Abulafia in the Library: Comparing Tzeruf ha-Otiyyot and Borgesian Letter Combinations
In this article, the author seeks to compare the motif of letter combinations in Abulafian Kabbalah and in Jorge Luis Borges' story The Library of Babel. In order to do so, the first part of the article surveys the sources, characteristics and possible interpretations of Abulafia's Tzeruf ha-Otiyyot. The second part of the article takes a closer look on the same subjects in relation to letter combinations as they appear in Borges' story. The article further describes the ecstatic experience in Abulafian Kabbalah as a process in three dissolutive-condensative stages at the linguistic, epistemological and ontological level. As this model is applied to the reading of Borges' story, questions about the ability of Kabbalah scholarship to grasp the object of its study arise.
The paper concludes with a discussion about the role of oral transmission in Borges' Library and in Abulafian Kabbalah. The limits of the written language as a teaching tool are shown to be conspicuous in both cases. Abulafian Kabbalah, in particular, was heavily dependent on a master-disciple relationship that cannot be put into writing. The lack of the oral tradition, though, is not always synonymous with an impoverishment of knowledge. As the reception of Samuel ibn Tibbon's translation of The Guide of the Perplexed shows, the opposite can also be the case.