Kabbalah

Kabbalah

Overview
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Talmud...

. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence
Hachmei Provence
The term Hachmei Provence refers to the Jewish rabbis of Provence, a province in southern France, which was a great Torah center in the times of the Tosafists...

 (Southern France) and Spain, and again after the Expulsion
Alhambra decree
The Alhambra Decree was an edict issued on 31 March 1492 by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdom of Spain and its territories and possessions by 31 July of that year.The edict was formally revoked on 16 December 1968, following the Second...

 from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine
Safed
Safed , is a city in the Northern District of Israel. Located at an elevation of , Safed is the highest city in the Galilee and of Israel. Due to its high elevation, Safed experiences warm summers and cold, often snowy, winters...

. It was popularized in the form of Hassidic Judaism in the 18th century.

Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an eternal and mysterious Creator
Creator deity
A creator deity is a deity responsible for the creation of the world . In monotheism, the single God is often also the creator deity, while polytheistic traditions may or may not have creator deities...

 and the mortal and finite universe (His creation).
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Encyclopedia
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Talmud...

. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence
Hachmei Provence
The term Hachmei Provence refers to the Jewish rabbis of Provence, a province in southern France, which was a great Torah center in the times of the Tosafists...

 (Southern France) and Spain, and again after the Expulsion
Alhambra decree
The Alhambra Decree was an edict issued on 31 March 1492 by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdom of Spain and its territories and possessions by 31 July of that year.The edict was formally revoked on 16 December 1968, following the Second...

 from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine
Safed
Safed , is a city in the Northern District of Israel. Located at an elevation of , Safed is the highest city in the Galilee and of Israel. Due to its high elevation, Safed experiences warm summers and cold, often snowy, winters...

. It was popularized in the form of Hassidic Judaism in the 18th century.

Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an eternal and mysterious Creator
Creator deity
A creator deity is a deity responsible for the creation of the world . In monotheism, the single God is often also the creator deity, while polytheistic traditions may or may not have creator deities...

 and the mortal and finite universe (His creation). While it is heavily used by some denominations, it is not a denomination in and of itself; it is a set of scriptures that exist outside the traditional Jewish scriptures. Kabbalah seeks to define the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature and purpose of existence, and various other ontological
Ontology
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

 questions. It also presents methods to aid understanding of these concepts and to thereby attain spiritual realization. Kabbalah originally developed entirely within the realm of Jewish thought
Jewish thought
Jewish Thought is a field of Jewish Studies that deals with the products of Jewish thought and culture throughout the ages, and their historical development...

 and constantly uses classical Jewish sources to explain and demonstrate its esoteric teachings. These teachings are thus held by kabbalists to define the inner meaning of both the Tanakh
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 (Hebrew Bible, תַּנַ"ךְ‎ ) and traditional rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term...

, their formerly concealed transmitted
Oral Torah
The Oral Torah comprises the legal and interpretative traditions that, according to tradition, were transmitted orally from Mount Sinai, and were not written in the Torah...

 dimension, as well as to explain the significance of Jewish religious observances
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

.

Overview


According to the Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

 (Hebrew :זֹהַר ‎‎), a foundational text for kabbalistic thought, Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 study
Torah study
Torah study is the study by Jewish people of the Torah, Hebrew Bible, Talmud, responsa, rabbinic literature and similar works, all of which are Judaism's religious texts...

 can proceed along four levels of interpretation (exegesis
Exegesis
Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term "Biblical exegesis" is used...

). These four levels are called Pardes because their initial letters spell "PaRDeS
Pardes (Jewish exegesis)
Pardes refers to approaches to biblical exegesis in rabbinic Judaism . The term, sometimes also spelled PaRDeS, is an acronym formed from the name initials of the following four approaches:...

" ("Orchard"):
  • Peshat (lit. "simple"): the direct interpretations of meaning.
  • Remez (lit. "hint[s]"): the allegoric meanings (through allusion).
  • Derash (from Heb. darash: "inquire" or "seek"): midrash
    Midrash
    The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

    ic (Rabbinic) meanings, often with imaginative comparisons with similar words or verses.
  • Sod (lit. "secret" or "mystery"): the inner, esoteric (metaphysical
    Metaphysics
    Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

    ) meanings, expressed in kabbalah.


Kabbalah is considered, by its followers, as a necessary part of the study of Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 – the study of Torah (the "Teachings" of God, in the Tanach and Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term...

) being an inherent duty of observant Jews. Kabbalah teaches doctrines that are accepted by some Jews as the true meaning of Judaism while other Jews have rejected these doctrines as heretical and antithetical to Judaism. After the Medieval Kabbalah, and especially after its 16th century development and synthesis, Kabbalah replaced "Hakira" (Jewish philosophy
Jewish philosophy
Jewish philosophy , includes all philosophy carried out by Jews, or, in relation to the religion of Judaism. Jewish philosophy, until modern Enlightenment and Emancipation, was pre-occupied with attempts to reconcile coherent new ideas into the tradition of Rabbinic Judaism; thus organizing...

) as the mainstream traditional Jewish theology, both in scholarly circles and in the popular imagination. With the arrival of modernity
Modernity
Modernity typically refers to a post-traditional, post-medieval historical period, one marked by the move from feudalism toward capitalism, industrialization, secularization, rationalization, the nation-state and its constituent institutions and forms of surveillance...

, through the influence of Haskalah
Haskalah
Haskalah , the Jewish Enlightenment, was a movement among European Jews in the 18th–19th centuries that advocated adopting enlightenment values, pressing for better integration into European society, and increasing education in secular studies, Hebrew language, and Jewish history...

, this has changed among non-Orthodox Jewish denominations
Jewish denominations
Jewish religious movements , sometimes called "denominations" or "branches", include different groups which have developed among Jews from ancient times and especially in the modern era among Ashkenazi Jews living in anglophone countries...

, though its 20th century academic study and cross-denominational spiritual applications (especially through Neo-Hasidism
Neo-Hasidism
Neo-Hasidism is a name frequently given to the significant revival of interest in Hasidic Judaism on the part of non-Orthodox Jews in different decades due to the writings of non-Orthodox teachers of Hasidic Judaism like Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Lawrence Kushner, Zalman...

) has reawakened a following beyond Orthodoxy.

The origins of the actual term Kabbalah are unknown and disputed to belong either to Jewish philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol
Solomon ibn Gabirol
Solomon ibn Gabirol, also Solomon ben Judah , was an Andalucian Hebrew poet and Jewish philosopher with a Neoplatonic bent. He was born in Málaga about 1021; died about 1058 in Valencia.-Biography:...

 (1021–1058) or else to the 13th century Spanish Kabbalist Bahya ben Asher
Bahya ben Asher
Bahye ben Asher ibn Halawa also known as Rabbeinu Behaye was a rabbi and scholar of Judaism. He was a commentator on the Hebrew Bible and is noted for introducing Kabbalah into study of the Torah.He is considered by Jewish scholars to be one of the most distinguished of the Biblical exegetes of...

. While other terms have been used in many religious documents from the 2nd century up to the present day, the term "Kabbalah" has become the main descriptive of Jewish esoteric knowledge and practices. The Kabbalistic literature, which served as the basis for the development of Kabbalistic thought, developed through a theological tradition from Antiquity, as part of wider Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term...

. Its theoretical development can be characterised in alternative schools and successive stages. These especially include the early works of the 1st-2nd centuries (such as the Heichalot
Heichalot
Heichalot or "Heikhalot" refers to a collection of Jewish literature which dates from Talmudic times and earlier. Many motifs of later Kabbalah are based on the Heichalot texts, and the Heichalot literature itself is based upon earlier sources, including traditions about Enoch.Some of the...

 texts and the earliest existent book on Jewish esotericism
Esotericism
Esotericism or Esoterism signifies the holding of esoteric opinions or beliefs, that is, ideas preserved or understood by a small group or those specially initiated, or of rare or unusual interest. The term derives from the Greek , a compound of : "within", thus "pertaining to the more inward",...

 Sefer Yetzirah
Sefer Yetzirah
Sefer Yetzirah is the title of the earliest extant book on Jewish esotericism, although some early commentators treated it as a treatise on mathematical and linguistic theory as opposed to Kabbalah...

); the Medieval flowering of the 12th-13th century (of which the main book is the Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

); and early-modern developments, including the mystical revivals of 16th century Safed
Safed
Safed , is a city in the Northern District of Israel. Located at an elevation of , Safed is the highest city in the Galilee and of Israel. Due to its high elevation, Safed experiences warm summers and cold, often snowy, winters...

 (especially of Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

), and 18th century Eastern Europe (new Hasidic popularisations of Kabbalah).

According to Kabbalistic tradition, knowledge was transmitted orally by the Patriarchs, prophets, and sages (Hakham
Hakham
Hakham is a term from Judaism, meaning a wise or skillful man; it often refers to someone who is a great Torah scholar. The word is generally used to designate a cultured and learned person: "He who says a wise thing is called a wise man ["hakham"], even if he be not a Jew"...

im in Hebrew), eventually to be "interwoven" into Jewish religious writings and culture. According to this tradition, Kabbalah was, in around the 10th century BC, an open knowledge practiced by over a million people in ancient Israel.

Foreign conquests drove the Jewish spiritual leadership of the time (the Sanhedrin
Sanhedrin
The Sanhedrin was an assembly of twenty-three judges appointed in every city in the Biblical Land of Israel.The Great Sanhedrin was the supreme court of ancient Israel made of 71 members...

) to hide the knowledge and make it secret, fearing that it might be misused if it fell into the wrong hands. The Sanhedrin leaders were also concerned that the practice of Kabbalah by Jews deported on conquest to other countries (the Diaspora
Jewish diaspora
The Jewish diaspora is the English term used to describe the Galut גלות , or 'exile', of the Jews from the region of the Kingdom of Judah and Roman Iudaea and later emigration from wider Eretz Israel....

), 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’Sod" ) for two and a half millennia.

It is hard to clarify with any degree of certainty the exact concepts within Kabbalah. There are several different schools of thought with very different outlooks; however, all are accepted as correct. Modern Halakhic authorities have tried to narrow the scope and diversity within Kabbalah, by restricting study to certain texts, notably Zohar and the teachings of Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

 as passed down through Chaim (Hayyim) Vital
Hayyim ben Joseph Vital
Hayyim ben Joseph Vital was a rabbi in Safed and the foremost disciple of Isaac Luria. He recorded much of his master's teachings...

. However even this qualification does little to limit the scope of understanding and expression, as included in those works are commentaries on Abulafian writings, Sefer Yetzirah, Albotonian writings, and the Berit Menuhah, which is known to the kabbalistic elect and which, as described more recently by Scholem
Gershom Scholem
Gerhard Scholem who, after his immigration from Germany to Palestine, changed his name to Gershom Scholem , was a German-born Israeli Jewish philosopher and historian, born and raised in Germany...

, combined ecstatic with theosophical mysticism. It is therefore important to bear in mind when discussing things such as the Sefirot and their interactions that one is dealing with highly abstract concepts that at best can only be understood intuitively.

Kabbalistic understanding of God



In Kabbalah all Creation unfolds from Divine reality. This view is found also in Rationalist Medieval Jewish philosophy
Jewish philosophy
Jewish philosophy , includes all philosophy carried out by Jews, or, in relation to the religion of Judaism. Jewish philosophy, until modern Enlightenment and Emancipation, was pre-occupied with attempts to reconcile coherent new ideas into the tradition of Rabbinic Judaism; thus organizing...

 (Hakira-"Investigation"), which offered a preceding, different approach to Jewish theology. However, the descriptions of Divinity in the two schools of thought differ, with Kabbalah elaborating a metaphysical
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 structure of emanations from God, while Hakira investigates the ability to describe God beyond only negative descriptions. The Kabbalistic path, therefore, offers manifestations of Divinity that can be perceived in metaphorical anthropomorphic language, giving mystical dveikus (fervour) to the student. The two alternative approaches become united in intellectual articulations of Hasidic thought
Hasidic philosophy
Hasidic philosophy or Hasidus , alternatively transliterated as Hassidism, Chassidism, Chassidut etc. is the teachings, interpretations of Judaism, and mysticism articulated by the modern Hasidic movement...

