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- Main article: Psychology and the Kabbalah
Kabbalah (Hebrew: קַבָּלָה , Tiberian: qabːɔˈlɔh, Qabbālāh, Israeli: Kabala) literally means "receiving", in the sense of a "received tradition", and is sometimes transliterated as Cabala, Kabbala, Qabalah, or other permutations. Kabbalah esoterically interprets the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and classical Jewish texts (halakha and aggadah) and practices (mitzvot), as expressing a mystical doctrine concerning God's simultaneous immanence and transcendence, an attempted resolution to the ancient paradox of how the ultimate Being—"that which is not conceivable by thinking" (Isaac the Blind)—nevertheless comes to be known and experienced by the created world.
Because of the interpretive liberties taken by kabbalistic thinkers, and the possible heresies to which they may easily lead, study of Kabbalah was traditionally restricted to a select few Rabbis and Torah scholars. As Joseph Albo puts it in his Sefer Ha-Ikkarim (II:28, fifteenth century, trans:Husik), "This is why the science treating these things is called Kabbalah (lit. tradition), because tradition must be followed in the study and the practice of it, else one is liable to commit an error and to worship as God some one other than the Lord."
- 1 Use of term
- 2 Origins
- 3 Origin of Jewish mysticism
- 4 Textual antiquity of esoteric mysticism
- 5 Mystic doctrines in Talmudic times
- 6 Kabbalah in the Middle Ages
- 7 The ban against studying Kabbalah
- 8 Lurianic Kabbalah in Early Modern history
- 9 Kabbalah of the Sefardim and Mizrahim
- 10 Kabbalah of the Maharal
- 11 The failure of Sabbatian mysticism
- 12 Spread of Kabbalah during the 1700s
- 13 The modern world
- 14 Primary texts
- 15 Theodicy: explanation for the existence of evil
- 16 Kabbalistic understanding of God
- 17 The human soul in Kabbalah
- 18 Number-Word mysticism
- 19 Divination and clairvoyance
- 20 Practical applications
- 21 Gnosticism and Kabbalah
- 22 Criticisms
- 23 Debate about Kabbalah in Judaism
- 24 Kabbalah in non-Jewish society
- 25 See also
- 26 Notes
- 27 References
- 28 External links
Use of term
The term Kabbalah originally refers to Talmudic texts from the Gnostic era (see gnosticism), among the Geonim (early medieval rabbis) and by Rishonim (later medieval rabbis) as a reference to the full body of the oral tradition of Jewish teaching, which was publicly available. Even the works of the Tanakh's prophets were referred to as Kabbalah, before they were canonized as part of the written tradition. In this sense Kabbalah was used in referring to all of Judaism's oral law. Over time, much of the oral law was recorded, but the esoteric teachings remained an oral tradition. Now, even though the esoteric teachings of the Torah are recorded, it is still known as Kabbalah.
Thus, this term became connected with doctrines of esoteric knowledge concerning God, the human being and the relationship between them. Ontology, cosmogony, and cosmology are the main components of this esoteric lore. The reasons for the commandments in the Torah and the ways by which God administers the existence of the universe are also a part of the Kabbalah.
According to most segments of Orthodox Judaism, this esoteric Kabbalah dates from Adam and is an integral part of the Jewish tradition. They believe that this esoteric knowledge has come down from a remote past as a revelation to elect Tzadikim ("righteous men"), and for the most part, was preserved only by a privileged few. According to contemporary scholarship, the various schools of Jewish esotericism have arisen at different periods of Jewish history, each reflecting not only prior forms of Jewish esotericism but also the intellectual and culture milieu of that historical period. Questions of transmission, influence, and innovation vary and cannot be summarized with a simple doctrinaire claim.
Protocol and influence
The proper protocol for teaching this wisdom, as well as many of its concepts, are recorded in the Talmud (second chapter of tractate Haggiga). In the Talmudic texts the esoteric teachings are called Ma'aseh Merkavah and Ma'aseh B'resheyth. After a composition known as the Zohar was presented to the public in the 13th century, the term Kabbalah began to more specifically refer to teachings derived from or related to the Zohar; at an even later time, the term began to generally be applied to Zoharic teachings as elaborated upon by Arizal. Historians generally date the start of Kabbalah as a major influence in Jewish thought and practice with the publication of the Zohar and climaxing with the spread of the Arizal's teachings. The majority of Haredi Jews accept the Zohar as the representative of the Ma'aseh Merkavah and Ma'aseh B'resheyth that are referred to in Talmudic texts.
There is more dispute among Haredim as to the status of Arizal's kabbalistic teachings. While a portion of Modern Orthodox Rabbis, Dor Daim, and many students of the Rambam completely reject Arizal's kabbalistic teachings, as well as deny that the Zohar is authoritative or from Shimon bar Yohai, all three of these groups completely accept the existence of the esoteric side of Torah referred to in the Talmud as Ma'aseh Merquva and Ma'aseh B'resheyth. Their disagreement is only over whether the Kabbalistic teachings promulgated today are accurate representations of those esoteric teachings to which the Talmud refers. Within the Haredi Jewish community one can find Rabbis who both sympathize with such a view, while not necessarily agreeing with it, as well as Rabbis who consider such a view absolute heresy.
Origin of Jewish mysticism
According to adherents of Kabbalah, the origin of Kabbalah begins with secrets that God revealed to Adam. According to a rabbinic midrash[How to reference and link to summary or text] God created the universe through the ten sefirot. When read by later generations of Kabbalists, the Torah's description of the creation in the Book of Genesis reveals mysteries about the godhead itself, the true nature of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, as well as the interaction of these supernal entities with the Serpent which leads to disaster when they eat the forbidden fruit, as recorded in Genesis 2.
The Bible provides ample additional material for mythic and mystical speculation. The prophet Ezekiel's visions in particular attracted much mystical speculation, as did Isaiah's Temple vision (Chapter 6). Jacob's vision of the ladder to heaven is another text providing an example of a mystical experience. Moses' experience with the Burning bush and his encounters with God on Mount Sinai, are all evidence of mystical events in the Tanakh, and form the origin of Jewish mystical beliefs.
The 72 names of God which are used in Jewish mysticism for meditation purposes are derived from the Hebrew verbal utterance Moses spoke while the Red Sea parted with the presence of an angel, allowing the Hebrews to escape their encroaching attackers. This miracle of the Exodus which led to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and the Jewish Orthodox view of the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai creating the first Jewish nation approximately three hundred years before King Saul.
Some scholars have even proposed an Indian origin for this mystic system. They credit it to the Sage Kapila who founded the Indian system of Samkhya-Yoga.
Historians have noted that most claims for the authority of Kabbalah are based on an argument of authority based on antiquity (See, for example, Joseph Dan's discussion in his Circle of the Unique Cherub). As a result, virtually all works pseudepigraphically claim or are ascribed, ancient authorship. For example, Sefer Raziel HaMalach, an astro-magical text partly based on a magical manual of late antiquity, Sefer ha-Razim, was, according to the kabbalists, transmitted to Adam (after being evicted from Eden) by the angel Raziel. Another famous work, the Sefer Yetzirah, supposedly dates back to the patriarch Abraham. This tendency toward pseudepigraphy has its roots in Apocalyptic literature, which claims that esoteric knowledge such as magic, divination and astrology was transmitted to humans in the mythic past by the two angels, Aza and Azaz'el (in other places, Azaz'el and Uzaz'el; also harut and marut in quran) who 'fell' from heaven (see Genesis 6:4) (see Holy Quran, Chapter 2, verse 102) (third part).
This appeal to antiquity has also shaped modern theories of influence in reconstructing the history of Jewish mysticism. The oldest versions of the Jewish mysticism have been theorized to extend from Assyrian theology and mysticism. Dr. Simo Parpola, professor of Assyriology at the University of Helsinki, remarks on the general similarity between the Sefirot of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and the Tree of Life of Assyria. He reconstructed what an Assyrian antecendent to the Sephiroth might look like, and noted parallels between the characteristics of En Sof on the nodes of the Sefiroth and the gods of Assyria. The Assyrians assigned specific numbers to their gods, similar to the numbering of the Sefiroth. However, the Assyrians use a sexagesimal number system, whereas the Sefiroth is decimal. With the Assyrian numbers, additional layers of meaning and mystical relevance appear in the Sefiroth.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Normally, floating above the Assyrian Tree of Life was the god Assur (god), corresponding to the Hebrew En Sof, which is also, via a series of transformations, derived from the Assyrian word Assur.
Parpola re-interpreted various Assyrian tablets in terms of these primitive Sefirot, such as the Epic Of Gilgamesh. He proposed that the scribes had been writing philosophical-mystical tracts, rather than mere adventure stories, and concluded that traces of this Assyrian mode of thought and philosophy eventually reappeared in Greek Philosophy and the Kabbalah.
Skeptical scholars find attempts to read Kabbalah back into the pre-Israelite Ancient Near East, as Parpola does, to be implausible. They point out that the doctrine of the Sefirot started to seriously develop only in the 12th century CE with the publication of the Bahir, and that for this doctrine to have existed undocumented within Judaism from the time of the Assyrian empire (which fell from cultural hegemony in the 7th century BCE) until it "resurfaced" 17–18 centuries later seems far-fetched. A plausible alternative, based in the research of Gershom Scholem, the pre-eminent scholar of Kabbalah in the 20th Century, is to see the sefirot as a theosophical doctrine that emerged out of Jewish word-mythology of late antiquity (as exemplified in Sefer Yetzirah) and the angelic-palace mysticism found in Hekalot literature being fused to the Neo-Platonic notion of creation through progressive divine emanations.
