To people of the Jewish faith, what do you think of Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism?

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I’ve been looking into it lately and I find it quite interesting. What do you think of it? Is that kind of stuff an important part of your faith in your opinion?

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Convert Ruth Asher

answer: starring for my Jewish contacts, my friend.
I do know there is a bit of difference between what is popular and traditional Kabbalah. If you have to pay for lessons or $19.99 for a red string to tie around your wrist – it’s not traditional Kabbalah.

Steven שמואל

It’s a school of Jewish Thought that developed an interesting way of looking at the world and God, It was popular in the 1500’s. It’s based on the “Zohar,” a book (supposedly) written by the Amora R’ Shimon bar Yochai.
It’s very complicated, and often misunderstood. It requires looking at things from a whole new perspective, and most people can’t do that. There’s a reason why only a few great rabbis ever mastered it.
Impact on my Faith: Well, it definitely impacts my life, b/c more than a few concepts in Kabbalah were integrated into the daily Halakha and prayers. However, I don’t plan on studying it anytime soon, if ever, for the above reasons. My Rosh Yeshiva (=basically, head rabbi) tried studying it, but didn’t really understand it, and stopped. He’s ALOT smarter than I am, and if he didn’t get it, I won’t stand a chance. Besides, I’m more of a rationalist, and mysticism doesn’t really speak to me. So I guess Kabbalah isn’t really an important part of my personal faith.
(Allon-Yoav has studied some Kabbalah, and will probably give you an interesting answer. Here’s a link to a blog post he’s written on it – http://marcl1969.wordpress.com/2009/02/02/kabbalah-misunderstood-mysticism/
Here’s a quote from that post:
“There is only one way to learn genuine Kabbalah- and that requires years of preparation before you will be ready- and then you may well find that while it is interesting to contemplate studying it, it is not necessary. this is where I am sitting now- I have read enough hints in the writings of Rambam, Ramban and the Kli Yakar in their open writings to know that Kabbalah is interesting, that it will enhance my study of the Torah- but at the same time, I am not ready for it. There are still vast areas of Halachah I need to study and understand before I delve into areas that, while interesting, are not essential to my ability to serve Hashem or to carry out the mitzvot in the Torah.”)
[Sidept: Madonna “Kabbalah” has impacted my faith – in the human race. People are really gullible, and like to follow whatever fad happens to make them feel good, no matter how BS it is. It’s amazing.]

allonyoav

Is Kabbalah intersting? Sure- the new and different is always interesting; and Kabbalah contains a lot of ideas that are intriguing and attractive to want to study. But that in itself is why it should be avoided until you have studied everything else. Whats everything else? The Halachah- the law that is actually required to live our lives.
Think of it this way- a doctor goes off to study medicine. This person is fascinated with the brain, he finds that the most interesting part of the body. However, when he starts studying first he has to study the foundations, how everything works as a whole, how to look after the entire body. He cannot just study the brain- it is affected by the rest iof the body; some symptom may be manifesting in the brain which is actually from elsewhere. To be a good doctor, first he has to study the entire body- and only after he is a generalist, does he specialise in neurology.
Similarly, in Judaism we need to study how the body works, what is needed for life- in other words, we need to study the entire Halachah so that we can make sure to nourish and sustain the brain (i.e. the soul) appropriately. Only after we know the halachah can we go onto the mors interesting stuff. In the term sof the analogy used- all Jews need to be general practitioners i.e. know the halachah- only a few need to be neurologists and study the esoterica.
So, is it important to know? Not really; it is nice to know some of the things, it does help to explain things in some cases where they are confusing, but it is generally in the realm of “nice to know” rather than “have to know”. The ideas and protrayal of the Kabbalah in the media and general press are so far from accurate as to make them meaningless. They are driven out by the variuous charlatans and the distorted view cast on it through medieval “magicians” claiming that Kabba;ah was the source of knowledge for magick and for knowing how to summon demons. It isn’t- that kind of belief is nonsense but the idea of spiritual power is what the cults like the Berg’s “Kabbalah centre” rely on to drive marks to their doors. To lesser extent Michael Laitman trades on this kind of mythology, trying to claim it is a “spiritual science”- but either way the essence of the Kabbalh is missed, and that can be simply put as “an additional way to study and understand the Torah through the hidden meanings.
Note: The Zohar is the best known book of Kabbalah but is not the earliest. The earliest Kabbalistic bok is generally seen as Sefer Yetsirah whose authorship is credited to Avraham. Another book that precedes the Zohar is Sefer BeHar (not sure who its authorship is credited to though). There is also a view expressed by some of the meforshim that the book of Iyov (Job) is not literal but purely a Kabbalaistic allegory to the process that the soul goes through after death (and the authorship of Iyov is highly debated- anywhere from Avraham up to the time of the Babylonian exile is proposed and discussed in masechta Bava Basra daf 15)
Thanks to Steve for posting the link to my blog- it does expand on some of the things I have stated here.

