Heidegger and Kabbalah

Shaul Magid on Elliot Wolfson

Heidegger and Kabbalah
Elliot Wolfson. Heidegger and Kabbalah: Hidden Gnosis and the Path of Poiēsis. Indiana University Press, 2020. 453 pages. (Paperback $60)

Wolfson’s new book Heidegger and Kabbalah is arguably the magnum opus of his long and productive career. It stands as a landmark study in Judaism and philosophy. In the realm of Jewish philosophy, I dare say it is the most important study on or about Judaism produced in our era. It is also a major contribution to the study of Martin Heidegger and the Humanities more generally. This work contributes to how we read traditions of inquiry to both critique and then reconstruct moral possibilities and excavate metaphysical hazards. This book will join a very narrow canon of major Jewish philosophical works in the twentieth and twenty-first century including Hermann Cohen’s Religion of Reason and Franz Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption.

For scholars of Jewish Studies, seriously engaging Martin Heidegger presents nothing less than a moral dilemma. Heidegger was a Nazi, and his repudiation of his Nazi past was never unequivocal. And yet with all this, many Jewish thinkers were undeterred and continued to engage with Heidegger as a major philosophical voice. In his 1982 radio interview with Phillipe Nemo, Emanuel Levinas says, “Very early on I had great admiration for this book [Heidegger’s Being and Time]. It is one of the finest books in the history of philosophy – I say this after years of reflection. One of the finest among four or five others…”  Note that this was in 1982, long after the famous Der Spiegel interview in 1966 where Heidegger refused to unequivocally repudiate his affiliation with Nazism. But the robust scholarly discussion of Heidegger and his Nazi past that ensued in the 1990s had not yet begun when Levinas made his remark. Knowing what Levinas knew then, one can argue that he would have maintained his position even today.

Instead of concluding, as some have, that Heidegger should be excised from the philosophical canon, in Heidegger and Kabbalah Elliot Wolfson takes us deeper into his work and deeper into the dilemma. In his first book on Heidegger, The Duplicity of Philosophys Shadow, Wolfson deals head-on with the issue of his Nazism, as I discussed in my review of that work in Maginalia. That was not the end of Wolfson’s grappling with Heidegger, in fact it was just the beginning. He dwells upon the moral dilemma of reading Heidegger in relation to Judaism, not to solve the problem but to illustrate that a fuller rendering of the implications of Heidegger’s work requires us to grapple with Judaism as well. This is because some Jewish thought-worlds – such as Kabbalah – share surprising affinities with Heidegger that are worth examining closely, since these affinities illuminate the greatness of both but also the dangers of both.

There are relatively few books, and this is one, that could have only been written by one scholar, in this case Elliot Wolfson. Some scholars have the requisite understanding of Heidegger, and very few others, the requisite expertise in Kabbalah. But no one to my knowledge has both sufficient to create such a study. The distinctive nature of this combination raises the question: who is the audience for this book? The answer, I submit, must include that Wolfson wrote this book for himself; it is the culmination of decades of intense reflection on both Heidegger and Kabbalah. But more interestingly, and importantly, this is a book that will create its audience. It is more than a book about Heidegger and/or Kabbalah (others have written on, or noticed the affinity between, Heidegger and Judaism, including Altmann, Fackenheim, M. Wyschogrod, E. Wyschogrod,  Scult). Wolfson’s book demonstrates how to think more broadly about each refracted through the lens of the other. It is not comparative in any conventional sense. Rather, it is a book that trains its reader along the way in how Wolfson wants us to read both Heidegger and Kabbalah, and to read and think with, through, and beyond, philosophical canons. Thus only after reading the book from beginning to end does one then understand what the book is about. There is no introductory guide to the argument or even the project. One jumps into a deep end that only gets deeper.

Heidegger and Kabbalah is complex, difficult, and challenging. The reason to read it is not only because it offers an innovative reading of both of its subjects. It is also because it offers a revolutionary intervention into the very fabric of Kabbalah itself, into its radical metaphysics (or its rejection of metaphysics), in a way that simply has not been done before. And in regard to Heidegger, it fully confronts the problematic, and tragic, elements of this thinking while still believing that his new vision of conceiving “being” beyond ontology holds the potential for undoing its own destructive tendencies. And it offers us another way to conceive of thinking more generally. The book challenges its reader to view its intricate details as a tapestry that weaves through the most fundamental metaphysical questions in the history of philosophy and kabbalistic reflections on the nature of existence.

