Kabbalah


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As it is written, 'I will discipline you,' forcing you into exile; but if you think that I will abandon you, Myself too [shall go] along with you. There are many strands of teaching in the kabbalah. The En Sof is inaccessible and unknowable to man. But God reveals Himself to mankind through a series of ten emanations, sefirot , a configuration of forces that issue from the En Sof. The first of these sefirot is keter crown and refers to God's will to create. Most of the sefirot are regarded as legitimate objects for human meditation; they represent a way in which human beings can make contact with God.

Through contemplation and virtuous deeds, human beings can also bring down the divine grace to this world. The greatest scholar and historian of kabbalah in this century was the late Professor Gershom Scholem of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

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Scholem, himself a nonobservant Jew, was fond of explaining how he became attracted to so esoteric a discipline: "My decision to study Jewish mysticism came the day I visited the home of a famous German rabbi, a person with a reputation for scholarship in the kabbalah Seeing on his shelf some mystical texts with intriguing titles, I had, with all the enthusiasm of youth, asked the rabbi about them.

If this man can become an authority without reading the text, then what might I become if I actually read the books? As a rule, mekubbalim people who actively study and practice kabbalah are skeptical of men like Scholem, who studied kabbalah as a university discipline and not from a personal conviction of its truth. One mekubbal , Rabbi Abraham Chen, declared on one occasion before a seminar of Scholem's students: "A scholar of mysticism is like an accountant: He may know where all the treasure is, but he is not free to use it.

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In an introduction to a lecture Scholem delivered at the seminary, Lieberman said that several years earlier, some students asked to have a course here in which they could study kabbalistic texts. He had told them that it was not possible, but if they wished they could have a course on the history of kabbalah. For at a university, Lieberman said, "it is forbidden to have a course in nonsense. But the history of nonsense, that is scholarship. Lieberman's caustic comment aside, kabbalah has long been one of the important areas of Jewish thought.

Ideas that many contemporary Jews might think of as un-Jewish sometimes are found in the kabbalah, most notably, the belief in reincarnation gilgul neshamot. Between and , Scholem has written, "kabbalah was widely considered to be the true Jewish theology," and almost no one attacked it. With the Jewish entrance into the modern world, however-a world in which rational thinking was more highly esteemed than the mystical-kabbalah tended to be downgraded or ignored.

Sources: Joseph Telushkin. NY: William Morrow and Co. Reprinted by permission of the author. Download our mobile app for on-the-go access to the Jewish Virtual Library. An Overview. Important Works. Books of Kanah and Peliyah.

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Sefer Ha-Bahir. Sefer Ha-Hayyim. Sefer Ha-Yashar. Temunah, The Book of. The Ten Sefirot of the Kabbalah. The Zohar. Key People. Epstein, Aryeh Leib ben Mordecai. Fano, Menahem Azariah da. Gabbai, Meir ben Ezekiel Ibn. Gedaliah Ha-Levi. 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, C. 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, C. 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]. The question, however, is whether the ban ever existed in the first place. From the year and onward, the basic levels of Kabbalah must be taught publicly to everyone, young and old.

Only through Kabbalah will we forever eliminate war, destruction, and man's inhumanity to his fellow man. The lines concerning the year are also missing from the Hebrew edition of Hesed L'Avraham , the source work that both of these quote from. Furthermore, by Azulai's view the ban was lifted thirty years before his birth, a time that would have corresponded with Haim Vital's publication of the teaching of Isaac Luria.

Moshe Isserles understood there to be only a minor restriction, in his words, "One's belly must be full of meat and wine, discerning between the prohibited and the permitted. The Vilna Gaon says, "There was never any ban or enactment restricting the study of the wisdom of Kabbalah. Kabbalah in various forms was widely studied, commented upon, and expanded by North African, Turkish, Yemenite, and Asian scholars from the 16th century onward. Shlomo Alkabetz, author of the hymn Lekhah Dodi , taught there. His disciple Moses ben Jacob Cordovero or Cordoeiro authored Pardes Rimonim , an organised, exhaustive compilation of kabbalistic teachings on a variety of subjects up to that point.

Cordovero headed the academy of Tzfat until his death, when Isaac Luria 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 Cordovero, but with the arrival of Luria became his main disciple.

