ABSTRACT: Review of: Letters by which Heaven and Earth were Created

Katharsis, 24 (2016), pp. 24-40 (Hebrew)  Meir Bar-Ilan


Tzahi Weiss, Letters by which Heaven and Earth were Created: The Origins and Meanings of the Perceptions of Alphabetic Letters as Independent Units in Jewish Sources of Late Antiquity, Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2015, 262 pp. (Hebrew).

Weiss dissertation was ripened into a highly erudite book that deals with an esoteric understanding of the role of the letters when the Creator made the world out of them. This is a historical study of philosophical and mystical knowledge analyzed by several disciplines that were interwoven into a learned treatise.

In this book meet many sources from various scholars, from Sefer Yetsira, Memar Marqa (in Samaritan Aramaic), Talmud (plus midrash and modern philology), Heikhalot literature, Plato, Zosimos of Panopolis, Plotinus, Pachomius, with many others, who come into discussions with the help of modern thinkers such as J. Lacan, P. Ricoeur, C. S. Peirce, J. Derrida, U. Eco, G. Scholem, M. Idel, and many more. Hebrew letters and fonts as well as Greek letters are in the focus of the study while Metatron is called to testify concerning the names that are engraved on the Throne of Glory.

Though there is no way to dispute Weiss' contribution and intellectual achievement there are some flaws that must be taken into account while evaluating this study. First, it is pointed out that Gematria is a false syllogism and though it is true that traditionally it was considered to be true, except by Iamblichus and ibn Ezra, any modern scholar must abstain of using it or supporting it implicitly and explicitly. Completely. Second, the book suffers from arrogant Hebrew as is disclosed in several sentences taken from the book that reveal why and how Judaic Studies are heading the academic Olympus while ignoring the laity who do not command Foucault's analysis or unaware of the meaning of paradiscursive. Third, a note is given concerning the date of the Heikhalot literature (4th-5th centuries). Fourth, a discussion concerning Sefer Ytsira shows the reader that he is not allowed to introduce his own ideas into a text under discussion.