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kab·ba·lah or kab·ba·la or ka·ba·la also ca·ba·la or qa·ba·la or qa·ba·lah (kăb'ə-lə, kə-bä') pronunciation
  1. often Kabbalah A body of mystical teachings of rabbinical origin, often based on an esoteric interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
  2. A secret doctrine resembling these teachings.

[Medieval Latin cabala, from Hebrew qabbālâ, received doctrine, tradition, from qibbēl, to receive.]

kabbalism kab'ba·lism n.
kabbalist kab'ba·list n.

USAGE NOTE   There are no less than two dozen variant spellings of kabbalah, the most common of which include kabbalah, kabala, kabalah, qabalah, qabala, cabala, cabbala, kaballah, kabbala, kaballah, and qabbalah. This sort of confusion is frequently seen with Hebrew and Arabic words borrowed into English because there exist several different systems of transliterating the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets into Roman letters. Often a more exact or scholarly transliteration, such as Qur'an, will coexist alongside a spelling that has been heavily Anglicized (Koran). The fact that the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets do not as a rule indicate short vowels or the doubling of consonants compounds the difficulties. Spellings of kabbalah with one or two b's are equally “correct,” insofar as the single b accurately reproduces the spelling of the Hebrew, while the double b represents the fact that it was once pronounced with a double b.

Home > Library > Reference > Philosophy Dictionary

(Heb., kabbala, tradition, that which is handed down) Originally, in the Talmud, the books of the Bible other than the Pentateuch. Gradually after around 1200 the term became applied to the oral tradition supposedly handed down from Moses to the Rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud; it accumulated aspects of cosmology, angelology, magic, and gnosticism, becoming a mystical and esoteric tradition of interpretation of the books of the Old Testament. A specialist in this study is called a kabbalist. Like astrology, it is a magnet for the weak-minded.

Home > Library > Reference > Columbia Encyclopedia
kabbalah or cabala (both: kăb'ələ) [Heb.,=reception], esoteric system of interpretation of the Scriptures based upon a tradition claimed to have been handed down orally from Abraham. Despite that claimed antiquity, the system appears to have been given its earliest formulation in the 11th cent. in France, and from there spread most notably to Spain. There were undoubtedly precedents, however; kabbalistic elements are discernible in the literature of earlier Merkavah mysticism (fl. after c.A.D. 100) inspired by the vision of the chariot-throne (“merkavah”) in the Book of Ezekiel. Beyond the specifically Jewish notions contained within the kabbalah, some scholars believe that it reflects a strong Neoplatonic influence, especially in its doctrines of emanation and the transmigration of souls (see Neoplatonism). In the late 15th and 16th cent., Christian thinkers found support in the kabbalah for their own doctrines, out of which they developed a Christian version. Kabbalistic interpretation of Scripture was based on the belief that every word, letter, number, and even accent contained mysteries interpretable by those who knew the secret. The names for God were believed to contain miraculous power and each letter of the divine name was considered potent; kabbalistic signs and writings were used as amulets and in magical practices.

The two principal sources of the kabbalists are the Sefer Yezirah (tr. Book of Creation, 1894) and the Zohar (tr. 1949; The Book of Enlightenment, 1985; The Book of Splendor, 1995). The first develops, in a series of monologues supposedly delivered by Abraham, the doctrine of the Sefirot (the powers emanating from God, through which the world is created and its order sustained), using the primordial numbers of the later Pythagoreans in a system of numerical interpretation. It was probably written in the 3d cent. The Zohar consists of mystical commentaries and homilies on the Pentateuch. It was written by Moses de León (13th cent.) but attributed by him to Simon ben Yohai, the great scholar of the 2d cent. A.D. Following the expulsion (1492) of the Jews from Spain, kabbalah became more messianic in its emphasis, as developed by the Lurianic school of mystics at Safed, Palestine. Kabbalah in this form was widely adopted and created fertile gound for the movement of the pseudo-Messiah Sabbatai Zevi. It was also a major influence in the development of Hasidism. Kabbalah still has adherents, especially among Hasidic Jews.


See G. Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (1965) and Kabbalah (1974); H. Weiner, Nine and One Half Mystics: The Kabbalah Today (1969); J. Dan and F. Talmage, ed., Studies in Jewish Mysticism (1982); D. Rosenberg, Dreams of Being Eaten Alive: The Literary Core of the Kabbalah (2000).

Home > Library > Reference > Occultism & Parapsychology Encyclopedia

A Hebrew and Jewish system of Gnosticism or Theosophy. The word means "doctrines received from tradition." In ancient Hebrew literature the name was used to denote the entire body of religious writings, the Pentateuch excepted. It was only in the early Middle Ages that the mystical system known as Kabalism was designated by that name.

The Kabala deals with the nature of God and with the sephiroth, or divine emanations of angels and man. God, the En Soph, fills and contains the universe. As in Gnosticism, God is boundless, inconceivable, and distantly transcendent. In a certain mystical sense, God can be thought of as nonexistent or preexistent. To justify existence the deity had to become active and creative, and this was achieved through the medium of the ten sephiroth, intelligences that emanated from God like rays proceeding from a luminary.

