Seminar and Lecture

Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. (English)

Elliot R. Wolfson, Judaicist


Bifurcating the Androgyne: Engendering Sexuality in the Zohar

Seminar, 3 p.m.


The seminar will examine the role of gender symbolism and sexuality in Sefer ha-Zohar, the main compendium of Jewish mystical lore that began to circulate in fragmentary form in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, most likely in the regions of Catalonia and Castile, and received a relatively stable literary form in the sixteenth century when the manuscripts were prepared for the first printings in Mantua and Cremona (1558–1560). The texts will focus on the kabbalistic interpretation of the biblical account of the creation of man and woman, the nature of sexual difference implied thereby, the meaning of sin and its rectification when viewed through the prism of the symbol of the androgyne.


Shekhinah as Mundus Imaginalis: Polymorphism and the Prism of Imagination

Lecture, 7 p.m.


One of the most important contributions of the kabbalists to Jewish spirituality has been their sustained reflections on the Shekhinah, the divine presence, which they identified as the last of the ten sefirot, the luminous emanations of the infinite Godhead. The lecture will focus specifically on the portrayal of the Shekhinah as the prism of the imagination. The domain of the divine emanations can be designated by the Sufi term, al-alam al-mithāl, the mundus imaginalis, the world of the imagination, a realm that is intermediate between the material and the immaterial, the visible and the invisible. The activation of the imaginative faculty affords the visionary the possibility of participating in the imaginal realm where the virtual is true and the truth virtual. The imagination thus provides the vehicle through which one can have access to the divine being that transcends all conceptual, imagistic, and linguistic demarcation.


Elliot R. Wolfson, a Fellow of the American Academy of Jewish Research and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is the Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. His main area of scholarly research is the history of Jewish mysticism but he has brought to bear on that field training in philosophy, literary criticism, feminist theory, postmodern hermeneutics, and the phenomenology of religion. He is the author of many essays and books including Though a Speculum That Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (1994), which won the American Academy of Religion's Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Category of Historical Studies, 1995 and the National Jewish Book Award for Excellence in Scholarship, 1995;  Along the Path: Studies in Kabbalistic Hermeneutics, Myth, and Symbolism (1995); Circle in the Square: Studies in the Use of Gender in Kabbalistic Symbolism (1995); Abraham Abulafia—Kabbalist and Prophet: Hermeneutics, Theosophy, and Theurgy (2000); Language, Eros, and Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and the Poetic Imagination (2005), which won the National Jewish Book Award for Excellence in Scholarship, 2006; Alef, Mem, Tau: Kabbalistic Musings on Time, Truth, and Death (2006); Venturing Beyond—Law and Morality in Kabbalistic Mysticism (2006); Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menahem Mendel Schneerson (2009); A Dream Interpreted within a Dream: Oneiropoiesis and the Prism of Imagination (2011), which won the American Academy of Religion's Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Category of Constructive and Reflective Studies, 2012; and Giving Beyond the Gift: Apophasis and Overcoming Theomania (2014). Wolfson has also published two collections of poetry: Pathwings: Poetic-Philosophic Reflections on the Hermeneutics of Time and Language (2004), and Footdreams and Treetales: 92 Poems (2007).