Iconodulic Judaism (Moshe Idel)


Torah is an icon, the shape of God in physical form. This can refer to the individual graphic word or letter, or to the Torah scroll itself as a physical cult-object. Making a Torah scroll is to make an image of God (Moshe Idel: Re-presenting God, pp.42-3). As a physical object it is not unlike a statue (p.61). Pushing back against the intellectualist tradition in Jewish philosophy (and also against the modern conviction that Judaism per se is aniconic or iconophobic), Moshe Idel calls Judaism “much more ‘iconodulic,’” at least “in general” and up until the 12th century (p.52).

The interest that these ideas hold is more than antiquarian, which may not be immediately obvious. They can be found in Idel’s “Torah in Jewish Mysticism,” an article that was recently republished as a chapter in Hava Tirosh-Samuelson and Aaron W. Hughes edited volume, Moshe Idel: Representing God. It appears as volume 8 of the Library of Contemporary Jewish Philosophers, published by Brill. With canny forethought, Tirosh-Samuelson and Hughes turn to Idel to push out the boundaries of Jewish philosophy in new directions.

It’s non-hermeneutical Jewish philosophy. What this attention to the physical structure of the letter or scroll does is to draw attention to non-symbolic, non-semantic meaning. Idel refers to that as the shift from semantic to morphic meaning (pp.40, 47). A letter, after all, is not a “symbol.” God, the human shape, and the Torah scroll and letters are all “somehow identical or at least isomorphic” (pp.63, 64). In this new form of onto-theology, the shape and the image of God has no referential function. It simply “is” in the world.

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. http://religion.syr.edu
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