Levinas and the Unnamed Balaam on Ontology and Idolatry

Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 19 (2):131-145 (2011)
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Abstract

Levinas establishes an intriguing connection between idolatry and ontology. This connection is aptly illustrated by the biblical character of Balaam, the ambiguous Mesopotamian prophet or sorcerer of Numbers 22-24, who is almost never mentioned in Levinas's work but who is present, albeit hidden, in the talmudic reading “Contempt for the Torah as Idolatry.“ A deconstruction of this talmudic reading uncovers Balaam's footprints. It also clarifies different meanings of idolatry—exposing its ontological violence, but also, perhaps, its necessity for ethics and law

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