Textual antiquity of esoteric mysticism
Jewish forms of esotericism did, however, exist over 2,000 years ago. Ben Sira warns against it, saying: "You shall have no business with secret things" (Sirach iii. 22; compare Talmud Hagigah 13a; Midrash Genesis Rabbah viii.).
Apocalyptic literature belonging to the second and first pre-Christian centuries contained elements that carry over to later Kabbalah. According to Josephus, such writings were in the possession of the Essenes, and were jealously guarded by them against disclosure, for which they claimed a hoary antiquity (see Philo, "De Vita Contemplativa," iii., and Hippolytus, "Refutation of all Heresies," ix. 27).
That books containing secret lore were kept hidden away by (or for) 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 them are the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.
Instructive for the study of the development of Jewish mysticism is the Book of Jubilees written around the time of King John Hyrcanus. It refers to mysterious writings of Jared, Cain, 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 and Messianology, while at the same time insisting upon the heptad (7) as the holy number rather than upon the decadic (10) system adopted by the later haggadists and the Sefer Yetzirah. The Pythagorean idea of the creative powers of numbers and letters was shared with Sefer Yetzirah and was known in the time of the Mishnah (before 200 CE).
Early elements of Jewish mysticism can be found in the non-Biblical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, such as the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice. Some parts of the Talmud and the midrash also focus on the esoteric and mystical, particularly Chagigah 12b-14b. Many esoteric texts, among them Hekalot Rabbati, Sefer HaBahir, Torat Hakana, Sefer P'liyah, Midrash Otiyot d'Rabbi Akiva, the Bahir, and the Zohar claim to be from the talmudic era, though some of these works, most notably the Bahir and Zohar, are considered by modern scholars to clearly be medieval works pseudepigraphically ascribed to the ancient past. Traditional orthodoxy, however, does not agree to this. In the medieval era Jewish mysticism developed under the influence of the word-number esoteric text Sefer Yetzirah. Jewish sources attribute the book to the biblical patriarch Abraham, though the text itself offers no claim as to authorship. This book, and especially its embryonic concept of the "sefirot," became the object of systematic study of several mystical brotherhoods which eventually came to be called baale ha-kabbalah (בעלי הקבלה "possessors or masters of the Kabbalah").
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 Genesis 1 and Book of Ezekiel 1:4-28; while the names Sitrei Torah (Talmud Hag. 13a) and Razei Torah (Ab. vi. 1) indicate their character as secret lore. In contrast to the explicit statement of the Hebrew Bible that God created not only the world, but also the matter out of which it was made,[How to reference and link to summary or text] the opinion is expressed in very early times that God created the world from matter He found ready at hand — (according to some, this is an opinion probably due to the influence of the Platonic-Stoic cosmogony).
Eminent rabbinic teachers in the Land of Israel held the doctrine of the preexistence of matter (Midrash Genesis Rabbah i. 5, iv. 6), in spite 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 the transcendentalism evident in some parts of the Bible, that "God is the dwelling-place of the universe; but the universe is not the dwelling-place of God". Possibly the designation ("place") for God, so frequently found in Talmudic-Midrashic literature, is due to this conception, just as Philo, in commenting on Genesis 28:11 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). This type of theology, in modern terms, is known as either pantheism or panentheism. Whether a text is truly pantheistic or panentheistic is often hard to understand; mainstream Judaism generally rejects pantheistic interpretations of Kabbalah, and instead accepts panentheistic interpretations.
Even in very early times of the Land of Israel as well as Alexandrian theology recognized the two attributes of God, middat hadin (the "attribute of justice"), and middat ha-rahamim (the "attribute of mercy") (Midrash Sifre, Deuteronomy 27); and so is the contrast between justice and mercy a fundamental doctrine of the Kabbalah. Other hypostasizations are represented by the ten "agencies" (the Sefirot) through which God 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. Jerusalem Talmud i., agreeing with him, translates the first verse of the Bible as follows: "By wisdom God created the heaven and the earth." Genesis Rabbah equates "Wisdom" with "Torah."
So, also, the figure of the Sar Metatron passed into mystical texts from the Talmud. In the Heichalot literature Metatron sometimes approximates the role of the demiurgos (see Gnosticism), being expressly mentioned as a "lesser" God. One text, however, identifies Metatron as Enoch transubstantiated (III Enoch). Mention may also be made of other pre-existent things enumerated in an old baraita (an extra-mishnaic teaching); namely, the Torah, repentance, paradise and hell, the throne of God, the Heavenly Temple, and the name of the Messiah (Talmud Pesahim 54a). Although the origin of this doctrine must be sought 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 fully developed 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 of the 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. The mystics also latch on to the phrase from Isaiah, as expounded by the Rabbinic Sages, "The whole world is filled with his glory," to justify a panentheistic understanding of the universe.
In the 17th century, Baruch Spinoza may have had this passage in mind when he said that the ancient Jews did not separate God from the world. This conception of God may be pantheistic or panentheistic. It also postulates the union of man with God; both these ideas were further developed in the later Kabbalah. (Spinoza was excommunicated from the main Jewish community by the rabbis at the time for publicly espousing these views, more likely out of fear of Christian reaction then out of their own outrage).
Kabbalah in the Middle Ages
- See Nahmanides; Bahya ben Asher; Isaac the Blind; and Azriel (Jewish mystic).
From the 8th-11th Century Sefer Yetzirah and Hekalot texts made their way into European Jewish circles. Modern scholars have identified several mystical brotherhoods that functioned in Europe starting in the 12th Century. Some, such as the "Iyyun Circle" and the "Unique Cherub Circle," were truly esoteric, remaining largely anonymous. One well-known group was the "Hasidei Ashkenaz," or German Pietists. This 13th Century movement arose mostly among a single scholarly family, the Kalonymus family of the French and German Rhineland. There were certain rishonim ("Elder Sages") of exoteric Judaism who are known to have been experts in Kabbalah. One of the best known is Nahmanides (the Ramban) (1194-1270) whose commentary on the Torah is considered to be based on Kabbalistic knowledge as well as Bahya ben Asher (the Rabbeinu Behaye) (d. 1340). Another was Isaac the Blind (1160-1235), the teacher of Nahmanides, who is widely argued to have written the first work of classic Kabbalah, the Bahir.
Sefer Bahir and another work entitled "Treatise of the Left Emanation", probably composed in Spain by Isaac ben Isaac ha-Cohen, laid the groundwork for the composition of Sefer Zohar, written by Moses de Leon and his mystical circle at the end of the 13th Century, but credited to the Talmudic sage Shimon bar Yochai, cf. Zohar. The Zohar proved to be the first truly "popular" work of Kabbalah, and the most influential. From the thirteenth century onward Kabbalah began to be widely disseminated and it branched out into an extensive literature. Arthur Green argues this public coming out of Jewish esoteric thought at this particular time coincides with, and represents a response to, the rising influence of rationalist philosophy in Jewish circles. Orthodox Judaism rejects the idea that Kabbalah underwent significant historical development or change such as has been proposed above.
The ban against studying Kabbalah
The ban against studying Kabbalah was lifted by the efforts of the sixteenth century Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Azulai (1570-1643).
- I have found it written that all that has been decreed Above forbidding open involvement in the Wisdom of Truth [Kabbalah] was [only meant for] the limited time period until the year 5,250 (1490 C.E). From then on after is called the "Last Generation", and what was forbidden is [now] allowed. And permission is granted to occupy ourselves in the [study of] Zohar. And from the year 5,300 (1540 C.E.) it is most desirable that the masses both those great and small [in Torah], should occupy themselves [in the study of Kabbalah], as it says in the Raya M'hemna [a section of the Zohar]. And because in this merit King Mashiach will come in the future – and not in any other merit – it is not proper to be discouraged [from the study of Kabbalah]. (Rabbi Avraham Azulai)
Lurianic Kabbalah in Early Modern history
- See main article: Isaac Luria.
Following the upheavals and dislocations in the Jewish world as a result of the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the trauma of Anti-Semitism during the Middle Ages, Jews began to search for signs of when the long-awaited Jewish Messiah would come to comfort them in their painful exiles. Moses Cordovero and his immediate circle popularized the teachings of the Zohar which had until then been only a modestly influential work. The author of the Shulkhan Arukh (the Jewish "Code of Law"), Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575), was also a great scholar of Kabbalah and spread its teachings during this era. As part of that "search for meaning" in their lives, Kabbalah received its biggest boost in the Jewish world with the explication of the Kabbalistic teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572) by his disciples Rabbi Hayim Vital and Rabbi Israel Sarug, both of whom published Luria's teachings (in variant forms) gaining them wide-spread popularity. Luria's teachings came to rival the influence of the Zohar and Luria stands, alongside Moses De Leon, as the most influential mystic in Jewish history.
