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Kabbalah (קבלה "Reception", Standard Hebrew Qabbala, TiberianHebrew Qabbālāh; also written variously as Cabala, Cabalah,Cabbala, Cabbalah, Kabala, Kabalah, Kabbala,Qabala, Qabalah) is a religious philosophical system claiming an insight into divine nature.



"Kabbalah" refers to an esoteric doctrine concerning God and the universe, asserted to have come down as a revelation to electsaints from a remote past, and preserved only by a privileged few.

Early forms of Jewish mysticism at first consisted only of empirical lore.Much later, under the influence of Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean philosophy , it assumed a speculative character. In the medieval era it greatly developed with the appearance of the mystical text, the Sefer Yetzirah . It became the object of the systematic study of the elect,called "baale ha-kabbalah" (בעלי הקבלה "possessors or masters of theKabbalah"). Students of Kabbalah later became known as the "maskilim" (משכילים "theenlightened"). From the thirteenth century onward Kabbalah branched out into an extensive literature, alongside of and often inopposition to the Talmud .

Most forms of Kabbalah teach that every letter, word, number, and accent of scripture contains a hidden sense; and it teaches the methods of interpretation for ascertaining these occult meanings.

Some historians of religion hold that we should limit the use of the term Kabbalah only to the mystical religioussystems which appeared after the twelfth century; they use other terms to refer to esoteric Jewish mystical systems before the12th century. Other historians of religion view this distinction as arbitrary. In this view, post 12th-century Kabbalah is seenas the next phase in a continuous line of development from the same mystical roots and elements. As such, these scholars feelthat it is appropriate to use the term "Kabbalah" to refer to Jewish mysticism as early as the first century of the common era . OrthodoxJews typically disagree with both schools of thought, as they reject the idea that Kabbalah underwent significant historicaldevelopment and change.

Since the late 19th century , with the emergence of the "Jewish Studies"approach, the Kabbalah has also been studied as a highly rational system ofunderstanding the world, rather than a mystical one. A pioneer of this approach was Lazar Gulkowitsch .

Antiquity of esoteric mysticism

Early forms of esoteric mysticism existed over 2,000 years ago. Ben Sira warnsagainst it in his saying: "You shall have no business with secret things" (Sirach iii. 22; compare Talmud Hagigah 13a; MidrashGenesis Rabbah viii.).

Apocalyptic literature belonging to the second andfirst pre- Christian centuries contained some elements of later Kabbalah, and as,according to Josephus , such writings were in the possession of the Essenes , and were jealously guarded by them against disclosure, for which they claimed ahoary antiquity (see Philo , "De Vita Contemplativa," iii., and Hippolytus , "Refutation of all Heresies," ix. 27).

That many such books containing secret lore were kept hidden away by the "enlightened" is stated in IV Esdras xiv. 45-46,where Pseudo-Ezra is told to publish the twenty-four books of the canon openly that the worthy and the unworthy may alike read,but to keep the seventy other books hidden in order to "deliver them only to such as be wise" (compare Dan. xii. 10); for in themare the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.

Instructive for the study of the development of Kabbalah is the Book of Jubilees written under King John Hyrcanus, which refers to the writings of Jared, Cainan, and Noah, and presents Abraham as the renewer,and Levi as the permanent guardian, of these ancient writings. It offers a cosmogony based upon the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet , and connected with Jewish chronology andMessianology, while at the same time insisting upon the heptad as the holy number rather than upon the decadic system adopted bythe later haggadists and the "Sefer Yetzirah". The Pythagorean idea of the creative powers of numbers and letters, upon which the"Sefer Yetzirah" is founded, and which was known in the time of the Mishnah (before200 CE).

Primary texts

The first book on Kabbalah to be written, and still extant today, is the Sefer Yetzirah , Book of Creation. The first commentaries on this small book were written inthe 10th century, and the text itself is quoted as early as the sixth century. Its historical origins are unclear. It existstoday in a number of recensions, up to 2500 words long. Like many Jewish mystical texts, the Sefer Yetzirah was written in such away as to be meaningless to those who read it without an extensive background in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Midrash .

