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.