Kabbalah of the Sefardim and Mizrahim
The Kabbalah of the Sefardi (Spanish/Mediterranean) and Mizrahi (African/Asian) Torah scholars has a long history. Kabbalah flourished among Sefardic Jews in Tzfat (Safed), Israel even before the arrival of Isaac Luria, its most famous resident. The great Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Arukh was part of the Tzfat school of Kabbalah. Shlomo Alkabetz, author of the famous hymn Lekhah Dodi, taught there. His disciple Moses ben Jacob Cordovero authored Sefer Pardes Rimonim, an organized, exhaustive compilation of kabbalistic teachings on a variety of subjects up to that point. Rabbi Cordovero headed the Academy of Tzfat until his death, when Isaac Luria, also known as the Ari, rose to prominence. Rabbi Moshe's disciple Eliyahu De Vidas authored the classic work, Reishit Chochma, combining kabbalistic and mussar (moral) teachings. Chaim Vital also studied under Rabbi Cordovero, but with the arrival of Rabbi Luria became his main disciple. Vital claimed to be the only one authorized to transmit the Ari's teachings, though other disciples also published books presenting Luria's teachings.
Kabbalah in various forms was widely studied, commented upon, and expanded by North African, Turkish, Yemenite, and Asian scholars from the 16th Century onward. Among the most famous was the Beit El mystical circle of Jerusalem, originally a brotherhood of twelve, mostly Sefardic, mystics under the leadership of Gedaliyah Chayon and Shalom Sharabi in the mid-18th century. The group endured into the 20th Century and there is still a yeshivah of that name in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Kabbalah of the Maharal
- See: Judah Loew ben Bezalel
One of the most important teachers of Kabbalah recognized as an authority by all serious scholars up until the present time, was Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1525-1609) known as the Maharal of Prague. Many of his written works survive and are studied for their deep Kabbalistic insights. The Maharal is, perhaps, most famous outside of Jewish mysticism for the legends of the golem of Prague, which he reportedly created. During the twentieth century, Rabbi Isaac Hutner (1906-1980) continued to spread the Maharal's teachings indirectly through his own teachings and scholarly publications within the modern yeshiva world.
The failure of Sabbatian mysticism
- Main article: Sabbatai Zevi
The spiritual and mystical yearnings of many Jews remained frustrated after the death of Rabbi Isaac Luria and his disciples and colleagues. No hope was in sight for many following the devastation and mass killings of the pogroms that followed in the wake the Chmielnicki Uprising (1648-1654), and it was at this time that a controversial scholar of the Kabbalah by the name of Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676) captured the hearts and minds of the Jewish masses of that time with the promise of a newly-minted "Messianic" Millennialism in the form of his own personage. His charisma, mystical teachings that included repeated pronunciations of the holy Tetragrammaton in public, tied to an unstable personality, and with the help of his own "prophet" Nathan of Gaza, convinced the Jewish masses that the "Jewish Messiah" had finally come. It seemed that the esoteric teachings of Kabbalah had found their "champion" and had triumphed, but this era of Jewish history unravelled when Zevi became an apostate to Judaism by converting to Islam after he was arrested by the Ottoman Sultan and threatened with execution for attempting a plan to conquer the world and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
Many of his followers, known as Sabbateans, continued to worship him in secret, explaining his conversion not as an effort to save his life but to recover the sparks of the holy in each religion, and most leading rabbis were always on guard to root them out. The Donmeh movement in modern Turkey is a surviving remnant of the Sabbatian schism. The Sabbatian movement was followed by that of the "Frankists" who were disciples of another pseudo-mystic Jacob Frank (1726-1791) who eventually became an apostate to Judaism by apparently converting to Catholicism. This era of disappointment did not stem the Jewish masses' yearnings for "mystical" leadership.
Spread of Kabbalah during the 1700s
- Main article: Israel ben Eliezer
The eighteenth century saw an explosion of new efforts in the writing and spread of Kabbalah by four well known rabbis working in different areas of Europe:
- Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698-1760) in the area of Ukraine spread teachings based on Rabbi Isaac Luria's foundations, simplifying the Kabbalah for the common man. From him sprang the vast ongoing schools of Hasidic Judaism, with each successive rebbe viewed by his "Hasidim" as continuing the role of dispenser of mystical divine blessings and guidance.
- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772 - 1810), the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, revitalized and further expanded the latter's teachings, amassing a following of thousands in Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuania and Poland. In a unique amalgam of Hasidic and Mitnagid approaches, Rebbe Nachman emphasized study of both Kabbalah and serious Torah scholarship to his disciples. His teachings also differed from the way other Hasidic groups were developing, as he rejected the idea of hereditary Hasidic dynasties and taught that each Hasid must "search for the tzaddik ('saintly/righteous person')" for himself—and within himself.
- Rabbi Elijah of Vilna (Vilna Gaon) (1720-1797), based in Lithuania, had his teachings encoded and publicized by his disciples such as by Rabbi Chaim Volozhin who published the mystical-ethical work Nefesh HaChaim. However, he was staunchly opposed to the new Hasidic movement and warned against their public displays of religious fervour inspired by the mystical teachings of their rabbis. Although the Vilna Gaon was not in favor of the Hasidic movement, he did not prohibit the study and engagement in the Kabbalah. This is evident from his writings in the Even Shlema."He that is able to understand secrets of the Torah and does not try to understand them will be judged harshly, may God have mercy". (The Vilna Gaon, Even Shlema, 8:24). "The Redemption will only come about through learning Torah, and the essence of the Redemption depends upon learning Kabbalah" (The Vilna Gaon, Even Shlema, 11:3).
- Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746), based in Italy, was a precocious Talmudic scholar who arrived at the startling conclusion that there was a need for the public teaching and study of Kabbalah. He established a yeshiva for Kabbalah study and actively recruited outstanding students, in addition, wrote copious manuscripts in an appealing clear Hebrew style, all of which gained the attention of both admirers as well of rabbinical critics who feared another "Zevi (false messiah) in the making". He was forced to close his school by his rabbinical opponents, hand over and destroy many of his most precious unpublished kabbalistic writings, and go into exile in the Netherlands. He eventually moved to the Land of Israel. Some of his most important works such as Derekh Hashem survive and are used as a gateway to the world of Jewish mysticism.
The modern world
- See Hasidic Judaism and Abraham Isaac Kook
Two of the most influential sources spreading Kabbalistic teachings have come from the growth and spread of Hasidic Judaism, as can be seen by the growth of the Lubavitch movement, and from the influence of the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1864-1935) who inspired the followers of Religious Zionism with mystical writings and hopes that interpreted the rise of modern day Zionism as the onset of the atchalta dege'ula - the "beginning of the redemption" of the Jewish people from their exile, in expectation of the arrival of the "final redemption" of the Jewish Messiah. The varied Hasidic works (sifrei chasidus) and Rabbi Kook's voluminous writings drew heavily on the long chain of Kabbalistic thought and methodology.
- "Due to the alienation from the "secret of God" [i.e. Kabbalah], the higher qualities of the depths of Godly life are reduced to trivia that do not penetrate the depth of the soul. When this happens, the most mighty force is missing from the soul of nation and individual, and Exile finds favor essentially... We should not negate any conception based on rectitude and awe of Heaven of any form - only the aspect of such an approach that desires to negate the mysteries and their great influence on the spirit of the nation. This is a tragedy that we must combat with counsel and understanding, with holiness and courage." (Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook Orot 2 )
Another influential and important Kabbalah character is Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ashlag 1884-1954 (also known as the Baal HaSulam — a title that he was given after the completion of one of his masterworks, The Sulam). Ashlag is considered by many to be one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time. He developed a study method that he considered most fitting for the future generations of Kabbalists. He is also notable for his other masterwork Talmud Eser HaSfirot — The Study of the Ten Emanations — a commentary on all the writings of the ARI. Some today consider this work as the core of the entire teaching of Kabbalah. Baal Hasulam's goal was to make the study of Kabbalah understandable and accessible to every human being with the desire to know the meaning of life. There are several organizations that are actualizing his ideas today.
Renewed interest in Kabbalah has appeared among non-traditional Jews, and even among non-Jews. Neo-Hasidism and Jewish Renewal have been the most influential groups in this trend.
Like the rest of the Rabbinic texts, much of the texts of Kabbalah are an ongoing oral tradition (similar to taking notes in a class discussion). They are mostly meaningless to readers who are unfamiliar with Jewish spirituality, and assume extensive knowledge of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), Midrash (Jewish hermeneutic tradition) and Halakha (practical Jewish law). Nevertheless, Kabbalistic literature uses powerful paradigms that are elegant, universal, and easy for anyone to understand when pointed out.
- Main article: Heichalot
Hekhalot ("Heavenly Palaces") are not a single text. Rather, they are a genre of writings with shared characteristics. These texts primarily focus either on how to achieve a heavenly ascent through the Heichalot (heavenly palaces) and what to expect there, or on drawing down angelic spirits to interact and help the adept. There are several larger documents of the heichalot, such as Hekhalot Rabbati, Hekhalot Zutarti, and 6th-century 3 Khanokh, as well as hundreds of small documents, many little more than fragments.
