Separation, Veil, Perfect Asymmetry, and Inward Pilgrimage: David Gelernter on Judaism

This past week, the Chronicle Review had a long piece on Yale Professor David Gelernter (“technological guru, conservative polemicist, Unabomber target”) and his new book on the Jewish faith, titled Judaism: A Way of Being (Yale 2009):

In Judaism, Gelernter zeroes in on four “image-themes”—separation, veil, perfect asymmetry, and inward pilgrimage. “Imagine yourself in an amphitheater,” he writes, “gazing down at a stage on which shapes appear and sometimes blend together.” He goes on to discuss how the Red Sea parts to allow the Israelites to escape Egypt (separation), Abraham strides atop Mount Moriah with his son Isaac by his side (inward pilgrimage), Moses returns from his meeting with God with his luminous face obscured by a shroud (veil), and the biblical figures of Jacob and Rachel, side by side, in love (perfect asymmetry). “Imagery is natural to Judaism,” Gelernter says, his fleshy face lighting up with excitement. “Jews have always pondered the beauty of the aleph bet“—the Hebrew alphabet—”so it is natural for art and images to emerge, which can communicate much more than a description in language.”

I love the creative lenses (separation, veil, perfect asymmetry, and inward pilgrimage) through which Gelernter reads Judaism, and makes me want to get the book. And until Gelernter linked the Exodus with separation, I hadn’t thought of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea as psychologically a birth canal out of the Egyptian “mother.”


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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