, from an inner perspective in Jewish mysticism. The most important Medieval Jewish philosopher, Maimonides
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

, famously summarised the Divine relation to Creation:
There has been traditional debate about whether Maimonides studied Kabbalah. Historical Kabbalistic commentaries were written on his Guide for the Perplexed, revealing deeper mystical layers beyond the regular Rationalist school. Jewish philosophy
Jewish philosophy
Jewish philosophy , includes all philosophy carried out by Jews, or, in relation to the religion of Judaism. Jewish philosophy, until modern Enlightenment and Emancipation, was pre-occupied with attempts to reconcile coherent new ideas into the tradition of Rabbinic Judaism; thus organizing...

 questioned the limits and meaning of Divine understanding from man's thought, in harmony with exoteric Scriptural exegesis
Pardes (Jewish exegesis)
Pardes refers to approaches to biblical exegesis in rabbinic Judaism . The term, sometimes also spelled PaRDeS, is an acronym formed from the name initials of the following four approaches:...

. In Kabbalah ("Received") understanding derives from Oral Torah
Oral Torah
The Oral Torah comprises the legal and interpretative traditions that, according to tradition, were transmitted orally from Mount Sinai, and were not written in the Torah...

 traditions of esoteric Scriptural exegesis
Pardes (Jewish exegesis)
Pardes refers to approaches to biblical exegesis in rabbinic Judaism . The term, sometimes also spelled PaRDeS, is an acronym formed from the name initials of the following four approaches:...

. As a metaphysical alternative to Halachic exegesis in Talmudical hermeneutics
Talmudical Hermeneutics
Talmudical Hermeneutics is the science which defines the rules and methods for the investigation and exact determination of the meaning of the Scriptures, both legal and historical...

, Kabbalah similarly demonstrates its concepts from interpretation of Biblical and Rabbinic texts. These then become systemised and investigated philosophically. With the end of the scholarly culture of Muslim Spain, and the later Jewish expulsion, Kabbalah replaced Hakirah as Judaism's mainstream theology.

In the Kabbalistic scheme, God
Names of God in Judaism
In Judaism, the name of God is more than a distinguishing title; it represents the Jewish conception of the divine nature, and of the relationship of God to the Jewish people and to the world. To demonstrate the sacredness of the names of God, and as a means of showing respect and reverence for...

 is neither matter nor spirit, but is the creator of both. The question of the Divine nature prompted Kabbalists to envision two aspects of God: (a) God Himself, who is ultimately 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
Ein Sof (Kabbalah)
Ein Sof , in Kabbalah, is understood as God prior to His self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual Realm, probably derived from Ibn Gabirol's term, "the Endless One"...

 (אין סוף); this is translated as "the infinite", "endless", or "that which has no limits". In this view, nothing can be said about the essence of God. This aspect of God is impersonal. The second aspect of Divine emanations
Ohr
Ohr is a central Kabbalistic term in the Jewish mystical tradition. The analogy of physical light is used as a way of describing metaphysical 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
Divine simplicity
In theology, the doctrine of divine simplicity says that God is without parts. The general idea of divine simplicity can be stated in this way: the being of God is identical to the "attributes" of God. In other words, such characteristics as omnipresence, goodness, truth, eternity, etc...

). The structure of these emanations has been characterized in various ways: Sefirot (Divine attributes) and Partzufim (Divine "faces"); Four Worlds
Four Worlds
The Four Worlds , sometimes counted with a prior stage to make Five Worlds, are the comprehensive categories of spiritual realms in Kabbalah in the descending chain of Existence....

 of Creation in a Seder hishtalshelus
Seder hishtalshelus
Seder hishtalshelus means the "order of development" or "order of evolution", where the word Hishtalshelus is derived from the reduplicated quadriliteral root ŠLŠL "to chain", and so literally means "the chain-like process"...

 (Descending Chain of realms), Azilut, Beriyah, Yitzirah, and Asiyah; the Biblical vision by Ezekiel of the Merkabah
Merkabah
Merkabah is the throne-chariot of God, the four-wheeled vehicle driven by four "chayot" , each of which has four wings and the four faces of a man, lion, ox, and eagle...

 (Divine angelic "Chariot"). These alternatives are harmonized in subsequent Kabbalistic systemisation. The central metaphor of Ohr
Ohr
Ohr is a central Kabbalistic term in the Jewish mystical tradition. The analogy of physical light is used as a way of describing metaphysical Divine emanations...

 ("Light") is used to describe Divine emanations.

Medieval Kabbalists believed that all things are linked to God through these emanations, making all levels in Creation part of one great, gradually descending chain of being. Through this any lower creation reflects its particular characteristics in Supernal Divinity. These descriptions reached their synthesis in 16th century CE Cordoveran Kabbalah. This metaphysical
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 explanation gave cosmic significance to the deeds of man as the downward flow of the Divine "Light" that creates our reality that is opened or restricted according to the merits of each individual. Divine substenance in Creation is dependent on the traditional mitzvah
Mitzvah
The primary meaning of the Hebrew word refers to precepts and commandments as commanded by God...

 observances of Judaism. Subsequent Kabbalah of Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

 describes a radical origin to this depiction, where Creation unfolds from transcendent imbalance in Godliness, and the purpose of life is the Messianic rectification of Divinity by man. Once each person has completed their part of the rectification, the Messianic Era begins. In this, the mitzvot redeem the supernal Divine Spark
Divine Spark
The idea, most common to Gnosticism but also present in most Western Mystical Traditions such as Kabbalah and Sufism that all of mankind contains within itself the Divine Spark of God which is contained or imprisoned in the body....

s in existence. Later interpretations in Hasidism
Hasidic philosophy
Hasidic philosophy or Hasidus , alternatively transliterated as Hassidism, Chassidism, Chassidut etc. is the teachings, interpretations of Judaism, and mysticism articulated by the modern Hasidic movement...

, such as by Schneur Zalman of Liadi, extend this radicalism by holding that God is all that really exists, all else being completely undifferentiated from God's perspective. This view can be defined as monistic
Monism
Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry. Accordingly, some philosophers may hold that the universe is one rather than dualistic or pluralistic...

 panentheism
Panentheism
Panentheism is a belief system which posits that God exists, interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it...

. According to this philosophy, God's existence is higher than anything that this world can express, yet He includes all things of this world within His Divine reality in perfect unity, so that the Creation effected no change in Him at all. This paradox is dealt with at length in Habad texts.

Sefirot and the Divine Feminine


The Sefirot (סְפִירוֹת — singular Sefirah סְפִירָה) are the ten emanations and attributes of God
Names of God in Judaism
In Judaism, the name of God is more than a distinguishing title; it represents the Jewish conception of the divine nature, and of the relationship of God to the Jewish people and to the world. To demonstrate the sacredness of the names of God, and as a means of showing respect and reverence for...

 with which He continually sustains the universe in existence. The word "sefirah" literally means "counting", but early Kabbalists presented a number of other etymological possibilities including: sefer (book), sippur (story), sappir (sapphire, brilliance, luminary), separ (boundary), and safra (scribe). The term sefirah thus has complex connotations within Kabbalah. The central metaphor of Man's soul is used to describe the Sefirot. This incorporates masculine and feminine aspects, after Genesis 1:27 ("God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them"). Corresponding to the last Sefirah in Creation is the indwelling Shechina (Feminine Divine Presence). In the Sefirot, performance of Mitzvot (traditional Jewish observances) unites the masculine and feminine aspects of supernal Divinity, and brings harmony to Creation. The description of Divine manifestation through the 10 Sefirot is a defining feature of Medieval Kabbalah, alongside their male and female aspects, and the concept of downward flow of Divine Light through the chain of Creation. The Sefirot correspond to the Four Worlds
Four Worlds
The Four Worlds , sometimes counted with a prior stage to make Five Worlds, are the comprehensive categories of spiritual realms in Kabbalah in the descending chain of Existence....

 of this spiritual descent, Atziluth
Atziluth
Atziluth, or Atzilut , is the highest of four worlds in which exists the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Beri'ah follows it. It is known as the World of Emanations, or the World of Causes...

, Beri'ah
Beri'ah
Beri'ah , or Briyah , is the second of the four celestial worlds in the Tree of Life of the Kabbalah, intermediate between the World of Emanation and the World of Formation , the third world, that of the angels...

, Yetzirah
Yetzirah
Yetzirah is the third of four worlds in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, following Atziluth and Briah...

 and Assiah
Assiah
Assiah is the last of the four spiritual worlds of the Kabbalah—Atziluth, Beri'ah, Yetzirah, 'Asiyah—based on the passage in . According to the Maseket Aẓilut, it is the region where the Ofanim rule and where they promote the hearing of prayers, support human endeavor, and combat evil...

.

Ten Sefirot as process of Creation


According to Lurianic cosmology, the Sefirot correspond to various levels of creation (ten sefirot in each of the Four Worlds
Four Worlds
The Four Worlds , sometimes counted with a prior stage to make Five Worlds, are the comprehensive categories of spiritual realms in Kabbalah in the descending chain of Existence....

, and four worlds within each of the larger four worlds, each containing ten sefirot, which themselves contain ten sefirot, to an infinite number of possibilities), and are emanated from the Creator for the purpose of creating the universe. The Sefirot are considered revelations of the Creator's will (ratzon), and they should not be understood as ten different "gods" but as ten different ways the one God reveals His will through the Emanations. It is not God who changes but the ability to perceive God that changes.

Altogether 11 sefirot are named. However Keter and Daat are unconscious and conscious dimensions of one principle, conserving 10 forces. The names of the Sefirot in descending order are:
  • Keter
    Keter (Kabbalah)
    Keter also known as Kether, is the topmost of the Sephirot of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah. Since its meaning is "crown", it is interpreted as both the "topmost" of the Sephirot and the "regal crown" of the Sephirot. It is between Chokmah and Binah and it sits above Tiphereth...

     (supernal crown, representing above-conscious will)
  • Chochmah
    Chokhmah (Kabbalah)
    Chokhmah in the Kabbalah of Judaism, is the uppermost of the Sephirot of the right line . It is derived from the Hebrew word chokhmah which means "wisdom". It is to the bottom right of Keter, and with Binah across it. Under it are the sephirot of Chesed and Netzach...

     (the highest potential of thought)
  • Binah
    Binah (Kabbalah)
    Binah, , in the Kabbalah of Judaism, is the second intellectual Sephirah on the tree of life. It sits on the level below Keter , across from Chokmah and directly above Gevurah...

     (the understanding of the potential)
  • Daat (intellect of knowledge)
  • Chesed (sometimes referred to as Gedolah-greatness) (loving-kindness)
  • Gevurah
    Gevurah (Kabbalah)
    The Hebrew feminine noun gevurah or geburah The Hebrew feminine noun gevurah or geburah The Hebrew feminine noun gevurah or geburah (גבורה in the Kabbalah of Judaism is the fifth of the Sephirot of the tree of life, and it is the second of the emotive attributes of the Sephirot. It sits below...

     (sometimes referred to as Din-justice or Pachad-fear) (severity/strength)
  • Rachamim also known as Tiphereth
    Tiphereth (Kabbalah)
    Tiferet or Tifaret, Tifereth, Tyfereth, Tiphereth is the sixth sefira in the Tree of Life in Kabbalah, which is the spirituality of Rabbinic Judaism...

     (mercy)
  • Netzach
    Netzach (Kabbalah)
    Netzach is the seventh of the ten Sephirot in the Jewish mystical system Kabbalah. Located beneath Chesed, at the base of the "Pillar of Mercy" also consisting of Chokhmah and Hesed...

     (victory/eternity)
  • Hod
    Hod (Kabbalah)
    Hod in the Kabbalah of Judaism is the eighth sephira of the Kabbalistic tree of life. It is derived from hod הוד in the Hebrew language meaning "majesty" or "splendor" and denoting "praise" as well as "submission"....

     (glory/splendour)
  • Yesod
    Yesod (Kabbalah)
    Yesod is one of the important Kabbalistic sephirot. Yesod is the sephirah below Hod and Netzach, and above Malkuth .-Yesod:The sephirah of Yesod translates spiritual concepts into actions that unite us with God....