Vital claimed to be the only one authorised to transmit the Ari's teachings, though other disciples also published books presenting Luria's teachings. The Oriental Kabbalist tradition continues until today among Sephardi and Mizrachi Hakham sages and study circles. One of the most innovative theologians in early-modern Judaism was Judah Loew ben Bezalel — known as the "Maharal of Prague".

Many of his written works survive and are studied for their unusual combination of the mystical and philosophical approaches in Judaism. While conversant in Kabbalistic learning, he expresses Jewish mystical thought in his own individual approach without reference to Kabbalistic terms. However, his thought influenced Hasidism, for example being studied in the introspective Przysucha school.

During the 20th century, Isaac Hutner — continued to spread the Maharal's works indirectly through his own teachings and publications within the non-Hasidic yeshiva world. The spiritual and mystical yearnings of many Jews remained frustrated after the death of 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 of the Chmielnicki Uprising — , the largest single massacre of Jews until the Holocaust, and it was at this time that a controversial scholar by the name of Sabbatai Zevi — 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 greatest enthusiast, 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.

Unwilling to give up their messianic expectations, a minority of Zvi's Jewish followers converted to Islam along with him. Many of his followers, known as Sabbatians , 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.

Due to the chaos caused in the Jewish world, the rabbinic prohibition against studying Kabbalah established itself firmly within the Jewish religion. One of the conditions allowing a man to study and engage himself in the Kabbalah was to be at least forty years old. This age requirement came about during this period and is not Talmudic in origin but rabbinic.

Many Jews are familiar with this ruling, but are not aware of its origins. According to Moses Cordovero, halakhically, one must be of age twenty to engage in the Kabbalah. The Sabbatian movement was followed by that of the Frankists who were disciples of Jacob Frank — 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. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto — , based in Italy, was a precocious Talmudic scholar who deduced a need for the public teaching and study of Kabbalah.

He established a yeshiva for Kabbalah study and actively recruited students. He wrote copious manuscripts in an appealing clear Hebrew style, all of which gained the attention of both admirers and rabbinical critics, who feared another "Shabbetai Zevi" false messiah in the making. His rabbinical opponents forced him to close his school, 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 serve as a gateway to the world of Jewish mysticism. Elijah of Vilna Vilna Gaon — , based in Lithuania, had his teachings encoded and publicised by his disciples, such as Chaim Volozhin 's posthumously published the mystical-ethical work Nefesh HaChaim. Although the Vilna Gaon did not look with favor on the Hasidic movement, he did not prohibit the study and engagement in the Kabbalah. This is evident from his writings in the Even Shlema. The Vilna Gaon, Even Shlema , In the Oriental tradition of Kabbalah, Shalom Sharabi — from Yemen was a major esoteric clarifier of the works of the Ari.

The Beit El Synagogue, "yeshivah of the kabbalists", which he came to head, was one of the few communities to bring Lurianic meditation into communal prayer. In the 20th century, Yehuda Ashlag — in Mandate Palestine became a leading esoteric kabbalist in the traditional mode, who translated the Zohar into Hebrew with a new approach in Lurianic Kabbalah.

Israel ben Eliezer Baal Shem Tov — , founder of Hasidism in the area of the Ukraine, spread teachings based on Lurianic Kabbalah, but adapted to a different aim of immediate psychological perception of Divine Omnipresence amidst the mundane. The emotional, ecstatic fervour of early Hasidism developed from previous Nistarim circles of mystical activity, but instead sought communal revival of the common folk by reframing Judaism around the central principle of devekut mystical cleaving to God for all.

This new approach turned formerly esoteric elite kabbalistic theory into a popular social mysticism movement for the first time, with its own doctrines, classic texts, teachings and customs. From the Baal Shem Tov sprang the wide ongoing schools of Hasidic Judaism, each with different approaches and thought. Hasidism instituted a new concept of Tzadik leadership in Jewish mysticism, where the elite scholars of mystical texts now took on a social role as embodiments and intercessors of Divinity for the masses. With the 19th-century consolidation of the movement, leadership became dynastic.

Among later Hasidic schools: Rebbe Nachman of Breslov — , the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, revitalised and further expanded the latter's teachings, amassing a following of thousands in Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland. In a unique amalgam of Hasidic and Mitnaged approaches, Rebbe Nachman emphasised study of both Kabbalah and serious Torah scholarship to his disciples. The Habad-Lubavitch intellectual school of Hasidism broke away from General-Hasidism's emotional faith orientation, by making the mind central as the route to the internal heart.

