“Performing Bodies: From Anatomy to Cosmology, to Theosophy in Jewish Thought”

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Moshe Idel

(Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

“Performing Bodies: From Anatomy to Cosmology, to Theosophy in Jewish Thought”


Paper presented to the conference:

"Mapping Humans: From Body to Cosmos"

13-15 September 2011, Oxford


Third Annual Conference of the Berendel Foundation, in association with the University of Leicester and the Cantemir Institute at the University of Oxford


Summary: In the European Middle Ages, the affinities between the human body and the world, known as microcosm and macrocosm respectively, have been dealt with in numerous texts and in a variety of manners. In my lecture I would like to address another affinity, characteristic of the main schools of medieval and early modern Kabbalah: the multiple correspondences between the 613 limbs and sinews, the 613 Rabbinic commandments, and the divine limbs.

This complex correspondence is not just as matter of isomorphism, but also of a dynamic type of interaction, which assumes the possibility, and the duty, of the Kabbalist to perform the commandments, so as to affect the status of the supernal divine structure. This type of sympathetic activity, redefined the body as what I call “a performing body”. This means a much more positive attitude to the body in comparison to the mainly Platonic attitude, found especially in ascetic forms of mysticism. In my lecture I shall discuss passages from late 13th to early 17th centuries.

Short Bio: Moshe Idelis Max Cooper Professor of Jewish Thought Emeritus, Hebrew University, and Senior Fellow, Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem. Born in 1947 in Romania, he arrived in 1963 to Israel and has lectured since 1975 at the Hebrew University. He received the Israel Prize for Jewish Thought in 1999, the Emmet Prize in 2002, and is a member of the Israeli Academy since 2006. He has served as visiting Professor at the JTS of America, UCLA, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and College de France. Among his many publications are Old Worlds, New Mirror, On Jewish Mysticism and Twentieth-Century Thought, (Penn UP, 8

2010), Kabbalah: New Perspectives (Yale UP 1988), Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (Yale UP 2002), and Ben: Sonship and Jewish Mysticism (Continuum, 2007).


Recorded and edited by Simon Wilson



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