     (foundation)
  • Malkuth (kingdom)

Ten Sefirot as process of ethics



Divine creation by means of the Ten Sefirot is an ethical process. They represent the different aspects of Morality. Loving-Kindness is a possible moral justification found in Chessed, and Gevurah is the Moral Justification of Justice and both are mediated by Mercy which is Rachamim. However, these pillars of morality become immoral once they become extremes. When Loving-Kindness become extreme it can lead to sexual depravity and lack of Justice to the wicked. When Justice becomes extreme, it can lead to torture and the Murder of innocents and unfair punishment.

"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 in order to empower oneself to assist others, is an important aspect of "Restriction", and is considered a kind of golden mean
Golden mean (philosophy)
In philosophy, especially that of Aristotle, the golden mean is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. For example courage, a virtue, if taken to excess would manifest as recklessness and if deficient as cowardice....

 in Kabbalah, corresponding to the Sefirah of "Adornment" (Tiferet) being part of the "Middle Column".

Moses ben Jacob Cordovero
Moses ben Jacob Cordovero
Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, , was a central figure in the historical development of Kabbalah, leader of a mystical school in 16th-century Safed, Israel. He is known by the acronym the Ramak....

, wrote Tomer Devorah (Palm Tree of Deborah), he presents an ethical teaching of Judaism in the kabbalistic context of the Ten Sefirot. Tomer Devorah has become also a foundational Musar text
Musar literature
Musar literature is the term used for didactic Jewish ethical literature which describes virtues and vices and the path towards perfection in a methodical way.- Definition of Musar literature :...

.

Human soul


The Kabbalah posits that the human soul has three elements, the nefesh, ru'ach, and neshamah. The nefesh is found in all humans, and enters the physical body at birth. It is the source of one's physical and psychological nature. The next two parts of the soul are not implanted at birth, but can be developed over time; their development depends on the actions and beliefs of the individual. 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 instinct
    Instinct
    Instinct or innate behavior is the inherent inclination of a living organism toward a particular behavior.The simplest example of an instinctive behavior is a fixed action pattern, in which a very short to medium length sequence of actions, without variation, are carried out in response to a...

    s and bodily cravings.
  • Ruach (רוח): the middle soul, the "spirit". It contains the moral
    Moral
    A moral is a message conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a story or event. The moral may be left to the hearer, reader or viewer to determine for themselves, or may be explicitly encapsulated in a maxim...

     virtue
    Virtue
    Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being....

    s and the ability to distinguish between good and evil
    Evil
    Evil is the violation of, or intent to violate, some moral code. Evil is usually seen as the dualistic opposite of good. Definitions of evil vary along with analysis of its root motive causes, however general actions commonly considered evil include: conscious and deliberate wrongdoing,...

    .
  • Neshamah (נשמה): the higher soul, or "super-soul". This separates man from all other life-forms. It is related to the intellect
    Intellect
    Intellect is a term used in studies of the human mind, and refers to the ability of the mind to come to correct conclusions about what is true or real, and about how to solve problems...

     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
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

, discusses fourth and fifth parts of the human soul, the chayyah and yehidah (first mentioned in the Midrash Rabbah). Gershom Scholem
Gershom Scholem
Gerhard Scholem who, after his immigration from Germany to Palestine, changed his name to Gershom Scholem , was a German-born Israeli Jewish philosopher and historian, born and raised in Germany...

 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 prophecy 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
    Shabbat
    Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

    . 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
    Torah
    Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

     commandments. It exists only when one studies and follows Torah
    Torah
    Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

    ; it can be lost and gained depending on one's study and observance.

Tzimtzum




Tzimtzum is the primordial cosmic act whereby God "contracted" His infinite light, leaving a "void" into which the light of existence was poured. This new doctrine of Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

 in the 16th century gave a new organization of the previous Second-Temple and Medieval Kabbalistic concepts of Angelic hierarchies
Merkabah
Merkabah is the throne-chariot of God, the four-wheeled vehicle driven by four "chayot" , each of which has four wings and the four faces of a man, lion, ox, and eagle...

 and descending Worlds
Seder hishtalshelus
Seder hishtalshelus means the "order of development" or "order of evolution", where the word Hishtalshelus is derived from the reduplicated quadriliteral root ŠLŠL "to chain", and so literally means "the chain-like process"...

. The primal emanation after the Tzimtzum in Lurianic Kabbalah led to an initial catastrophe called "Tohu" (Chaos). This was reformed into "Tikkun olam
Tikkun olam
Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world." In Judaism, the concept of tikkun olam originated in the early rabbinic period...

" (Rectification) of our spiritual realms, described in previous Kabbalah, becoming Atzilut (the World of Emanation), from which the three lower Worlds, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, descended. This corresponds to the reorganization of the Sefirot into the Partsufim described in previous Kabbalah. The Tzimtzum reconciles the infinite simplicity of the Ein Sof
Ein Sof
Ein Sof , in Kabbalah, is understood as God prior to His self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual Realm, probably derived from Ibn Gabirol's term, "the Endless One"...

 with the finite plurality of Creation. From the subsequent catastrophe stems the possibility of self-aware Creation, and also the Kelipot (impure "shells" in Medieval Kabbalah).

Mystical forms of Scriptural and Rabbinic exegesis


Kabbalah teaches that every Hebrew letter
Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet , known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, or more historically, the Assyrian script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two...

, word, number, even the accent on words of the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

 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
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 (first five books of the Hebrew Bible) and wider canonical texts contained encoded
Encryption
In cryptography, encryption is the process of transforming information using an algorithm to make it unreadable to anyone except those possessing special knowledge, usually referred to as a key. The result of the process is encrypted information...

 messages and hidden meanings. Gematria
Gematria
Gematria or gimatria is a system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other, or bear some relation to the number itself as it may apply to a person's age, the calendar year, or the like...

 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.

Primary texts



Like the rest of the Rabbinic literature, the texts of Kabbalah were once part of an ongoing oral tradition
Oral Torah
The Oral Torah comprises the legal and interpretative traditions that, according to tradition, were transmitted orally from Mount Sinai, and were not written in the Torah...

, though, over the centuries, much of the oral tradition has been written down.

Jewish forms of esotericism
Esotericism
Esotericism or Esoterism signifies the holding of esoteric opinions or beliefs, that is, ideas preserved or understood by a small group or those specially initiated, or of rare or unusual interest. The term derives from the Greek , a compound of : "within", thus "pertaining to the more inward",...

 existed over 2,000 years ago. Ben Sira
Ben Sira
Jesus ben Sirach , commonly known simply as ben Sirach or Sirach and also rendered "Jesus son of Sirach" or "Jesus Siracides", was the author of the deuterocanonical Wisdom of Sirach and possibly the rabbinical Alphabet of Sirach...

 (born c. 170 BCE) warns against it, saying: "You shall have no business with secret things". Nonetheless, mystical studies were undertaken and resulted in mystical literature, the first being the Apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature is a genre of prophetical writing that developed in post-Exilic Jewish culture and was popular among millennialist early Christians....

 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 ancient descriptions of Sefer Yetzirah
Sefer Yetzirah
Sefer Yetzirah is the title of the earliest extant book on Jewish esotericism, although some early commentators treated it as a treatise on mathematical and linguistic theory as opposed to Kabbalah...

, the Heichalot
Heichalot
Heichalot or "Heikhalot" refers to a collection of Jewish literature which dates from Talmudic times and earlier. Many motifs of later Kabbalah are based on the Heichalot texts, and the Heichalot literature itself is based upon earlier sources, including traditions about Enoch.Some of the...

 mystical ascent literature, the Bahir
Bahir
Bahir or Sefer Ha-Bahir סֵפֶר הַבָּהִיר is an anonymous mystical work, attributed to a 1st century rabbinic sage Nehunya ben ha-Kanah because it begins with the words, "R. Nehunya Ben Ha-Kanah said"...

, Sefer Raziel HaMalakh
Sefer Raziel HaMalakh
Sefer Raziel HaMalakh, , is a medieval Kabbalistic grimoire, primarily written in Hebrew and Aramaic, but surviving also in Latin translation, as Liber Razielis Archangeli, in a 13th century manuscript produced under Alfonso X.-Textual history:The book cannot be shown to predate the 13th century,...

 and the Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

, the main text of Kabbalistic exegesis. Classic mystical Bible commentaries
Jewish commentaries on the Bible
This article describes the first printing of the Hebrew Bible with major Jewish commentaries, notes concerning translations into Aramaic and English, lists some universally accepted Jewish commentaries with notes on their method of approach and lists modern translations into English with notes.-...

 are included in fuller versions of the Mikraot Gedolot
Mikraot Gedolot
The Mikraot Gedolot "Great Scriptures," often called the "Rabbinic Bible" in English, is anedition of Tanakh that generally includes four distinct elements:...

 (Main Commentators). Cordoveran systemisation is presented in Pardes Rimonim, philosophical articulation in the works of the Maharal, and Lurianic rectification in Etz Chayim
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

. Subsequent interpretation of Lurianic Kabbalah was made in the writings of Shalom Sharabi
Shalom Sharabi
Sar Shalom Sharabi , also known as the Rashash, the Shemesh or Ribbi Shalom Mizraḥi deyedi`a Sharabi Sar Shalom Sharabi , also known as the Rashash, the Shemesh or Ribbi Shalom Mizraḥi deyedi`a Sharabi Sar Shalom Sharabi , also known as the Rashash, the Shemesh or Ribbi Shalom Mizraḥi deyedi`a...

, in Nefesh HaChaim
Chaim Volozhin
Chaim Volozhin was an Orthodox rabbi, Talmudist, and ethicist. Popularly known as "Reb Chaim Volozhiner" or simply as "Reb Chaim", he was born in Volozhin when it was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

 and the 20th century Sulam
Yehuda Ashlag
Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag or Yehuda Leib Ha-Levi Ashlag also known as the Baal Ha-Sulam in reference to his magnum opus, was an orthodox rabbi and kabbalist born in Łódź, Congress Poland, Russian Empire, to a family of scholars connected to the Hasidic courts of Porisov and Belz...

. Hasidism interpreted Kabbalistic structures to their correspondence in inward perception. The Hasidic
Hasidic philosophy
Hasidic philosophy or Hasidus , alternatively transliterated as Hassidism, Chassidism, Chassidut etc. is the teachings, interpretations of Judaism, and mysticism articulated by the modern Hasidic movement...

 development of Kabbalah incorporates a successive stage of Jewish mysticism from historical Kabbalistic metaphysics.

Scholarship


Because it is by definition esoteric, no popular account (including an encyclopedia) can provide a complete, precise, and accurate explanation of the Kabbalah. However, a number of scholars from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem ; ; abbreviated HUJI) is Israel's second-oldest university, after the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. The Hebrew University has three campuses in Jerusalem and one in Rehovot. The world's largest Jewish studies library is located on its Edmond J...

, including Gershom Scholem
Gershom Scholem
Gerhard Scholem who, after his immigration from Germany to Palestine, changed his name to Gershom Scholem , was a German-born Israeli Jewish philosopher and historian, born and raised in Germany...

, Joseph Dan
Joseph Dan
Joseph Dan is an Israeli scholar of Jewish mysticism. He taught for over 40 years in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem...

, Yehuda Liebes, Rachel Elior
Rachel Elior
Rachel Elior is an Israeli professor of Jewish philosophy and mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Jerusalem, Israel.-Academic career:...

, and Moshe Idel, as well as some from other locations, such as Arthur Green
Arthur Green
Arthur Green is a scholar of Jewish mysticism and Neo-Hasidism. He is a professor in the non-denominational rabbinical program at Hebrew College in Boston. He was a dean of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1987–1993.-Biography:...

 and Daniel Matt, have made Kabbalist texts objects of modern scholarly scrutiny. Some scholars, notably Gershom Scholem
Gershom Scholem
Gerhard Scholem who, after his immigration from Germany to Palestine, changed his name to Gershom Scholem , was a German-born Israeli Jewish philosopher and historian, born and raised in Germany...

 and Martin Buber
Martin Buber
Martin Buber was an Austrian-born Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a form of religious existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship....

, have argued that modern Hassidic Judaism represents a popularization of the Kabbalah. According to its adherents, intimate understanding and mastery of the Kabbalah brings one spiritually closer to God and enriches one's experience of Jewish sacred texts and law.