Its texts combine what they view as rational investigation with explanation of Kabbalah through articulating unity in a common Divine essence. In recent times, the messianic element latent in Hasidism has come to the fore in Habad. Jewish mysticism has influenced the thought of some major Jewish theologians in the 20th century, outside of Kabbalistic or Hasidic traditions. The first Chief Rabbi of Mandate Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook was a mystical thinker who drew heavily on Kabbalistic notions through his own poetic terminology.

His writings are concerned with fusing the false divisions between sacred and secular, rational and mystical, legal and imaginative. Students of Joseph B. Soloveitchik , figurehead of American Modern Orthodox Judaism have read the influence of Kabbalistic symbols in his philosophical works.

Lurianic symbols of Tzimtzum and Shevirah have informed Holocaust theologians. The nature of the divine prompted kabbalists to envision two aspects to God: a God in essence, absolutely transcendent, unknowable, limitless divine simplicity , and b God in manifestation, the revealed persona of God through which he creates and sustains and relates to mankind. Of the impersonal Ein Sof nothing can be grasped.

However the second aspect of divine emanations, are accessible to human perception, dynamically interacting throughout spiritual and physical existence, reveal the divine immanently, and are bound up in the life of man. Kabbalists believe that these two aspects are not contradictory but complement one another, emanations revealing the concealed mystery from within the Godhead. At the very beginning the King made engravings in the supernal purity. A spark of blackness emerged in the sealed within the sealed, from the mystery of the Ayn Sof, a mist within matter, implanted in a ring, no white, no black, no red, no yellow, no colour at all.

When He measured with the standard of measure, He made colours to provide light. Within the spark, in the innermost part, emerged a source, from which the colours are painted below; it is sealed among the sealed things of the mystery of Ayn Sof. It penetrated, yet did not penetrate its air. It was not known at all until, from the pressure of its penetration, a single point shone, sealed, supernal.

Beyond this point nothing is known, so it is called reishit beginning : the first word of all The structure of emanations has been described in various ways: Sephirot divine attributes and Partzufim divine "faces" , Ohr spiritual light and flow , Names of God and the supernal Torah, Olamot Spiritual Worlds , a Divine Tree and Archetypal Man, Angelic Chariot and Palaces, male and female, enclothed layers of reality, inwardly holy vitality and external Kelipot shells, channels "limbs" of the King and the divine souls in man.

These symbols are used to describe various parts and aspects of the model. The Sephirot also spelled "sefirot"; singular sefirah are the ten emanations and attributes of God with which he continually sustains the existence of the universe. The Zohar and other Kabbalistic texts elaborate on the emergence of the sephirot from a state of concealed potential in the Ein Sof until their manifestation in the mundane world. In particular, Moses ben Jacob Cordovero known as "the Ramak" , describes how God emanated the myriad details of finite reality out of the absolute unity of Divine light via the ten sephirot, or vessels.

Comparison of the Ramak's counting with Luria's, describes dual rational and unconscious aspects of Kabbalah. Two metaphors are used to describe the sephirot , their theocentric manifestation as the Trees of Life and Knowledge, and their anthropocentric correspondence in man, exemplified as Adam Kadmon. This dual-directional perspective embodies the cyclical, inclusive nature of the divine flow, where alternative divine and human perspectives have validity.

The central metaphor of man allows human understanding of the sephirot, as they correspond to the psychological faculties of the soul, and incorporate masculine and feminine aspects after Genesis "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them". Corresponding to the last sefirah in Creation is the indwelling shekhinah Feminine Divine Presence. Downward flow of divine Light in Creation forms the supernal Four Worlds ; Atziluth , Beri'ah , Yetzirah and Assiah manifesting the dominance of successive sephirot towards action in this world.

The acts of man unite or divide the Heavenly masculine and feminine aspects of the sephirot, their anthropomorphic harmony completing Creation. As the spiritual foundation of Creation, the sephirot correspond to the names of God in Judaism and the particular nature of any entity. According to Lurianic cosmology, the sephirot correspond to various levels of creation ten sephirot in each of the Four Worlds, and four worlds within each of the larger four worlds, each containing ten sephirot , which themselves contain ten sephirot , to an infinite number of possibilities , [53] and are emanated from the Creator for the purpose of creating the universe.

