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Taboo in Kabbalah and Jewish Magic

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Waterfront 3 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel explores the ambivalent function of taboo in Jewish mysticism and magic, in literature and in practice. The materials discussed her include the Bahir, the Zohar, and the modern Cohenet movement. In all of these cases the power of taboo lies in its ambivalence, in which it structures society and undoes it. These focus on the anti-structural side of taboo, for in these sources taboo activates the power to redo, rethink, and reimagine relationships. Rock-Singer discusses the feminist reclamation of desacralizing elements to challenge Jewish structures of authority and to sanctify women's experience. IN her work the power to claim the creative side of taboo is the power to re-conceptualize the feminine self and its power. Nathaniel Berman explores the uncanny parallelism between prohibitions surrounding the gaze on sacred places and upon demonic ones. He argues that the ambivalence of taboo fuels a Zoharic drive for rhetorical parallelism between sacred and demonic. In his reading, this phenomenon suggests a convergence between experiences of the divine and the demonic, suggesting a re-imagination of both in light of the other. Segol's paper analyzes the narration of the incest taboo in the Bahir, exploring its function in dismantling of taxonomies and hierarchies, and on its purposeful cultivation of ambivalent but powerful affect. She argues that in the end, the incest taboo is used to mark a liminal space in which social hierarchy is temporarily dismantled to imagine a powerful and communitas that forms the basis of its newly imagined cosmology. David Slucki, who works on taboo in Jewish Comedy, will serve as a respondent to our panel, showing the parallels between the papers here and in his own work on the subject.

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