The first sephiroth was the wish to become manifest, and this contained nine other intelligences or sephiroth, which again emanated one from the other—the second from the first, the third from the second, and so forth. These ten sephiroth were known as the "Crown," "Wisdom," "Intelligence," "Love," "Justice," "Beauty," "Firmness," "Splendor," "Foundation," and "Kingdom." From the junction of pairs of sephiroth other emanations were formed; thus from Wisdom and Intelligence proceeded Love or Justice and from Love and Justice, Beauty.

The sephiroth were also symbolic of primordial man and heavenly man, of which earthly man was the shadow. They formed three triads, representing intellectual, moral, and physical qualities: the first was Wisdom, Intelligence, and Crown; the second, Love, Justice, and Beauty; the third, Firmness, Splendor, and Foundation.

The whole was encircled or bound by Kingdom, the ninth sephiroth. Each of these triads symbolized a portion of the human frame: the first, the head; the second, the arms; the third, the legs. Although those sephiroth were emanations from God, they remained a portion of God, simply representing different aspects of the One Being.

Kabalistic cosmology posits the existence of four different worlds, each forming a sephirotic system of a decade of emanations generated thusly: from the world of emanations, or the heavenly man, came a direct emanation from the En Soph. From the emanation was produced the world of creation, or the Briatic world of pure nature, less spiritual than the world of the heavenly man. The angel Metatron inhabited the Briatic world and constituted a world of pure spirit. He governed the visible world and guided the revolutions of the planets. From the world of pure nature was created the world of formation or the Yetziratic world, the abode of angels.

Finally, from these three worlds emanate the world of action or matter, the dwelling of evil spirits. It is said to contain ten hells, each becoming lower until the depths of diabolical degradation are reached. The prince of this region is the evil spirit Samuel, the serpent spoken of in the book of Genesis, otherwise known as "the Beast."

The universe was incomplete, however, without the creation of man. The heavenly Adam (the tenth sephiroth) created the earthly Adam, each member of whose body corresponds to a part of the visible universe. The human form is said to be shaped according to the four letters that constitute the Jewish tetragrammaton: YHWH.

Souls preexist in the world of emanations, and are all destined to inhabit human bodies, according to the Kabala. Like the sephiroth from which it emanates, every soul has ten potencies, consisting of a trinity of triads—spirit, soul, and elemental soul, or neptesh. Each soul, before its entrance into the world, consists of male and female united into one being, but when it descends to earth, the two parts are separated and animate different bodies.

The destiny of the soul upon earth is to develop from the perfect germ implanted in it, which must ultimately return to En Soph. If the soul does not succeed in acquiring the experience for which it has been sent to earth, it must reinhabit the body three times so that it becomes duly purified. When all the souls in the world of the sephiroth have passed through this period of probation and returned to the bosom of En Soph, the Jubilee will begin. Even Satan will be restored to his angelic nature, and existence will be a Sabbath without end. The Kabala states that these esoteric doctrines are contained in the Hebrew Scriptures but cannot be perceived by the uninitiated; they are, however, plainly revealed to persons of spiritual mind.

The Kabala is sometimes regarded as occult literature, and it has been stated that the philosophical doctrines developed in its pages have been perpetuated by a secret of oral tradition from the first ages of humanity. As British Hebrew and biblical scholar Christian D. Ginsburg notes (1863): "The Kabala was first taught by God Himself to a select company of angels, who formed a theosophic school in Paradise. After the Fall the angels most graciously communicated this heavenly doctrine to the disobedient child of earth, to furnish the protoplasts with the means of returning to their pristine nobility and felicity. From Adam it passed over to Noah, and then to Abraham, the friend of God, who emigrated with it to Egypt, where the patriarch allowed a portion of this mysterious doctrine to ooze out. It was in this way that the Egyptians obtained some knowledge of it, and the other Eastern nations could introduce it into their philosophical systems. Moses, who was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, [as] first initiated into the Kabala in the land of his birth, but became most proficient in it during his wanderings in the wilderness, when he not only devoted to it the leisure hours of the whole forty years, but received lessons in it from one of the angels. By the aid of this mysterious science the lawgiver was enabled to solve the difficulties which arose during his management of the Israelites, in spite of the pilgrimages, wars, and frequent miseries of the nation. He covertly laid down the principles of this secret doctrine in the first four books of the Pentateuch, but withheld them from Deuteronomy…. Moses also initiated the seventy Elders into the secrets of this doctrine, and they again transmitted them from hand to hand. Of all who formed the unbroken line of tradition, David and Solomon were most deeply initiated into the Kabala. No one, however, dared to write it down till Simon Ben Jochai, who lived at the time of the destruction of the second Temple…. After his death, his son, Rabbi Eliezer, and his secretary, Rabbi Abba, as well as his disciples, collated Rabbi Simon Ben Jochai's treatises, and out of these composed the celebrated work called Sohar, i.e., Splendor which is the grand storehouse of Kabalism."

This legendary account of kabalistic origins, however, has found little support from historians. The mysticism of the Mishna and the Talmud, the older Hebrew literature, must be carefully distinguished from that of the kabalistic writings.

