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The Talmudic Zohar: Rabbinic Interdisciplinarity in Midrash ha-Ne'lam

  • Author(s): Rosen, Joseph Dov
  • Advisor(s): Boyarin, Daniel;
  • Largier, Niklaus
  • et al.

This study uncovers the heretofore ignored prominence of talmudic features in Midrash ha-Ne’lam on Genesis, the earliest stratum of the zoharic corpus. It demonstrates that Midrash ha-Ne’lam, more often thought of as a mystical midrash, incorporates both rhetorical components from the Babylonian Talmud and practices of cognitive creativity from the medieval discipline of talmudic study into its esoteric midrash. By mapping these intersections of Midrash, Talmud, and Esotericism, this dissertation introduces a new framework for studying rabbinic interdisciplinarity—the ways that different rabbinic disciplines impact and transform each other.

The first half of this dissertation examines medieval and modern attempts to connect or disconnect the disciplines of talmudic study and Jewish esotericism. Spanning from Maimonides’ reliance on Islamic models of Aristotelian dialectic to conjoin Pardes (Jewish esotericism) and talmudic logic, to Gershom Scholem’s juvenile fascination with the Babylonian Talmud, to contemporary endeavours to remedy the disciplinary schisms generated by Scholem’s founding models of Kabbalah (as a form of Judaism that is in tension with “rabbinic Judaism”), these two chapters tell a series of overlapping histories of Jewish inter/disciplinary projects. The section’s juxtaposition of medieval and contemporary models of talmudic-esoteric interdisciplinarity provides a framework for overcoming the models of disciplinarity that the field of Zohar Studies inherited from Scholem’s pioneering scholarship and clears theoretical space for rethinking the disciplinary commitments of Midrash ha-Ne’lam.

The second half of the dissertation demonstrates that Midrash ha-Ne’lam uses talmudic reasoning and rhetoric for three purposes: (1) to formulate a model of divine cosmogenesis that is akin to talmudic creativity; (2) to advocate for applying talmudic reasoning to secrets as a way to expand esoteric knowledge; (3) and to represent a scholastic community in which rabbis search for secrets together and debate each other’s esoteric lore.

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