Wolfson’s reading of Heidegger suggests that there is a deep moral dilemma in Heidegger’s antisemitism, and anti-Judaism – both of which Wolfson fully acknowledges. Unbeknownst to Heidegger, his intervention and critique of western philosophy resonates deeply with Kabbalah’s rejection of the rational Jewish philosophical tradition in a way that belies Heidegger’s own problematic view of Judaism. Others have noticed Heidegger’s use of mystical ideas drawn from Kabbalah, in particular influences from the Christian mystic Jakob Boehme (1575-1624) through the German romanticist Fredrich Schelling (1775-1854). But Wolfson’s project is not about tracing influences but rather structural affinities philosophically considered, regardless of historical influence. Wolfson argues that, in fact, Heidegger’s critique of western philosophy parallels to some degree Kabbalah’s critique of normative Jewish notions of the divine and by extension, normative renderings of the covenant. To do this, Wolfson reads Kabbalah fully outside Judaism, arguing that its brilliance, and its hazards, emerge in full view, only with such a reading.

Deep into the book, Wolfson makes a passing remark that serves as a methodological frame of his analysis. “Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me restate unequivocally that the question of influence – that issue that unfailingly consumes the mind of the intellectual and social historians working within the confines of the academy – is not of paramount importance to me. What is far more tantalizing is the fact that there is a constellation of thought based on conceptual correspondences.” The “restating” appears to gesture back to a remark in the Introduction. Advocating a “textual-philological criteria,” as opposed to a conventional historical method, Wolfson writes “It is not influence that is my focal point of my concern…but rather the constellation of themes underlying the respective viewpoints of Heidegger and the kabbalists, a constellation that demonstrates the disarming correlation – as opposed to dialectical coincidence – of sameness through difference, that is, the identity of the nonidentical in the preservation of the nonidentity of the identical.”  Wolfson is concerned with the “conceptual affinities” (while acknowledging possible historical influences) of the way Heidegger and Kabbalah undermine both the Platonic binary and dialectic as well as the Hegelian reconciliation. Distinguishing between “dialectical coincidence” and “disarming correlation” Wolfson argues that both Kabbalah and Heidegger, independent of one another and contesting different phenomenological frames of reference, arrive at similar points of intervention whereby transcendence is undermined through the instantiation of that which can only appear through is absence, disclosing itself only through nondisclosure.

To understand Wolfson’s reading, there is a preliminary assumption one must accept. One must liberate Kabbalah from its “monotheistic” orbit. Citing the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek  responding to Schelling’s notion of the coincidence of opposites, we read, “[the coincidence of opposites] is to locate the source of the split between Good and Evil in God himself while remaining within the field of monotheism [my italics], the task which German mysticism (Jakob Bohme) and later philosophers who pursued their logic (Schelling, Hegel) tried to accomplish.” Wolfson deploys this to highlight the way Heidegger resists that monotheization of the One that Žižek describes, and, by extension, as I read him, Wolfson suggests Kabbalah can be read that way as well. In other words, once Kabbalah is read outside its own apologetic orbit of fortifying the transcendent monotheistic One, while simultaneously resisting it, the affinities with Heidegger begin to rise to the surface. “Inasmuch as Ein Sof comprehends the other part of its otherness, however, and the sephirotic emanations unfold from the very being in which they are unfolded, in the final analysis, we must conclude the difference is comprised in the sameness of the other that is differently the same. The oneness of being, therefore, embraces the truth that being in not one.”  This rendering of Kabbalah is not far-fetched as such tension with monotheism was noticed by Scholem and many close readers of Kabbalah in the scholarly world not to mention the non-monotheistic origins of Ancient Israel.

Wolfson’s point here is that describing Ein Sof as some kind of Platonic One misses the kabbalistic undermining of that very notion of Ein Sof that is neither being nor non-being. Nor is it the ground of transcendence, just as Heidegger’s notion of Beyng is not a Schellengean “Subject” that transcends all being but rather a nullity, a Nichts, that exists between being and beings. Heidegger writes, “The god is neither a ‘being [seinde] nor a nonbeing [‘unseinde] and is also not to be identified with beyng [Seyn]. Instead, beyng essentially occurs in the manner of time-space as that between which can never be grounded in the god and also not in the human being, but only in Dasein.” Heidegger speaks about a (post)metaphysical, or meontological (the study of non-being) register, addressing the “last god who has come and gone” (by never coming in the first place, a futurity never realized nor realizable). Wolfson argues that Ein Sof serves a similar purpose. “The last god, we may infer from the kabbalistic depiction of Ein Sof, is the god that can never arrive except as a god that does not arrive, the end that can never stop ending, the future that is perpetually impending.” He makes a similar argument about the messianic in his book Open Secret on Habad messianism. The secret doctrine of the messiah is that there is no messiah. Messianism remains true the extent to which it never happens.  Ein Sof is that which bestows while withdrawing; it only “exists” by not existing or, perhaps, its existence can only be posited through its non-existence, not unlike Meister Eckhardt’s claim that believing in God is itself already a disbelief of God.