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
Raziel
Raziel |God]]") is an archangel within the teachings of Jewish mysticism who is the "Keeper of Secrets" and the "Angel of Mysteries"...

 after he was evicted from Eden
Garden of Eden
The Garden of Eden is in the Bible's Book of Genesis as being the place where the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, lived after they were created by God. Literally, the Bible speaks about a garden in Eden...

.

Another famous work, the Sefer Yetzirah
Sefer Yetzirah
Sefer Yetzirah is the title of the earliest extant book on Jewish esotericism, although some early commentators treated it as a treatise on mathematical and linguistic theory as opposed to Kabbalah...

, supposedly dates back to the patriarch Abraham
Abraham
Abraham , whose birth name was Abram, is the eponym of the Abrahamic religions, among which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam...

. This tendency toward pseudepigraphy
Pseudepigraphy
Pseudepigrapha are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed authorship is unfounded; a work, simply, "whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past." The word "pseudepigrapha" is the plural of "pseudepigraphon" ; the Anglicized forms...

 has its roots in Apocalyptic literature, which claims that esoteric knowledge such as magic
Magic (paranormal)
Magic is the claimed art of manipulating aspects of reality either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult laws unknown to science. It is in contrast to science, in that science does not accept anything not subject to either direct or indirect observation, and subject to logical...

, divination
Divination
Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual...

 and astrology
Astrology
Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world...

 was transmitted to humans in the mythic past by the two angels, Aza and Azaz'el
Azazel
Azazel or Azazael or Azâzêl is a term used three times in the Hebrew scriptures, and later in Hebrew mythology as the enigmatic name of a character....

 (in other places, Azaz'el and Uzaz'el) who 'fell' from heaven (see Genesis 6:4).

Dualism



Although Kabbalah propounds the Unity of God, one of the most serious and sustained criticisms is that it may lead away from monotheism
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

, and instead promote dualism
Dualism
Dualism denotes a state of two parts. The term 'dualism' was originally coined to denote co-eternal binary opposition, a meaning that is preserved in metaphysical and philosophical duality discourse but has been diluted in general or common usages. Dualism can refer to moral dualism, Dualism (from...

, 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
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

, 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
Ein Sof
Ein Sof , in Kabbalah, is understood as God prior to His self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual Realm, probably derived from Ibn Gabirol's term, "the Endless One"...

)—neither one nor the other, transcending any definition. The ability of God to become hidden from perception is called "Restriction" (Tzimtzum
Tzimtzum
Tzimtzum is a term used in the kabbalistic teaching of Isaac Luria, explaining his concept that God began the process of creation by "contracting" his infinite light in order to allow for a "conceptual space" in which a finite and seemingly independent world could exist...

). Hiddenness makes creation possible because God can become "revealed" in a diversity of limited ways, which then form the building blocks of creation.

Kabbalistic texts, including the Zohar, appear to affirm dualism, as they ascribe all evil to the separation from holiness known as the Sitra Achra ("the other side") which is opposed to Sitra D’Kedushah, or the Side of Holiness. 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
Satan
Satan , "the opposer", is the title of various entities, both human and divine, who challenge the faith of humans in the Hebrew Bible...

 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
Zeir Anpin
Zeir Anpin is a revealed aspect of God in Kabbalah, comprising the emotional sephirot attributes: Chesed, Geburah, Tiphereth, Netzach, Hod and Yesod.The Zohar's imagery expoundes its role in Creation, where it is the microscopic equivalent of Arich Anpin in...

), and the rest of the infinity of God as remaining hidden from human experience (corresponding to Arich Anpin). One reading of this theology is monotheistic, similar to panentheism
Panentheism
Panentheism is a belief system which posits that God exists, interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it...

; another reading of the same theology is that it is dualistic. Gershom Scholem
Gershom Scholem
Gerhard Scholem who, after his immigration from Germany to Palestine, changed his name to Gershom Scholem , was a German-born Israeli Jewish philosopher and historian, born and raised in Germany...

 writes:

Perception of non-Jews


Many Kabbalistic sources contain statements to the effect that the Jewish soul is ontologically different from the soul of non-Jews; for example, it is held by some that Jews have three levels of soul, nefesh, ruach
Ruach
In Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, Ruach is the Isle of Winds. The people of Ruach eat and drink nothing but wind, and live inside weathercocks. The island is an allegory of the insubstantial promises and flatteries that people must subsist on to survive in this world.The word "Ruach" comes...

 and neshamah
Neshamah
Neshamah , is the title of the first solo recording by American guitarist Tim Sparks on the Tzadik Records label...

 while non-Jews have only nefesh. The Zohar comments on the Biblical verse which states "Let the waters teem with swarms of creatures that have a living soul" as follows: "The verse 'creatures that have a living soul,' pertains to the Jews, for they are the children of God, and from God come their holy souls....And the souls of the other nations, from where do they come? Rabbi Elazar says that they have souls from the impure left side, and therefore they are all impure, defiling anyone who comes near them" (Zohar commentary on Genesis).

Such theologically framed hostility may have been a response to some medieval demonization of Jews which developed in some parts of Western and Christian society and thought, starting with the Patristic writings.; however it is also the case that passages asserting Jewish specialness or uniqueness are present in pre-Christian texts (such as The Book of Joshua, Deuteronomy, etc.).
According to Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

 and other commentators on the Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

, righteous Gentiles
B'nei Noah
Noahidism is a Biblical-Talmudic and monotheistic ideology based on the Seven Laws of Noah. According to Jewish law, non-Jews are not obligated to convert to Judaism, but they are required to observe the Seven Laws of Noah to be assured of a place in the World to Come , the final reward of the...

 do not have this demonic aspect and are in many ways similar to Jewish souls. A number of prominent Kabbalists, e.g. Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu of Vilna, the author of Sefer ha-Brit, held that only some marginal elements in the humanity represent these demonic forces. On the other hand, the souls of Jewish heretics have much more satanic energy than the worst of idol worshippers
Idolatry
Idolatry is a pejorative term for the worship of an idol, a physical object such as a cult image, as a god, or practices believed to verge on worship, such as giving undue honour and regard to created forms other than God. In all the Abrahamic religions idolatry is strongly forbidden, although...

; this view is popular in some Hasidic circles, especially Satmar Hasidim
Satmar (Hasidic dynasty)
Satmar is a Hasidic movement comprising mostly Hungarian and Romanian Hasidic Jewish Holocaust survivors and their descendants. It was founded and led by the late Hungarian-born Grand Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum , who was the rabbi of Szatmárnémeti, Hungary...

.

Some later Kabbalistic works build and elaborate on these ideas. One point of view is represented by the Hasidic work Tanya
Tanya
The Tanya is an early work of Hasidic philosophy, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hasidism, first published in 1797. Its formal title is Likkutei Amarim , but is more commonly known by its opening word, Tanya, which means "it was taught in a beraita"...

, which stresses the uniqueness of the Jewish soul, in order to argue that Jews have an additional level of soul. While a non-Jew, according to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi
Shneur Zalman of Liadi
Shneur Zalman of Liadi , also known as the Baal HaTanya, , was an Orthodox Rabbi, and the founder and first Rebbe of Chabad, a branch of Hasidic Judaism, then based in Liadi, Imperial Russia...

, can achieve a high level of spiritually, similar to an angel, his soul is still fundamentally different in character, but not value, from a Jewish one. A similar view is found in Yehuda Halevi
Yehuda Halevi
Judah Halevi was a Spanish Jewish physician, poet and philosopher. He was born in Spain, either in Toledo or Tudela, in 1075 or 1086, and died shortly after arriving in Palestine in 1141...

's medieval philosophical book Kuzari
Kuzari
The Kitab al Khazari, commonly called the Kuzari, is one of most famous works of the medieval Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, completed around 1140. Its title is an Arabic phrase meaning Book of the Khazars...

.

On the other hand, many prominent Kabbalists rejected this idea and believed in essential equality of all human souls. Menahem Azariah da Fano
Menahem Azariah da Fano
Menahem Azariah da Fano was an Italian rabbi, Talmudist, and Kabbalist.-Life:...

, in his book Reincarnations of souls, provides many examples of non-Jewish Biblical figures being reincarnated into Jews and vice versa; the contemporary Habad Rabbi and mystic Dov Ber Pinson
Dov Ber Pinson
DovBer Pinson is a modern mystic and scholar in Brooklyn, New York. He is an author, lecturer, and scholar of Jewish philosophy and mysticism.Born in Crown Heights, Pinson is greatly influenced by the traditions of Chassidus, Lurianic philosophy and mysticism, and the rational thinking of Maimonides...

 teaches that seemingly discriminatory statements in the Tanya
Tanya
The Tanya is an early work of Hasidic philosophy, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hasidism, first published in 1797. Its formal title is Likkutei Amarim , but is more commonly known by its opening word, Tanya, which means "it was taught in a beraita"...

 and other Kabbalistic works are not to be understood literally.

Another prominent Habad Rabbi, Abraham Yehudah Khein
Abraham Yehudah Khein
Abraham Yehudah Khein was a Hasidic Rabbi in the Ukrainian town Nyezhin and a pacifist anarchist. Khein belonged to the Hasidic Chabad tradition by family descent and spiritual training....

, believed that spiritually elevated Gentiles have essentially Jewish souls, "who just lack the formal conversion to Judaism", and that unspiritual Jews are "Jewish merely by their birth documents". The great 20th century Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag
Yehuda Ashlag
Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag or Yehuda Leib Ha-Levi Ashlag also known as the Baal Ha-Sulam in reference to his magnum opus, was an orthodox rabbi and kabbalist born in Łódź, Congress Poland, Russian Empire, to a family of scholars connected to the Hasidic courts of Porisov and Belz...

 viewed the terms "Jews" and "Gentile" as different levels of perception, available to every human soul.

David Halperin argues that the collapse of Kabbalah's influence among Western European Jews over the course of the 17th and 18th century was a result of the cognitive dissonance they experienced between the negative perception of Gentiles found in some exponents of Kabbalah, and their own positive dealings with non-Jews, which were rapidly expanding and improving during this period due to the influence of the Enlightenment.

However, a number of renown Kabbalists claimed the exact opposite. In their view, Kabbalah transcends the borders of Judaism and can serve as a basis of inter-religious theosophy and a universal religion. Rabbi Pinchas Elijah Hurwitz, a prominent Lithuanian-Galician Kabbalist of the 18th century and a moderate proponent of the Haskalah
Haskalah
Haskalah , the Jewish Enlightenment, was a movement among European Jews in the 18th–19th centuries that advocated adopting enlightenment values, pressing for better integration into European society, and increasing education in secular studies, Hebrew language, and Jewish history...

, called for brotherly love and solidarity between all nations, and believed that Kabbalah can empower everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, with prophetic abilities.

The works of Abraham Cohen de Herrera
Abraham Cohen de Herrera
Abraham Cohen de Herrera also known as Alonso Nunez de Herrera or Abraham Irira was a religious philosopher and cabbalist. He is supposed by the historian Heinrich Graetz to have been born in 1570...

 are full of references to Gentile mystical philosophers. Such approach was particularly common among the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 and post-Renaissance Italian Jews
Italian Jews
Italian Jews can be used in a broad sense to mean all Jews living or with roots in Italy or in a narrower sense to mean the ancient community who use the Italian rite, as distinct from the communities dating from medieval or modern times who use the Sephardi or Ashkenazi rite.-Divisions:Italian...

. A number of Italian Kabbalists, e.g. Yohanan Alemanno
Yohanan Alemanno
Yohanan Alemanno was an Italian Jewish humanist philosopher and exegete, and teacher of the Hebrew language to Italian humanists including Pico della Mirandola...

, David Messer Leon and Abraham Yagel
Abraham Yagel
Abraham Yagel was an Italian Jewish catechist, philosopher, and cabalist. He lived successively at Luzzara, Venice, Ferrara, and Sassuolo.-Life and identity:...

, adhered to humanistic
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 ideals and incorporated teachings of various Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 and pagan
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

 mystics.

A prime representative of this humanist stream in Kabbalah was Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh
Elijah Benamozegh
Elijah Benamozegh, sometimes Elia or Eliyahu, was an Italian Orthodox rabbi and a noted Kabbalist, highly respected in his day as one of Italy's most eminent Jewish scholars. He served for half a century as rabbi of the important Jewish community of Livorno, where the Piazza Benamozegh now...

