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Picturing Rationalism vs. Mysticism
With my book Rationalism vs. Mysticism: Schisms in Traditional Jewish Thought nearing publication, it was time to start thinking about the cover design. What type of illustration would be relevant to this topic? The only thing that came to mind - and I think that it really cuts to the core of the schism - is a picture of an atom and the sefirot.
Allow me to elaborate. For many years I have been defining the schism between rationalism and mysticism as falling into the following three topics:
Mystics see reliable knowledge about the world as being obtained from ongoing instances of supernatural revelation; rationalists see it as coming from human investigation.
Rationalists prefer to perceive God as working through nature; mystics prefer to see Him as working through supernatural miracles.
Rationalists understand the commandments as functioning solely to change our thoughts and behavior; mystics see their primary function as manipulating mystical forces.
In my book, for expository reasons, I have expanded this list to include two extra topics:
IV. SUPERNATURAL ENTITIES
Rationalists minimize the number of supernatural entities and forces, mystics maximize them.
Rationalists see Torah as being toras chaim, a religious guide to life; mystics, on the other hand, believe the Torah to be the genetic blueprint of creation, possessing all kinds of metaphysical qualities, which only on its most superficial level is an instructional text. (This is really just an expansion of the differing views of mitzvot.)
Now, all these five differences ultimately relate to understanding Judaism within the framework of the laws of nature vs. within the framework of supernatural forces. (Why people choose one rather than the other itself presumably boils down to some fundamental aspect of human psychology, which is certainly worthy of investigation, and which I have some initial thoughts about; perhaps there are some psychologists here who can give an insight?) Ultimately, then, the visual depiction of rationalism should relate to physics (which is the "rawest" form of science), hence the illustration of the popular conception of an atom (even though that's not what atoms really look like). The illustration for mysticism should be a visual depiction of mystical forces, hence the illustration of the sefirot.
(Meanwhile, if there are any Photoshop wizards out there who would like to assist with a certain modification that I would like to make to this illustration, please write to me at director@BiblicalNaturalHistory.org. And if you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you. And if you're in Israel for Chanukah, come visit The Biblical Museum of Natural History!)