A Moroccan-Italian Rabbi’s Kabbalistic Universalism

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the mostly German thinkers who laid the groundwork for Reform, Conservative, and even Modern Orthodox Judaism—as well as the academic field of Jewish studies—tended to be skeptical of Kabbalah, and in some cases considered it a source of embarrassment. Pinchas Giller sees an alternative approach, rooted in the Mizraḥi tradition, in the thought of Rabbi Elia Benamozegh. Reviewing Another Modernity, a biography of Benamozegh, Giller writes:

Benamozegh was an Italian rabbi of Moroccan extraction, a pillar of the Jewish community of Livorno for much of his life (1823-1900). He received an Enlightenment education, which was the foundation for his liberal understanding of society and history. He was a staunch Italian patriot, in the nationalistic mold of the time, and his aspirations and sensibilities are best understood in the context of the Risorgimento, the 19th-century movement for the unification of Italy, even as he moved to writing and publishing in French. He advocated an enlightened orthodoxy with a sophisticated North African perspective.

Benamozegh was also an ardent and articulate Kabbalist, and kabbalistic ideas, rather than Maimonidean rationalism, remained his default theology as he turned his gaze out to the larger world. His unabashed admiration for Kabbalah was based on the Zohar’s canonicity in North Africa, and his Kabbalah was based on the classical models of the Galilean Renaissance of Kabbalah: the thought of Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria.

Benamozegh saw Judaism as a universalistic religion, based in Kabbalah, of which the halakhic nature was, variously, an isolationist shell. He saw the possibilities of universalism nascent in the Jewish mystical vocabulary and campaigned on the notion that “greater particularism made for greater universalism.” Hence, Benamozegh’s attitude towards Christianity was conciliatory. [However], he viewed the archetypal contents of Indian religion as a better adaptation of kabbalistic ideas than Christianity, notwithstanding its pagan trappings. He also offered radical reinterpretations of Feuerbach and Darwin, bringing them into harmony with religious belief through kabbalistic ideas.

Read more at Marginalia

More about: Italian Jewry, Jewish Thought, Kabbalah, Moroccan Jewry


Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University