The sephirot are considered revelations of the Creator's will ratzon , [54] and they should not be understood as ten different "gods" but as ten different ways the one God reveals his will through the Emanations. It is not God who changes but the ability to perceive God that changes. Divine creation by means of the Ten Sephirot is an ethical process.

They represent the different aspects of Morality. Loving-Kindness is a possible moral justification found in Chessed, and Gevurah is the Moral Justification of Justice and both are mediated by Mercy which is Rachamim. However, these pillars of morality become immoral once they become extremes.

When Loving-Kindness becomes extreme it can lead to sexual depravity and lack of Justice to the wicked. When Justice becomes extreme, it can lead to torture and the Murder of innocents and unfair punishment. 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 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".

Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, wrote Tomer Devorah Palm Tree of Deborah , in which he presents an ethical teaching of Judaism in the kabbalistic context of the ten sephirot. Tomer Devorah has become also a foundational Musar text. Medieval Kabbalists believed that all things are linked to God through these emanations, making all levels in creation part of one great, gradually descending chain of being.

Through this any lower creation reflects its particular characteristics in Supernal Divinity. Hasidic thought extends the divine immanence of Kabbalah by holding that God is all that really exists, all else being completely undifferentiated from God's perspective. This view can be defined as monistic panentheism. According to this philosophy, God's existence is higher than anything that this world can express, yet he includes all things of this world within his Divine reality in perfect unity, so that the Creation effected no change in him at all.

This paradox is dealt with at length in Chabad texts. Among problems considered in the Hebrew Kabbalah is the theological issue of the nature and origin of evil. In the views of some Kabbalists this conceives "evil" as a "quality of God", asserting that negativity enters into the essence of the Absolute. In this view it is conceived that the Absolute needs evil to "be what it is", i. Scholem termed this element of the Spanish Kabbalah a "Jewish gnostic" motif, in the sense of dual powers in the divine realm of manifestation. Gevurah is necessary for Creation to exist as it counterposes Chesed "loving-kindness" , restricting the unlimited divine bounty within suitable vessels, so forming the Worlds.

However, if man sins actualising impure judgement within his soul , the supernal Judgement is reciprocally empowered over the Kindness, introducing disharmony among the Sephirot in the divine realm and exile from God throughout Creation. The demonic realm, though illusory in its holy origin, becomes the real apparent realm of impurity in lower Creation. Kabbalistic doctrine gives man the central role in Creation, as his soul and body correspond to the supernal divine manifestations.

In the Christian Kabbalah this scheme was universalised to describe harmonia mundi , the harmony of Creation within man. While the kabbalistic scheme gave a radically innovative, though conceptually continuous, development of mainstream Midrashic and Talmudic rabbinic notions, kabbalistic thought underscored and invigorated conservative Jewish observance.

The esoteric teachings of kabbalah gave the traditional mitzvot observances the central role in spiritual creation, whether the practitioner was learned in this knowledge or not. Accompanying normative Jewish observance and worship with elite mystical kavanot intentions gave them theurgic power, but sincere observance by common folk, especially in the Hasidic popularisation of kabbalah, could replace esoteric abilities.


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Many kabbalists were also leading legal figures in Judaism, such as Nachmanides and Joseph Karo. Medieval kabbalah elaborates particular reasons for each Biblical mitzvah , and their role in harmonising the supernal divine flow, uniting masculine and feminine forces on High. With this, the feminine Divine presence in this world is drawn from exile to the Holy One Above.

The mitzvot are embodied in the organs and soul of man. Lurianic kabbalah incorporates this in the more inclusive scheme of Jewish messianic rectification of exiled divinity. Jewish mysticism, in contrast to Divine transcendence rationalist human-centred reasons for Jewish observance, gave Divine-immanent providential cosmic significance to the daily events in the worldly life of man in general, and the spiritual role of Jewish observance in particular.

The Kabbalah 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.

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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: [ citation needed ]. The Raaya Meheimna , a section of related teachings spread throughout the Zohar, discusses fourth and fifth 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. Both rabbinic and kabbalistic works posit that there are a few additional, non-permanent states of 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:. Reincarnation , the transmigration of the soul after death, was introduced into Judaism as a central esoteric tenet of Kabbalah from the Medieval period onwards, called Gilgul neshamot "cycles of the soul".

The concept does not appear overtly in the Hebrew Bible or classic rabbinic literature, and was rejected by various Medieval Jewish philosophers. However, the Kabbalists explained a number of scriptural passages in reference to Gilgulim. The concept became central to the later Kabbalah of Isaac Luria, who systemised it as the personal parallel to the cosmic process of rectification. Through Lurianic Kabbalah and Hasidic Judaism, reincarnation entered popular Jewish culture as a literary motif.

