Further Adventures in new Zohar scholarship

We have previously looked at the Zohar scholarship of Daniel Abrams, and Melila Hellner-Eshed, Now we look at Oded Yisraeli in a new article “Honoring Father and Mother in Early Kabbalah: From Ethos to Mythos” JQR 99/3 Summer 2009 396-415

Yisraeli looks at a piece of Zohar where R. Hiyya identifies the father with binah, R. Abba identifies it with hokhmah, but R. Yossi identifies it with tiferet. Why does R. Yossi lower the identity of Father? Ans: to be more like Rabbinic texts.

Others have noted (Fishbane, Liebes, Heller-Eshed) that the names in the Zohar each portray different sources. Usually the names reflect a procession from Midrash to Gerona Kabbalah to Castillian Kabblah. But this case offer insight into the relationship of Zohar with Rabbinics.

Mother and Father are portrayed as the higher sefirot is everywhere before the Zohar, including Bahir and Gerona. The source is a variety of Logos theories and personification of the Nous and the highest levels.But starting with the Zohar Mother and Father are lowered to Tiferet and Malkhut. Yisraeli claims that the shift in this case reflects a return to Rabbinics, especially the Mekhilta also cited in the Talmud, and Philo.
The Talmud states that one honors one’s parents because it is honoring the Holy One, Blessed be He. Alternately in Philo, “parents are the created Gods”

Gerald Blidstein in his classic work Honor Thy Father and Mother, shows the prevalence of this idea in Stoic sources. But Blidstein sharply differentiates the rabbis from the Hellenistic sources because the Rabbis do not essentialize, and in fact treat God using a parent metaphor. In contrast, Yisraeli claims, that even without denying some difference between the Hellenistic sources and the Rabbinic, the later readers of the rabbinic tradition in later midrash and then in Kabbalah, in fact did essentialize. Kabblah presents an essentialist reading of Hazal.
The Kabblaists were drawing the connection between the earthly father and the divine father of HKBH, creating a tight parallel.

Yehudah Liebes (1994) already noted the reading of the live images of rabbinics into a “stiff” kabbalistic framework.
Yisraeli claims that nevertheless many of these live images were repressed and not used in the later rabbinic texts and they return afresh in kabbalah. He also claims that the new sefirot symbol makes a stronger case for the ethical imperative.

He finds a similar process in how “the land of Israel” is identified with malkhut. A repressed live myth of the land of Israel as divine realm returns as a need to cleave to malkhut. Before the 13th century when the goal was a restored Divine name, it did not have the same ethical import.
He has studies on the process of moving from midrash to Zohar of the images of Eliyahu, Avrham, Esau, the land of Israel, and has forthcoming book on Tree of Life by Magnes Press. I look forward to reading it.

His forthcoming book will deal with the theme of the Tree of Life and show that the tree as essentialized in certain [Biblical and ] rabbinic passages, then the entire Divine realm is a tree (Bahir) and finally only Tiferet is a tree, but one can join to it, creating a stronger symbol.

Are you essential? Well, Hazal are essential according to the early kabbalah.

3 responses to “Further Adventures in new Zohar scholarship

  1. Jeremy Schwarz

    This is a terrific post. Have you considered including actual citations and/or further developed lines of argumentation, which would greatly add to the receptiveness of your thought within the broad academic and popular community.

  2. Having read this article I must register my severe disappointment. What is Yisraeli doing here? For me I got a reassertion of internalist modes of reading Jewish texts. OK, I read that in Boyarin, Intertextuality. I get it.
    What I did not get was anything internal to the phenomenon. For me the phenomenon must be defined by a given problem and here it is a problem of immanentization. How did Mommy migrate down from Binah to Shekhinah? What theological problems neccesitate the constant, unending movement of immanentization? Brient, Harries, Blumenberg and others struggle to answer this question. For Yisraeli it is a non issue. Instead he notes that the immanentization happened and that Mommy and Daddy appear in sifrut Hazal.

    (I will give Yisraeli credit for noting the Stoic parallel. Had he read Marcus Aurelius he may have noted that the higher faculties in a person are also analogized to Gods.)

  3. Yaakov Feldman

    I’m reading “Mystic Tales from the Zohar” by Wineman and find it very sophisticated. He takes a literary, contextual approach to the Zohar selections he offers and does a fine. well-thought-out job. It works best when you look at the original beforehand then see his take on it. Your thoughts?

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