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Guide Origins of the Kabbalah

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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. According to the Kabbalah, there are mainly two different ways to describe why there is evil in the world, and both make use of the kabbalistic Tree of Life :. Kabbalah is an ongoing oral tradition. Its texts 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. A list of the most significant Kabbalistic texts are provided below in the chronological order of their publication:. 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 sixth-century 3 Khanokh , as well as hundreds of small documents, many little more than fragments. It exists today in a number of editions, up to 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. The first commentaries on this small book were written in the tenth century, perhaps the text itself is quoted as early as the sixth century, and perhaps its linguistic organization of the Hebrew alphabet could be from as early as the second century.

Despite its name "Illumination," it is notoriously cryptic and difficult to understand. Much of it is written in parables, one after the other. The Bahir opens with a quote attributed to Rabbi Nehunia Ben Ha-Kana, a Talmudic sage of the first 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 Nehunia or even literally written by him. It was first published in Provence, France near Italy in 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 twelfth century as a central ethical text of the German Pietists. The text resembles a FAQ with about frequently asked questions whose answers range from exhortations to illustrative stories to homilies, about any aspect of Medieval Ashkenazi Judaism.


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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. 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. It is a mystical commentary on the Torah, written in Medieval Aramaic.

The academic opinion, however, is that Rabbi Moshe de Leon wrote it himself or perhaps with help before he published it in Spain in the thirteenth century. The text gained enormous popularity throughout the Jewish world. 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. Though the book was widely accepted, a small number of significant rabbis over the subsequent centuries have 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. The Zohar contains a medley of ideas, fact and fiction, of history and tradition, of words, letters and stories; it moves from delicate poetry and expressions of pure thought to passages of absurd babble or streams of consciousness.

It is suggested that the structure of the Zohar is only the cloak for its inner, mystical meaning [41]. The Book tells its own story of how it came to be. It says that the Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai and his son, Rabbi Eliezer, hid themselves in a cave to escape Roman persecution in Judea during the second century. In more than a decade of hiding, they wrote down their contemplations on the essence of God, the Torah, Israel and the secrets of the universe.

Over time, their reflections were lost and hidden amid the treasures of the Holy Land. However, years later, a storm blew the pages into the home of the Spanish rabbi and mystic, Moses de Leon.

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In the Zohar, Kabbalistic ideas which were in their nascent stages blossomed and became interlinked. The primary focus of the work is the interconnectedness of the universe and the argument that behind everything there is a purpose, not just random chaos. It is a popular interpretation and synthesis of Lurianic Kabbalah.

Jewish Mysticism Explained - Exploring Kabbalah

It was first published in Safed in the sixteenth 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. Despite being a late text by a modern Kabbalist, it is widely distributed. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ashlag wrote and published it in Israel in 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 Kabblah must at some point refer to it. 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. 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. 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 Sefrotic 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 that 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.

Modern Judaism has rejected, or at least dismissed this outdated aspect of Kabbalah as non-relevant, as it possibly persists in only the most recondite and anti-modernist corners of the Jewish world. 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, 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. 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 Saadiah Gaon teaches in his book Emunot v'Deot that Jews who believe in reincarnation have adopted a non-Jewish belief. Maimonides twelfth century belittled many of the texts of the Hekalot, particularly the work Shiur Komah with its starkly anthropomorphic vision of God. Rabbi Avraham ben ha Rambam , 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 panentheism , that His 'essence' is within everything. Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet Perfet The Rivash , ; he stated that Kabbalah was "worse than Christianity," as it made God into ten, 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 Leon Modena, a seventeenth 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.

The Origins of Kabbalah - The Jewish Chronicle

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 seventeenth century. 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. He is credited with spearheading the Dor Daim. They fashioned a Judaism that was decorous and strictly rational according to nineteenth-century European standards , denigrating Kabbalah as backward, superstitious, and marginal. However, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries there has been a revival in interest in Kabbalah in all branches of liberal Judaism. The Kabbalistic twelfth 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.

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 …. 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".

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  • View Cart 0 Your Shopping Cart is empty. From there Moses Cordovero would compose his lengthy commentaries on what had become the central kabbalistic text. Luria was hard-pressed to explain the terrible state of exile that characterized the Jewish people. He expanded the kabbalistic doctrine of the exile of the Shechinah or Divine Presence into a mystical theology of redemption and promoted a rationale for the performance of good deeds which was designed to hasten and even produce the coming of the Messiah.

    Kabbalah would ultimately give rise to Sabbatianism, the messianic movement of the seventeenth century that proclaimed Shabbetai Zevi as King Messiah and in so doing, led Jewry into despondency for decades. Lurianic Kabbalah would also, through the popular mystical Chassidic movement, exert a strong influence on the future thinking of Judaism. A History of the Kabbalah. A History of the Kabbalah Topics: kabbalah , branches of judaism , teachings of judaism Category: Issues Kabbalah. Subscribe To Our Newsletter.

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