Moshe Idel's contribution to the study of religion

Jonathan Garb*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The article discusses the contribution of Moshe Idel's vast research to the field of religious studies. The terms which best capture his overall approach are "plurality" and "complexity". As a result, Idel rejects essentialist definitions of "Judaism", or any other religious tradition. The ensuing question is: to what extent does his approach allow for the characterization of Judaism as a singular phenomenon which can be differentiated from other religions? The answer seems to lie in Idel's definition of the "connectivity" between the human and the divine as a relationship which "underlies the basic notion of religion as such". Opposing Rudolph Otto's description of the holy as remote, Idel explains holiness in terms of closeness and connection. This reading of religion is supported by that of sociologist Daniéle Hervieu-Léger, who describes religious practice as constructing a "chain of memory" - a term which echoes with Idel's analysis of Jewish ritual as the construction of "enchanted chains" of connectivity. Hervieu-Léger's study points towards the possibility of regarding Judaism, as a family-centered tradition, as paradigmatic for traditional religion. Indeed, in recent studies, Idel describes the construction of memory through ritual practice as the most important means of shaping identity for all forms of traditional Judaism. The model of "chains of memory" can be located in classical Jewish texts, such as a much-quoted passage by Nahmanidies - the extremely important thirteenth-century Kabbalist and legal authority. This text describes Jewish rituals as maintaining continuity across generations. We see then that the notion of connectivity moves us closer to the concerns found in central Jewish texts, rather than imposing modern agenda on them. It can also be used to determine to what extent a given idea or practice is connected to the chain of connectivity constructed by a given tradition or is rather tangential to it. In this sense, it is a corrective to the danger of "dispersion" that is implicit in Idel's focus on plurality and complexity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)16-29
Number of pages14
JournalJournal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies
Issue number18
StatePublished - Dec 2007


  • Kabbalah
  • Memory
  • Mircea Eliade
  • Moshe Idel
  • Nahmanidies
  • Religious studies
  • Ritual


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