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 Jewish philosophy (hakira) as the mainstream traditional Jewish theology, both in scholarly circles and in the popular imagination.
With the arrival of modernity, through the influence of haskalah, this has changed among non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, although its 20th-century academic study and cross-denominational spiritual applications has reawakened a following beyond Orthodoxy.
Scholars dispute whether the term “kabbalah” originated with the Jewish philosopher Solomon Gabirol (1021–1058) or with the 13th-century Spanish kabbalist Bahya ben Asher.
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.
Jewish mystical literature, which served as the basis for the development of kabbalistic thought, developed through a theological tradition inherent in Judaism from Antiquity, as part of wider Rabbinic literature. Its theoretical development can be characterised in alternative schools and successive stages.
After the Hebrew Bible experience of prophecy, the first documented schools of specifically mystical theory and method in Judaism are found in the 1st and 2nd centuries, described in the heichalot (supernal “palaces”) texts and the earliest existent book on Jewish esotericism, Sefer Yetzirah.
Their method, known as Merkabah (contemplation of the Divine “Chariot”) mysticism lasted until the 10th century, where it was subsumed by the Medieval doctrinal emergence of the Kabbalah in southwestern Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Its teachings, embodied in the Zohar, became the foundation of later Jewish mysticism, becoming re-interpreted in the early-modern developments of 16th-century Safed in the Galilee, through the new system of Isaac Luria.
Lurianic Kabbalah became popularised as a social mysticism for the whole Jewish community through 18th-century Hasidism in eastern Europe, and its new notions of mystical leadership.
Modern academic-historical study of Jewish mysticism reserves the term “kabbalah” to designate the particular, distinctive doctrines that textually emerged fully expressed in the Middle Ages, as distinct from the earlier Merkabah mystical concepts and methods.
According to this descriptive categorisation, both versions of Kabbalistic theory, the medieval-Zoharic and the early-modern Lurianic together comprise the theosophical tradition in Kabbalah, while the meditative-ecstatic Kabbalah incorporates a parallel inter-related Medieval tradition. A third tradition, related but more shunned, involves the magical aims of Practical Kabbalah.
Moshe Idel, for example, writes that these 3 basic models can be discerned operating and competing throughout the whole history of Jewish mysticism, beyond the particular Kabbalistic background of the Middle Ages. They can be readily distinguished by their basic intent with respect to God:
The Theosophical tradition of Theoretical Kabbalah (the main focus of the Zohar and Luria) seeks to understand and describe the divine realm. As an alternative to rationalist Jewish philosophy, particularly Maimonides’ Aristotelianism, this speculation became the central component of Kabbalah.
The Ecstatic tradition of Meditative Kabbalah (exemplified by Abulafia and Isaac of Acre) strives to achieve a mystical union with God. Abraham Abulafia’s “Prophetic Kabbalah” was the supreme example of this, though marginal in Kabbalistic development, and his alternative to the program of theosophical Kabbalah
The Magico-theurgical tradition of Practical Kabbalah (in often unpublished manuscripts) endeavours to alter both the Divine realms and the World. While some interpretations of prayer see its role as manipulating heavenly forces, Practical Kabbalah properly involved white-magical acts, and was censored by kabbalists for only those completely pure of intent. Consequently it formed a separate minor tradition shunned from Kabbalah
According to traditional belief, early kabbalistic knowledge was transmitted orally by the Patriarchs, prophets, and sages (hakhamim in Hebrew), eventually to be “interwoven” into Jewish religious writings and culture.
According to this view, early 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 Sanhendrin) 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 of the Jewish diaspora, unsupervised and unguided by the masters, might lead them into wrong practice and forbidden ways.
As a result, the kabbalah became secretive, forbidden and esoteric to Judaism 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.
Today, authorities try to narrow the scope and diversity within kabbalah, by restricting study to certain texts, notably Zohar and the teachings of Isaac Luria as passed down through Hayyim ben Joseph Vital.
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 Gershom Scholem, 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.
From the Renaissance onwards Jewish Kabbalah texts entered non-Jewish culture, where they were studied and translated by Christian Hebraists and Hermetic occultists.
Following the Assyrian captivity of Israel, the southern kingdom of Judah adopted the pagan rituals and traditions of the heathen nation of ancient which included human sacrifice. For 40 years, Jeremiah forewarned the Jews of God’s anger and impending wrath, to no avail.
The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in three stages, from 605 to 586 B.C., in which year the Temple of Solomon was demolished and the remaining Jews were carried into captivity.
Does this not echo warnings of the New World Order the truth community to the world today?
During the Babylonian captivity, the prophet Ezekiel continued to reprove Judah for its apostasy from the God of Israel and their love affair with Babylon. “… [Jerusalem] increased her whoredoms: for when she saw men pourtrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldeans pourtrayed with vermilion, Girded with girdles upon their loins, exceeding in dyed attire upon their heads, all of them princes to look to, after the manner of the Babylonians of Chaldea, the land of their nativity:
And as soon as she saw them with her eyes, she doted upon them, and sent messengers unto them into Chaldea. And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoredom, and she was polluted with them, and her mind was alienated from them.
So she discovered her whoredoms, and discovered her nakedness: then my mind was alienated from her…”
(Ezek. 23:14 -18) The kingdom of Judah patterned its own worship after the pomp and pageantry of the Babylonians with whom they had become enamored: “Thus she increased her whoredoms; she fell in love, fell in league, with the Chaldeans.”
Hezekiah himself was faulty this way when he was proud of the court which the king of Babylon made to him and complimented his ambassadors with the sight of all his treasures, Isa. 39:2.
And the humour increased. She doted upon the pictures of the Babylonian captains, joined in alliance with that kingdom, invited them to come and settle in Jerusalem, that they might refine the genius of the Jewish nation and make it more polite; nay, they sent for patterns of their images, altars, and temples, and made use of them in their worship.
Thus was she polluted with her whoredoms and thereby she discovered her own whoredom, her own strong inclination to idolatry.”
According to two authoritative sources, H.P. Blavatsky and the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Jews also acquired from the Chaldeans their doctrines of Eastern mysticism.
These were later developed into a written compendium of esoteric literature known as the Jewish Qabbalah or Kabalah, and in the Middle Ages as the Latin Cabala. “Kabalah (Heb.) The hidden wisdom of the Hebrew Rabbis of the middle ages derived from the older secret doctrines concerning divine things and cosmogony, which were combined into a theology after the time of the captivity of the Jews in Babylon.
All the works that fall under the esoteric category are termed Kabalistic.” (Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary, p. 168)
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