"Kabbalah" is the traditional and most commonly used term for the esoteric teachings of Judaism and for Jewish mysticism, especially the forms which it assumed in the Middle Ages from the 12th century onward. In its wider sense it signifies all the successive esoteric movements in Judaism that evolved from the end of the period of the Second Temple. Kabbalah became to a large extent an esoteric doctrine. . . . By its very nature, mysticism is knowledge that cannot be communicated directly but may be expressed only through symbol and metaphor. Esoteric knowledge, however, in theory can be transmitted, but those who possess it are either forbidden to pass it on or do not wish to do so. The kabbalists stressed this esoteric aspect by imposing all kinds of limitations on the propagation of their teachings, either with regard to the age of the initiates, the ethical qualities required of them, or the number of students before whom these teachings could be expounded. . . . Often these limitations were disregarded in practice, despite the protests of many kabbalists. Many kabbalists . . . saw [Kabbalah] as a kind of primordial revelation that was accorded to Adam or the early generations and that endured . . . . It became widely accepted that the Kabbalah was the esoteric part of the Oral Law given to Moses at Sinai. From the beginning of its development, the Kabbalah embraced an esotericism closely akin to the spirit of Gnosticism, one which was not restricted to instruction in the mystical path but also included ideas on cosmology, angelology, and magic. Only later, and as a result of the contact with medieval Jewish philosophy, the Kabbalah became a Jewish "mystical theology," more or less systematically elaborated. Once rabbinic Judaism had crystallized . . . the majority of the creative forces aroused by new religious stimuli . . . attempt[ed] to make of the traditional Torah and of the life led according to its dictates a more profound inner experience. The general tendency is apparent from a very early date, its purpose being to broaden the dimensions of the Torah and to transform it from the law of the people of Israel into the inner secret law of the universe, at the same time transforming the Jewish chasid or tsaddik into a man with a vital role in the world. . . . For Kabbalah, Judaism in all its aspects was a system of mystical symbols reflecting the mystery of God and the universe, and the kabbalists' aim was to discover and invent keys to the understanding of this symbolism.
Xstacy:One thing I don't quite understand is how necessary kabbalah techniques like gematria are in understanding what kabbalah is all about. I mean, I get some of the basics about the tree of life and the different sephiroth, but that seems to stand quite nicely on its own as an underlying pattern/cosmology for life without needing to get all tangled up in word puzzles.
derekhenry:I disagree that the fundamental root of (Q/K/C)BL is Jewish. Even acknowledging that elements were lifted from places Jews were doesn't give justice to how substantial the practices already were in those cultures (especially when you look at Greek Qabalah), and also that the syncretism that occurred in Spain around the thirteenth century was happening thanks to open sharing between multiple traditions.
derekhenry:Well, a good example is the Greek practice of Isopsephy, which is where Gematria comes from.
Ten sephiroth being the Pythagorean decad.
Barry's book is on Google Books. From a very brief skimming of the chapter on Jewish origins, he seems to be talking primarily (only?) about gematria*, and while he says the first Hebrew sources on gematria date to the 3rd century C.E., he also mentions that Alexander made Greek the lingua franca of the Jews 600 years prior, which seems a little... well... I'm not a historian, but if they're speaking Greek, they're writing Greek too, right?
Squarely in my field of interest, but is gematria really the "fundamental root" of Kabbalah?
Which practices were prevalent where?
Well, there's Enoch, the Hekhalot literature, Sepher ha-Razim (the Book of the Mysteries), Charba d'Moische (the Sword of Moses) -- lots of early Jewish magical and mystical stuff.
derekhenry:I never suggested Gematria was the root of Kabbalah. My post was in response to Which practices were prevalent where?But moving on: Well, there's Enoch, the Hekhalot literature, Sepher ha-Razim (the Book of the Mysteries), Charba d'Moische (the Sword of Moses) -- lots of early Jewish magical and mystical stuff. Sure, there is lots of early Jewish stuff, but is any of it Kabbalah? Or, more importantly, is it a stronger influence on the Kabbalah that came out of Spain? If the question is whether the roots of Kabbalah are Jewish, ultimately most aren't, so long as we go back far enough.
Evan:So -- if you "never suggested Gematria was the root of Kabbalah," what did you mean by "I disagree that the fundamental root of (Q/K/C)BL is Jewish"?What DO you see as the "fundamental root" of Kabbalah?
It's almost as if you're a bit uncomfortable with the Jewishness of Kabbalah, and you're trying to de-Judaize the small amount you need to "stomach" for your Golden Dawn practice. But I assume that's not really your concern, right?
derekhenry:Most Jewish Kabbalah only dates back to the 13th century, with older works such as Yetzirah being cleary based on (Neo)Pythagorean/(Neo)Platonic/Gnostic threads of thought. Ten sephiroth being the Pythagorean decad. Scholem, writing for Enclyclopaedia Judaica agrees with this, that Yetzirah was an attempt to "Judaize" Gnostic and Pythagorean material, with Marcus and Marsanes being preexisting sources for concepts expressed therein.I'm mostly just browsing over The Greek Qabalah by Kieren Barry to refresh my memory and pulling stuff out.Edit: Three posts between when I hit reply and posted! The argument is that Greek Qabalah was fully formed and being practiced a full thousand years before Jewish Kabbalah, and much of Jewish Kabbalah is a direct lift. I'm persuaded by the book I've already cited, but I do not claim to be an authority on this subject by any stretch.