Excavating the intricacies of Ein Sof, especially outside the monotheistic frame of the transcendent One, which constitutes many pages in Heidegger and Kabbalah, brings Wolfson to the conclusion that the most philosophically accurate approach to explaining this kabbalistic conundrum is through a Heideggerean lens. “Ein Sof thus can be said to correspond to Heidegger’s event of thinking that must constantly be thought as unthought, the one true being of which all beings are simultaneously the manifestation of the concealment and the concealment of the manifestation.”  Or, “Ein Sof can be described as the indescribable nothing that nihilates, the nihilation (Nichtung) that resists any attempt to affix nothing within an ontological perimeter, to explain nothing exclusively in terms of being.”  The non-being (Nichtung) of Ein Sof is pure negation, not a negation that is everything, nor a negation that produces anything. It does not bring forth anything outside of itself, its existence is only in the withholding of itself.  The only possible defining quality of Ein Sof is simsum, its own withholding of itself; Ein Sof as self-negation. Ein Sof can’t fill the worlds because, as Wolfson argues, if Ein Sof is nullity, for it “to fill the worlds means there are no worlds to be filled.”

But Wolfson maintains that Heidegger is a better arbiter of squaring the circle of kabbalistic metaphysics than those wedded to Kabbalah’s own apologetic orientation in part because Kabbalah often undermines that very orientation. That is part of its secrecy. Turning to Heidegger to unpack the dense and often self-contradictory readings of Ein Sof in Kabbalah speaks directly against the notion that Kabbalah offers any kind of system, be it metaphysical, theosophical, or even historiosophical (a term proffered by Gershom Scholem). In his discussion of time, Wolfson notes, “if we are to impute the notion of system to the kabbalah, it is a system that is non-systematic; that is, a system that collapses under the weight of the overwhelming specification of details that develop in the attempt to map the fragmented univocality of the infinite.” (256). The attempt to explain Schelling’s notion of “pure Subjectivity” in any objective way reaches back to Azriel of Gerona’s explanation of the ten sephirot, a 13th century Neoplatonic attempt to answer the question “how does nothing, or no-thing (Ein Sof), become something.” (Azriel of Gerona, 2014). Negative theology or apophasis works to a point, but it cannot overcome its own monotheistic orbit to reach the notion of pure negation. Wolfson’s thesis is that Kabbalah speaks more freely when it is unbound by the shackles it imposes on itself. Put otherwise, as Heidegger notes in the Beitrage, “The age of the systems has passed.”

Wolfson here is on to something that is often overlooked when Kabbalah is read monotheistically, that is, as panentheism, the “en” inserting transcendence (Oneness) into the body of immanence. The tension between the theistic and pantheistic nature in Lurianic teaching, a prime focus of Wolfson’s analysis, is well documented (216). What Wolfson resists is both any panentheistic resolution nor any theistic reading of the particulars as coming from the general. It is, rather, a Kabbalah “after the last god has passed.” While kabbalistic sources are analyzed from the entire spectrum of kabbalistic teaching, Wolfson relies heavily on the Lurianic redaction of Kabbala in a wide variety of forms, three in particular: Luria’s erstwhile disciple Hayyim Vital (1542-1620), the Lithuanian Kabbalist of Shlomo Elyashiv (1841-1946), known by the name of his major work Leshem Shevo Veahlama, and the Habad kabbalism of Shnuer Zalman of Liady (1745-1812) and the early Habad school. Also noteworthy are sources from the Vilna Gaon and his kabbalistic inheritors, the writings of Yeminite kabbalist Shalom Sharabi (1720-1777), and Sabbatean Nathan Ashkenazi of Gaza (1643-1680).

