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Levinas Studies

Volume 2, 2007

Jacob Meskin
Pages 49-77

The Role of Lurianic Kabbalah in the Early Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas

In 1982 the American philosopher and Levinas scholar Edith Wyschogrod conducted an interview with Emmanuel Levinas, the transcript of which she published seven years later. Early in the interview, Wyschogrod proposed to Levinas that his philosophy constituted a radical break with western theological tradition because it started not with a Parmenidean ontological plenitude, but rather with the God of the Hebrew Bible. The God Levinas began with, according to Wyschogrod, was an indigent God, a hidden God who commands that there be a world apart from God, because God needs the multiplicity of the world in order for there to be justice. Levinas responds to this proposal: That’s quite right. Justice, I call it responsibility for the other, right? There is even in Totality and Infinity, the evocation of the tzimtzum [the idea in kabbalistic writings of the self-contraction of God in order to create the void in which creation can take place], but I won’t venture into that.

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