The second of the important Jewish mystical works is the Bahir ("illumination"), also known as The Midrash ofRabbi Nehuniah ben haKana. It is some 12,000 words long. First published in Provence in 1176, many Orthodox Jews believethat the author was Rabbi Nehuniah ben haKana, a Talmudic sage of the first century. Historians, however, believe that the bookwas likely written not long before it was published.

The most important work of Jewish mysticism is the Zohar (זהר "Splendor"). It is an esoteric mystical commentary on the Torah ,written in Aramaic . In the 13th century, a Spanish Jew by the nameof Moshe de Leon claimed to discover the text of the Zohar, attributing it to the 2nd century Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, and thetext was subsequently published and distributed throughout the Jewish world. Though the book was widely accepted, over thesubsequent centuries a small number of significant Rabbis published works espousing the view that it was a forgery, and that itcontained concepts contrary to Judaism . Gershom Scholem (the most famous scholar andhistorian of Kabbalah in the twentieth century), echoing many of the arguments of these Rabbis, contends that de Leon himself wasthe author of the Zohar. The Zohar contains and elaborates upon much of the materialfound in Sefer Yetzirah and Sefer Bahir, and without question is the Kabbalistic work parexcellance.

Gnosticism and Kabbalah

Gnostic literature testifies to the antiquity of the Cabala. Gnosticism — that is, the cabalistic "Chochmah"(חכמה "wisdom") - seems to have been the first attempt on the part of Jewish sages to give the empiricalmystic lore, with the help of Platonic and Pythagorean or Stoic ideas, a speculativeturn. This led to the danger of heresy from which the Jewish rabbinic figures Akiva and Ben Zoma strove to extricatethemselves.

Kabbalistic Dualism

The dualistic system of good and of evil powers, which goes back to Zoroastrianism , can be traced through Gnosticism; having influenced the cosmology of the ancient Kabbalahbefore it reached the medieval one.

There are mainly two different ways to describe why there is evil in the world, according to the Kabbalah. Both makes use ofthe kabbalistic Tree of Life :

  • The kabbalistic tree, which consists of ten Sephiroth , the ten "emanations" of God , consists of three pillars.The left side of the tree, the female side, is considered to be more destructive than the right side, the male side. Geburah (גבורה), for example, stands for strength anddiscipline, while her male counterpart, Chesed (חסד), stands for love and mercy. The center pillar of the tree does not have any polarity,and no gender is given to them.
  • In the medieval, old ideas from Babylon gained new strength. The Qliphoth , orKelippot(קליפות the primeval "husks" of impurity), was blamed for all the evil in the world.Qliphoth are the evil twin of the Sephiroth. The tree of Qliphoth is usually called the kabbalistic Tree of Death , and sometimes theQliphoth are called the Deathangels, or Angels of Death. The Qliphoth are found in the old Babylonian incantations, and that wereused as evidence in favor of the antiquity of most of the cabalistic material.
    • There is yet another teaching, based on the previous one, that has reached some popularity among some modern magic movements:God is not good at all, but in fact evil. Proponents for this idea claim that the bible and torah clearly shows that God is crueland sadistic. The Qliphoth are thought as rebels that fight against God and his cruelty. The magic order Dragon Rouge follows this idea.

Mystic Doctrines in Talmudic Times

In Talmudic times the terms "Ma'aseh Bereshit" (Works of Creation) and "Ma'aseh Merkabah" (Works of the Divine Throne/Chariot)clearly indicate the Midrashic nature of these speculations; they are really based upon Gen. i. and Ezek. i. 4-28; while thenames "Sitre Torah" (Talmud Hag. 13a) and "Raze Torah" (Ab. vi. 1) indicate their character as secret lore. In contrast to theexplicit statement of Scripture that God created not only the world, but also the matter out of which it was made, the opinion isexpressed in very early times that God created the world from matter He found ready at hand — an opinion probably due tothe influence of the Platonic-Stoic cosmogony.