This allowed the emergence of independent existence that would not become nullified by the pristine Infinite Light, reconciling the unity of the Ein Sof with the plurality of creation. In contrast, a new emanation after the Tzimtzum shone into the vacuum to begin creation, but led to an initial instability called Tohu Chaos , leading to a new crisis of Shevirah Shattering of the sephirot vessels.

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The shards of the broken vessels fell down into the lower realms, animated by remnants of their divine light, causing primordial exile within the Divine Persona before the creation of man. Exile and enclothement of higher divinity within lower realms throughout existence requires man to complete the Tikkun olam Rectification process.

Rectification Above corresponds to the reorganization of the independent sephirot into relating Partzufim Divine Personas , previously referred to obliquely in the Zohar. From the catastrophe stems the possibility of self-aware Creation, and also the Kelipot Impure Shells of previous Medieval kabbalah. The metaphorical anthropomorphism of the partzufim accentuates the sexual unifications of the redemption process, while Gilgul reincarnation emerges from the scheme. Uniquely, Lurianism gave formerly private mysticism the urgency of Messianic social involvement.

According to interpretations of Luria, the catastrophe stemmed from the "unwillingness" of the residue imprint after the Tzimtzum to relate to the new vitality that began creation. The process was arranged to shed and harmonise the Divine Infinity with the latent potential of evil.


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  6. Historical and individual history becomes the narrative of reclaiming exiled Divine sparks. Kabbalistic thought extended Biblical and Midrashic notions that God enacted Creation through the Hebrew language and through the Torah into a full linguistic mysticism. In this, every Hebrew letter, word, number, even accent on words of the Hebrew Bible contain esoteric meanings, describing the spiritual dimensions within exoteric ideas, and it teaches the hermeneutic methods of interpretation for ascertaining these meanings.

    Names of God in Judaism have further prominence, though fluidity of meaning turns the whole Torah into a Divine name. As the Hebrew name of things is the channel of their lifeforce, parallel to the sephirot, so concepts such as "holiness" and " mitzvot " embody ontological Divine immanence, as God can be known in manifestation as well as transcendence.

    The infinite potential of meaning in the Torah, as in the Ein Sof , is reflected in the symbol of the two trees of the Garden of Eden; the Torah of the Tree of Knowledge is the external, Halachic Torah, through which mystics can perceive the unlimited Torah of the Tree of Life. In Lurianic expression, each of the , souls of Israel find their own interpretation in Torah. The reapers of the Field are the Comrades, masters of this wisdom, because Malkhut is called the Apple Field, and She grows sprouts of secrets and new meanings of Torah. Those who constantly create new interpretations of Torah are the ones who reap Her.

    As early as the 1st century BCE Jews believed that the Torah and other canonical texts contained encoded messages and hidden meanings. Gematria is one method for discovering its hidden meanings. 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 a hidden meaning in each word.

    This method of interpretation was used extensively by various schools. Like the rest of the rabbinic literature, the texts of kabbalah were once part of an ongoing oral tradition, though, over the centuries, much of the oral tradition has been written down. Jewish forms of esotericism existed over 2, years ago. Ben Sira born c. Throughout the centuries since, many texts have been produced, among them the ancient descriptions of Sefer Yetzirah , the Heichalot mystical ascent literature, the Bahir , Sefer Raziel HaMalakh and the Zohar , the main text of Kabbalistic exegesis.

    Classic mystical Bible commentaries are included in fuller versions of the Mikraot Gedolot Main Commentators. Cordoveran systemisation is presented in Pardes Rimonim , philosophical articulation in the works of the Maharal , and Lurianic rectification in Etz Chayim. Hasidism interpreted kabbalistic structures to their correspondence in inward perception.

    The first modern-academic historians of Judaism, the " Wissenschaft des Judentums " school of the 19th century, framed Judaism in solely rational terms in the emancipatory Haskalah spirit of their age. They opposed kabbalah and restricted its significance from Jewish historiography.

    In the midth century, it was left to Gershom Scholem to overturn their stance, establishing the flourishing present-day academic investigation of Jewish mysticism, and making Heichalot, Kabbalistic and Hasidic texts the objects of scholarly critical-historical study. In Scholem's opinion, the mythical and mystical components of Judaism were at least as important as the rational ones, and he thought that they, rather than the exoteric Halakha, were the living current in historical Jewish development.

