Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 3-16-2021


Kabbalah, Kabbalist Tree, Ilanot, Sefirot, diagrams, religous symbols, graph structures, fractals, networks, polymorphism, polysemy


The resurgence of interest in Kabbalistic diagrams (Segol, Busi, Chajes) raises the question of how diagrams function in religious symbolism. This question can be approached via methods used in the graphical modeling of data. Specifically, graph theory lets one define a repertoire of candidate structures that can be applied not only to quantitative data, but also to symbols consisting of qualitative components. A graph is a set of nodes and links between nodes. What nodes and links are is unspecified in this definition. The Kabbalistic Ilan is – partially – a graph. The Sefirot are its nodes; the paths connecting the Sefirot are its links. The idea of a graph is actually not adequate to the Ilan, because in a graph nodes can be anywhere in space, while in the Ilan arrangement in space is significant and not arbitrary. However, graph theory can be supplemented with spatial considerations. What (an augmented) graph theory offers that is of special interest is a way to conceptualize the structural polymorphism of a symbol, i.e., the various decompositions possible for the symbol viewed as a graph. Structural polymorphism correlates with conceptual polysemy. A structural decomposition conveys a particular interpretation of the symbol, and to viewers of the symbol the variety of possible decompositions presents simultaneously a multiplicity of meanings. This polymorphism and thus polysemy is what gives many symbols their richness and evocative power. This paper will apply the graph theory-based methodology of decomposition to the Kabbalistic images of the Sefirot.


Presented at the Western Judaic Studies Association 25th Annual Conference (2021).

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