Elyashiv is particularly noteworthy here not only because his work has largely remained unexcavated, but because he offers a philosophically inflected kabbalism that takes its reader down the rabbit hole of infinite details such that infinity itself is exhibited in a cascading infinite regress. His is thus a system that undermines itself with the non-closure of infinite fragmentation. Any remaining binary of the “one and the many” that may have survived earlier Kabbalah seems to collapse in the intricacies of Elyashiv’s work.

Speaking more generally but as I read him having kabbalists like Elyahiv’s work in mind, Wolfson writes,

The hermeneutic aim of the systemless system is not to subjugate particulars under the stamp of generality but rather to demonstrate how generality is sculptured from the variability and volatility of particulars. The drift of thought exemplified by kabbalists corresponds, therefore, to what Heidegger described as the Grundstimmung, the ‘basic disposition’, or literally the grounding attunement, that is, the attunement to the ground as the grounding of the nonground, an attunement that does not loosen the ‘rigor of the structure [Gefüge].”

Infinity as Oneness is replaced by the infinite details of infinite regression and fragmentation that results in a worldliness of being that holds the infinite itself.

Using Heideggerean language, his point is that “beyng is present in the beings from which it is absent, the mystery bestowed in the refusal of bestowal.”  “We do better to think of the universal as being constituted relentlessly in light of the random and indiscriminate particulars, the universal singularity, whereon the infinite materializes in the finite, the negation of negation of negation…”. The last locution points to Wolfson’s step (via Heidegger) beyond the Hegelian dialectic to reject any universal reconciliation where anything concealed is ever revealed outside of its concealment. In a sense Wolfson is reading Kabbalah here against its own apologetic inclinations, a cautionary reluctance of kabbalistic discourse that often fails to conceal its subversive undoing of its own project. By enabling the tension to remain through the infinite regress of the particular at the expense of collapsing into a Neoplatonic/Hegelian universalism, through Heideggerean lenses, Wolfson directs us to Kabbalah’s own subversion of itself.

Wolfson devotes an entire chapter to the Lurianic notion of simsum as a prime example exemplifying Heidegger’s notion of the “clearing” (Lichtung), in both cases where disclosure can only occur through withdrawal. In some sense, the Lurianic notion of simsum a divine withdrawal as that which makes divine disclosure  (through creation) possible, is the best case study to test Wolfson’s thesis because it heightens the tension of divine absence as the very condition of presence by “Ein Sof reveal[ing] itself in the beings from which it withdraws.” Simsum is a doctrine that brings Kabbalah to the brink of its own deconstruction. For Wolfson, simusum is where Kabbalah allows itself to step beyond its own self-constructed apologetic frame yielding the rupture of the “breaking of the vessels,” rendering creation a tragedy in which we all reside. For a brief but potent moment, the Lurianic school shows its hand where ontotheology (all beings are made by the one being) yields meontology (the withdrawal of beyng from beings, or the abandonment of beings by beyng). While post-Lurianists, excluding Elyahiv and a few others, often swoop in to mend the tear in being and offer a reconciliation, or tikun, where beyng and beings are reconciled, Wolfson wants us to freeze that frame of simsum. When examined in its bare-boned manifestation, it speaks deeply to Heidegger’s project.

Thus far I have to tried to tease out Wolfson’s constructive project of analyzing the affinities of Kabbalah and Heidegger by unmooring Kabbalah from its monotheistic orbit, what I consider its “apologetic” project (Wolfson does not use that term). This is not to say that kabbalists were not monotheists. Rather, it is to say that some of their teachings reach to the very margins of conventional monotheism in ways that, in my view (and I think Wolfson’s as well), steps over the edge in part because the Kabbalist’s commitment to conventional theological notions blinds them from seeing how conceptually radical they were (many anti-Kabbalists may have intuited that move). Detractors will certainly argue that such unmooring breaks the rules of scholarship that strives to understand its subject “on its own terms.” This may be true, and Wolfson openly notes that he is not playing by the usual rules of the academy. Like Heidegger, his project openly and knowingly defies academic conventions. But it is worth noting that a careful reading of the sources themselves reveals a tension where mystical elasticity seems to periodically reach its limit, something both Scholem and Wolfson’s teacher Alexander Altmann were acutely aware of. For Scholem this snapped in Sabbateanism. For Wolfson, it snaps when the coincidence of opposites can no longer sustain itself inside a transcendent other who remains other and the same simultaneously. The “en” of panentheism shows itself to be unsustainable. And yet pantheism does not work either as collapsing everything into the immanent with nothing outside it fails to delineate that which is not being and not non-being. It has no place for Beyng or Ein Sof.