At the time of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Kabala found an audience among Protestant biblical scholars who turned to the Hebrew text for their biblical translations. From writers such as Johannes Reuchlin, Old Testament professor at Wittenburg, a Christian Kabala (usually spelled Cabala or Qabala) developed and was passed into non-Jewish occult circles.

Non-Jewish occultism and magic became deeply indebted to kabalistic combinations of the divine names for the terms of its rituals, deriving from the Kabala the belief in a resident virtue in sacred names and numbers. Certain rules were employed to discover the sublime source of power resident in the Jewish scriptures. Thus the words of several verses in the Scriptures that were regarded as containing an occult meaning were placed over each other and the letters were formed into new words by reading them vertically. Often the words of the text were arranged in squares so they could be read vertically or otherwise.

Words were joined together and redivided, and the initial and final letters of certain words were formed into separate words. Every letter of the word was reduced to its numerical value, and the word was explained by another of the same value. Every letter of a word was also taken to be an initial of an abbreviation of that word. The 22 letters of the alphabet were divided into two halves, one half placed above the other, and the two letters that thus became associated were interchanged. Thus a became l, b became m, and so on. This cipher alphabet was called albm, from the first interchanged pairs. The commutation of the 22 letters was effected by the last letter of the alphabet taking the place of the first, the next-to-last the place of the second, and so forth. This cipher was called atbah. These permutations and combinations are much older than the Kabala and were recognized by Jewish mystics from time immemorial.

During the nineteenth century a revival of magic—based in large part upon the Kabala and the identification of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet with the tarot—occurred in France, primarily around Éliphas Lévi. From Lévi a new appreciation of the Kabala passed to the magicians of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and through it to Aleister Crowley, a dominant practitioner of magic in the twentieth century. It would be difficult to think of modern magic without the Kabala and its related practices of gematria and path workings.

Within the Jewish community study of the Kabala revived in the eighteenth century with the development of the Hassidic movement under the leadership of the Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760). This form of Judaism was seen as a competitor by the orthodox Jews, who organized efforts to suppress it during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hasidim (Jewish mysticism) in Europe was largely wiped out during the Holocaust, but has survived in the United States and Israel. Some Jewish Kabalists have resented the Kabala being appropriated by non-Jewish occultists. Most, however, have participated in what has become an active dialogue with contemporary occultists. Jews and non-Jews alike, for example, appreciate the scholarship of Gershom Scholem, the greatest Kabala scholar of this century.


Abelson, Joshua. Jewish Mysticism: An Introduction to Kabbalah. New York: Sepher-Hermon Press, 1981.

Achad, Frater [Charles S. Jones]. The Anatomy of the Body of God: Being the Supreme Revelation of Cosmic Consciousness. Chicago: Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum, 1925. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1969.

Bension, Ariel. The Zohar in Moslem and Christian Spain. New York: Sepher-Hermon Press, 1932.

Berg, Phillip S. Kabbalah for the Laymen. New York: Research Center of Kabbalah, n.d.

Franck, Adolphe. The Kabbalah. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1967. Reprint, New York: Citadel, 1979.

Gaster, Moses. The Origin of the Kabbalah. New York: Gordon Press, 1976.

Halevi, Z'ev Ben Shimon. An Introduction to the Cabala—Tree of Life. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1972.

Kalisch, Isidor, trans. Sepher Yezirah. New York, 1877. Reprint, San Jose, Calif.: Rosicrucian Press, 1950. Reprint, North Hollywood, Calif.: Symbols and Signs, n.d.

Lévi, Éliphas. The Book of Splendors. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1973.

Luzzatto, Moses. General Principles of the Kabbalah. New York: Research Center of Kabbalah, 1970.

Meltzer, David, ed. The Secret Garden: An Anthology of the Kabbalah. New York: Seabury Press, 1976.

Pick, Bernhard. The Cabala. LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court Publishing, 1903.

Rauchlen, Johannes. On the Art of the Kabbalah. Translated by Martin Goodman and Sarah Goodman. New York: Abaris Books, 1983.

Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah. New York: Quadrangle, 1974. ——. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism. New York: Schocken, 1960.

——, ed. Zohar—The Book of Splendor: Basic Readings from the Kabbalah. New York: Schocken, 1963.

Sperling, Harry, and Maurice Simon, trans. The Zohar. 5 vols. New York: Rebecca Bennet Publishing, n.d.

Waite, Arthur E. The Holy Kabbalah. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1960. New York: Citadel, 1976.

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Kabala pronunciation

IN BRIEF: n. - An esoteric or occult matter resembling the Kabbalah that is traditionally secret.

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"The atom, being for all practical purposes the stable unit of the physical plane, is a constantly changing vortex of reactions."

"Force never moves in a straight line, but always in a curve vast as the universe, and therefore eventually returns whence it issued forth, but upon a higher arc, for the universe has progressed since it started."

"The Father is the Giver of Life; but the Mother is the Giver of Death, because her womb is the gate of ingress to matter, and through her life is ensouled to form, and no form can be either infinite or eternal. Death is implicit in birth."

"Misdirected life force is the activity in disease process. Disease has no energy save what it borrows from the life of the organism. It is by adjusting the life force that healing must be brought about, and it is the sun as transformer and distributor of primal spiritual energy that must be utilized in this process, for life and the sun are so intimately connected."

"Every phase of evolution commences by being in a state of unstable force and proceeds through organization to equilibrium. Equilibrium having been achieved, no further development is possible without once more oversetting the A journey of a thousand miles starts in front of your feet. Whosoever acts spoils it. Whosoever keeps loses it."

For more famous quotes by Kabbalah, visit QuotationsBook.
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Tree of Life (Kabbalah)
Seder hishtalshelus
Ein Sof
Jewish meditation
Kabbalistic astrology
Jewish views of astrology
Shimon bar Yohai
Moshe Cordovero
Isaac the Blind
Bahya ben Asher
Yosef Karo
Israel Sarug
Israel ben Eliezer
Gershom Scholem
Sefer Yetzirah
Jewish mysticism

Kabbalah (Hebrew: קַבָּלָה, Tiberian: qabːɔˈlɔh, Qabbālāh, Israeli: Kabala) literally means "receiving", and is sometimes transliterated as Cabala, Kabbala, Qabalah, or other permutations. It is held authoritative by most Orthodox Jews. According to its adherents, intimate understanding and mastery of the Kabbalah brings man spiritually closer to God and as a result man can be empowered with higher insight into the inner-workings of God’s creation effectively enabling prophecy and even control over nature.

The origins of the actual term Kabbalah are unknown and disputed to belong either to the Spanish philosopher, Iba Gabriol, Solomon ibn Gabirol, (1021 - 1058) or to the 13th century CE Spanish Kabbalist Bahya ben Asher. While other terms are used in many religious documents from the 2nd century CE till the present day, the term Kabbalah has become the main descriptive of Jewish esoteric knowledge and practices. Main Kabbalistic literature that served as the basis for most of the development of Kabbalistic thought divides between early works such as Bahir and Heichalot (believed to be dated 1st Century CE and dealing mainly with Practical Kabbalah ("Kabbalah Ma'asit"), and later works dated 13th century CE of which the main book is the Zohar representing the main source for the Contemplative Kabbalah ("Kabbalah Iyunit").


According to Kabbalistic tradition, Kabbalistic knowledge was known to, and transmitted orally by, the Jewish patriarchs, prophets, and sages (Avot in Hebrew), eventually to be “interwoven” into Jewish religious writings and culture. According to this tradition, Kabbalah was, in around the 10th century BCE, an open knowledge practiced by over a million people in ancient Israel [1], although there is little objective historical evidence to support this thesis.

Foreign conquests drove the Jewish spiritual leadership of the time (the Sanhedrin) to hide the knowledge and make it secret, fearing that it might be misused if it fell into the wrong hands [2]. The Sanhedrin leaders were also concerned that the practice of Kabbalah by Jews deported on conquest to other countries (the Diaspora), unsupervised and unguided by the masters, might lead them into wrong practice and forbidden ways. As a result, the Kabbalah became secretive, forbidden and esoteric to Judaism (“Torat Ha’SodHebrew: תורת הסוד) for two and a half millennia.

In contemporary Orthodox Judaism, a person must be at least age 40, mature, and married to begin studying Kabbalah[citation needed] - a direct influence of the Sanhedrin decision to secrecy manifested over 2,500 years. Despite the above, Kabbalah became of interest to non-Jewish scholars and thinkers in medieval times, and in modern times its key texts and principles were gradually translated and published, and it has become of increasing interest to general culture.

Some scholars have proposed an Indian origin for this mystic system.[citation needed] They credit it to the Sage Kapila who founded the Indian system of Samkhya-Yoga

Kabbalah: History:

Origins: Judaic Mysticism

The Sefirot in Jewish Kabbalah

According to most groups of Orthodox Judaism, and among the Haredi, Kabbalah dates from Adam and is an integral part of the Jewish religious tradition. It is believed to have 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. By contrast, contemporary scholarship suggests that various schools of Jewish esotericism arose at different periods of Jewish history, each reflecting not only prior forms of mysticism, but also the intellectual and culture milieu of that historical period. Questions of transmission, lineage, influence, and innovation vary and cannot be summarized in simple doctrinaire claims.

The proper protocol for teaching this wisdom, as well as many of its concepts, are recorded in the Talmud, Tractate Hagigah, Ch.2.

Origins: Terms

Main articles: Ma'aseh Merkabah and Bereshit

Originally, Kabbalistic knowledge was believed to be an integral part of the Judaism's oral law (see also, Aggadah), given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai around 13th century BCE, though there is a view that Kabbalah began with Adam.

When the Israelites arrived at their destination and settled in Canaan (Canaanite: כנען, Hebrew: כְּנַעַן, for a few centuries the esoteric knowledge was referred to by its aspect practice - meditation (“HitbodedutHebrew: התבודדות) (see Jewish meditation), translated as “being alone” or “isolating oneself”, or by a different term describing the actual, desired goal of the practice - prophecy (“NeVu’aHebrew: נבואה).

During the C5th BC, when the works of the Tanakh were edited and canonized and the secret knowledge encrypted within the various writings and scrolls (“MeGilot”), the knowledge was referred to as Ma'aseh Merkavah (Hebrew: מעשה מרכבה)[1] and Ma'aseh B'reshit (Hebrew: מעשה בראשית)[2]., respectively "the act of the Chariot" and "the act of Creation". Merkavah mysticism alluded to the encrypted knowledge within the book of the prophet Ezekiel describing his vision of the "Divine Chariot". B'reshit mysticism referred to the first chapter of Genesis (Hebrew: בראשית) in the Torah that is believed to contain secrets of the creation of the universe and forces of nature. These terms are also mentioned in the second chapter of the Talmudic tractate Haggigah.

Origins: Torah

Main article: Torah

According to adherents of Kabbalah, its origin begins with secrets that God revealed to Adam. According to a rabbinic midrash[citation needed] 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[3].

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 - Isaiah, Ch.6. Jacob's vision of the ladder to heaven provided another example of esoteric experience. Moses' encounters with the Burning bush and God on Mount Sinai are evidence of mystical events in the Tanakh that 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 in the presence of an angel, while the Red Sea parted, allowing the Hebrews to escape their approaching attackers. The 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, preceded the creation of the first Jewish nation approximately three hundred years before King Saul.

Talmudic Era: Mystical Doctrines

Main article: Talmud

In Talmudic times (the early centuries of the first millennium CE), 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 (Hidden aspects of the Torah) (Talmud Hag. 13a) and Razei Torah (Torah secrets) (Ab. vi. 1) indicate their character as secret lore. An additional term also expanded Jewish esoteric knowledge, namely Chochmah Nistara (Hidden wisdom).

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, the opinion was expressed in very early times[citation needed] that God created the world from matter He found ready at hand &mdash. According to some[citation needed], 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 in the Land of Israel, Jewish, as well as Jewish Alexandrian theology recognized the two attributes of God, middat hadin, the attribute of justice, and middat ha-rahamim, the attribute of mercy (see: Midrash Sifre, Deuteronomy 27); and so is the contrast between justice and mercy became 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 (see: Enoch, III). Mention may also be made of other pre-existent states 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 pre-existence has modified the older, simpler conception, and the pre-existence of the seven must therefore be understood as an "ideal" pre-existence, 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 employ the phrase from (Isaiah 6:3), as expounded by the Rabbinic Sages, "The whole world is filled with His glory," to justify a panentheistic understanding of the universe.

Early Medieval and Medieval Era: Kabbalah

Main Articles: Solomon ibn Gabirol; Isaac the Blind; Azriel (Jewish mystic); Nahmanides; Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia; Joseph Chiquitilla; Bahya ben Asher; Moses de Leon; Eleazar Rokeach.

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. Bahya ben Asher (the Rabbeinu Behaye) (d. 1340) also combined Torah commentary and Kabbalah. 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, the "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 that the emergence into public view of Jewish esotericism at this time coincides with, and represents a response to, the rising influence of the rationalist philosophy of Maimonides and his followers.

Most Orthodox Jews reject the idea that Kabbalah underwent significant historical development or change such as has been proposed above. After the composition known as the Zohar was presented to the public in the 13th century, the term "Kabbalah" began to refer more specifically 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 Isaac Luria 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'reshit that are referred to in Talmudic texts.

Early Modern Era: Lurianic Kabbalah

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: ban against studying

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)

Kabbalah: Sefardi and Mizrahi

The Kabbalah of the Sefardi (Spanish/Mediterranean) and Mizrahi (African/Asian) Torah scholars has a long history. Kabbalah in various forms was widely studied, commented upon, and expanded by North African, Turkish, Yemenite, and Asian scholars from the 16th Century onward. It 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.

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: the Maharal

Main Article: 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.

Sabbatian Mysticism: Failure

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.

Kabbalah: the Frankists

Main article: Jacob Frank

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.

Kabbalah: Spinoza

Main article: Spinoza

In the 17th century, Baruch Spinoza may have had the well-known phrase from Isaiah, "The whole world is filled with his glory,"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 than out of their own outrage.

Kabbalah: the 1700s

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

  1. 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 and, in addition, wrote copious manuscripts in an appealing clear Hebrew style, all of which gained the attention of both admirers and 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 Era

One of the most influential sources spreading Kabbalistic teachings have come from the massive growth and spread of Hasidic Judaism, a movement begun by Yisroel ben Eliezer (The Baal Shem Tov), but continued in many branches and streams until today. These groups differ greatly in size, but all emphasize the study of mystical Hasidic texts, which now consists of a vast literature devoted to elaborating upon the long chain of Kabbalistic thought and methodology. No group emphasizes in-depth kabbalistic study, though, to the extent of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, whose Rebbes delivered tens of thousands of discourses, and whose students study these texts for three hours daily.

Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch urged the study of kabbala as prerequisite for one's humanity:

"A person who is capable of comprehending the Seder hishtalshelus (kabbalistic secrets concerning the higher spiritual spheres) - and fails to do so - cannot be considered a human being. At every moment and time one must know where his soul stands. It is a mitzvah (commandment) and an obligation to know the seder hishtalshelus."[3]

The writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1864-1935) also stress Kabbalistic themes:

"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.

Kabbalah: Diagrams:

The Sefirot in Jewish 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".

Ten Sefirot as vowel sounds

The Scholar and Rabbi Solomon Judah Leib Rappaport notes that according to the Masoretes there are ten vowel sounds. He suggests that the passage in Sefer Yetzirah, which discuss the manipulation of letters in the creation of the world, can be better understood if the Sefirot refer to vowel sounds. He posits that the word sefirah in this case is related to the hebrew word sippur - to retell. His position is based on his belief that most Kabbalistic works written after Sefer Yetzirah (including the Zohar) are forgeries. (Igrot Shir(Heb.) "Letters of Shir) - available on Google Books)

See also: Kabbalistic use of the Tetragrammaton; Masseket Azilut; Four graduated worlds; Tree of Life; Tree of Life (Kabbalah)

Kabbalah: Concepts:

Kabbalistic understanding of God

Ein Sof(in-finite) and the emanation of angelic hierarchies (Universes or olamot עולמות)
Ein Sof(in-finite) and the emanation of angelic hierarchies (Universes or olamot עולמות)

Kabbalah 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.

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 ten Sephiroth or 'emanations' of God
The ten Sephiroth or 'emanations' of God
  • 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, "Might"), 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 Sephirot 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.

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 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:

  • 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.


Main articles: Tzimtzum and Four worlds (Kabbalah)

The act whereby God "contracted" his infinite light, leaving a "void" into which the light of existence was poured. The primal emanation became Azilut, the World of Light, from which the three lower worlds, Beriah, Yetzirah and Assiyah, descended.

Kabbalah: Applications:

Number-Word mysticism

Main articles: Gematria, Notaricon, and Temurah

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:

As early as the 1st Century BCE Jews believed that the Torah (first five books of the Bible) contained encoded message 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. An example would be the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria[4].

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).

Practical applications

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, e.g., the creation of a Golem, for which at least three individuals are required. Further, Kabbalah itself can 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.

Kabbalah: Primary Texts:

On Texts

Main Article: Kabbalah: Primary Texts
Title page of first edition of the Zohar, Mantua, 1558 (Library of Congress).
Title page of first edition of the Zohar, Mantua, 1558 (Library of Congress).

Like the rest of the Rabbinic literature, the texts of Kabbalah were once part of an ongoing oral tradition, though, over the centuries, many have been written up. 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 Halakhah (practical Jewish law). Nevertheless, Kabbalistic literature uses powerful paradigms that are elegant, universal and easy for anyone to understand when pointed out.

Jewish forms of esotericism existed 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.). Nonetheless, mystical studies were undertaken and resulted in mystical literature, the first being the Apocalyptic literature of the second and first pre-Christian centuries and which contained elements that carried over to later Kabbalah.

Throughout the centuries since, many texts have been produced, among them the Heichalot literature, Sefer Yetzirah, Bahir, Sefer Raziel HaMalakh and the Zohar.

See Kabbalah: Primary Texts.

Kabbalah: Scholarship:

Claims for authority

Historians have noted that most claims for the authority of Kabbalah involve an argument of the antiquity of authority (see, e.g., 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 by the angel Raziel after he was evicted from Eden.

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) who 'fell' from heaven (see Genesis 6:4) A similar belief prevails in Islam, where the angels are named Harut and Marut (see Qur'an, Ch. 2: 102).

The appeal to antiquity has also shaped modern theories of influence in reconstructing the history of Jewish mysticism. The oldest versions 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 antecedent to the Sephiroth might look like,[4] and noted parallels between the characteristics of En Sof on the nodes of the Sefirot and the gods of Assyria. The Assyrians assigned specific numbers to their gods, similar to the numbering of the Sefirot. 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 Sefirot.[citation needed] Normally, floating above the Assyrian Tree of Life was the god Assur (god), corresponding to the Hebrew Ay 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, and then fused to the Neo-Platonic notion of creation through progressive divine emanations.

Kabbalah: Critique:

Kabbalah: Gnosticism

Main article: Gnosticism

Gnosticism frequently appears as an element of Kabbalah. Gnosticism ( systems of secret spiritual knowledge, or some sources say, the concept of 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.

  1. The original teachings of Gnosticism have much in common with Kabbalah:
  2. Core terminology of classical gnostics include using Jewish names of God.
  3. Mainstream Gnostics accepted a "Jewish Messiah" as a key figure of gnosticism

A key text of Gnosticism, the Apocryphon of John, mentions 365 powers who created the World. 365 is a number of recurrent interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the solar year figuring prominently in the texts.

However, there are aspects of Gnosticism at odds with Kabbalah. Within most of the Christian Gnostic groups the Jewish creator God was relegated to the status of a demi-urge. Their responses ranged from pity for what the Gnostics felt was an imperfect Godhead, to identification of the Jewish God with evil.


Main article: Dualism

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 ideologies like Neo-Platonism, believes 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 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 emanates from God. The "left side" of divine emanation is a 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. 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.
  • Rabbi Dr. David Gottlieb notes that many Kabbalists hold that the concepts of, e.g., a Heavenly Court or the Sitra Ahra are only given to humanity by God as a working model to understand His ways within our own epistemological limits. 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 Arikh Anpin). One reading of this theology is monotheistic, similar to panentheism; another a reading of the same theology is that it is dualistic. 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 was written, 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 the Gentile soul emanates 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.

Theologically framed hostility may be a response to the demonization of Jews which developed in Western and Christian society and 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.

The Kabbalistic view concerning non-Jews can 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[citation needed], as it possibly persists in only the most recondite and anti-modernist corners of the Jewish world.

Critique: Orthodox Judaism

Main article: Orthodox Judaism

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 in 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 panentheism, that His 'essence' is within everything.
  • Around the 1230s, Rabbi Meir ben Simon of Narbonne wrote an epistle (included in his Milhhemet Mitzvah) against his contemporaries, the early Kabbalists, characterizing them as blasphemers who even approach heresy. He particularly singled out the Sefer Bahir, rejecting the attribution of its authorship to the tanna R. Nehhunya ben ha-Kanah and describing some of its content as truly heretical.
  • Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet Perfet, (The Rivash), 1326-1408, stated that Kabbalah was "worse than Christianity", as it made God into 10, not just into three. Most followers of Kabbalah have never followed this interpretation of Kabbalah, on the grounds that the concept of the Christian Trinity posits that there are three persons existing within the Godhead, one of whom 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 cannot 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 the Sefirot. This critique was in response to the knowledge that some European Jews of the period addressed individual Sefirot in some of their prayers, although the practise was apparently uncommon. Apologists explain that Jews may have been praying for and not necessarily to the aspects of Godliness represented by the Sefirot.
  • Rabbi Yaakov Emden, 1697-1776, wrote the book Mitpahhath Sfarim (Scarf/Veil of the Books), a detailed critique of the Zohar in which 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 his work claim[citation needed] that he wrote the book in a drunken stupor. Emden's rationalistic approach to this work, however, makes neither intoxication nor stupor seem plausible.
  • 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 who continue in R. 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 R. Yihhyah Qafahh's book Milhhamoth HaShem and elaborated upon these views in his many writings.
  • There is dispute among modern Haredim as to the status of Isaac Luria's, the Arizal's kabbalistic teachings. While a portion of Modern Orthodox Rabbis, Dor Daim and many students of the Rambam, Maimonides,[citation needed] 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 Ma'aseh Merkavah and Ma'aseh B'resheyt mysticism. Their only disagreement concerns 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,[citation needed] while not necessarily agreeing with it, as well as rabbis who consider such a view absolute heresy.

Critique: 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 Lekhah 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".[3]

Also see Neo-Hasidism

Kabbalah: Non-Traditional:

Kabbalah Centre

Main article: Kabbalah Centre

A recent revival of Kabbalah has been initiated by Rav Philip Berg in Los Angeles in 1984 in the foundation of the Kabbalah Centre 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, Leonardo DiCaprio, Paris Hilton, Steve Carrel 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 and is not supported by the greater part of the Jewish 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 to participate with non-Jews in religious rituals.

The Kabbalah Centre embraces many of the criticisms applied to it by traditional Judaism, by pointing out that these criticisms only prove the insidious 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 of the traditional variety and that expounded at the "Centre".

Kabbalah in non-Jewish society:

Kabbalah has gained an audience outside of the Jewish community. Christian understandings of Kabbalah began in the 15th Century with Pico Della Mirandola's 900 thesis on the syncretism of religions. By the late 19th century several western esoteric groups existed which incorporated Kabbalistic principles into their corpus. Because of the influence of these magical orders on Wicca and neo-paganism many Kabbalistic concepts are inherent in present day western mystical practice.

Hermetic Qabalah

Main article: Hermetic Qabalah

Hermetic Qabbalah ( from the Hebrew קַבָּלָה "reception"), is a western, esoteric, mystical tradition which is a precursor to the neo-Pagan, Wiccan and New Age movements which draws on a great many influences, most notably; Jewish Kabbalah, western astrology, tarot, alchemy, pagan religions (especially Egyptian and Greco-Roman), Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, the Enochian system of angelic magic of John Dee, Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and Tantra. It differs from the Jewish form in being a more admittedly syncretic system while still retaining many concepts deriving from Jewish Kabbalah.

Christian Kabbalah

Christian Kabbalah arose during the Renaissance as a result of the studies of, and translations by, Christian Hebraists. The invention of the printing press also played its part in the wider dissemination of texts. Among the first to promote the knowledge of Kabbalah beyond exclusively Jewish circles was Pico della Mirandola (1463 - 1494)[5] a student of Marsilio Ficino at his Florentine Academy. His syncretic world-view combined Platonism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, Hermeticism and Kabbalah[6]. Mirandola's work on Kabbalah was further developed by Athanasius Kircher (1602 – 1680), a Jesuit priest, hermeticist and polymath, who wrote on the subject in Oedipus Aegyptiacus, 1652. Though they both worked from within the Christian tradition, both were more interested in the syncretic approach. Their work led directly into Occult and Hermetic Qabalah.