- Main article: Sefer Yetzirah
Yetzira (יצירה) (" Book [of] Formation/Creation"), also known as Hilkhot Yetzira "Customs of Formation" The first commentaries on this small book were written in the 10th century, perhaps the text itself is quoted as early as the 6th century, and perhaps its linguistic organization of the Hebrew alphabet could be from as early as the 2nd century. Its historical origins remain obscure, although many believe that it was authored by Abraham. It exists today in a number of editions, up to 2500 words long (about the size of a pamphlet). It organizes the cosmos into "32 Paths of Wisdom", comprising "10 Sefirot" (3 elements - air, water and fire - plus 6 directions and center) and "22 letters" of the Hebrew alphabet (3 mother letters, 7 double letters plus 12 simple letters). It uses this structure to organize cosmic phenomena ranging from the seasons of the calendar to the emotions of the intellect, and is essentially an index of cosmic correspondences.
- Main article: Bahir
Bahir (בהיר) ("Illumination"), also known as "Midrash of Rabbi Nehunya ben Ha-Kana" - a book of special interest to students of Kabbalah because it serves as a kind of epitome that surveys the essential concepts of the subsequent literature of Kabbalah. It is about 12,000 words (about the size of a magazine). Despite its name "Illumination", it is notoriously cryptic and difficult to understand (but not impossible). Much of it is written in parables, one after the other. The Bahir opens with a quote attributed to Rabbi Nehunya ben Ha-Kana, a Talmudic sage of the 1st century, and the rest the book is an unfolding discussion about the quote. Jewish tradition considers the whole book to be written in the spirit of Rabbi Nehunya (or even literally written by him). It was first published in Provence France (near Italy) in 1176. Historians suspect Rabbi Yitzhak Ha-Ivver (also known as Isaac the Blind) wrote the book at this time, albeit he incorporated oral traditions from a much earlier time about the Tanakh, Talmud, Siddur, Yetzira, and other Rabbinic texts.
Sefer Chasidim ("Book [of] Pious Ones") arose in the late 12th century as a central ethical text of the German Pietists. It is anonymous but sometimes credited to Shmuel Ben Yhuda He-Chasid [How to reference and link to summary or text]. The text resembles a FAQ with about 1200 frequently asked questions whose answers range from exhortations to illustrative stories to homilies, about any aspect of Medieval Ashkenazi Judaism. The bulk of the book is devoted to a severe but readily understood pietism for those volunteering to do halakha above and beyond the basic duties. Some material, however, concerns Jewish mysticism: the divine economy, secrets of prayer, and paranormal phenomena such as divinatory dreams, witches, vampires, and poltergeists.
Sefer Raziel HaMalakh
- Main article: Sefer Raziel HaMalakh
Raziel Ha-Malakh (רזיאל המלאך ) ("Raziel the Angel") - an astral-magical text published in the 13th century in Germany and probably written by Eliezer of Worms. It cites the text of the Yetzira, explains the concept of mazal "fortune, destinity" associated with Kabbalah astrology, and records an encrypted alphabet for use in mystical formulas.
- Main article: Zohar
Zohar ( זהר ) ("Splendor") - the most important text of Kabbalah, at times achieving even canonical status as part of Oral Torah. It is a mystical commentary on the Torah, written in Medieval Aramaic. For much of the twentieth century there had been an academic consensus regarding the medieval authorship of the Zohar but most traditional Kabbalists agree amongst themselves that the oral author of the Zohar was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and the text was scribed by Rav Abba, a student of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Gershom Scholem argued that Moshe de Leon was the sole author of the Zohar. More recently, Yehuda Liebes contended that while de Leon may have been the primary author, he incorporated or recast selections from contemporary kabbalists (e.g. Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla, Rabbi Joseph of Hamadan, Rabbi Bahya ben Asher). Most recently, kabbalah scholars such as Ronit Meroz, Daniel Abrams, and Boaz Huss have been demonstrating that the materials within the zohar underwent several generations of writing, re-writing, and redaction. de Leon had claimed to discover the text of the Zohar while in the land of Israel and attributed it to the 2nd-century Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai who is the main character of the text. The text gained enormous popularity throughout the Jewish world. Though the book was widely accepted, a small number of significant rabbis over the subsequent centuries published texts declaring Rabbi Moshe invented it as a forgery with concepts contrary to Judaism. However, many of these Rabbis were not Kabbalists themselves. This was a major point of contention made by a community among the Jews of Yemen, known as Dor Daim (a religious intellectual movement that called for a return to a more Talmudic based Judaism). Other communities in Italy and the Andalusian (Spanish Portuguese) lands also questioned the content and authenticity of the Zohar. While organized into commentaries on sections of the Torah, the Zohar elaborates on the Talmud, Midrash Rabba, Yetzira, the Bahir, and many other Rabbinic texts. To some degree, the Zohar simply is Kabbalah.
Pardes Rimonim ( פרדס רימונים ) ("Garden [of] Pomegranates") - the magnum opus of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, published in Spain in the 16th century and the main source of Cordoverian Kabbalah, a comprehensive interpretation of the Zohar and a friendly rival of the Lurianic interpretation. Among other important books by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero is Tomer Devora.
Etz Hayim ( עץ חיים ) ("Tree [of] Life") - useful text of the teachings of Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (also known as the Ari), collected by his disciples, principally Chaim Vital (the Ari published nothing himself). It is a popular interpretation and synthesis of Lurianic Kabbalah. It was first published in Safed in the 16th century in a form entitled Shemona She'arim (eight gates): this arrangement is still authoritative among Sephardi and Mizrahi Kabbalists. The term Etz Hayim refers to a three-part re-arrangement published later in Poland, and used by Ashkenazim.
Sulam ( סולם ) ("Ladder"), also known as Zohar im perush Ha-Sulam ("Zohar with the Explication of the Ladder") - a translation of the Zohar into Hebrew that includes parenthetical comments. Despite being a late text by a modern Kabbalist, it is widely distributed. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ashlag wrote and published it in Palestine in 1943. In the Sulam, the text of the Zohar includes parenthetical notes that explain some of the cryptic metaphors found in the Zohar, according to the interpretive tradition of Rabbi Yitzhak Luria. Much of the Zohar remains meaningless without the Sulam, and virtually every student of Kabbalah must at some point refer to it.
Talmud Eser HaSfirot
Talmud Eser HaSfirot (תלמוד עשר הספירות) ("The Study [of the] Ten Sefirot"), a commentary on all the writings of the ARI written by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ashlag
- Main article: Torah
In Judaism the Torah was given to Moses, by God, on top of Mount Sinai. In this act God chose the people of Israel to fulfill the divine will, laid out in the commandments.In the first chapter of the Torah, Genesis, the world is created in the ten utterances of God. Each of these divine surges of energy are what lie behind all reality. Everything in the world can be referred back to the Torah, because the world was created through the Torah. For kabbalists the ten utterances are linked to the ten sefirot, which is the divine structure of all being.According to the Zohar and the Sefer ha-Yihud, the Torah is synonymous with God. More specifically in the Sefer ha-Yihud, the letters in the Torah are the forms of God. The kabbalist looks beyond the literal aspects of the text, to find the true meaning. The text not only offers traditions and ways of thinking, but it also reveals the reality of God.One of the first Jewish philosophers, Philo of Alexandria (20BCE-40), said that Abraham knew the essential Torah, before it was given. He did this by looking around and inside himself, to discover the laws of nature. With this idea of an inner Torah, Abraham fulfilled all of the commandments, not just in a literal sense, but in a spiritual sense. Later in the nineteenth century the Sfas Emes made the assertion that it was actually Abraham’s deeds that became Torah. The Torah is seen as an ongoing story played out through the lives of the Israeli people.  The Torah is an important text because even the most minor traditions of the Kabbalah will acknowledge its aspects of the divine.
Theodicy: explanation for the existence of evil
Kabbalistic works offer a theodicy, a philosophical reconciliation of how the existence of a good and powerful God is compatible with the existence of evil in the world. There are mainly two different ways to describe why there is evil in the world, according to the Kabbalah. Both make use of the kabbalistic Tree of Life:
- The kabbalistic tree, which consists of ten Sephiroth, the ten "enumerations" or "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". Gevurah (גבורה, "Power"), for example, stands for strength and discipline, while her male counterpart, Chesed (חסד, "Mercy"), stands for love and mercy. Chesed is also known as Gedulah (גדולה, "Glory"), as in the Tree of Life pictured to the right. The "center pillar" of the tree does not have any polarity, and no gender is given to it. Thus evil is really an emanation of Divinity, a harsh byproduct of the "left side" of creation.
- In the medieval era, this notion took on increasingly gnostic overtones. The Qliphoth (or Kelippot) (קליפות, the primeval "husks" of impurity) emanating from the left side were blamed for all the evil in the world. Qliphoth are the Sephiroth out of balance. Sometimes the qliphoth are called the "death angels", or "angels of death". References to a word related to "qlipoth" are found in some Babylonian incantations, a fact used as evidence to argue the antiquity of kabbalistic material.
- Not all Kabbalists accepted this notion of evil being in such intimate relationship with God. Moses Cordovero (16th century) and Menasseh ben Israel (17th century) are two examples of Kabbalists who claimed "No evil emanates from God." They located evil as a byproduct of human freedom, an idea also found in mythic form in Rabbinic traditions that claim most demons are either the "dead of the flood" or products of human sexual debauchery.
