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Secrecy, Modesty, and the Feminine: Kabbalistic Traces in the Thought of Levinas

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A number of scholars have discussed the possible affinities between Levinas and the kabbalah. In this essay, I explore the nexus between eros, secrecy, modesty, and the feminine in the thought of Levinas compared to a similar complex of ideas elicited from kabbalistic speculation. In addition to the likelihood that Levinas may have been influenced by the interrelatedness of these motifs in kabbalistic lore, I argue that he proffers an anti-theosophic interpretation of kabbalah, which accords with his rejection of the dogma of incarnation and the related polemical depiction of Christianity as idolatry. The appropriation of the kabbalistic hermeneutic on the part of Levinas, therefore, entailed a major revision. In translating the ontological into the ethical, Levinas divests the secret of its secretive potency, but thereby fostered an esoteric reading of Jewish esotericism.

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