In what remains I want to address what for many readers will be the thorniest – but potentially most illuminating – aspect of this project: Heidegger’s essentializing of language, people, and land as an instantiation of Dasein as the culmination, or onto-politicization, of his project. That is, “the historical Dasein of a people.” Heidegger’s antisemitism, the extent to which it is based on his anti-Judaism, is built on clay foundations given his ignorance of Kabbalah, an idea Wolfson developed in his earlier book on Heidegger. This poses an alternative challenge to Kabbalah that is given a more developed analysis in this more expansive book. The outgrowth of Heidegger’s intervention gives us an essentialized notion of Dasein embodied in the German Volk, the German language, and the German “land,” that is, an ethnocentrism that shades into a hypernationalist project (even as Heidegger may have come to see its polices as a distortion of his philosophy). So too, Wolfson argues, Kabbalah’s doctrines can easily produce, and indeed have produced, a reified ethnocentrism around people, language, and land; this can result in a troubling politicized environment that one can see in the theo-politics of some iterations of the Kookean school and some Hasidic and kabbalistic circles in present-day Israel and the Diaspora.

The reader is invariably aware of the disastrous consequences of Heidegger’s move and Wolfson fully acknowledges it. Heidegger and Kabbalah illumines darkly that the instantiation of Dasein in language, people, and land, emblematic in Heidegger’s political-theology, is all too apparent in kabbalistic political-ontology as well, something with which readers of Kabbalah are fully aware but often sublimate by keeping such essentializing in a metaphysical register. Wolfson notes with acute honesty, “in both Heidegger and kabbalists one can find a coupling of semantic essentialism and ethnocentric chauvinism, that is, the privileging of a particular language as disclosive of the truth of being and the consequent affirmation of a cultural identity of a particular ethos to be the custodian of that language in the land of origin, a position that harbors the potential for the disvaluing of others in racial terms.”

Other readers of Kabbalah point to its universalist reach which focuses on the redemption of the world and not just a people. But Wolfson’s comment of his teacher Alexander Altmann is well-placed: all universalizing gestures toward a “return to a particularistic coloration that defies thematization and translation into a universal abstraction.” (348). While Altmann’s comment does not necessarily lend itself to Wolfson’s more strongly worded hazard of reified “ethnocentrism” (in Heidegger and Kabbalah) it modifies, in some way, the universalizing tendencies of kabbalistic apologetics. Wolfson, too, thinks there is a universalism embedded in some kabbalistic literature but getting at it is an arduous process that must take us through Heidegger.

The notion of the particular in and of itself is not the problem; the problem is the reification of that particularity to the point that it subsumes the totality of the universal. Wolfson sharpens this point. In much of kabbalistic teaching, “it is only the Jew, as it were, [who] has the wherewithal to be absorbed into the infinite where all distinctions – including the distinction between the Jew and the non-Jew – are transcended.” It is only the Jew who can transcend the difference between Jew and non-Jew, thus the Jew in Kabbalah and the German in Heidegger are not mere particulars but rather the particular that transcends particularity itself to carry in it the universal in the fullness of its being. That is, the particular subsumes the universal into itself. Cherry-picking kabbalistic ruminations, such as in the work of some Hasidic master or Rav Abraham Kook that seem to defy that characterization, are unconvincing and in my view and only exacerbate the anxiety caused precisely by the knowledge that kabbalistic doctrine, founded on a metaphysical rendering of divine election, pragmatically rejects such characterization. It is the unmasking of these kabbalistic tendencies as mirroring Heidegger’s own particularism that provides the best means to deal with them productively.

Wolfson shows us that the substitution of the German for the Jew, the German language for Hebrew, or the German Fatherland for the land of Israel, is not unfounded in kabbalistic  teaching. Both articulate in different yet also overlapping ways a common move of instantiating “Dasein” (Heidegger) or “Holiness” (Kabbalah) into the bodies of a people, a land, or a language; not a “being” or holiness that has much room for others, but an exclusivity that subsumes the infinite in a small set of particulars, in one people, one language, and one land.

Heidegger rejected Judaism and the Jews as “nomadic” foreigners whose wanderings and landlessness could never make them a legitimate people, and he thus discounts them as “inauthentic” and a menace to the German project. Zionism proved him wrong about Jewish landlessness. And in some way that is the greatest challenge to Zionism, especially as it is refracted through kabbalistic lenses. Figures such as the contemporary hasid and mystic Yitzhak Ginsburgh (b. 1944) make that clear. Ginsburgh, who defended Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of 29 Muslims in the Cave of the Patriarch mosque in Hebron in 1994 regularly uses the tools of Kabbalah to make his chauvinistic and racist case for Jewish supremacy. Lest we think Ginsburg is simply an outlier, his influence is palpable among some settlers and his knowledge of Kabbalah is broad and deep. He knows of what he speaks.