That could not be said of Reuchlin, Rosenroth and Kemper. Johann Reuchlin, (1455 - 1522), was a German humanist and a scholar of Greek and Hebrew. For much of his life, he was the centre of Greek and Hebrew teaching in Germany. Having met with Mirandola in Italy, he later studied Hebrew with a Jewish physician, Jakob ben Jehiel Loans, producing thereafter De Arte Cabbalistica in (1517). The following century produced Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, (1631–1689), a Christian Hebraist who studied Kabbalah, in which he believed to find proofs of the doctrines of Christianity, as did Johann Kemper, whose tenure at Uppsala University lasted from 1697-1716. Kemper, formerly known as Aaron of Cracow, was a convert from Judaism and Swedenborg's probable Hebrew tutor. During his time at Uppsala (1697-1716), he wrote his three-volume work on the Zohar entitled Matteh Mosche (The Staff of Moses), in which he tried to show that it contained the Christian doctrine of the trinity.[7] This belief also drove him to make a literal translation of Matthew's Gospel into Hebrew and to write a kabbalistic commentary on it.

Emanation: Eastern Orthodox Christianity

The Kabbalistic concept of emanation can be compared to the statements made by fourteenth-century Eastern Orthodox theologian Gregory Palamas. He 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 he descended from 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 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 God's transcendent Essence.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition a similar example is 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...."

He further states in On Spiritual Knowledge, verse 99 that, "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.


  1. ^ Megillah 14a, Shir HaShirim Rabbah 4:22,Ruth Rabbah 1:2, Aryeh Kaplan “Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide” p.44 - p.48
  2. ^ See "Preface to the Wisdom of Truth" p.12 section 30 and p.105 bottom section of the left column as preface to the "Talmud Eser HaSfirot" by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ha-Levi Ashlag (Yehuda Ashlag)
  3. ^ a b Artson, Bradley Shavit. From the Periphery to the Centre: Kabbalah and the Conservative Movement, United Synagogue Review, Spring 2005, Vol. 57 No. 2
  4. ^ 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


  • Deepak Chopra and Mike "Zappy" Zapolin Ask The Kabala Oracle Cards/ Kabala Guidebook ISBN 978-1401910396
  • 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 [8]
  • 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.
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  • This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.

Kabbalah in film and fiction

  • In Sidney Lumet's 1992 film A Stranger Among Us, a Hasidic rebbe's son is studying the Kabbalah, which is considered daring for a man under 40--he is in his mid-20's.
  • 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 1997 X-Files episode Kaddish, a widow whose husband was murdered by white supremacists for being Jewish uses her father's Sefer Yetzirah to bring her husband back to life as a golem for one last chance to say goodbye.
  • 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 Kabbalah (upside down Kabbalah) positioned at the north and south pole of the world, which absorb 10 angels (Kabbalah) and 10 demons (reverse Kabbalah) in order to unlock their power as a weapon.

See also

Topics and Terms

Kabbalah personalities

See also: Category:Kabbalists

Contemporary Kabbalah personalities

External links

Orthodox sites

Unconventional and non-traditional sites

Folk and pop Kabbalah sites

General information sites

Online rabbinic Kabbalah texts

Online Hasidic Kabbalah texts

Jewish Kabbalah organizations

Non-rabbinical Jewish Kabbalah

Jewish criticisms of Kabbalah

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Home > Library > Words > Translations
Translations for: Kabbala

Dansk (Danish)
n. - kabbala, jødisk religiøs filosofi

Français (French)
n. - Kabbale, cabale

Deutsch (German)
n. - Kabbala (jüd. Geheimlehre)

Ελληνική (Greek)
n. - (θρησκ.) καβάλα, (κατ' επέκτ.) μυστικιστική διδασκαλία

Italiano (Italian)

Português (Portuguese)
n. - cabala (f) (Filos.) (Rel.), ensinamentos místicos baseados nas escrituras hebraicas

Русский (Russian)
кабала, кабалистика

Español (Spanish)
n. - cábala

Svenska (Swedish)
n. - kabbala, hemlig kunskap, ockultism

中文(简体) (Chinese (Simplified))

中文(繁體) (Chinese (Traditional))
n. - 猶太神秘哲學

한국어 (Korean)
n. - 헤브라이 신비설, 밀교

日本語 (Japanese)
n. - カバラ, 秘法, 秘教

עברית (Hebrew)
n. - ‮קבלה (מיסטיקה יהודית)‬

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Dictionary definition of kabbalah
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2007, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2007. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.  More from Dictionary
Philosophy Dictionary definition of kabbalah
The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Copyright © 1994, 1996, 2005 by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.  More from Philosophy Dictionary
Columbia Encyclopedia information about kabbalah
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition Copyright © 2003, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/  More from Columbia Encyclopedia
Occultism & Parapsychology Encyclopedia information about kabbalah
Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. Copyright © 2001 by The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.  More from Occultism & Parapsychology Encyclopedia
Word Tutor information about kabbalah
Copyright © 2004-present by eSpindle Learning, a 501(c) nonprofit organization. All rights reserved.
eSpindle provides personalized spelling and vocabulary tutoring online; free trial More from Word Tutor
Quotes By information about kabbalah
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Wikipedia information about kabbalah
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Kabbalah" More from Wikipedia
Translations for kabbalah
Copyright © 2007, WizCom Technologies Ltd. All rights reserved.  More from Translations

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