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By Moshe Idel

In this wide-ranging dialogue of Kabbalah -- from the paranormal developments of medieval Judaism to trendy Hasidism -- one of many world's prime students considers various visions of the character of the sacred textual content and of the tips on how to interpret it.

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Sample text

Direct influences, open and hidden forms of antagonism, and a variety of syntheses between them account for many of the characteristics of the historical developments and the phenomenology of Jewish hermeneutics. This methodological assumption holds as much in the case of Jewish hermeneutics as it does in the development of Jewish thought, a point that is often overlooked by those who have suggested broader pictures of the different aspects of Jewish thought. This is not the place to develop this methodological observation,24 but I shall attempt to follow it whenever pertinent.

A very creative hermeneutical approach to the sacred texts, which are reinterpreted time and again by the same mystic in new ways, is not a good prescription for the belief in a stability of meanings in the mystical texts under scrutiny below. This is why, in my opinion, it is necessary to take into account the broad semantic field of a given word, notion, or conceptual structure both in the earlier literatures and in the more recent ones, which will be able to map all its usages. As is the case with terms for secrecy in ancient and medieval Jewish literatures, the move—in fact our understanding of the different forms and directions of developments of a particular term—consists in semantic oscillations and fluctuations.

Thus, a move from the exoteric nature of some of those texts to an esoteric understanding of them is one of the major moves characteristic of the development of Jewish literature, especially the speculative and some of the interpretive ones. Even in those cases when some esoteric elements are found in some interpreted texts, like ibn Ezra’s commentaries, the Guide of the Perplexed, Nahmanides’ commentary on the Torah, or the Book of the Zohar, the subsequent commentaries have often enhanced the scope of the esoteric topics beyond what was intended by the original authors.

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