Tuna Ghost:W[h]ether you take the "root" of Kabalah to be Heichaloht or Neo-Platonism would seem to decide if Kabalah is jewish or greek in origin.
Greek Qabalah was fully formed and being practiced a full thousand years before Jewish Kabbalah, and much of Jewish Kabbalah is a direct lift. I'm persuaded by the book I've already cited, but I do not claim to be an authority on this subject by any stretch.
Evan:It also has an implicit subtext -- to the extent Kabbalah has value or importance, it can't really be Jewish, can it?
Gypsy Lantern:to correct the impression of anti-semitism
derekhenry:Overall, I agree with Evan's last post almost completely. Almost. Ultimately one simply comes back to the question of what we are talking about. Evan is talking only about Kabbalah, while I was talking about a collection of traditions with similar sounding names. For example, one cannot say the Torah and Talmud are the central organizing principle of the entire field if we are talking about Hermetic Qabalah.
Tuna Ghost:Would you say that as Greek Qabalah does not involve Jewish texts or Jewish people or Jewish history, that it is not Qabalah?
Is making the same claim about Kabalah (not that the history of Zen Buddhism and Blues music is a direct parallel, but one can see why I'm reminded of them) insulting, minimizing, marginalizing, and cheapening the Jewish nature of and Jewish contributions to Jewish esotericism? This is a genuine question, since I'm questioning whether the roots of Kabalah are primarily jewish in origin and I'd like to know.
The many books written on the subject [of Kabbalah] in the 19th and 20th centuries by various theosophists and mystics lacked any basic knowledge of the sources and very rarely contributed to the field, while at times they even hindered the development of a historical approach. Similarly, the activities of French and English occultists contributed nothing and only served to create considerable confusion between the teachings of the Kabbalah and their own totally unrelated inventions, such as the alleged kabbalistic origin of the Tarot-cards. To this category of supreme charlatanism belong the many and widely read books of Eliphas Levi (actually Alphonse Louis Constant; 1810-1875), Papus (Gerard Encausse; 1868-1916), and Frater Perdurabo (Aleister Crowley; 1875-1946), all of whom had an infinitesimal knowledge of Kabbalah that did not prevent them from drawing freely on their imaginations instead. The comprehensive works of A.E. Waite, (The Holy Kabbalah, 1929), S. Karppe, and P. Vulliaud, on the other hand, were essentially rather confused compilations made from secondhand sources.
Evan: I'd say that Greek Isopsephy is not Kabbalah -- or Qabalah -- but rather a Hellenistic practice that, like gematria (one particular Jewish Kabbalistic practice) or abjad (an analogous Arabic practice), involves working with the relationship between letters and their numerical values. Bablyonians and Akkadians were doing so at least as early as Sargon II (who declared that a wall had been built a certain length to correspond with the numerical value of his name), so I'm not at all clear that Greeks originated the practice.
Four entered the Orchard. They were Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, the Other, and Rabbi Akiba. Rabbi Akiba warned, "When you enter near the stones of pure marble, do not say 'water water,' since it is written, 'He who speaks falsehood will not be established before My eyes'" (Psalms 101:7). Ben Azzai gazed and died. Regarding it is written, 'Precious in God's eyes is the death of His saints' (Psalms 116:15). Ben Zoma gazed and was stricken. Regarding him it is written, 'You have found honey, eat moderately least you bloat yourself and vomit it' (Proverbs 25:16). The Other gazed and cut his plantings (became a heretic). Rabbi Akiba entered in peace and left in peace. The angels also wished to cast down Rabbi Akiba but the Blessed Holy One said, "Leave this elder alone, for he is worthy of making use of My glory."
Evan:Just to follow up on that, a few tools for reference:Some people also divide Kabbalah into Speculative Kabbalah and Practical Kabbalah, roughly equivalent to theory and practice. The Speculative Kabbalah includes the cosmology developed through the Sefer Yetzirah, the Zohar, and later Lurianic Kabbalah. Practical Kabbalah includes magical techniques and practices (including folk magic, the creation of amulets, etc.), and doesn't necessarily depend on Speculative Kabbalah.
Evan:The Other -- Elisha ben Abuya -- is an interesting character in his own right . . .
Corporate Mage:Hermetic kaballah generally has a couple of key elements that would be recognisable to Jewish kaballists before it diverges completely - those would be (and I'm more than happy to be corrected or refined on any of this - it is by necessity a brief overview):The Hebrew LettersThe Sepher Yetzirah and the Zohar, and from it the concepts of 10 Sephira placed upon the Tree of Life. The Four WorldsGematria, Temurah and Notiquarion
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