Eminent Palestinian rabbinic teachers hold the doctrine of the preexistence of matter (Midrash Genesis Rabbah i. 5, iv. 6), inspite of the protest of Gamaliel II. (ib. i. 9).

In dwelling upon the nature of God and the universe, the mystics of the Talmudic period asserted, in contrast to Biblicaltranscendentalism, that "God is the dwelling-place of the universe; but the universe is not the dwelling-place of God". Possiblythe designation ("place") for God, so frequently found in Talmudic-Midrashic literature, is due to this conception, just as Philo , in commenting on Gen. xxviii. 11 says, "God is called 'ha makom'(המקום "the place") because God encloses the universe, but is Himself not enclosed by anything"("De Somniis," i. 11).

Spinoza may have had this passage in mind when he said that theancient Jews did not separate God from the world. This conception of God may be pantheistic or panentheistic . It also postulates the unionof man with God; both these ideas were further developed in the later Kabbalah.

Even in very early times Palestinian as well as Alexandrian theology recognized the two attributes of God, "middat hadin," theattribute of justice, and "middat ha-rahamim," the attribute of mercy (Midrash Sifre, Deut. 27); and so is the contrast betweenjustice and mercy a fundamental doctrine of the Cabala. Other hypostasizations are represented by the ten agencies through whichGod created the world; namely, wisdom, insight, cognition, strength, power, inexorableness, justice, right, love, and mercy.While the Sefirot are based on these ten creative potentialities, it is especially the personification of wisdom which, in Philo,represents the totality of these primal ideas; and the Targ. Yer. i., agreeing with him, translates the first verse of the Bibleas follows: "By wisdom God created the heaven and the earth."

So, also, the figure of Metatron passed into Kabbalah from the Talmud , where it played the rôle of the demiurgos (see Gnosticism ), being expressly mentioned as God. Mention may also be made of the seven preexisting thingsenumerated in an old Baraita; namely, the Torah , repentance, paradise and hell, thethrone of God, the Heavenly Temple, and the name of the Messiah (Talmud Pes. 54a). Although the origin of this doctrine must besought probably in certain mythological ideas, the Platonic doctrine of preexistence has modified the older, simpler conception,and the preexistence of the seven must therefore be understood as an "ideal" preexistence, a conception that was later more fullydeveloped in the Kabbalah.

The attempts of the mystics to bridge the gulf between God and the world are evident in the doctrine of the preexistence ofthe soul, and of its close relation to God before it enters the human body — a doctrine taught by the Hellenistic sages(Wisdom viii. 19) as well as by the Palestinian rabbis.

Kabbalah in Christianity and non-Jewish society

The term "Kabbalah" did not come into use until sometime in the 11th century, and at that time referred to the Jewish school of thought related to esoteric mysticism.

Since this time Kabbalistic works gained a wider audience outside of the Jewish community. As such, Christian versions of Kabbalah began to develop; by the early 18th century kabbalahhad passed into widespread use by hermetic philosophers, neo-pagans and other new religious groups. Today this word can be usedto describe many Jewish, Christian, or neo-pagan schools of esoteric mysticism. Take note that each of these groups has differentsets of books that they hold as part of their chain of tradition, and they reject each other's interpretations.

A recent modern revival has been initiated by the Kabbalah Center founded by Philip Berg in Los Angeles in 1984 , and run by him and hissons Yehuda and Michael. With a number of branches worldwide, the group has attracted many non-Jews, including entertainmentcelebrities such as Demi Moore, Madonna, Mick Jagger and Britney Spears. Reactions from organized Jewish groups have been almostuniformly negative, and other critics have accused it of being a "cult". [1] [2]

The human soul in Kabbalah

The Zohar posits that the human soul has three elements, the nefesh, ru'ach, and neshamah. The nefesh is found in all humans,and enters the physical body at birth. It is the source of one's physical and psychological nature. The next two parts of thesoul are not implanted at birth, but are slowly created over time; their development depends on the actions and beliefs of theindividual. They are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually. A common way of explaining the three parts of thesoul is as follows:

  • Nefesh (נפש) - the lower part, or animal part, of the soul. Is linked to instincts and bodilycravings.
  • Ruach (רוח) - the middle soul, the spirit. It contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguishbetween good and evil.
  • Neshamah (נשמה) - the higher soul, or super-soul. This separates man from all other lifeforms. It isrelated to the intellect, and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. This part of the soul is provided both to Jewand non-Jew alike at birth. It allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of God.

The Raaya Meheimna, a later addition to the Zohar by an unknown author, posits that there are two more partsof the human soul, the chayyah and yehidah. Gershom Scholem writes that these "were considered to represent the sublimest levelsof intuitive cognition, and to be within the grasp of only a few chosen individuals".

  • Chayyah (חיה) - The part of the soul that allows one to have an awareness of the divine life forceitself.
  • Yehidah (יחידה) - the highest plane of the soul, in which one can achieve as full a union withGod as is possible.

Both Rabbinic and kabbalistic works posit that there are also a few additional, non-permanent states to the soul that peoplecan develop on certain occasions. These extra souls, or extra states of the soul, play no part in any afterlife scheme, but arementioned for completeness.

  • Ruach HaKodesh (רוח הקודש) - a state of the soul that makes prophecypossible. Since the age of classical prophecy passed, no one receives the soul of prophesy any longer.
  • Neshamah Yeseira - The supplemental soul that a Jew experience on Shabbat . Itmakes possible an enhanced spiritual enjoyment of the day. This exists only when one is observing Shabbat; it can be lost andgained depending on one's observance.
  • Neshoma Kedosha - Provided to Jews at the age of majority (13 for boys, 12 for girls), and is related to the study andfulfillment of the Torah commandments. It exists only when one studies and follows Torah; it can be lost and gained depending onone's study and observance.

Foretelling the future

A small number of Kabbalists have attempted to foretell events by the Kabbalah. The term has come to be used to refer tosecret science in general; mystic art; or mystery.

Following that, the word cabal came to mean a secret association of a few individualswho seek by cunning practices to obtain office and power.

Other terms which originally described religious associations but have come to refer in some way to dangerous or suspiciousbehavior include zealot , assassin , and thug .

Kabbalah and the Western Esoteric Tradition

The Western Esoteric (or Hermetic) Tradition, a major precursor to both the neo-Pagan and New Age movements which is also extant in variousforms today, is heavily intertwined with various aspects of Kabbalah. Much of this has been changed from its Jewish roots due to the common esoteric practice of syncretism , but the core of the tradition is very recognizablypresent.

" Hermetic " Kabbalah, as it is sometimes called, probably reached its peakin the Hermetic Order of the GoldenDawn , a 19th-century organization that was arguably the pinnacle of ceremonial magic (or, depending upon one's position, its ultimate descent into decadence). Within theGolden Dawn, Kabbalistic principles such as the ten Sephiroth were fused with Greek and Egyptian deities, the Enochian system of angelic magic of John Dee , and certain Eastern(particularly Hindu and Buddhist ) conceptswithin the structure of a Masonic - or Rosicrucian -style esoteric order. Many of the Golden Dawn's rituals were exposed by the legendary occultist Aleister Crowley and wereeventually compiled into book form by Israel Regardie , an author ofsome note. The credibility of Crowley is inconsistent at best though, as many of the rituals "exposed" were actually manipulatedversions.

Crowley made his mark on the use of Kabbalah with several of hiswritings; of these, perhaps the most illustrative is Liber 777 . This book isquite simply a set of tables relating various parts of ceremonial magic and Eastern and Western religion to thirty-two numbers representing the ten spheres and twenty-two paths of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life .The attitude of syncretism displayed by Hermetic Kabbalists is plainly evidenthere, as one may simply check the table to see that Chesed (חסד "Mercy") corresponds to Jupiter , Isis , the color blue (on the Queen Scale), Poseidon , Brahma , and amethysts --none of which, certainly, the original Jewish Kabbalists had in mind!

However popular within certain sects, Crowley is not without many critics. Dion Fortune , a fellow initiate of the GoldenDawn, disagreed with Crowley, and her work The Mystical Qabalah implicitly states this. Elphas Levi's works such asTranscendental Magic, heavily steeped in esoteric Kabbalah (rendering it very difficult to understand correctly; it is completelymisunderstood by critics), agrees. Samael Aun Weor has many significant works that discuss Kabbalah within many religions usuallyconsidered unrelated to Kabbalah, such as the Egyptian, Pagan, and Central American religions, which is summarized in his workThe Initiatic Path in the Arcana of Tarot and Kabbalah.


Most forms of Kabbalah teach that the Sefirot are not distinct from the Ein-Sof, but are somehow within it. The idea thatthere are ten divine sefirot could evolve over time into the idea that "God is One being, yet in that One being thereare Ten". This would be similar to the Christian belief in the Trinity, which states that while God is One, in that One there arethree persons. This interpretation of Kabbalah in fact did occur among some European Jews in the 17th century.

Rabbi Leon Modena, a 17th century Venetian critic of kabbalah, wrote that if we wereto accept the Kabbalah, then the Christian trinity would indeed be compatible with Judaism, as the Trinity closely resembles theKabbalistic doctrine of sefirot. This critique was in response to the fact that some Jews went so far as to address individualsefirot individually in some of their prayers.

Kabbalah had many other opponents, notably Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet Perfet (The Rivash); he stated that Kabbalah was "worsethan Christianity", as it made God into 10, not just into three. The critique, however, is considered untenable. Most followersof Kabbalah never believed this interpretation of Kabbalah. The Christian Trinity concept posits that there are three personsexisting within the Godhead, one of whom literally became a human being. In contrast, the mainstream understanding of theKabbalistic sefirot holds that they have no mind or intelligence; further, they are not addressed in prayer, and theycan not become a human being. They are conduits for interaction - not persons or beings.

Although it was criticized by a small number of Rabbis, Kabbalah has nevertheless been a fundamental part of most Jewishtheology for many centuries, and is particularly influential in Hasidic and Sephardic thought. Gershom Scholem has writtenthat between 1500 and 1800 "kabbalah was widely considered to be the true Jewish theology,".

More recently many Modern Orthodox Jews have notascribed to Kabbalah, seeing mysticism as inferior to philosophical rationalism, and Kabbalah has been rejected outright by mostJews in the Conservative and Reform movements. In the 1960s, Rabbi SaulLieberman of the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary, who was widely known for his expertise in the Talmud and rabbinic literature, is reputed to have introduced a lecture by Scholem on Kabbalahwith a statement that Kabbalah itself was nonsense, but the study of Kabbalah was scholarship. This view has become popular amongmany Jews, who view the subject as worthy of study, but who do not accept Kabbalah as teaching literal truths.

See also

Isaac Luria , Zohar , Mysticism , List of Messiah claimants , Donmeh , Sabbetai Zvi , golem , abracadabra , the cult DragonRouge


Aryeh Kaplan Inner Space: Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation andProphecy Moznaim Publishing Corp. 1990

Gershom Scholem ,Kabbalah, Jewish Publication Society

The Wisdom of The Zohar: An Anthology of Texts, 3 volume set, Ed. Isaiah Tishby, translated from the Hebrew by DavidGoldstein, The Littman Library.

External links and references

News / News Archives

Kabbalah Center

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