Yoga sees a Personal Deity that one must have devotion to, the "I" must vanish to the "All" or "God". I guess the main point is that instead of seeing Buber and Jung as contradictory, it can be complimentary. One has Knowledge and Insight into Chesed, he understands the sefiroth, then he sees it in reality, how it works in relation to him, and everything else, then he has the I - Thou with El, and out of this relation with El, Gevurah is understood much greater as a concept, then the relationship with El deepens, etc.. I see a complimentary aspect.

I guess that to really elicit a change of consciousness, it is necessary for the religious Jew to have Gevurah manifest as Elohim, Chesed as El, Tifereth as the Tetragrammaton, etc., as it is for the Zoroastrian to have Truth and Justice manifest as Asha Vahista, the Bright Mind as Vohu Manu, etc.




6/1/02 Mark to SD

Dear Dr. Drob:

I was wondering your thoughts on this.  Can the I-Thou relationship transcend to an ultimate unity?  Can the I-Thou be seen as a relationship to one's self into eternity.  This comment is from Kabbalah and Exodus by Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi, page 15.  God wished to behold God and be known, and so the mirror of Existence was called forth and man the image of God placed within it.  Also here is a comment from http://www.ksf.org/introduction.html

Trika Shaivism teaches that Shiva has manifested this external world for only one reason-to create the possibility of recognizing his own nature. And furthermore, the Kashmir Shaiva understands that this objective universe, a manifestation of Lord Shiva's Svatantrya Shakti, is a means, a tool, to be used to realize the universal reality of Shiva.
This, Kashmir Shaiva's say, is the play of the universe. Because of Lord Shiva's freedom, his Svatantrya, this universe is created solely for the fun and joy of this realization. It is Shiva's play to seemingly leave his own nature so that he can find it and enjoy it again. This is the dance of Shiva, the joyous game in which he is continuously creating this universe--to lose himself and then find himself.    

Also, this tradition seems to incorporate the Bhakti element also, that of devotion to Shiva, which in reality loses himself as the individual.  I see the I-Thou as essentially engaging in a relationship with one's eternal Self.  But where Martin Buber would disagree with me is that the I feel the I-Thou should transcend to I.  He seems to want to keep the duality of I and Thou rather having it transcend to a unity.  But interestingly, Kabbalah has the idea of Yechidah as the highest soul, doesn't that mean unity?  He states that the I and Thou is relation and reciprocity, one is giving of his whole Being, changing the Thou, and Being changed by the Thou, I feel the idea of unity (Yechidah), is the logical next step after the I-Thou.


7/8/01, From: John Eades (tjeades@essex1.com)

On Symbols of the Kabbalah: An Infinite Creator Can Only Be Apprehended from Infinite Points of View.

Just finished wading through SYMBOLS, which merits further study, and can't wait to dig into METAPHORS.

Unbelievable and awesome! After 25+ years of studying world mysticisms, Jung, and Jewish mysticism in particular, and a recent study of the "problem of evil," your work connects a lot of loose ends and is itself a coincidentia oppositorum and mysterium coniunctionis of Kabbalistic thought. I am so pleased and blessed to have discovered your profound work and look forward to future offerings. You reinforce my conviction that an infinite Creator can only be apprehended from an infinite number of points of view. Thank you so much for the viewpoints you have been able to share. Shalom!

Author’s Response


Thank you very much for your very kind comments about my Symbols of the Kabbalah. I’m curious, how did you come to obtain my books?

That "an infinite Creator can only be apprehended from an infinite number of points of view" becomes a challenge to any "system" of thought, theosophical or philosophical that attempts to provide an account of the godhead, the world, mankind, etc. The question of maintaining the basic structure of the Lurianic "system," while at the same time respecting the postmodern deconstruction of all foundations and systems, is what is occupying me in my current work on Luria, Wittgenstein and Derrida. The key to this, it seems to me, is that the Lurianic kabbalah is, via the dialectic of Tzimtzum, Sefirot, Shevirah, and Tikkun a system that when applied to itself continually deconstructs and reinvents itself, thus continually bringing more and wider perspectives to bear on its original problematics. Again, thanks for your most kind comments: as an author I am deeply gratified by your appreciation of my work. Please feel free to dialog with me further on issues of mutual interest.



The Lurianic Kabbalah is treated in detail in Sanford Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors .

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All material on New Kabbalah website (c) Sanford L. Drob, 2001-4.


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