Kabbalistic understanding of God
Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. Rather God is the creator of both, but is himself neither. But if God is so different from his creation, how can there be any interaction between the Creator and the created? This question prompted Kabbalists to envision two aspects of God, (a) God himself, who in the end is unknowable, and (b) the revealed aspect of God that created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind. Kabbalists speak of the first aspect of God as Ein Sof (אין סוף); this is translated as "the infinite", "endless", or "that which has no limits". In this view, nothing can be said about this aspect of God. This aspect of God is impersonal. The second aspect of divine emanations, however, is at least partially accessible to human thought. Kabbalists believe that these two aspects are not contradictory but, through the mechanism of progressive emanation, complement one another. See Divine simplicity; Tzimtzum. The structure of these emanations have been characterized in various ways: Four "worlds" (Azilut, Yitzirah, Beriyah, and Asiyah), Sefirot, or Partzufim ("faces"). Later systems harmonize these models.
Some Kabbalistic scholars, such as Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, believe that all things are linked to God through these emanations, making us all part of one great chain of being. Others, such as Schneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of Lubavitch (Chabad) Hasidism), hold that God is all that really exists; all else is completely undifferentiated from God's perspective. If improperly explained, such views can be interpreted as panentheism or pantheism. In truth, according to this philosophy, God's existence is higher than anything that this world can express, yet He includes all things of this world down to the finest detail in such a perfect unity that His creation of the world effected no change in Him whatsoever. This paradox is dealt with at length in the Chabad Chassidic texts.
|The Sefirot in Jewish Kabbalah|
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- Main article: Sephirot (Kabbalah)
The Hebrew word Sefirah (סְפִירָה) literally means "Numbering" or "Numeration". Sefirot is the plural, "Numerations". Sometimes, Jewish midrashic interpretations reread the Hebrew letters of this word to mean "Spheres" or "Narrations".
Ten Sefirot as process of Creation
According to Kabbalistic cosmology, Ten Sefirot (literally, Ten Numerations) correspond to ten levels of creation. These levels of creation must not be understood as ten different "gods" but as ten different ways of revealing God, one per level. It is not God who changes but the ability to perceive God that changes. While God may seem to exhibit dual natures (masculine-feminine, compassionate-judgmental, creator-creation), all adherents of Kabbalah have consistently stressed the ultimate unity of God. For example, in all discussions of Male and Female, the hidden nature of God exists above it all without limit, being called the Infinite or the "No End" (Ein Sof) - neither one nor the other, transcending any definition. The ability of God to become hidden from perception is called "Restriction" (Tzimtzum). Hiddenness makes creation possible because God can then become "revealed" in a diversity of limited ways, which then form the building blocks of creation.
Ten Sefirot and physical sciences
Notable is the similarity between the concept in Kabbalah that the physical universe is made of Divine Light, and the modern concept in Physics that it is made of energy.
Moreover in Kabbalah, Divine Light is the carrier of consciousness.
- "The human soul is a part of the Creator [that is, Divine Light]. Therefore, there is no difference between Him and the soul. The difference is that He is the 'whole' and the soul is a 'part'. This resembles a stone carved from a rock. There is no difference between the stone and the rock except that the rock is a 'whole' and the stone is a 'part'". (Yhuda Ashlag, Introduction in Ha-Sulam.)
Thus, a human's consciousness is a part of the Divine Consciousness, where the rest of the infinite Divine has been hidden from the human. This kabbalistic concept that consciousness is an aspect of Divine Light is similar to the protoscientific hypothesis that the electromagnetic field generated by the brain is the carrier of consciousness. In other words if the hypothesis is correct, consciousness would be an aspect of light (electromagentic radiation) and not an aspect of the physical brain per se.
The Ten Sefirot mediate the interaction of the ultimate unknowable God with the physical and spiritual world. Some students of Kabbalah suggest that the Sefirot may be thought of as analogous to fundamental laws of physics. God's "Restriction" (Tzimtzum) within the spiritual levels is often compared with the Big Bang in the lowest physical level. Just as the resulting gravity, electromagnetism, strong force, and weak force allow for interactions between energy and matter, the Ten Sefirot allow for interactions between God and creation. (Compare Theory of Everything.)
The Ten Sefirot are sometimes mentioned in the context of the Ten Dimensions that some physicists suspect the Superstring Theory may require.
Ten Sefirot as process of ethics
Divine creation by means of the Ten Sefirot is an ethical process. Examples: The Sefirah of "Compassion" (Chesed) being part of the Right Column corresponds to how God reveals more blessings when humans use previous blessings compassionately, whereas the Sefirah of "Overpowering" (Gevurah) being part of the Left Column corresponds to how God hides these blessings when humans abuse them selfishly without compassion. Thus human behavior determines if God seems present or absent. "Righteous" humans (Tzadikim) ascend these ethical qualities of the Ten Sefirot by doing righteous actions. If there were no "Righteous" humans, the blessings of God would become completely hidden, and creation would cease to exist. While real human actions are the "Foundation" (Yesod) of this universe (Malchut), these actions must accompany the conscious intention of compassion. Compassionate actions are often impossible without "Faith" (Emunah), meaning to trust that God always supports compassionate actions even when God seems hidden. Ultimately, it is necessary to show compassion toward oneself too in order to share compassion toward others. This "selfish" enjoyment of God's blessings but only if in order to empower oneself to assist others, is an important aspect of "Restriction", and is considered a kind of golden mean in Kabbalah, corresponding to the Sefirah of "Adornment" (Tiferet) being part of the "Middle Column".
See also: Kabbalistic use of the Tetragrammaton
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 the soul are not implanted at birth, but can be developed over time; their development depends on the actions and beliefs of the individual. They are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually. A common way of explaining the three parts of the soul is as follows:
- Nefesh (נפש) - the lower part, or "animal part", of the soul. It is linked to instincts and bodily cravings.
- Ruach (רוח) - the middle soul, the "spirit". It contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil.
- Neshamah (נשמה) - the higher soul, or "super-soul". This separates man from all other lifeforms. It is related to the intellect, and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. This part of the soul is provided at birth and allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of God.
The Raaya Meheimna, a section of related teachings spread throughout the Zohar, discusses the two other parts of the human soul, the chayyah and yehidah (first mentioned in the Midrash Rabbah). Gershom Scholem writes that these "were considered to represent the sublimest levels of intuitive cognition, and to be within the grasp of only a few chosen individuals". The Chayyah and the Yechidah do not enter into the body like the other three - thus they received less attention in other sections of the Zohar.
- Chayyah (חיה) - The part of the soul that allows one to have an awareness of the divine life force itself.
- Yehidah (יחידה) - the highest plane of the soul, in which one can achieve as full a union with God as is possible.
Both rabbinic and kabbalistic works posit that there are also a few additional, non-permanent states to the soul that people can develop on certain occasions. These extra souls, or extra states of the soul, play no part in any afterlife scheme, but are mentioned for completeness:
- Ruach HaKodesh (רוח הקודש) - ("spirit of holiness") a state of the soul that makes prophecy possible. Since the age of classical prophecy passed, no one (outside of Israel) receives the soul of prophesy any longer. See the teachings of Abraham Abulafia for differing views of this matter.
- Neshamah Yeseira - The "supplemental soul" that a Jew can experience on Shabbat. It makes possible an enhanced spiritual enjoyment of the day. This exists only when one is observing Shabbat; it can be lost and gained depending on one's observance.
- Neshamah Kedosha - Provided to Jews at the age of maturity (13 for boys, 12 for girls), and is related to the study and fulfillment of the Torah commandments. It exists only when one studies and follows Torah; it can be lost and gained depending on one's study and observance.
Among its many pre-occupations, Kabbalah teaches that every Hebrew letter, word, number, even the accent on words of the Hebrew Bible contains a hidden sense; and it teaches the methods of interpretation for ascertaining these meanings. One such method is as follows:
Gematria:As early as the 1st Century BCE Jews believed Torah (first five books of the Bible) contains encoded message and hidden meanings. Gematria is one method for discovering hidden meanings in Torah. Each letter in Hebrew also represents a number - Hebrew, unlike many other languages, never developed a separate numerical alphabet. By converting letters to numbers, Kabbalists were able to find hidden meaning in each word. This method of interpretation was used extensively by various schools. An example would be the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria.
There is no one fixed way to "do" gematria. Some say there are up to 70 different methods. One simple procedure is as follows: each syllable and/or letter forming a word has a characteristic numeric value. The sum of these numeric tags is the word's "key", and that word may be replaced in the text by any other word having the same key. Through the application of many such procedures, alternate or hidden meanings of scripture may be derived. Similar procedures are used by Islamic mystics, as described by Idries Shah in his book, "The Sufis".
Divination and clairvoyance
Some Kabbalists have attempted to foretell events or know occult events by the Kabbalah. The term Kabbalah Maasit ("Practical Kabbalah") is used to refer to secret science in general, mystic art, or mystery. Within Judaism proper, the foretelling of the future through magical means is not permissible, not even with the Kabbalah. However, there is no prohibition against understanding the past nor coming to a greater understanding of present and future situations through inspiration gained by the Kabbalah (a subtle distinction and one often hard to delineate). The appeal to occult power outside the monotheist deity for divinative purpose is unacceptable in Judaism, but at the same time it is held that the righteous have access to occult knowledge. Such knowledge can come through dreams and incubation (inducing clairvoyant dreams), metoscopy (reading faces, lines on the face, or auras emanating from the face), ibburim and maggidim (spirit possession), and/or various methods of scrying (see Sefer Chasidim, Sefer ha-Hezyonot).