Ginsburgh and those like him are arguably “Zionist” Heideggereans (even as it’s not clear Ginsburgh considers himself a Zionist which he deems a secular project), and the trap that ensnared Heidegger in the realm of the political applies to them as well. Neither Wolfson nor I are making the claim that kabbalistic renderings of Zionism yield Nazism, which would be facile. What Wolfson’s book does suggest, however, is that the affinities between Heidegger and Kabbalah on a variety of metaphysical and ontological matters, when put into political practice under certain conditions, are alarmingly vulnerable to a chauvinistic exclusivity that can too easily lead to the dehumanizing of the other in its midst. In this sense, Heidegger and Kabbalah exposes a serious flaw of exclusivity and chauvinism in kabbalistic teaching. While Kabbalah may have been the product of disenfranchisement and marginalization and thus a response to the experience of exclusion, it becomes dangerous when used in a space of Jewish hegemony. And, I would add, its role in contemporary iterations of Religious Zionism, largely through Rav Kook, is not inconsequential.

What then is the value of a metaphysics that becomes a source for chauvinism and supremacy when put in the service of the political?  Wolfson puts it this way:

My strategy in this book has been to follow this path, to link two ostensibly disparate corpora in order to illuminate the convergence from within the divergence, to demonstrate that otherness of the similar is consequent to a similarity of the other. I have sought to recover from two admittedly independent ideational matrices a logic that pervades the disparity of the uniform by keeping to the uniformity of the disparate. Without denying the demonstrably detrimental attitude that has informed the kabbalistic and Heideggerean constructions of the other – in both cases, although qualitatively and quantitatively different, the theoretical construct that had pernicious practical implications – I contend nonetheless that the negative propensity of a singular universality has the capacity to yield the ethical imperative of a universal singularity: what secures out equality is our diversity. The trespassing of the boundary between self and other need not be accomplished by incorporating or demolishing the other whether in acts of gratuitous compassion or wanton aggression.

The hope here is that by freeing Kabbalah from its exclusivist frame and re-reading Heidegger though Kabbalah, the possibility of universal singularity manifest as seeing the same in difference and the difference in the same may emerge. But serious hazards remain. Collapsing the universal or any form of reconciliation into infinite particulars can too easily be self-limiting, where the particulars lose their universality by absorbing it and thus become the very instantiation of the universal.

Wolfson’s critique of Kabbalah is thus no less a defense of its potential, and his acknowledging of Heidegger’s grave error is no apologetic but a belief that Heidegger betrayed his own project, or at least arguably misread it or refused to confront its pitfalls, for the sake of the banality of power. The hope of Wolfson’s book is that “the juxtaposition of the ostensibly incongruent fields of discourse, the belonging together of what is foreign, Heidegger and kabbalah, will not only enhance our understanding of both, but, in an even more profound sense, will serve as an ethical corrective of their respective ethnocentrisms thereby illustrating the redemptive capacity of thought to yield new configurations of the unthought colluding on disparate paths of contemplative thinking.”  Far from an apologetic or purely critical or analytic project, Heidegger and Kabbalah is a constructive one, an exercise that requires re-thinking each of its subjects outside their damnation or apologetic justification.

Heidegger and Kabbalah is not a book simply about Heidegger or Kabbalah. It is an audacious and brilliantly conceived and executed meditation on thinking more generally. It seeks to redress how we think about both by viewing one through the lens of the other, not toward any comparative end or philosophical synthesis but rather to critique each on its own terms. In doing so, it enables both the potential and the hazards in each to come rushing to the fore. Such a rising tide contains all the majesty, beauty, and danger of nature at its most genuine. Wolfson doesn’t give his reader a key to enter this world. But along the way there are doors that appear, and if you can walk through one of them, a panoramic kaleidoscope will open before you.

Shaul Magid is Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and Kogod Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. His two latest books are The Bible, the Talmud and the New Testament: Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik’s Commentary to the Gospel, and Piety and Rebellion: Essay in Hasidism, both published in 2019. His forthcoming book Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical will be published with Princeton University Press is 2021. He is presently working on a project on the political theology of R. Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar.