Though Jewish mysticism dates to the beginning of the first millennium, if not earlier, it was in the Middle Ages that it truly became a force in the development of Jewish theology. The kabbalists, as the medieval Jewish mystics came to be known, developed intricate theories about the nature of God and the world.
Because of Jewish mysticism's non-rational bent and its interest in disciplines such as magic and demonology, traditional scholarship has tended to see it as distinct from and antithetical to Jewish philosophy. However, some recent scholars have questioned this distinction, as many mystics were influenced by philosophy and many philosophers had mystical inclinations.
The Enlightenment ushered in an increasingly secular age, and Western philosophy drifted away from traditional religious ideas. In response, modern Jewish thinkers articulated worldviews that integrated Judaism with this new secular reality.
Trends in non-Jewish thinking have always influenced Jewish thought. Medieval philosophers plundered classical Greek sources and studied their Muslim contemporaries. In the modern era, this interaction between Jewish and non-Jewish thought continued, as many general philosophical trends spawned Jewish counterparts. Moses Mendelssohn interpreted Judaism in terms of rational Enlightenment ideas; Hermann Cohen conceived of Judaism in neo-Kantian terms; Martin Buber developed a Jewish existentialism.
Though most figures usually included in the canon of modern Jewish thought are associated with liberal Judaism, traditional Jews have also produced theological works. Some, like the Orthodox theologian Joseph Soloveitchik, drew on non-Jewish thinkers, such as Søren Kierkegaard, while others rely only on explicitly Jewish sources.
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