, who explicitly praised Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, as well as a whole range of ancient pagan mystical systems. He believed that Kabbalah can reconcile the differences between the world religions, which represent different facets and stages of the universal human spirituality. In his writings, Benamozegh interprets the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

, Hadith
Hadith
The term Hadīth is used to denote a saying or an act or tacit approval or criticism ascribed either validly or invalidly to the Islamic prophet Muhammad....

, Vedas
Vedas
The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism....

, Avesta
Avesta
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.-Early transmission:The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas,...

 and pagan mysteries according to the Kabbalistic theosophy
Theosophy
Theosophy, in its modern presentation, is a spiritual philosophy developed since the late 19th century. Its major themes were originally described mainly by Helena Blavatsky , co-founder of the Theosophical Society...

.

For a different perspective, see Wolfson. He provides numerous examples from the 17th to the 20th centuries, which would challenge the view of Halperin cited above as well as the notion that "modern Judaism" has rejected or dismissed this "outdated aspect" of the religion and, he argues, there are still Kabbalists today who harbor this view. He argues that, while it is accurate to say that many Jews do and would find this distinction offensive, it is inaccurate to say that the idea has been totally rejected in all circles. As Wolfson has argued, it is an ethical demand on the part of scholars to continue to be vigilant with regard to this matter and in this way the tradition can be refined from within.

However, as explained above, many well known Kabbalists rejected the literal interpretation of these seemingly discriminatory views. They argued that the term "Jew" was to be interpreted metaphorically, as referring to the spiritual development of the soul, rather than the superficial denomination of the individual, and they added a chain of intermediary states between "Jews" and idol worshippers, or spiritualized the very definition of "Jews" and "non-Jews" and argued that a soul can be re-incarnated in different communities (whether Jewish or not) as much as within a single one.

Medieval Views


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
Saadia Gaon
Saʻadiah ben Yosef Gaon was a prominent rabbi, Jewish philosopher, and exegete of the Geonic period.The first important rabbinic figure to write extensively in Arabic, he is considered the founder of Judeo-Arabic literature...

 teaches in his book Emunot v'Deot
Emunoth ve-Deoth
Emunoth ve-Deoth or Emunoth w'D'oth written by Rabbi Saadia Gaon - originally Kitāb ul-ʾamānāt wal-iʿtiqādāt - was the first systematic presentation and philosophic foundation of the dogmas of Judaism. The work is prefaced by an introduction and has ten chapters; it was completed in 933...

 that Jews who believe in reincarnation
Reincarnation
Reincarnation best describes the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body, or, in some traditions, either as a human being, animal or plant...

 have adopted a non-Jewish belief.

Maimonides
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

 (12th century) rejected many of the texts of the Hekalot, particularly Shi'ur Qomah
Shi'ur Qomah
Shi’ur Qomah is a Midrashic text that is part of the Heichalot literature. It purports to record, in anthropomorphic terms, the secret names and precise measurements of God’s corporeal limbs and parts...

 whose starkly anthropomorphic vision of God he considered heretical.

Nachmanides (13th century) provides background to many Kabbalistic ideas. His works, especially those in the Five books of Moses (Pentateuch) offer in-depth of various concepts.

Rabbi Abraham ben Moses ben Maimon
Avraham son of Rambam
Abraham ben Moses ben Maimon was the son of Maimonides who succeeded his father as Nagid of the Egyptian Jewish community....

, 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
Panentheism
Panentheism is a belief system which posits that God exists, interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it...

, 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
Bahir
Bahir or Sefer Ha-Bahir סֵפֶר הַבָּהִיר is an anonymous mystical work, attributed to a 1st century rabbinic sage Nehunya ben ha-Kanah because it begins with the words, "R. Nehunya Ben Ha-Kanah said"...

, rejecting the attribution of its authorship to the tanna R. Nehhunya ben ha-Kanah
Nehunya ben ha-Kanah
Nehunya ben ha-Kanah was a Tanna of the 1st and 2nd centuries. It appears from B. B. 10b that Neḥunya was a contemporary, but not a pupil, of Johanan b. Zakkai. He was the teacher of Ishmael b. Elisha...

 and describing some of its content as truly heretical.

Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet Perfet
Isaac ben Sheshet
Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet was a Spanish Talmudic authority, also known by his acronym, Rivash . He was born at Valencia and settled early in life at Barcelona, where he studied under Perez ha-Kohen, under Hasdai ben Judah, and especially under R...

 (The Rivash), 1326–1408. Although as is evident from his response on the topic (157) the Rivash was skeptical of certain interpretations of Kabbalah popular in his time, it is equally evident that overall he did accept Kabbalah as received Jewish wisdom, and attempted to defend it from attackers. To this end he cited and rejected a certain philosopher who claimed 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
Mishneh Torah
The Mishneh Torah subtitled Sefer Yad ha-Hazaka is a code of Jewish religious law authored by Maimonides , one of history's foremost rabbis...

, prohibit any use of mediators between oneself and the Creator as a form of idolatry.

Rabbi Leone di Modena
Leon of Modena
Leon Modena or Yehudah Aryeh Mi-modena was a Jewish scholar born in Venice of a notable French family that had migrated to Italy after an expulsion of Jews from France.-Life:...

, a 17th century Venetian
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 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 (Veil of the Books), a detailed critique of the Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

 in which he concludes that certain parts of the Zohar contain heretical teaching and therefore could not have been written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Opponents of his work claim 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
Yihhyah Qafahh
Yiḥyah Qafiḥ served as the Chief Rabbi of Sana'a, Yemen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries...

, an early 20th century Yemenite Jewish leader and grandfather of Rabbi Yosef Qafih
Yosef Qafih
Yosef Qafih , widely known as Rabbi Kapach , was one of the foremost leaders of the Yemenite Jewish community, first in Yemen and later in Israel. He was the grandson of Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh, also a prominent Yemenite leader and grandson of the founder of the Dor Deah movement in Yemen...

, 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
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

. He is credited with spearheading the Dor Daim
Dor Daim
The Dardaim or Dor daim , are adherents of the Dor Deah movement in Judaism. That movement was founded in 19th century Yemen by Rabbi Yiḥyah Qafiḥ, and had its own network of synagogues and schools.Its objects were:...

 who continue in R. Yihhyah Qafahh's view of Kabbalah into modern times.

Orthodox Judaism


Yeshayahu Leibowitz
Yeshayahu Leibowitz
Yeshayahu Leibowitz was an Israeli public intellectual and polymath known for his outspoken opinions on Judaism, ethics, religion and politics.- Biography :...

 1903–1994, brother of Nechama Leibowitz
Nechama Leibowitz
Nechama Leibowitz was a noted Israeli Bible scholar and commentator who rekindled interest in Bible study.-Biography:Nechama Leibowitz was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Riga two years after her elder brother, the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz. The family moved to Berlin in 1919...

, 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
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

's, the Arizal's Kabbalistic teachings. While a portion of Modern Orthodox
Modern Orthodox Judaism
Modern Orthodox Judaism is a movement within Orthodox Judaism that attempts to synthesize Jewish values and the observance of Jewish law, with the secular, modern world....

 Rabbis, Dor Daim
Dor Daim
The Dardaim or Dor daim , are adherents of the Dor Deah movement in Judaism. That movement was founded in 19th century Yemen by Rabbi Yiḥyah Qafiḥ, and had its own network of synagogues and schools.Its objects were:...

 and many students of the Rambam, completely reject Arizal's Kabbalistic teachings, as well as deny that the Zohar is authoritative, or from Shimon bar Yohai, all three of these groups completely accept the existence and validity of Ma'aseh Merkavah and Ma'aseh B'resheet 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 both rabbis who sympathize with such a view, while not necessarily agreeing with it, as well as rabbis who consider such a view absolute heresy.

Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism


Kabbalah tended to be rejected by most Jews in the Conservative
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical Judaism,...

 and Reform
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

 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
Saul Lieberman
Saul Lieberman , also known as Rabbi Shaul Lieberman or The Gra"sh , was a rabbi and a scholar of Talmud...

 of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
The Jewish Theological Seminary of America is one of the academic and spiritual centers of Conservative Judaism, and a major center for academic scholarship in Jewish studies.JTS operates five schools: Albert A...

 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
Bradley Shavit Artson
Bradley Shavit Artson is an American rabbi, author, speaker, and the occupant of the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean's Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, California, where he is Vice-President...

 (Dean of the Conservative Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, informally known as the "Ziegler School" or simply "Ziegler", is the graduate program of study leading to Ordination as Conservative Rabbis at the American Jewish University...

 in the American Jewish University)

However, in the late 20th century and early 21st century there has been a revival in interest in Kabbalah in all branches of liberal Judaism. The Kabbalistic 12th century prayer Anim Zemirot
Anim Zemirot
Anim Zemirot is Jewish liturgical poem sung in the synagogue at the end of Shabbat and holiday morning services. Formally, it is known as Shir Hakavod Anim Zemirot (אנעים זמירות, lit. "I shall sing sweet songs") is Jewish liturgical poem sung in the synagogue at the end of Shabbat and holiday...

 was restored to the new Conservative Sim Shalom siddur
Siddur
A siddur is a Jewish prayer book, containing a set order of daily prayers. This article discusses how some of these prayers evolved, and how the siddur, as it is known today has developed...

, as was the B'rikh Shmeh passage from the Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

, and the mystical Ushpizin service welcoming to the Sukkah
Sukkah
A sukkah is a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is topped with branches and often well decorated with autumnal, harvest or Judaic themes...

 the spirits of Jewish forbearers. Anim Zemirot and the 16th century mystical poem Lekhah Dodi reappeared in the Reform Siddur Gates of Prayer
Gates of Prayer
Gates of Prayer, the New Union Prayer Book is a Reform Jewish siddur that was announced in October 1975 as a replacement for the 80-year-old Union Prayer Book , incorporating more Hebrew content and was updated to be more accessible to modern worshipers...

 in 1975. All Rabbinical seminaries now teach several courses in Kabbalah—in Conservative Judaism, 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. In the Reform movement Sharon Koren teaches at the Hebrew Union College. Reform Rabbis like Herbert Weiner and Lawrence Kushner
Lawrence Kushner
Lawrence Kushner is a Reform rabbi and currently the scholar-in-residence at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, California.-Biography:Born in Detroit, Kushner graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Cincinnati, after which he went on to receive his rabbinical ordination from Hebrew...

 have renewed interest in Kabbalah among Reform Jews. At the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the only accredited seminary that has curricular requirements in Kabbalah, Joel Hecker is the fulltime instructor teaching courses in Kabbalah and Hasidut.

According to Artson:

The Reconstructionist
Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism is a modern American-based Jewish movement based on the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan . The movement views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization. It originated as a branch of Conservative Judaism, before it splintered...

 movement, under the leadership of Arthur Green in the 1980s and 1990s, and with the influence of Zalman Schachter Shalomi, brought a strong openness to Kabbalah and hasidic elements that then came to play prominent roles in the Kol ha-Neshamah siddur series.

Origins of Judaic mysticism


According to the traditional understanding, Kabbalah dates from Eden. It came down from a remote past as a revelation to elect Tzadikim (righteous people), and, for the most part, was preserved only by a privileged few. Talmudic Judaism records its view of the proper protocol for teaching this wisdom, as well as many of its concepts, in the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

, Tractate Hagigah, Ch.2.

Contemporary scholarship suggests that various schools of Jewish esotericism
Esotericism
Esotericism or Esoterism signifies the holding of esoteric opinions or beliefs, that is, ideas preserved or understood by a small group or those specially initiated, or of rare or unusual interest. The term derives from the Greek , a compound of : "within", thus "pertaining to the more inward",...

 arose at different periods of Jewish history, each reflecting not only prior forms of mysticism
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

, but also the intellectual and cultural milieu of that historical period. Answers to questions of transmission, lineage, influence, and innovation vary greatly and cannot be easily summarized.

Origins of terms


Originally, Kabbalistic knowledge was believed to be an integral part of the Judaism's oral law
Oral Torah
The Oral Torah comprises the legal and interpretative traditions that, according to tradition, were transmitted orally from Mount Sinai, and were not written in the Torah...

 (see also Aggadah
Aggadah
Aggadah refers to the homiletic and non-legalistic exegetical texts in the classical rabbinic literature of Judaism, particularly as recorded in the Talmud and Midrash...

), given by God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 to Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

 on Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai , also known as Mount Horeb, Mount Musa, Gabal Musa , Jabal Musa meaning "Moses' Mountain", is a mountain near Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. A mountain called Mount Sinai is mentioned many times in the Book of Exodus in the Torah and the Bible as well as the Quran...

 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, for a few centuries the esoteric knowledge was referred to by its aspect practice—meditation Hitbonenut , Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Nachman of Breslov
Nachman of Breslov , also known as Reb Nachman of Bratslav, Reb Nachman Breslover , Nachman from Uman , was the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement....

's Hitbodedut
Hitbodedut
Hitbodedut refers to an unstructured, spontaneous and individualized form of prayer and meditation taught by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov...

 , translated as "being alone" or "isolating oneself", or by a different term describing the actual, desired goal of the practice—prophecy
Prophecy
Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the...

 ("NeVu’a" ).

During the 5th century BCE, when the works of the Tanakh
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 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
Merkabah
Merkabah is the throne-chariot of God, the four-wheeled vehicle driven by four "chayot" , each of which has four wings and the four faces of a man, lion, ox, and eagle...

  and Ma'aseh B'reshit , 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
Ezekiel
Ezekiel , "God will strengthen" , is the central protagonist of the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Ezekiel is acknowledged as a Hebrew prophet...

 describing his vision of the "Divine Chariot". B'reshit mysticism referred to the first chapter of Genesis  in the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 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.

Mystic elements of the Torah



According to adherents of Kabbalah, its origin begins with secrets that God revealed to Adam. According to a rabbinic midrash God created the universe through the Ten Sefirot. When read by later generations of Kabbalists, the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

s description of the creation in the Book of Genesis reveals mysteries about the godhead itself, the true nature of Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve were, according to the Genesis creation narratives, the first human couple to inhabit Earth, created by YHWH, the God of the ancient Hebrews...

, the Garden of Eden
Garden of Eden
The Garden of Eden is in the Bible's Book of Genesis as being the place where the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, lived after they were created by God. Literally, the Bible speaks about a garden in Eden...

, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
In the Book of Genesis, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or the tree of knowledge was a tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden. . God directly forbade Adam to eat the fruit of this tree...

 and the Tree of Life
Tree of Life
The tree of life in the Book of Genesis is a tree planted by God in midst of the Garden of Eden , whose fruit gives everlasting life, i.e. immortality. Together with the tree of life, God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . According to some scholars, however, these are in fact...

, as well as the interaction of these supernal entities with the Serpent
Serpent (Bible)
Serpent is the term used to translate a variety of words in the Hebrew bible, the most common being , , the generic word for "snake"....

 which leads to disaster when they eat the forbidden fruit
Forbidden fruit
Forbidden fruit is any object of desire whose appeal is a direct result of knowledge that cannot or should not be obtained or something that someone may want but is forbidden to have....

, as recorded in Genesis 2.

The Bible provides ample additional material for mythic and mystical speculation. The prophet Ezekiel
Ezekiel
Ezekiel , "God will strengthen" , is the central protagonist of the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Ezekiel is acknowledged as a Hebrew prophet...

's visions in particular attracted much mystical speculation, as did Isaiah's Temple vision—Isaiah, Ch.6. Jacob
Jacob
Jacob "heel" or "leg-puller"), also later known as Israel , as described in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the New Testament and the Qur'an was the third patriarch of the Hebrew people with whom God made a covenant, and ancestor of the tribes of Israel, which were named after his descendants.In the...

's vision of the ladder to heaven
Jacob's Ladder (Bible)
Jacob's Ladder is a ladder to heaven, described in the Book of Genesis, that the biblical patriarch Jacob dreams about during his flight from his brother Esau.-Source:...

 provided another example of esoteric experience. Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

' encounters with the Burning bush
Burning bush
The burning bush is an object described by the Book of Exodus as being located on Mount Sinai; according to the narrative, the bush was on fire, but was not consumed by the flames, hence the name...

 and God on Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai , also known as Mount Horeb, Mount Musa, Gabal Musa , Jabal Musa meaning "Moses' Mountain", is a mountain near Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. A mountain called Mount Sinai is mentioned many times in the Book of Exodus in the Torah and the Bible as well as the Quran...

 are evidence of mystical events in the Tanakh
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 that form the origin of Jewish mystical beliefs.

The 72 letter name of God
Shemhamphorasch
The Shemhamphorasch is a corruption of the Hebrew term , which was used in tannaitic times to refer to the Tetragrammaton. In early Kabbalah the term was used to designate sometimes a seventy-two Letter name for God, and sometimes a forty two Letter name...

 which is used in Jewish mysticism for meditation purposes is derived from the Hebrew verbal utterance Moses spoke in the presence of an angel, while the Sea of Reeds parted, allowing the Hebrews to escape their approaching attackers. The miracle of the Exodus, which led to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments
Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue , are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and most forms of Christianity. They include instructions to worship only God and to keep the Sabbath, and prohibitions against idolatry,...

 and the Jewish Orthodox view of the acceptance of the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 at Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai , also known as Mount Horeb, Mount Musa, Gabal Musa , Jabal Musa meaning "Moses' Mountain", is a mountain near Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. A mountain called Mount Sinai is mentioned many times in the Book of Exodus in the Torah and the Bible as well as the Quran...

, preceded the creation of the first Jewish nation approximately three hundred years before King Saul
Saul the King
According to the Bible, Saul was the first king of the united Kingdom of Israel. He was anointed by the prophet Samuel and reigned from Gibeah. He commited suicide to avoid arrest in the battle against the Philistines at Mount Gilboa, during which three of his sons were also killed...

.

Mystical doctrines in the Talmudic era


In early rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Talmud...

 (the early centuries of the first millennium CE), the terms Ma'aseh Bereshit ("Works of Creation") and Ma'aseh Merkabah
Merkabah
Merkabah is the throne-chariot of God, the four-wheeled vehicle driven by four "chayot" , each of which has four wings and the four faces of a man, lion, ox, and eagle...

 ("Works of the Divine Throne/Chariot") clearly indicate the Midrash
Midrash
The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

ic nature of these speculations; they are really based upon Genesis 1 and Book of Ezekiel
Book of Ezekiel
The Book of Ezekiel is the third of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and preceding the Book of the Twelve....

 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).

Talmudic doctrine forbade the public teaching of esoteric doctrines and warned of their dangers. In the Mishnah
Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

 (Hagigah 2:1), rabbis were warned to teach the mystical creation doctrines only to one student at a time. To highlight the danger, in one Jewish aggadic
Aggadah
Aggadah refers to the homiletic and non-legalistic exegetical texts in the classical rabbinic literature of Judaism, particularly as recorded in the Talmud and Midrash...

 ("legendary") anecdote, four prominent rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

s of the Mishnaic
Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

 period (1st century CE) are said to have visited the Orchard
Orchard
An orchard is an intentional planting of trees or shrubs that is maintained for food production. Orchards comprise fruit or nut-producing trees which are grown for commercial production. Orchards are also sometimes a feature of large gardens, where they serve an aesthetic as well as a productive...

 (that is, Paradise
Paradise
Paradise is a place in which existence is positive, harmonious and timeless. It is conceptually a counter-image of the miseries of human civilization, and in paradise there is only peace, prosperity, and happiness. Paradise is a place of contentment, but it is not necessarily a land of luxury and...

, pardes, Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

: lit., orchard):
In notable readings of this legend, only Rabbi Akiba was fit to handle the study of mystical doctrines. The Tosafot
Tosafot
The Tosafot or Tosafos are medieval commentaries on the Talmud. They take the form of critical and explanatory glosses, printed, in almost all Talmud editions, on the outer margin and opposite Rashi's notes...

, medieval commentaries on the Talmud, say that the four sages "did not go up literally, but it appeared to them as if they went up". On the other hand, Rabbi Louis Ginzberg
Louis Ginzberg
Rabbi Louis Ginzberg was a Talmudist and leading figure in the Conservative Movement of Judaism of the twentieth century. He was born on November 28, 1873, in Kovno, Lithuania; he died on November 11, 1953, in New York City.-Biographical background:...

, writes in the Jewish Encyclopedia
Jewish Encyclopedia
The Jewish Encyclopedia is an encyclopedia originally published in New York between 1901 and 1906 by Funk and Wagnalls. It contained over 15,000 articles in 12 volumes on the history and then-current state of Judaism and the Jews as of 1901...

 (1901–1906) that the journey to paradise "is to be taken literally and not allegorically". For further analysis, see The Four Who Entered Paradise.

Middle Ages


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" (חסידי אשכנז) 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
Rishonim
"Rishon" redirects here. For the preon model in particle physics, see Harari Rishon Model. For the Israeli town, see Rishon LeZion.Rishonim were the leading Rabbis and Poskim who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries, in the era before the writing of the Shulkhan Arukh and...

 ("Elder Sages") of exoteric Judaism who are known to have been experts in Kabbalah. One of the best known is Nahmanides
Nahmanides
Nahmanides, also known as Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman Girondi, Bonastruc ça Porta and by his acronym Ramban, , was a leading medieval Jewish scholar, Catalan rabbi, philosopher, physician, kabbalist, and biblical commentator.-Name:"Nahmanides" is a Greek-influenced formation meaning "son of Naḥman"...

 (the Ramban) (1194–1270) whose commentary on the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 is considered to be based on Kabbalistic knowledge. Bahya ben Asher
Bahya ben Asher
Bahye ben Asher ibn Halawa also known as Rabbeinu Behaye was a rabbi and scholar of Judaism. He was a commentator on the Hebrew Bible and is noted for introducing Kabbalah into study of the Torah.He is considered by Jewish scholars to be one of the most distinguished of the Biblical exegetes of...

 (the Rabbeinu Behaye) (d. 1340) also combined Torah commentary and Kabbalah. Another was Isaac the Blind
Isaac the Blind
Rabbi Yitzhak Saggi Nehor רַבִּי יִצְחַק סַגִּי נְהוֹר, also known as Isaac the Blind, has the Aramaic epithet "Saggi Nehor" meaning "of Much Light" in the sense of having excellent eyesight, an ironic euphemism for being blind. He was a famous writer on Kabbalah...

 (1160–1235), the teacher of Nahmanides, who is widely argued to have written the first work of classic Kabbalah, the Bahir
Bahir
Bahir or Sefer Ha-Bahir סֵפֶר הַבָּהִיר is an anonymous mystical work, attributed to a 1st century rabbinic sage Nehunya ben ha-Kanah because it begins with the words, "R. Nehunya Ben Ha-Kanah said"...

.

Sefer Bahir and another work, the "Treatise of the Left Emanation", probably composed in Spain by Isaac ben Isaac ha-Kohen, laid the groundwork for the composition of Sefer Zohar, written by Moses de Leon
Moses de Leon
Moses de León , known in Hebrew as Moshe ben Shem-Tov , was a Spanish rabbi and Kabbalist who is thought of as the composer or redactor of the Zohar. It is a matter of controversy if the Zohar is his own work, or that he committed traditions going back to Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai in writing...

 and his mystical circle at the end of the 13th century, but credited to the Talmudic sage Shimon bar Yochai, cf. Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

. The Zohar proved to be the first truly "popular" work of Kabbalah, and the most influential. From the 13th century onward, Kabbalah began to be widely disseminated and it branched out into an extensive literature. Historians in the 19th century, for example, Heinrich Graetz
Heinrich Graetz
Heinrich Graetz was amongst the first historians to write a comprehensive history of the Jewish people from a Jewish perspective....

, argued 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
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

 and his followers. Gershom Scholem
Gershom Scholem
Gerhard Scholem who, after his immigration from Germany to Palestine, changed his name to Gershom Scholem , was a German-born Israeli Jewish philosopher and historian, born and raised in Germany...

 sought to undermine this view as part of his resistance to seeing Kabbalah as merely a response to medieval Jewish rationalism. Arguing for a gnostic influence has to be seen as part of this strategy. More recently, Moshe Idel and Elliot Wolfson have independently argued that the impact of Maimonides can be seen in the change from orality to writing in the 13th century. That is, Kabbalists committed to writing many of their oral traditions in part as a response to the attempt of Maimonides to explain the older esoteric subjects philosophically.

Most Orthodox Jews
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

 reject the idea that Kabbalah underwent significant historical development or change such as has been proposed above. After the composition known as the Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

 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
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

. 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


Following the upheavals and dislocations in the Jewish world as a result of the Spanish Inquisition
Spanish Inquisition
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition , commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition , was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval...

, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and the trauma of Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

 during the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, Jews began to search for signs of when the long-awaited Jewish Messiah
Jewish Messiah
Messiah, ; mashiah, moshiah, mashiach, or moshiach, is a term used in the Hebrew Bible to describe priests and kings, who were traditionally anointed with holy anointing oil as described in Exodus 30:22-25...

 would come to comfort them in their painful exiles. Moses Cordovero
Moses ben Jacob Cordovero
Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, , was a central figure in the historical development of Kabbalah, leader of a mystical school in 16th-century Safed, Israel. He is known by the acronym the Ramak....

 and his immediate circle popularized the teachings of the Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

 which had until then been only a modestly influential work. The author of the Shulkhan Arukh (the Jewish "Code of Law"), Rabbi Yosef Karo
Yosef Karo
Joseph ben Ephraim Karo, also spelled Yosef Caro, or Qaro, was author of the last great codification of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch, which is still authoritative for all Jews pertaining to their respective communities...

 (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
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

 (1534–1572) by his disciples Rabbi Hayim Vital
Hayyim ben Joseph Vital
Hayyim ben Joseph Vital was a rabbi in Safed and the foremost disciple of Isaac Luria. He recorded much of his master's teachings...

 and Rabbi Israel Sarug
Israel Sarug
Israel Sarug Ashkenazi was a pupil of Isaac Luria, and devoted himself at the death of his master to the propagation of the latter's kabalistic system, for which he gained many adherents in various parts of Italy...

, both of whom published Luria's teachings (in variant forms) gaining them widespread popularity. Luria's teachings came to rival the influence of the Zohar and Luria stands, alongside Moses de Leon
Moses de Leon
Moses de León , known in Hebrew as Moshe ben Shem-Tov , was a Spanish rabbi and Kabbalist who is thought of as the composer or redactor of the Zohar. It is a matter of controversy if the Zohar is his own work, or that he committed traditions going back to Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai in writing...

, as the most influential mystic in Jewish history.

Ban on studying Kabbalah


The ban against studying Kabbalah was lifted by the efforts of the 16th century Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Azulai (1570–1643).
The question however is whether the ban ever existed in the first place. Concerning the above quote by Avraham Azulai, it has found many versions in English, another is this
The lines concerning 1490 are also missing from the Hebrew edition of Hesed L'Avraham, the source work that both of these quote from. Furthermore by Azulai's view the ban was lifted thirty years before his birth. A time that would have corresponded with Rabbi Haim Vital's publication of the teaching of Isaac Luria.
Furthermore Rabbi Moshe Isserles only understood there to be a minor restriction, in his words, "One's belly must be full of meat and wine, discerning between the prohibited and the permitted." He is supported by the Bier Hetiv, the Pithei Teshuva as well as the Vilna Gaon. The Vilna Gaon says,
Thus leaving the existence of a ban to be highly debated.

Sefardi and Mizrahi


The Kabbalah of the Sefardi (Portuguese or Spanish) and Mizrahi (Middle East, North Africa, and the Caucasus) 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
Safed
Safed , is a city in the Northern District of Israel. Located at an elevation of , Safed is the highest city in the Galilee and of Israel. Due to its high elevation, Safed experiences warm summers and cold, often snowy, winters...

), Israel even before the arrival of Isaac Luria, its most famous resident. The great Yosef Karo
Yosef Karo
Joseph ben Ephraim Karo, also spelled Yosef Caro, or Qaro, was author of the last great codification of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch, which is still authoritative for all Jews pertaining to their respective communities...

, author of the Shulchan Arukh was part of the Tzfat school of Kabbalah. Shlomo Alkabetz, author of the famous hymn Lekhah Dodi
Lekhah Dodi
Lekhah Dodi is a Hebrew-language Jewish liturgical song recited Friday at dusk, usually at sundown, in synagogue to welcome Shabbat prior to the Maariv...

, taught there.

His disciple Moses ben Jacob Cordovero
Moses ben Jacob Cordovero
Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, , was a central figure in the historical development of Kabbalah, leader of a mystical school in 16th-century Safed, Israel. He is known by the acronym the Ramak....

 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
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

, 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.

Maharal



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
Judah Loew ben Bezalel
Judah Loew ben Bezalel, alt. Loewe, Löwe, or Levai, widely known to scholars of Judaism as the Maharal of Prague, or simply The MaHaRaL, the Hebrew acronym of "Moreinu ha-Rav Loew," was an important Talmudic scholar, Jewish mystic, and philosopher who served as a leading rabbi in the city of...

 (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
Golem
In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being, created entirely from inanimate matter. The word was used to mean an amorphous, unformed material in Psalms and medieval writing....

 of Prague, which he reportedly created. During the 20th century, Rabbi Isaac Hutner (1906–1980) continued to spread the Maharal teachings indirectly through his own teachings and scholarly publications within the modern yeshiva
Yeshiva
Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim and in study pairs called chavrutas...

 world.

Failure of Sabbatian Mysticism


The spiritual and mystical yearnings of many Jews remained frustrated after the death of Rabbi Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

 and his disciples and colleagues. No hope was in sight for many following the devastation and mass killings of the pogrom
Pogrom
A pogrom is a form of violent riot, a mob attack directed against a minority group, and characterized by killings and destruction of their homes and properties, businesses, and religious centres...

s 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
Sabbatai Zevi
Sabbatai Zevi, , was a Sephardic Rabbi and kabbalist who claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He was the founder of the Jewish Sabbatean movement...

 (1626–1676) captured the hearts and minds of the Jewish masses of that time with the promise of a newly minted "Messianic" Millennialism
Millennialism
Millennialism , or chiliasm in Greek, is a belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which "Christ will reign" for 1000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state...

 in the form of his own personage.

His charisma, mystical teachings that included repeated pronunciations of the holy Tetragrammaton
Tetragrammaton
The term Tetragrammaton refers to the name of the God of Israel YHWH used in the Hebrew Bible.-Hebrew Bible:...

 in public, tied to an unstable personality, and with the help of his own "prophet" Nathan of Gaza
Nathan of Gaza
Nathan Benjamin ben Elisha ha-Levi Ghazzati or Nathan of Gaza was a theologian and author of Hemdat Yamim, born in Jerusalem, then in the Ottoman Empire, who became famous as a prophet for the alleged messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.-Biography:...

, convinced the Jewish masses that the "Jewish Messiah
Jewish Messiah
Messiah, ; mashiah, moshiah, mashiach, or moshiach, is a term used in the Hebrew Bible to describe priests and kings, who were traditionally anointed with holy anointing oil as described in Exodus 30:22-25...

" 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
Apostasy
Apostasy , 'a defection or revolt', from ἀπό, apo, 'away, apart', στάσις, stasis, 'stand, 'standing') is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday...

 to Judaism by converting to Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 after he was arrested by the Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 Sultan
Sultan
Sultan is a title with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", and "dictatorship", derived from the masdar سلطة , meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who...

 and threatened with execution for attempting a plan to conquer the world and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem
Temple in Jerusalem
The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple , refers to one of a series of structures which were historically located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the current site of the Dome of the Rock. Historically, these successive temples stood at this location and functioned as the centre of...

.

Many of his followers, known as Sabbatians, continued to worship him in secret, explaining his conversion not as an effort to save his life but to recover the sparks of the holy in each religion, and most leading rabbis were always on guard to root them out. The Donmeh
Donmeh
Note: Most Sabbateans during and after Sabbatai Zevi were Jews and practiced only Judaism, whereas the Dönmeh officially practice/d Islam and are not regarded as Jews....

 movement in modern Turkey is a surviving remnant of the Sabbatian schism.

Due to the chaos caused in the Jewish world, the Rabbinic prohibition against studying Kabbalah was well intact again, and established itself firmly within the Jewish religion. One of the conditions allowing a man to study and engage himself in the Kabbalah was to be of age forty. This age requirement came about during this period and is not Talmudic in origin but Rabbinic. Many Jews are familiar with this ruling, but are not aware of its origins. Moreover, the prohibition is not halakhic in nature. According to Moses Cordovero, halakhically, one must be of age twenty to engage in the Kabbalah. Many famous Kabbalists, including the ARI, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, were younger than twenty when they began.

Frankists


The Sabbatian movement was followed by that of the "Frankists" who were disciples of another pseudo-mystic Jacob Frank
Jacob Frank
Jacob Frank was an 18th century Jewish religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi and also of the biblical patriarch Jacob...

 (1726–1791) who eventually became an apostate to Judaism by apparently converting to Catholicism
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

. This era of disappointment did not stem the Jewish masses' yearnings for "mystical" leadership.

1700s




The 18th century saw an explosion of new efforts in the writing and spread of Kabbalah by four well known rabbis working in different areas of Europe:
  • Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760) in the area of Ukraine
    Ukraine
    Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

     spread teachings based on Rabbi Isaac Luria
    Isaac Luria
    Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

    's foundations, simplifying the Kabbalah for the common man. From him sprang the vast ongoing schools of Hasidic Judaism
    Hasidic Judaism
    Hasidic Judaism or Hasidism, from the Hebrew —Ḥasidut in Sephardi, Chasidus in Ashkenazi, meaning "piety" , is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through the popularisation and internalisation of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspects of the Jewish faith...

    , with each successive rebbe
    Rebbe
    Rebbe , which means master, teacher, or mentor, is a Yiddish word derived from the Hebrew word Rabbi. It often refers to the leader of a Hasidic Jewish movement...

     viewed by his "Hasidim" as continuing the role of dispenser of mystical divine blessings and guidance.
  • Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
    Nachman of Breslov
    Nachman of Breslov , also known as Reb Nachman of Bratslav, Reb Nachman Breslover , Nachman from Uman , was the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement....

     (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
    Ukraine
    Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

    , Belarus
    Belarus
    Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

    , Lithuania
    Lithuania
    Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

     and Poland. In a unique amalgam of Hasidic and Mitnagid approaches, Rebbe Nachman emphasized study of both Kabbalah and serious Torah scholarship to his disciples. His teachings also differed from the way other Hasidic groups were developing, as he rejected the idea of hereditary Hasidic dynasties and taught that each Hasid must "search for the tzaddik ('saintly/righteous person')" for himself—and within himself.
  • Rabbi Elijah of Vilna
    Vilna Gaon
    Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon or Elijah of Vilna and simply by his Hebrew acronym Gra or Elijah Ben Solomon, , was a Talmudist, halachist, kabbalist, and the foremost leader of non-hasidic Jewry of the past few centuries...

     (Vilna Gaon
    Vilna Gaon
    Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon or Elijah of Vilna and simply by his Hebrew acronym Gra or Elijah Ben Solomon, , was a Talmudist, halachist, kabbalist, and the foremost leader of non-hasidic Jewry of the past few centuries...

    ) (1720–1797), based in Lithuania
    Lithuania
    Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

    , had his teachings encoded and publicized by his disciples such as by Rabbi Chaim Volozhin
    Chaim Volozhin
    Chaim Volozhin was an Orthodox rabbi, Talmudist, and ethicist. Popularly known as "Reb Chaim Volozhiner" or simply as "Reb Chaim", he was born in Volozhin when it was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

     who published the mystical-ethical work Nefesh HaChaim. However, he was staunchly opposed to the new Hasidic movement and warned against their public displays of religious fervour inspired by the mystical teachings of their rabbis. Although the Vilna Gaon was not in favor of the Hasidic movement, he did not prohibit the study and engagement in the Kabbalah. This is evident from his writings in the Even Shlema. "He that is able to understand secrets of the Torah and does not try to understand them will be judged harshly, may God have mercy". (The Vilna Gaon, Even Shlema, 8:24). "The Redemption will only come about through learning Torah, and the essence of the Redemption depends upon learning Kabbalah" (The Vilna Gaon, Even Shlema, 11:3).
  • Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
    Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
    Moshe Chaim Luzzatto , also known by the Hebrew acronym RaMCHaL , was a prominent Italian Jewish rabbi, kabbalist, and philosopher.-Padua:Born in Padua at night, he received classical Jewish and Italian educations, showing a...

