Tzimtzum of the holy: post-Holocaust theology & the reconstruction of Kabbalah

Podmore, Simon D (2022). Tzimtzum of the holy: post-Holocaust theology & the reconstruction of Kabbalah. University of Birmingham. M.A.

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The origins of this dissertation lie in critically developing a suspicion concerning the confluence of two ostensibly parallel strands in 20th-21st century Jewish studies: the dynamic emergence of post-holocaust theology; and the rise of scholarship on kabbalah. In particular, I read Gershom Scholem’s account of Lurianic tzimtzum (‘contraction’) as both an historical retrieval and as a distinctly modern reconstruction of the idea in the shadow of the shoah: a reconstruction that is subsequently incorporated, often uncritically, into the ‘radical’ re-imagining of God’s relationship with evil espoused within post-holocaust theology. Establishing this genealogy of influence, I seek to constructively and critically develop its theological implications with reference to two pertinent recent figures within post-holocaust theology: David Blumenthal and Melissa Raphael, who share a hermeneutic appeal to Rudolf Otto’s notions of ‘the numinous’ and ‘the holy’. Focussing on these figures, I examine accounts of how the phenomena of ‘evil’ arises in the shoah: whether as an exclusively human phenomena; or as a presence already latent within the divine. This focus gives rise to the possibility of ‘protest’ against God as a way of holding God to account for the evil that arises in the wake of God’s tzimtzum. In light of this, I offer a constructive reading of the tension between Blumenthal’s ‘protest’ against the ‘Abusing God’ and Raphael’s ‘re-imagining’ of ‘God-She’. I propose that these perspectives can actually co-operate in dialogical tension, contributing to a heuristic and polyvalent approach to post-holocaust theology itself. This hermeneutic is framed further in relation to the spectrum of interpretations of tzimtzum: giving greater credence to how Ḥasidic readings of ‘concentration’ and ‘concealment’ help to regulate the dominance of Scholem’s ‘literal’ reading of tzimtzum as ‘withdrawal’ or ‘retreat’. In concluding, I suggest ways in which these relatively neglected ‘ethical-devotional’ approaches to tzimtzum—making space for ‘the other’ by affirming a human imitatio dei of ‘self-limitation’ and ‘self-giving’—may contribute to resisting the very phenomena of evil that arises in the shoah.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.A.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.A.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion, Department of Theology and Religion
Funders: Other
Other Funders: British Academy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BM Judaism


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