The Midrash and Talmud are replete with the use of Divine names and incantations that are claimed to effect supernatural or theurgic results. Most post-Talmudic rabbinical literature seeks to curb the use of any or most of these formulae, termed Kabbalah Ma'asit ("practical Kabbalah"). There are various arguments for this; one stated by the Medieval Rabbi Jacob Mölin (Maharil) is that the person using it may lack the required grounding, and the spell would be ineffective. Yet the interest in these rituals of power continued largely unabated until recently. And in fact, since the Talmud exempts virtually all forms of magical healing from this prohibition (Whatsoever effects healing is not considered witchcraft - Tractate Shabbat), there has been the widespread practice of medicinal sorcery, amulets, and segullot (folk remedies) in Jewish societies across time and geography.
Other dramatic examples of such "practical" power include: the knowledge required to produce a Golem, a homunculus or artificial lifeform. Some adherents of Kabbalah developed the idea of invoking a curse against a sinner termed a Pulsa diNura (lit. "lashes of fire") although the majority of Kabbalists reject the notion that a person can actually cause it.
Many kabbalistic rituals require the participation of more than one individual, i.e. the creation of a Golem, for which (at least) three individuals are required. [How to reference and link to summary or text] Still, Kabbalah itself could only be taught to a very small group of select individuals who had mastered the other branches of Torah - for these reasons, the English word "cabal" came to refer to any small, secretive and possibly conspiratorial group.
Gnosticism and Kabbalah
Gnosticism frequently appears as an element of Kabbalah. Gnosticism - systems of secret spiritual knowledge, or some sources say - — that is, the concept Hokhmah (חכמה "wisdom") - seems to have been the first attempt on the part of Jewish sages to give the empirical mystic lore, with the help of Platonic and Pythagorean or Stoic ideas, a speculative turn. This led to the danger of heresy from which the Jewish rabbinic figures Rabbi Akiva and Ben Zoma strove to extricate themselves.
Original teachings of gnosticism have much in common with Kabbalah:
- Core terminology of classical gnostics include using Jewish names of God.
- Mainstream Gnostics accepted a "Jewish Messiah" as a key figure of gnosticism
- A Key text of Gnosticism - Apocryphon of John - mentions 365 powers who created the World. 365 is a number of recurrent interest in the Dead Sea Scroll (the solar year figured prominently in their thinking).
However there are also aspects of Gnosticism at odds with Kabbalah. Most glaring is the fact that within most of the Christian Gnostic groups the Jewish creator God was looked down on. This ranged from somewhat sympathetic pity for what the Gnostics felt was a deranged abortion, to outright identification of the Jewish God with evil incarnate.
One of the most serious and sustained criticisms of Kabbalah is that it may lead away from monotheism, and instead promote dualism, the belief that there is a supernatural counterpart to God. The dualistic system holds that there is a good power versus an evil power. There are (appropriately) two primary models of Gnostic-dualistic cosmology. The first, which goes back to Zoroastrianism, believes creation is ontologically divided between good and evil forces. The second, found largely in Greco-Roman ideologies like Neo-Platonism, believes the universe knew a primoridal harmony, but that a cosmic disruption yielded a second, evil, dimension to reality. This second model influenced the cosmology of the Kabbalah.
According to Kabbalistic cosmology, the Ten Sefirot correspond to ten levels of creation. These levels of creation must not be understood as ten different "gods" but as ten different ways of revealing God, one per level. It is not God who changes but the ability to perceive God that changes. While God may seem to exhibit dual natures (masculine-feminine, compassionate-judgmental, creator-creation), all adherents of Kabbalah have consistently stressed the ultimate unity of God. For example, in all discussions of Male and Female, the hidden nature of God exists above it all without limit, being called the Infinite or the "No End" (Ein Sof) - neither one nor the other, transcending any definition. The ability of God to become hidden from perception is called "Restriction" (Tsimtsum). Hiddenness makes creation possible because God can become "revealed" in a diversity of limited ways, which then form the building blocks of creation.
- Later Kabbalistic works, including the Zohar, appear to more strongly affirm dualism, as they ascribe all evil to a supernatural force known as the Sitra Ahra ("the other side") that emantes from God. This "left side" of divine emanation is a kind of negative mirror image of the "side of holiness" with which it was locked in combat." [Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 6, "Dualism", p.244]. While this evil aspect exists within the divine structure of the Sefirot, the Zohar indicates that the Sitra Ahra has no power over Ein Sof, and only exists as a necessary aspect of the creation of God to give man free choice, and that evil is the consequence of this choice - not a supernatural force opposed to God, but a reflection of the inner moral combat within mankind between the dictates of morality and the surrender to one's basic instincts.
- Rabbi Dr. David Gottlieb notes that many Kabbalists hold that the concepts of, for example, a Heavenly Court or the Sitra Ahra are only given to humanity by God to give humanity a working model to understand His ways within our own epistemological limits. They reject that a Satan or angels actually exists. Others hold that non-God spiritual entities were indeed created by God as a means for exacting his will.
- According to Kabbalists, humans cannot (yet) understand the infinity of God. Rather, there is God as revealed to humans (corresponding to Zeir Anpin), and the rest of the infinity of God as remaining hidden from human experience (corresponding to Arikh Anpin). One can have a reading of this theology which is totally monotheistic, similar to panentheism; however one can also have a reading of this theology which is essentially dualistic. Professor Gershom Scholem writes "It is clear that with this postulate of an impersonal basic reality in God, which becomes a person - or appears as a person - only in the process of Creation and Revelation, Kabbalism abandons the personalistic basis of the Biblical conception of God....It will not surprise us to find that speculation has run the whole gamut - from attempts to re-transform the impersonal En-Sof into the personal God of the Bible to the downright heretical doctrine of a genuine dualism between the hidden Ein Sof and the personal Demiurge of Scripture." (Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism Shocken Books p.11-12)
Perception of non-Jews
Another aspect of Kabbalah that Jewish critics object to is its metaphysics of the human soul. Since the Zohar, most Kabbalistic works assume that Jewish and non-Jewish souls are fundamentally different. While all human souls emanate from God, the Zohar posits that at least part of Gentile souls emanate from the "left side" of the Sefirotic structure and that non-Jews therefore have a dark or demonic aspect to them that is absent in Jews.
Later Kabbalistic works build and elaborate on this idea. The Hasidic work, the Tanya, fuses this idea with Judah ha-Levi's medieval philosophical argument for the uniqueness of the Jewish soul in order to argue that Jews have an additional level of soul that other humans do not possess.
All this theologically framed hostility may be a response to the demonization of Jews which developed in Western and Christian thought starting with the Patristic Fathers. By the Middle Ages, Jews were widely characterized as minions of Satan, or even devilish non-humans in their own right. This Kabbalistic view of non-Jews may also be compared with the Christian doctrine that baptized Christians form part of the Body of Christ while (at least according to Augustine of Hippo) all others remain in the massa perditionis.
In an article that appears in The Seductiveness of Jewish Myth, David Halperin theorizes that the collapse of Kabbalah's influence among Western European Jews over the course of the 17th and 18th Century was a result of the cognitive dissonance they experienced between Kabbalah's very negative perception of gentiles and their own dealings with non-Jews, which were rapidly expanding and improving during this period due to the influence of the Enlightenment.
Modern Judaism has rejected, or at least dismissed this outdated aspect of Kabbalah as non-relevant,[How to reference and link to summary or text] as it possibly persists in only the most recondite and anti-modernist corners of the Jewish world.
Debate about Kabbalah in Judaism
Although it has been criticized by a number of rabbis, Kabbalah has nevertheless remained an influential ideology in Jewish theology since the 13th Century, and is particularly influential in Hasidic and Sephardic thought. As well, the Vilna Gaon, the greatest leader of the Mitnagdim - former opponents of the Hasidim - was also a major Kabbalist. Gershom Scholem has written that between 1500 and 1800 "Kabbalah was widely considered to be the true Jewish theology". Though the medieval rationalists, Dor Daim, and many in Liberal Judaism and Modern Orthodoxy do not subscribe to Kabbalah, other Liberal and Orthodox Jews still consider it a fundamental part of Jewish thought and belief, though different individuals and groups subscribe to different schools of Kabbalistic thought.
Critiques among Orthodox circles
The idea that there are ten divine sefirot could evolve over time into the idea that "God is One being, yet in that One being there are Ten" which opens up a debate about what the "correct beliefs" in God should be, according to Judaism.
Rabbi Saadia Gaon teaches in his book Emunot v'Deot that Jews who believe in reincarnation have adopted a non-Jewish belief.
Maimonides (12th Century) belittled many of the texts of the Hekalot, particularly the work Shiur Komah with its starkly anthropomorphic vision of God.
Rabbi Avraham ben haRambam, in the spirit of his father Maimonides, Rabbi Saadiah Gaon, and other predecessors, explains at length in his book Milhhamot HaShem that the Almighty is in no way literally within time or space nor physically outside time or space, since time and space simply do not apply to His Being whatsoever. This is in contrast to certain popular understandings of modern Kabbalah which teach a form of panantheism, that His 'essence' is within everything.
Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet Perfet (The Rivash), 1326-1408; he stated that Kabbalah was "worse than Christianity", as it made God into 10, not just into three. The critique, however, is considered irrelevant to most kabbalists. Most followers of Kabbalah never believed this interpretation of Kabbalah. The Christian Trinity concept posits that there are three persons existing within the Godhead, one of whom literally became a human being. In contrast, the mainstream understanding of the Kabbalistic sefirot holds that they have no mind or intelligence; further, they are not addressed in prayer, and they can not become a human being. They are conduits for interaction - not persons or beings. Nonetheless, many important poskim, such as Maimonidies in his work Mishneh Torah, prohibit any use of mediators between oneself and the Creator as a form of idolatry.
Rabbi Leone di Modena, a 17th century Venetian critic of Kabbalah, wrote that if we were to accept the Kabbalah, then the Christian trinity would indeed be compatible with Judaism, as the Trinity closely resembles the Kabbalistic doctrine of sefirot. This critique was in response to the fact that some Jews went so far as to address individual sefirot individually in some of their prayers, although this practise was far from common. This interpretation of Kabbalah in fact did occur among some European Jews in the 17th century. To respond, others say that the sefiros (To clarify for the reader not accustomed to the jargon, Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum says "The names of God are the Ten Sefiros of which the kabbalists spoke. The Ten Sefiros are ten kinds of revelation of God's powers that are accessible to us: these are His Ten Names, as explained in the Zohar and Sefer Yetzirah") represent different aspects of God. In order, the first six are Chesed (kindness), Gevurah (might). Tiferes (harmony), Netzach (victory), Hod (splendor), and Yesod (foundation). The German Jews may have been praying for and not necessarily to those aspects of Godliness.
Rabbi Yaakov Emden, 1697-1776, wrote the book Mitpahhath Sfarim (Scarf/Veil of the Books) which is a detailed critique of the Zohar. He concludes that certain parts of the Zohar contain heretical teaching and therefore could not have been written by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai. Opponents of the book claim that he wrote the book in a drunken stupor.
Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh, an early 20th century Yemenite Jewish leader and grandfather of Rabbi Yosef Qafih, also wrote a book entitled Milhhamoth HaShem, (Wars of the L-RD) against what he perceived as the false teachings of the Zohar and the false kabbalah of Isaac Luria. He is credited with spearheading the Dor Daim. Dor Daim continue in Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh's view of Kabbalah into modern times.
Yeshayahu Leibowitz 1903-1994, brother of Nechama Leibowitz, though Modern Orthodox in his world view, publicly shared the views expressed in Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh's book Milhhamoth HaShem and elaborated upon these views in his many writings.
Within Conservative and Reform Judaism
Since all forms of reform or liberal Judaism are rooted in the Enlightenment and tied to the assumptions of european modernity, Kabbalah tended to be rejected by most Jews in the Conservative and Reform movements, though its influences were not completely eliminated. While it was generally not studied as a discipline, the Kabbalistic Kabbalat Shabbat service remained part of liberal liturgy, as did the Yedid Nefesh prayer. Nevertheless, in the 1960s, Rabbi Saul Lieberman of the Jewish Theological Seminary, is reputed to have introduced a lecture by Scholem on Kabbalah with a statement that Kabbalah itself was "nonsense", but the academic study of Kabbalah was "scholarship". This view became popular among many Jews, who viewed the subject as worthy of study, but who did not accept Kabbalah as teaching literal truths.
According to Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (Dean of the Conservative Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies in the University of Judaism), "many western Jews insisted that their future and their freedom required shedding what they perceived as parochial orientalism. They fashioned a Judaism that was decorous and strictly rational (according to 19th-century European standards), denigrating Kabbalah as backward, superstitious, and marginal".
However, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries there has been a revival in interest in Kabbalah in all branches of liberal Judaism. The Kabbalistic 12th century prayer Ani'im Zemirot was restored to the new Conservative Sim Shalom siddur, as was the B'rikh Shmeh passage from the Zohar, and the mystical Ushpizin service welcoming to the Sukkah the spirits of Jewish forbearers. Ani'im Zemirot and the 16th Century mystical poem Lekha Dodi reappeared in the Reform Siddur Gates of Prayer in 1975. All Rabbinical seminaries now teach several courses in Kabbalah, and both the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles have fulltime instructors in Kabbalah and Hasidut, Eitan Fishbane and Pinchas Geller, respectively. Reform Rabbis like Herbert Weiner and Lawrence Kushner have renewed interest in Kabbalah among Reform Jews.
According to Artson "Ours is an age hungry for meaning, for a sense of belonging, for holiness. In that search, we have returned to the very Kabbalah our predecessors scorned. The stone that the builders rejected has become the head cornerstone (Psalm 118:22)... Kabbalah was the last universal theology adopted by the entire Jewish people, hence faithfulness to our commitment to positive-historical Judaism mandates a reverent receptivity to Kabbalah".
Also see Neo-Hasidism
- Main article: Kabbalah Centre
A recent modern revival has been initiated by the controversial Kabbalah Centre founded by Philip Berg in Los Angeles in 1984, and run by him and his sons Yehuda and Michael. With a number of branches worldwide, the group has attracted many non-Jews, including entertainment celebrities such as Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Mick Jagger, Britney Spears and Anthony Kiedis. To its proponents, the Kabbalah Centre is a spiritual organization which teaches the principles of Kabbalah in a unique and user-friendly system accessible to anyone, regardless of religion, race or gender. To its detractors, the Kabbalah Centre has been described as an "opportunistic offshoot of the faith, with charismatic leaders who try to attract the rich and vulnerable with the promise of health, wealth, and happiness." The Kabbalah Centre comprises Jewish and non-Jewish teachers and students. Therefore, it is not supported by much of the religious establishment. Jewish organizations frequently distinguish it as non-Jewish and often consider participation by Jews in it to be a problem since classical Judaism forbids Jews from participating with non-Jews in religious rituals...
Ironically, the Kabbalah Centre embraces many of the criticism apllied to it by traditional Judaism, by pointing out that these crticism only prove the insiduous tendency for organized religion, Jewish or otherwise, to ultimately preach superiority and exclusion rather than universal love and equality, which the Kabbalah Centre maintains is the single most important foundation of Kabbalah itself (both traditional and at the "Centre"...)
Kabbalah in non-Jewish society
Kabbalah eventually gained an audience outside of the Jewish community. Nominal-Christian versions of Kabbalah began to develop; by the early 18th century some kabbalah came to be used by many hermetic philosophers, neo-pagans and other new religious groups.
The Eastern Orthodox Christian theological view
The Kabbalah's idea of emanations can be compared to the distinction made by fourteenth-century Eastern Orthodox theologian Gregory Palamas. Palamas drew a distinction between God's essence and energies, affirming that God was unknowable in His essence, but knowable in His energies. Palamas never enumerated God's energies, but described them as ways that God could act in the universe, and particularly on people, from the light shining from the face of Moses after Moses descended Mt. Sinai, to the light surrounding Moses, Elijah and Jesus on Mt. Tabor during the transfiguration of Jesus. For Palamas, God's energies were not some other thing separate from God, but were God; however the idea of energies was kept distinct from the idea of the three Persons of the Trinity. The unity of the Three Persons of the Trinity being united by Gods transcendent Essence. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition another similar example may be found in the writings and system of Nikitas Stithatos. "Nikitas Stithatos' decad has affinities with the decads of both the foregoing theories (kabbalistic and pythagorean decads), although it cannot be identified with either. It has roots in the conception of the celestial hierarchy or concatenation formulated by St Dionysios the Areopagite. This hierarchy constitues a threefold structure, each level of which consists of three orders or ranks of celestial intelligences, giving a total of nine such interlocking and mutually participating orders. The function of the lowest of these orders, that of the angels, has two aspects. The first is to transmit the divine grace and illumination, which it has received from God through the meditation of the orders about it, to the order below it, the human order, that taken as a whole thus represents the tenth order, the second is to convert the human intelligence, the "finest of all the offerings; that can be made by this human order, so that it mounts upward and stage by stage returns, again through the meditation of the celestial hierarchy, to a state of union with its divine source and in this way achieves Divinization. This double meditation descending and ascending, constitues the cyclic movement...." In Nikitas Stithatos's book "On Spiritual Knowledge" verse 99 it is written: "The nine heavenly powers sing hymns of praise that have a threefold structure...." The Highest Rank: Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. The Middle Rank: Authorities, Dominions and Powers. The Lowest Rank: Principalities, Archangels and Angels. Humanity is the last component to complete the Decad.
The study of Kabbalah is widespread within non-Jewish Western Esoteric (or Hermetic) Tradition. In this context it is most often transliterated as Qabalah to differentiate it from the Jewish tradition.
Kabbalah was absorbed into the Hermetic tradition at least as early as the 15th century when Giovanni Pico della Mirandola promoted a syncretic world-view combining Platonism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, Hermeticism and Kabbalah. This was further developed by Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit priest, hermeticist and polymath, who wrote extensively on the subject in 1652, bringing further elements such as Orphism and Egyptian mythology to the mix. Modern Hermetic Qabalah retains this syncretism, but continues to share much with Jewish Kabbalah. Hermetic Qabalah has been a major influence upon both the neo-Pagan and New Age movements.
