Idel, Moshe

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IDEL, MOSHE (1947– ), Kabbalah scholar. Idel was born in Romania and immigrated to Israel in 1963. He became a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1977 and was subsequently Max Cooper Professor of Jewish Thought. From 1990 he was also a fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. In 1999 he was awarded the Israel Prize in Jewish thought.

In some 50 books in seven languages, as well as many hundreds of articles, Idel covered all of the periods of Jewish mystical writing. He has provided an incisive critique of the scholarly positions developed by Gershom *Scholem, as well as providing numerous "new perspectives" on Kabbalah. While Scholem described Kabbalah as a "mystical theology," Idel emphasized the experiential and performative aspects of kabbalistic practice. In doing so, Idel expanded Scholem's distinction between "theosophical" and "ecstatic" forms of Kabbalah into a phenomenological distinction between two main kinds of Kabbalah. At the same time he stressed the theurgical practice attendant on theosophical discourse. In his book on Ḥasidism, Idel developed a "panoramic" account of the history of Kabbalah as the interplay of three models: theosophical, ecstatic, and magical. These models transformed the previous "monochromatic" picture of Kabbalah into a more complex view of tensions between schools and combinations between models, as evidenced in Idel's book on Messianism.

Idel has placed his reading of Kabbalah within the broader context of the place of this literature within the overall structures of Jewish religiosity. His discussions of the profound links between the Kabbalah and other forms of Jewish discourse include a reconstruction of the rabbinic origins of key themes in kabbalistic theosophy and theurgy. Idel has conceptualized several characteristics of Jewish religious life, including collective performance, the cardinality of engagement with texts, and the salience of speech and sound.

Idel's work, and especially his book on hermeneutics, evoked a creative dialogue between Kabbalah research and contemporary developments in the human sciences, while significantly enhancing the theoretical sophistication of his field. Idel has influenced major theoreticians such as Jacques *Derrida (1930–2004), Umberto Eco (1932– ), and Harold *Bloom (1930– ). However, he has warned against the wholesale adoption of contemporary interpretative approaches, and proposes a more "eclectic" mix of methods to match the complexity of kabbalistic structures.

Besides his broader contributions, Idel's writing includes many historical discoveries, such as the scope and influence of the writings of Ecstatic Kabbalist R. Abraham *Abulafia, the uniqueness of the Italian kabbalists, as well as identification and dating of dozens of texts.

In addition to his writing, Idel has been instrumental in facilitating connections between Israeli academia and global scholarship, and in strengthening Jewish studies throughout the West, and especially in Eastern and Central Europe. He also served as doctoral advisor for many among the new generation of Kabbalah scholars.

His books include Kabbalah: New Perspectives (1988),Hassidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic (1995), Messianic Mystics (1998), Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (2002), Enchanted Chains: Techniques and Rituals in Jewish Mysticism (2005).

[Jonathan Garb (2nd ed.)]