     (1707–1746), based in Italy, was a precocious Talmud
    Talmud
    The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

    ic scholar who arrived at the startling conclusion that there was a need for the public teaching and study of Kabbalah. He established a yeshiva
    Yeshiva
    Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim and in study pairs called chavrutas...

     for Kabbalah study and actively recruited outstanding students and, in addition, wrote copious manuscripts in an appealing clear Hebrew
    Hebrew language
    Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

     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
    Land of Israel
    The Land of Israel is the Biblical name for the territory roughly corresponding to the area encompassed by the Southern Levant, also known as Canaan and Palestine, Promised Land and Holy Land. The belief that the area is a God-given homeland of the Jewish people is based on the narrative of the...

    . Some of his most important works such as Derekh Hashem
    Derekh Hashem
    Derech HaShem is a philosophical text written in the 1730s by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. It systematizes the basic principles of Jewish belief regarding the existence of God, God's purpose in creation, and the logical consequence of other concepts in Judaism.Presented from a Kabbalistic...

     survive and are used as a gateway to the world of Jewish mysticism.

Orthodox



One of the most influential sources spreading Kabbalistic teachings have come from the massive growth and spread of Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism or Hasidism, from the Hebrew —Ḥasidut in Sephardi, Chasidus in Ashkenazi, meaning "piety" , is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through the popularisation and internalisation of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspects of the Jewish faith...

, a movement begun by Yisroel ben Eliezer (The Baal Shem Tov)
Yisroel ben Eliezer (The Baal Shem Tov)
Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer , often called Baal Shem Tov or Besht, was a Jewish mystical rabbi...

, but continued in many branches and streams until today. These groups differ greatly in size, but all emphasize the study of mystical Hasidic texts
Hasidic philosophy
Hasidic philosophy or Hasidus , alternatively transliterated as Hassidism, Chassidism, Chassidut etc. is the teachings, interpretations of Judaism, and mysticism articulated by the modern Hasidic movement...

, 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
Chabad-Lubavitch
Chabad-Lubavitch is a Chasidic movement in Orthodox Judaism. One of the world's larger and best-known Chasidic movements, its official headquarters is in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York...

 movement, whose Rebbe
Rebbe
Rebbe , which means master, teacher, or mentor, is a Yiddish word derived from the Hebrew word Rabbi. It often refers to the leader of a Hasidic Jewish movement...

s delivered tens of thousands of discourses, and whose students study these texts for three hours daily.

Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn
Shmuel Schneersohn
Shmuel Schneersohn was an Orthodox rabbi and the fourth Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch chasidic movement.-Biography:...

 of Lubavitch urged the study of Kabbalah as prerequisite for one's humanity:
The writings of Rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

 Abraham Isaac Kook
Abraham Isaac Kook
Abraham Isaac Kook was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine, the founder of the Religious Zionist Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav, Jewish thinker, Halachist, Kabbalist and a renowned Torah scholar...

 (1864–1935) also stress Kabbalistic themes:

Bnei Baruch


Bnei Baruch is a group of Kabbalah students, based in Israel. Study materials are available in over 25 languages.
Michael Laitman established Bnei Baruch in 1991, following the passing of his teacher, Baruch Ashlag
Baruch Ashlag
Rabbi Baruch Shalom HaLevi Ashlag a Kabbalist, the firstborn and successor of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, author of "The Sulam" commentary on the Zohar...

. Laitman named his group Bnei Baruch (sons of Baruch) to commemorate the memory of his mentor. Baruch Ashlag was the oldest son and successor of the famous Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag
Yehuda Ashlag
Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag or Yehuda Leib Ha-Levi Ashlag also known as the Baal Ha-Sulam in reference to his magnum opus, was an orthodox rabbi and kabbalist born in Łódź, Congress Poland, Russian Empire, to a family of scholars connected to the Hasidic courts of Porisov and Belz...

, who was author of a comprehensive commentary on The Book of Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

 called The Sulam Commentary (The Ladder Commentary).

Kabbalah Centre


The Kabbalah Centre was founded in the United States in 1965 as The National Research Institute of Kabbalah by Philip Berg
Philip Berg
Philip S. Berg is an American rabbi and current Dean of the worldwide Kabbalah Centre organization.Having written a number of books on the subject of Kabbalah, Berg believes that the philosophy should not be taught exclusively to a select few Jewish scholars but become a shared wealth of practical...

 (born Feivel Gruberger) and Rav Yehuda Tzvi Brandwein. After Brandwein's death, and after several years in Israel, Philip Berg and his wife Karen Berg
Karen Berg
Karen Berg is the co-founder of the modern Kabbalah Centre, along with her husband, Philip Berg. She is the mother of Yehuda Berg and Michael Berg.-References:*Article by Daphne Merkin- http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/13/magazine/13kabbalah-t.html...

, re-established the U.S. Kabbalah Centre in New York City.

Personalities in Kabbalah



Historical
  • Abraham Abulafia
    Abraham Abulafia
    Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia , the founder of the school of "Prophetic Kabbalah", was born in Zaragoza, Spain, in 1240, and died sometime after 1291, in Comino, Maltese archipelago.-Early life and travels:...

  • Abraham Azulai
    Abraham Azulai
    Abraham ben Mordecai Azulai was a Kabbalistic author and commentator born in Fes, Morocco. In 1599 he moved to Palestine and settled in Hebron....

  • Baba Sali
    Baba Sali
    After this incident, the Jewish population of Tafilalt fled to the nearby city of Arfoud, and then to the city of Boudnib. In Bodniv, Rabbi Yisrael was asked to succeed his brother as rav, but he refused. He wanted to travel to Palestine to print his brother's sefarim...

  • Baruch Ashlag
    Baruch Ashlag
    Rabbi Baruch Shalom HaLevi Ashlag a Kabbalist, the firstborn and successor of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, author of "The Sulam" commentary on the Zohar...

  • Chaim Vital
  • Elijah ben Solomon

  • Israel ben Eliezer
  • Isaac Luria
    Isaac Luria
    Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

  • Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla
    Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla
    Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla was a Spanish kabbalist, student of Abraham Abulafia.-Biography:Born at Medinaceli, Old Castile, Gikatilla was for some time a pupil of the kabbalist Abraham Abulafia, by whom he is highly praised; his kabbalistic knowledge became so profound that he was supposed to...

  • Meir ben Ezekiel ibn Gabbai
    Meir ben Ezekiel ibn Gabbai
    Meir ben Ezekiel ibn Gabbai was a Kabbalist born in Spain toward the end of 1480, and living probably in the East....

  • Menachem Mendel Schneerson
    Menachem Mendel Schneerson
    Menachem Mendel Schneerson , known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe or just the Rebbe among his followers, was a prominent Hasidic rabbi who was the seventh and last Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He was fifth in a direct paternal line to the third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Menachem Mendel...

  • Moses ben Jacob Cordovero
    Moses ben Jacob Cordovero
    Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, , was a central figure in the historical development of Kabbalah, leader of a mystical school in 16th-century Safed, Israel. He is known by the acronym the Ramak....

  • Moses de Leon
    Moses de Leon
    Moses de León , known in Hebrew as Moshe ben Shem-Tov , was a Spanish rabbi and Kabbalist who is thought of as the composer or redactor of the Zohar. It is a matter of controversy if the Zohar is his own work, or that he committed traditions going back to Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai in writing...


  • Nathan Adler
    Nathan Adler
    Nathan HaKohen Adler was a German kabbalist born in Frankfurt, December 16, 1741. As a precocious child he won the admiration of Chaim Joseph David Azulai , who, in 1752, came to Frankfurt to solicit contributions for the poor of Palestine...

  • Simeon bar Yohai
    Simeon bar Yohai
    Simeon bar Yochai, , also known by his acronym Rashbi, was a famous 1st-century tannaic sage in ancient Israel, active after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE...

  • Solomon ibn Gabirol
    Solomon ibn Gabirol
    Solomon ibn Gabirol, also Solomon ben Judah , was an Andalucian Hebrew poet and Jewish philosopher with a Neoplatonic bent. He was born in Málaga about 1021; died about 1058 in Valencia.-Biography:...

  • Yehuda Ashlag
    Yehuda Ashlag
    Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag or Yehuda Leib Ha-Levi Ashlag also known as the Baal Ha-Sulam in reference to his magnum opus, was an orthodox rabbi and kabbalist born in Łódź, Congress Poland, Russian Empire, to a family of scholars connected to the Hasidic courts of Porisov and Belz...

  • Yitzchak Kaduri
    Yitzchak Kaduri
    Yitzhak Kaduri, also spelled Kadouri, Kadourie, Kedourie; "Yitzhak" also spelled Yitzchak , was a renowned Mizrahi Haredi rabbi and kabbalist who devoted his life to Torah study and prayer on behalf of the Jewish people. He taught and practiced the kavanot of the Rashash...

  • Yosef Karo
    Yosef Karo
    Joseph ben Ephraim Karo, also spelled Yosef Caro, or Qaro, was author of the last great codification of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch, which is still authoritative for all Jews pertaining to their respective communities...



Contemporary
  • Samuel Ben-Or Avital
  • Aryeh Kaplan
    Aryeh Kaplan
    Aryeh Moshe Eliyahu Kaplan was a noted American Orthodox rabbi and author known for his "intimate knowledge of both physics and kabbalah." He was lauded as an original thinker and prolific writer, from studies of the Torah, Talmud and mysticism to introductory pamphlets on Jewish beliefs and...

  • Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
    Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
    Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi and commonly called "Reb Zalman" is considered one of the major founders of the Jewish Renewal movement.-Early life:...

  • Adin Steinsaltz
    Adin Steinsaltz
    Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz or Adin Even Yisrael is a teacher, philosopher, social critic, and spiritual mentor, who has been hailed by Time magazine as a "once-in-a-millennium scholar". He has devoted his life to making the Talmud accessible to all Jews...


See also


  • Christian Knorr von Rosenroth
    Christian Knorr von Rosenroth
    Christian Knorr von Rosenroth was a German Hebraist born at Alt-Raudten, today Stara Rudna in Silesia. After having completed his studies in the universities of Wittenberg and Leipzig, he traveled through Holland, France, and England.On his return he settled at Sulzbach and devoted himself to the...

      Christian Hebraist
    Christian Hebraist
    A Christian Hebraist is a scholar of Hebrew who comes from a Christian family background/belief, or is a Jewish adherent of Christianity. The main area of study is that commonly known as the Old Testament to Christians , but Christians have occasionally taken an interest in the Talmud, and...

    , author of the Kabbala Denudata, or Kabbala Unveiled
  • Donmeh West
    Donmeh West
    Dönmeh West is a non-sectarian, international organization which promotes an original reformulation of Sabbatean and Frankist kabbalah by its founder and leader, Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain...

  • Emanation (Eastern Orthodox Christianity)
    Emanation (Eastern Orthodox Christianity)
    Emanation is a belief, found in Neoplatonism, that the cause of certain beings or states of being consists of an overflow from the essence of God or other higher spiritual beings, as opposed to a special act of creation...

  • Hermetic Qabalah
    Hermetic Qabalah
    Hermetic Qabalah is a Western esoteric and mystical tradition...

  • Practical Kabbalah
  • Three hares
    Three hares
    The three hares is a circular motif appearing in sacred sites from the Middle and Far East to the churches of southwest England , and historical synagogues in Europe....

  • History of the Jews in Spain
    History of the Jews in Spain
    Spanish Jews once constituted one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities under Muslim and Christian rule in Spain, before the majority, together with resident Muslims, were forced to convert to Catholicism, be expelled or be killed when Spain became united under the Catholic Monarchs...


External links


General information sites

Lists of Kabbalah terms

Kabbalah study groups

Online rabbinic Kabbalah texts

Jewish sites - Liberal

Jewish sites - Orthodox

Online Hasidic Kabbalah texts

Jewish criticisms of Kabbalah

Other