Jonathan H

Chances are whatever you have been looking into isn’t actually Kabbalah. You’ve probably been looking up about Hollywood Kabbalah (i.e. what Madonna does) which is as close to actual Kabbalah is as the moon is to the sun.
Kabbalah is in fact not ‘mysticism’, the explanation is very simple if someone were to actually explain it to you. I’ll try and explain it in order to help you understand, kindly bear with the lengthy explanation and read it through to the end.
The Torah is the word of G-d written down, but there are 4 primary ways to learn it:
The first, and simplest, level is “Peshat”, which is a bare understanding of the text. The Torah is a story, understanding and knowing that story is the Peshat.
The second level, which requires complete understanding of the first level in order to properly understand, is “Remez”. Remez means “hints”, since everything in the Oral Torah is considered to be hinted at somewhere in the Written Torah, the remez level is to understand *where” those hints are and what they hint at. This is essentially a complete understanding of the Talmud in order to master.
The third level, which requires mastery of both first and second levels in order to properly understand, is “Darash”, literally, “to inquire”, the deeper meaning. This is like Peshat, but a far deeper analysis including one’s knowledge of the hints. It is asking, why is this word used here next to that word, why not these other words, what is the difference, why is this non-chronological story next to that other one, why are the same words used here and there, etc. Complete mastery is dependent on mastery of the first two levels.
The forth level is “Sod”, which means “secret”, though sometimes translated as “mystical”. To properly begin to even try and truly understand this level requires mastery of the first three, which is why it is generally not taught to anyone under 40 since they won’t likely have had enough time to master the first three levels yet. Since at this level the concepts involved are incredibly difficult to explain, allegories are used. Many of these allegories are listed in the Zohar, the core text of Kabbalah. If you read them, you may get a moral at the end, but you haven’t truly understood it for what it was.
To understand the depths of that 4th level, this is a recorded story of 4 of the greatest Rabbis from around the year 0 (BCE/CE). It starts saying that these four had gone in to a cave to try and master the 4th level, “Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher (Elisha ben Abuyah), and Akiba. Ben Azzai looked and died; Ben Zoma looked and went mad; Acher destroyed the plants; Akiba entered in peace and departed in peace.”
Only one out of those four big Rabbis was able to handle the concepts properly, what they tried to do was learn Kabbalah. Sure, if you read the same stories and texts and heard the same explanations, you almost certainly wouldn’t go insane or die. You also wouldn’t likely have actually studied Kabbalah. Without understanding the other levels, learning Kabbalah is like teaching calculus to a third grader. They might understand how to write some answers correctly, but they’ll have no understanding of the actual meanings, its uses, or anything else that lead up to it which you need in order to perform calculus.
As for whether or not its an important part of my faith, that would depend on how you mean ‘faith’. If you mean ‘faith’ as in my belief in G-d, then since I haven’t truly studied it in any fully comprehensive way, it hasn’t had much of an effect. Clearly the concepts where so powerful that they killed one big Rabbi and made another go insane, so the effect it may have on one’s mind as a whole, including one’s faith in G-d, may be rather extensive. If you mean ‘faith’ as in the religion as a whole, then yes, it is important to the religion. It is the deepest level of understanding for the Torah, whether I know it personally or not, it is a very important aspect of Torah knowledge, the learning of which is supposed to be a continual goal for all Jews.

Ch✡ya

The reason I study Torah is for it’s own sake. Because one loves Hashem and wants to be closer. Kabbalah I study because I know Torah and would like to be able to receive revelation and power to change things, make the world a better place.
The world’s greatest Kabbalists died before they were even 40, and none were women. So, each generation interprets Torah for that generation. If you don’t know Kabbalah you can’t do that (but obviously Torah is first).
We are commanded to learn as much as we can. If you don’t have light from Above, then you’ll be content with shoes that don’t fit and clothes from the 18th Century metaphorically speaking. I am happy to say that women are now reading, receiving and translating Torah as well as men.
Books that pre-date the Zohar are the Bahir and Sefir Yetzirah. Some say those books/that knowledge was transmitted orally from Adam down through Abraham, Moses, etc.
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (the Ramchal) wrote stair step books to introduce people gradually to the Kabbalah of the Ari’zal. A good place to start is Derech Hashem, the Way of God. It is very good as introduction to Kabbalah and Torah. It explains from a Jewish perspective who is G-d, how things work in the heavens, and what are people and why are we here — things I wanted to know when I was 19.
Shalom and Blessings

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