    Moshe Idel has opened up research on the Ecstatic Kabbalah alongside the theosophical, and has called for new multi-disciplinary approaches, beyond the philological and historical that have dominated until now, to include phenomenology , psychology , anthropology and comparative studies. Historians have noted that most claims for the authority of kabbalah involve an argument of the antiquity of authority see, e. As a result, virtually all early foundational 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 by the angel Raziel to Adam after he was evicted from Eden. Another famous work, the early Sefer Yetzirah , is dated back to the patriarch Abraham. Although Kabbalah propounds the Unity of God, one of the most serious and sustained criticisms 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 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 metaphysics like Neo-Platonism , argues that the universe knew a primordial 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 Sephirot 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. 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 become "revealed" in a diversity of limited ways, which then form the building blocks of creation. Kabbalistic texts, including the Zohar , appear to affirm dualism, as they ascribe all evil to the separation from holiness known as the Sitra Achra [70] "the other side" which is opposed to Sitra D'Kedushah , or the Side of Holiness.

    While this evil aspect exists within the divine structure of the Sephirot, 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. It is 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.

    David Gottlieb notes that many Kabbalists hold that the concepts of, e. They reject the notion that a satan or angels actually exist. Others hold that non-divine 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 Arich Anpin.

    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. According to Isaac Luria —72 and other commentators on the Zohar, righteous Gentiles do not have this demonic aspect and are in many ways similar to Jewish souls.

    A number of prominent Kabbalists, e. On the other hand, the souls of Jewish heretics have much more satanic energy than the worst of idol worshippers; this view is popular in some Hasidic circles, especially Satmar Hasidim. On the other hand, many prominent Kabbalists rejected this idea and believed in essential equality of all human souls. Menahem Azariah da Fano — , in his book Reincarnations of souls , provides many examples of non-Jewish Biblical figures being reincarnated into Jews and vice versa; the contemporary Habad rabbi and mystic Dov Ber Pinson teaches that distinctions between Jews and non-Jews in works such as the Tanya are not to be understood as literally referring to the external properties of a person what religious community they are born into , but rather as referring to the properties of souls as they can be re-incarnated in any religious community.

    But one point of view is represented by the Hasidic work Tanya , in order to argue that Jews have a different character of soul: while a non-Jew, according to the author Shneur Zalman of Liadi born , can achieve a high level of spirituality, similar to an angel, his soul is still fundamentally different in character, but not value, from a Jewish one. Another prominent Habad rabbi, Abraham Yehudah Khein born , believed that spiritually elevated Gentiles have essentially Jewish souls, "who just lack the formal conversion to Judaism", and that unspiritual Jews are "Jewish merely by their birth documents".

    David Halperin [77] argues 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 the negative perception of Gentiles found in some exponents of Kabbalah, and their own positive dealings with non-Jews, which were rapidly expanding and improving during this period due to the influence of the Enlightenment. However, a number of renowned Kabbalists claimed the exact opposite, stressing universality of all human souls and providing universal interpretations of the Kabbalistic tradition, including its Lurianic version.

    In their view, Kabbalah transcends the borders of Judaism and can serve as a basis of inter-religious theosophy and a universal religion. Pinchas Elijah Hurwitz , a prominent Lithuanian-Galician Kabbalist of the 18th century and a moderate proponent of the Haskalah, called for brotherly love and solidarity between all nations, and believed that Kabbalah can empower everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, with prophetic abilities. The works of Abraham Cohen de Herrera — are full of references to Gentile mystical philosophers. Such approach was particularly common among the Renaissance and post-Renaissance Italian Jews.

    Late medieval and Renaissance Italian Kabbalists, such as Yohanan Alemanno , David Messer Leon and Abraham Yagel , adhered to humanistic ideals and incorporated teachings of various Christian and pagan mystics. A prime representative of this humanist stream in Kabbalah was Elijah Benamozegh , who explicitly praised Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, as well as a whole range of ancient pagan mystical systems. He believed that Kabbalah can reconcile the differences between the world religions, which represent different facets and stages of the universal human spirituality.

    In his writings, Benamozegh interprets the New Testament , Hadith , Vedas , Avesta and pagan mysteries according to the Kabbalistic theosophy.

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