Into India and Back To Poland (Elliot Wolfson, A Dream Interpreted Within a Dream)


To the best of my knowledge, Elliot Wolfson’s A Dream Interpreted Within a Dream is the most realized attempt to fuse Jewish and Buddhist mystical traditions. I was expecting it, sort of, but found myself somewhat surprised nevertheless. Very late in the last chapter of the book, you’ll fall into a deep rabbit hole, running about 8 pages, along with 10 pages of footnotes that illumine the author’s tracks into this thicket.

India enters into view on p.258 with a methodological leap past what is represented, in so many words, as the cul de sac of postmodernism into a philosophical discursus positioned by the Sankara school of Advaita Vedanta, Nagarjuna, and Dogen, the Japanese Zen sage. You’re back out into Poland on p.265 with the disciples of the Besht, who are now shown to weave, in conjunction with Mahayana philosophy, the light of the infinite into garments and dreamscapes. Their God is “a personal God” who “becomes only through its association with the unreal principles of Maya,” a personal God…[who] is himself something unreal” (p.459n.174). Another Buddhist, Allen Ginsburg writing from Japan gets the last word of the book.

These are new worlds for Jewish philosophy and religious thought, new worlds same as the old worlds. As for the historical link between India and medieval Jewish Kabbalah, , it is provided by Abraham Melamed’s “The Image of India in Medieval Jewish Culture: Between Adoration and Rejection,” Jewish History 20 (2006), 299-314. For the most part, Elliot’s discussion is theoretical. As for those historical connections, it’s recognized by him that it’s “a matter that requires a careful investigation that lies beyond the scope of this study” (p.468n.206 ).

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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1 Response to Into India and Back To Poland (Elliot Wolfson, A Dream Interpreted Within a Dream)

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