Monday, September 5, 2011

[Shefa] RE: Panentheism and coincidentia oppositorum


Dear Shefa list members,

Interesting, fascinating concept developed in paper by Dr. Sanford L. Drob:

Delving deeply into the idea of paradox or the "coincidence of opposites" brings together mysticism/Kabbalah, theology, psychology, human consciousness, and theoretical physics.  Now that is quite the intellectual span!

The paradoxical idea that G-d is transcendent, all-powerful, all-knowing, the universal Creator (Elokim) and yet is immanent, engaged and evident in the dynamics of unfolding human process in a particularistic sense (He Who Delivered Us from Slavery--HaShem) is known as 'panentheism', one of the core ideas of Jewish theology.

The Shema is the ultimate statement of this concept:  "Hear O Israel, HaShem--Our Elokim--HaShem is One."   That is, both HaShem and Elokim are contained within HaShem.

As the Danish Jewish theoretical physicist, Neils Bohr, is quoted:

"How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress."

 Niels Bohr quotes (Danish Physicist, first to apply the quantum theory.Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922. 1885-1962)

While logical analysis would dictate that the statement:   "If A, then not A." is untenable and meaningless,  when A is a deep truth, its logical inverse, not A, may well reflect a deep truth, with the two polarities being held in the balance. 

We have this tension running  in Judaism and in the history of Rabbinic textual interpretation between the analytical philosophy approach typified by Maimonides, and the appeal to mysticism and the irrational aspects of human reality typified by Nachmanides and, earlier, by the great medieval Spanish-Jewish physician, poet, and philosopher, Judah Halevi, author of the Kuzari.

For a very clear explanation of this duality within the Rabbinic tradition, see Rabbi Jonathan Sacks highly illuminating commentary on Va-etchanan from 5769:

For theoretical physicists, there is the Principle of Complementarity.  For neuropsychologists, there is the duality between abstract and concrete thinking processes.  For theologists, there is Panentheism.  For Heschel, it was the tension between the Chasidic thought of the Baal Shem Tov (dominated by the theme of Love/Joy), and the Chasidic thought of the Kotzker Rebbe (dominated by the theme of Truth/Justice).

For mathematicians, there is G Spencer Brown's little book entitled "Laws of Form" that deals directly with the possibility of paradox within a well-defined mathematical system.




Recent Activity:
Visit our home page at


"Shefa: The Conservative Movement Dreaming from Within" is a forum for
passionate Conservative Jews to reflect together as they increase creative
energy within within the culture and environment of the Conservative
Movement in an effort to bring a renewed and revitalized perspective to
Conservative Jews.

We belong to the Conservative Movement and commit ourselves to working
towards its revitalization. Be a part of this community of visionary
thinkers and builders. To join the conversation, email

Visit our home page at

Stay on top of your group activity without leaving the page you're on - Get the Yahoo! Toolbar now.

A good Credit Score is 720, find yours & what impacts it at