Hermetic Qabalah probably reached its peak in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a 19th century organization that was arguably the pinnacle of ceremonial magic. Within the Golden Dawn the syncretic fusing of Qabalistic principles such as the ten Sephiroth with Greek and Egyptian deities was made more cohesive and was extended to encompass other systems such as the Enochian system of angelic magic of John Dee and certain Eastern (particularly Hindu and Buddhist) concepts, all within the structure of a Masonic- or Rosicrucian-style esoteric order. Many of the Golden Dawn's rituals were published (with some inaccuracies) by the occultist Aleister Crowley; eventually the entire corpus was published in book form by Israel Regardie, an author of some note.
Crowley's own writings on the Qabalah were idiosyncratic, and in some cases purposely blasphemous. However his book Liber 777 is a good illustration of the wider Hermetic approach. It is 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 embraced by Hermetic Qabalists is plainly evident here, where for instance the correspondences of Chesed (חסד "Mercy") are given as Jupiter, Isis, the color blue (on the Queen Scale), Poseidon, Brahma, and amethysts. These associations are not shared with the Jewish Kabbalah.
Kabbalah in film and fiction
- Guy Ritchie's 2005 film, Revolver, functions as a Kabbalistic cinematic text on liberation of the self from the material world. It implies that those who are 'enlightened' by this process are able to control the material world in ways that were previously unachievable.
- Umberto Eco's 1989 novel Foucault's Pendulum weaves Kabbalistic concepts into an imagined global conspiracy involving Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, druidism, and the Knights Templar. The book's ten sections are named after the ten Sefiroth.
- In The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Richard Zimler is plotting a murder mystery which takes place in 16th century Portugal.
- Another novel that deals with Jewish mysticism and mythology is The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne.
- In Darren Aronofsky's Pi, number theorist Max Cohen is pursued by a group of Kabbalah mysticists who are trying to unlock the secrets of the Torah through numbers.
- Kabbalistic themes and symbols figure heavily in the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion
- The comic Promethea by Alan Moore features a Thelemic version of the Qabalah. Over a number of issues, the characters undergo a journey that takes them along the 32nd path, through most of the stations of the Qabalah.
- The storylines in the video game series Xenosaga, and its predecessor Xenogears, borrow Kabbalistic names, concepts, and symbols. They also include such things from other subjects that borrow from Kabbalah, like alchemy and, by extension, the writings of Carl Jung. Characters, objects, and events featured in the storylines are named for Kabbalistic symbols, as well as alchemic and Jungian symbols based on Kabbalah, like Rubedo, whitening, the Zohar, and the Path of Sefiroth.
- the storyline of the manga 666 Satan has a Kabbalah and a reverse Kaballaha(upside down Kaballaha) positioned at the north and south pole of the world, which ubsorb 10 angels(Kabbalah) and 10 demons(reverse Kaballaha) inorder to unlock their power as a weapon
Classical Kabbalah personalities
- See also:
Contemporary Kabbalah personalities
- Artson, Bradley Shavit. From the Periphery to the Centre: Kabbalah and the Conservative Movement, United Synagogue Review, Spring 2005, Vol. 57 No. 2
- Parpola S. 1993. The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy. Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 52(3) pp161-208
- EHYEH: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2003.
- Kabbalah: New Perspectives, Yale University Press, 1988.
- Aivanhov, Omraam Mikhael The Fruits Of The Tree Of Life (The kabbalistic Tradition), ISBN 2-85566-467-5
- Kaplan, Aryeh Inner Space: Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation and Prophecy. Moznaim Publishing Corp 1990.
- Bodoff, Lippman, "Jewish Mysticism: Medieval Roots, Contemporary Dangers and Prospective Challenges": The Edah Journal 2003 3.1 
- Dan, J., The Early Jewish Mysticism, Tel Aviv: MOD Books, 1993.
- __________, The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- __________, “Samael, Lilith, and the Concept of Evil in Early Kabbalah,” AJS Review, vol. 5, 1980.
- __________, The ‘Unique Cherub’ Circle, Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1999.
- Dan, J. and Kiener, R., The Early Kabbalah, Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1986.
- Dennis, G., The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, St. Paul: Llewellyn Wordwide, 2007.
- Fine, L., ed., Essential Papers in Kabbalah, New York: NYU Press, 1995.
- ____________, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and his Kabbalistic Fellowship, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.
- ____________, Safed Spirituality, Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1989.
- ____________, ed., Judaism in Practice, Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.
- Idel, Moshe. Kabbalah: New Perspectives. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988.
- Idel, M., The Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid, New York: SUNY Press, 1990.
- _________, Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic, New York: SUNY Press, 1995.
- _________, “Kabbalistic Prayer and Color,” Approaches to Judaism in Medieval Times, D. Blumenthal, ed., Chicago: Scholar’s Press, 1985.
- _________, The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia, New York, SUNY Press, 1988.
- _________, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, New Haven: Yale Press, 1988.
- _________, “Magic and Kabbalah in the ‘Book of the Responding Entity,’” in The Solomon Goldman Lectures VI, Chicago: Spertus College of Judaica Press, 1993.
- _________, “The Story of Rabbi Joseph della Reina,” in Behayahu, M., Studies and Texts on the History of the Jewish Community in Safed.
- John W. McGinley, 'The Written' as the Vocation of Conceiving Jewishly; ISBN 0-595-40488-X
- Scholem, Gershom, Kabbalah, Jewish Publication Society.
- Dominique Aubier, Don Quijote, Profeta y cabalista, ISBN 84-300-4527-9
- Wineberg, Yosef. Lessons in Tanya: The Tanya of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi (5 volume set). Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, 1998. ISBN 0-8266-0546-X
- The Wisdom of The Zohar: An Anthology of Texts, 3 volume set, Ed. Isaiah Tishby, translated from the Hebrew by David Goldstein, The Littman Library.
- Green, Arthur. EHYEH: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow. Woodstock: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2003.
- This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.
- An interview with Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz --- "Idol worship is still within us" --- by Shlomo Mallin
- Orthodox sites
- Kabbalah of the weekly torah portion for todays spiritual seeker
- Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism A Talmudist perspective of Kabbalah
- What is Kabbalah? - Chabad
- Kabbalah 101 - Aish
- List of noncontroversial books on Qabbola according to the Temani (Yemenite) Rabbinic tradition
- Unconventional and non-traditional sites
- Folk and pop Kabbalah sites
- Scholarly overview of "magical" Kabbalah - F. Levine
- Intro to Kabbalah and Self Discovery (12-part audio download online)
- General information sites
- Resources > Medieval Jewish History > Jewish Mysticism The Jewish History Resource Center, Project of the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- FAQ about Kabbalah JewFaq.org
- Cabala JewishEncyclopidia.com
- Overview of Kabbalah
- Chassidic Kabbalah
- Essay about which Rabbinic Kabbalah texts are available in English
- Online rabbinic Kabbalah txts
- Who Should Learn the Hidden Torah? Rambam (Maimonidies) comments and warnings in Guide for the Perplexed relevant to Kabbalah.
- English and Aramaic Zohar Online (searchable) - Kabbalah Centre
- Online Rabbinic Kabbalah Texts in English - University of Utah
- Kabbalah Digital Library (Responsa-like searchable) - Bnei Baruch
- Important Kabbalah texts in English - KabbalahOnline.org
- Online Hasidic Kabbalah texts
- Jewish Kabbalah organizations
- Official site of KabbalahOnline.org a project of Ascent-of-Sefad for kosher Kabbalah in Sefad (Tsfat) the historic city of Kabbalah in Israel
- Official site of Chabad
- Site of Chabad for Kabbalah in UK
- Official site of Kabbalah Centre - Philip Berg
- Official site in Hebrew of Or HaGanuz, a kibbutz dedicated to Kabbalah - Mordechai Shineberg
- Official site of Iyyun - Dov Ber Pinson
- Kehilat Romemu: Transdenominational, Kabbalistic, integral Synagogue founded by Rabbi David Ingber
- Non-rabbinical Jewish Kabbalah
- Work of The Chariot: A site on Qabalah with much important literature and Qabalistic meditations.
- The Kabbalah Society A Kabbalah school led by Warren Kenton (Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi) which follows the Toledano tradition.
- Hermetic and other non-Jewish Kabbalah
- Kabbalah in Sistemagia
- Kabbalah and the Divine Name Ehyeh in Exodus 3:14
- Sacred Wisdom Kabbalah, Gnosticism, Esotericism, Comparative Theology
- Gnostic Kabbalah
- Hypertext Hebrew Alphabet
- Sephirotic Systems in the Sepher Yetsira, Bahir and Post-Zohar Kabbalah
- Mystical Keys Library
- The Kabbalistic Tree of life
- Interactive Kabbalah-Dictionary (more than 5000 words)
- Interactive Kabbalistic Tree of Life
- Jewish criticisms of Kabbalah
- Anti-Maimonidean Demons Article by José Faur on the Maimonist/Anti-Maimonist controversy
- Maimonides Agonist: Disenchantment and Reenchantment in Modern Judaism Article by Menachem Kellner contrasting Maimonidean with Zoharic Judaism.