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Moshe Idel Bridges Jewish Mysticism and Indian Religions

Moshe Group, TAM Insititute

(L. to R., Don Seeman, Rkia Cornell, Vincent Cornell, Moshe Idel, David Blumenthal)

A few years ago, Emory professor Don Seeman had the chance while on sabbatical to attend a seminar on the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement, by Professor Moshe Idel of the Hebrew University. During that semester long seminar, Professor Idel mentioned that he had conducted some still-unpublished research on textual connections between Jewish mysticism and eastern religions, including Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. Given Emory's strengths in both Jewish studies and Tibetan and Indian religions, both scholars thought that the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies would make an excellent venue to discuss this groundbreaking research. Idel visited Emory on March 18, 2013, just before Passover and the beginning of Emory Tibet Week.

Moshe Idel is one of the great Jewish intellectuals of the 20th century. Born in Romania, he became the leading scholar of Jewish mysticism and is the author of more than 20 books and countless articles in major European languages. Following Gershom Scholem, who established the field of Jewish mysticism through philology and critical text study, Idel continued these projects but also brought a fresh phenomenological view to bear. His landmark New Perspectives in the Study of Jewish Mysticism became one of the foundational texts in the field, though he also has contributed important studies to particular authors and movements, such as Abraham Abulafia, various Hasidic writers, and 20th-century writers such as Scholem, Kafka, and Mercea Eliade. The literary critic Harold Bloom described Idel as "my Kabbalist."

Moshe Idel seminar, TAM Institute
Seminar with Moshe Idel, Don Seeman, and other TIJS faculty, students, and guests

Professor Idel gave two talks while at Emory. The first was a seminar geared to faculty and students of the Tam Institute on "Perspectivism in Jewish Studies: Between Texts and Methods." He argued against the hyper-specialization that sometimes characterizes contemporary academia and described the way his own broad reading has sometimes sparked questions and lines of research that never would have emerged had he limited himself to reading in his own immediate areas of research. He then graciously spoke at a lunch for graduate students held at Emory Hillel where he was able to offer more personal advice and guidance.

Despite stormy weather and a tornado warning, more than 60 people packed an auditorium at White Hall for Professor Idel's major talk on "Hindu Thought in Hebrew Words: How Indian Thought Influenced Medieval Jewish Mysticism." This was a groundbreaking talk that brought together faculty and students from across the university as well as members of the Atlanta community. Idel presented evidence of robust cultural and religious exchange among Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists during the Middle Ages in ways that had a decisive effect on the development of Jewish mysticism.

Moshe Idel seminar, TAM Institute
Moshe Idel delivers his public lecture

Most notable from the evening was a spontaneous exchange of high erudition between Idel and Vince Cornell, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and MESAS chair, on the role of particular Sufi Sheikhs in the transmission of ideas between Eastern writers and European Jews. Graduate students and fellow faculty members alike left the room feeling that they had just witnessed an example of what scholarship is meant to be and can be when ideas and resources from different departments, disciplines, and intellectual traditions are brought together at a place like Emory.

The excitement generated by Professor Idel's visit establishes a new benchmark for how Jewish studies is poised to serve as a fulcrum of intellectual life at Emory. His visit was made possible by generous funding from the Judith London Evans Fund in Jewish Studies as well as the Hightower Fund and important cosponsorships from Candler School of Theology, the Emory-Tibet Partnership, the Graduate Division of Religion, the Department of Religion, and the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies.

 

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About this Publication

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honor Oded Boroswki with the spring 2014 Symposium and welcomes Nicholas Block.
Graduate Student News

We celebrate the TIJS-
affiliated graduate students who have completed their programs and received their doctorates this year.
Blumenthal Awards Go to Three Students

Blumenthal AwardsThe Blumenthal award is given to Emory students (graduate and undergraduate) who submit excellent papers, written in the past year, on any topic related to Jewish studies.
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Thanks to Our Donors

Thanks to our donorsWe are grateful to the friends of TIJS for their generous donations that make so many of our programs possible.

 

 
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Fall 2013
Candler Entrance


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