Religions of the World and Ecology home


Elliot Wolfson is the Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and the director of the Program in Religious Studies at New York University. He is the author of several books and many essays on the history of Jewish mysticism and philosophy. His book, Through a Speculum That Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (Princeton University Press, 1994), won the American Academy of Religion Award in Historical Scholarship in 1995 and the National Jewish Book Award for Outstanding Scholarship in 1995. Wolfson is currently working on a number of projects including a book entitled Language, Eros, and Gender: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and the Poetic Imagination.

 

Abstract of paper given at Judaism and Ecology conference:
The Mirror of Nature in the Jewish Mystical Tradition

In the crucible of medieval kabbalistic symbolism, the motif of nature as a mirror assumes a new form: The idea is not only that nature reflects the glory of God, but that in the most elemental ontological sense nature is the divine reality, for only the latter is real. The inevitable consequence of the symbolic orientation of the medieval kabbala can be expressed precisely in terms of this doubling of vision, for that which is seen in the spatio-temporal realm is always an image of an image. In the kabbalistic symbolism, moreover, both the image of the mirror and that of nature as a reference to the corporeal world are related specifically to the female. Nature is, first and foremost, the signature of body, which is related by the kabbalists, following the conventional wisdom of the middle ages, to the feminine gender. In the hierarchical polarity widespread in medieval culture, spirit or soul correspond to the male and body to the female. To appreciate the kabbalistic understanding of the mirror of nature, one must understand that the ultimate goal is for nature to be overcome by the spiritual. This ascetic overcoming of nature can be expressed as well by the transfiguration of the feminine into the masculine, the restoration of the female into the male.

Back to Judaism and Ecology conference participants