Lit: secret oral teachings. Also spelled as cabala, kabala, kabbala, etcetera. A mixture of mystical Jewish teachings, occultism
. Uses numerology
to "interpret" the Bible
kabbalah or cabala (both: kb´l) (KEY) [Heb.,=reception], esoteric system of interpretation of the Scriptures based upon a tradition claimed to have been handed down orally from Abraham. Despite that claimed antiquity, the system appears to have been given its earliest formulation in the 11th cent. in France, and from there spread most notably to Spain. There were undoubtedly precedents, however; kabbalistic elements are discernible in the literature of earlier Merkavah mysticism (fl. after c.A.D. 100) inspired by the vision of the chariot-throne ("merkavah") in the Book of Ezekiel. Beyond the specifically Jewish notions contained within the kabbalah, some scholars believe that it reflects a strong Neoplatonic influence, especially in its doctrines of emanation and the transmigration of souls (see Neoplatonism). In the late 15th and 16th cent., Christian thinkers found support in the kabbalah for their own doctrines, out of which they developed a Christian version. Kabbalistic interpretation of Scripture was based on the belief that every word, letter, number, and even accent contained mysteries interpretable by those who knew the secret. The names for God were believed to contain miraculous power and each letter of the divine name was considered potent; kabbalistic signs and writings were used as amulets and in magical practices.
The word "Kabbalah" is derived from the root "to receive, to accept", and in many cases is used synonymously with "tradition".
No-one with the slightest interest in Kabbalah can fail to notice that there are many alternative spellings of the word, the two most common being Kabbalah and Qabalah. Cabala, Qaballah, Qabala, Kaballah (and so on) are also seen. The reason for this is that some letters in the Hebrew alphabet have more than one representation in the English alphabet, and the same Hebrew letter can be written either as K or Q (or sometimes even C). Some authors choose one spelling, and some choose the other. Some (the author for example) will even mix Q and K in the same document, spelling Kabbalah and Qlippoth (as opposed to Qabalah and Klippoth!). A random selection of modern Hebrew phrase books and dictionaries use the K variant to represent the letter Kuf, so anyone who claims that the "correct" spelling is "Qabalah" is on uncertain ground.
There has been a tendency for non-Jewish books on Kabbalah published this century to use the spelling "Qabalah". Jewish publications are relatively uniform in preferring the spelling "Kabbalah".
Kabbalah or Hermetic Kabbalah?
Kabbalah is an aspect of Jewish mysticism. It consists of a large body of speculation on the nature of divinity, the creation, the origin and fate of the soul, and the role of human beings. It consists also of meditative, devotional, mystical and magical practices which were taught only to a select few and for this reason Kabbalah is regarded as an esoteric offshoot of Judaism. Some aspects of Kabbalah have been studied and used by non-Jews for several hundred years - see What is Hermetic Kabbalah.
Many people who study Kabbalah are not Jewish. This has been happening for 500 years or so. It is difficult to know what to call this variant of Kabbalah. "Non-Jewish" is inaccurate, as I have personally known several Jews who opted for Hermetic Kabbalah in preference to the traditional variety! At one time it was called "Christian" Kabbalah, but this is also very misleading.
The origin of this variant can be placed in Renaissance Italy in the last decade of the 15th. century.
Two figures stand out. One was Giovanni Pico, Count of Mirandola, who commissioned several translations of Kabbalistic works, and did much to publicise Kabbalah among the intellectuals of the day. The other was Johannes Reuchlin, who learned to read Hebrew and became deeply immersed in Kabbalistic literature. It must be said that Jews were suspicious of this activity, finding that Christian scholars were using the Kabbalah as a bludgeon to persuade them to convert to Christianity.
It was out of this eclectic mixture of Christianity, Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, Kabbalah and Renaissance humanism that Hermetic Kabbalah was born. Over the centuries it has developed in many directions, with strong influences from Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism, but continued input from Jewish Kabbalah has meant that many variants are not so different in spirit from the original. Its greatest strength continues to be a strong element of religious humanism - it does not attempt to define God and does not define what an individual should believe, but it does assume that some level of direct experience of God is possible and there are practical methods for achieving this. In a modern world of compartmentalised knowledge, scientific materialism, and widespread cultural and historical illiteracy, it provides a bridge between the spirit of enquiry of the Renaissance (the homo universalis or - in Hebrew - hakham kolel) and the emergence of a similar spirit of enquiry in our own time.
Q1.10 : Is Hermetic Kabbalah really Kabbalah?
On the basis of my own beliefs and practice I would say yes, but others might contradict me, and ultimately it is a matter of definition.
A more difficult question is whether Hermetic Kabbalah conforms to the spirit of Jewish Kabbalah. One of the most visible distinctions is that between theurgy and thaumaturgy, between the attempt to participate in the workings of the divine realm for the betterment of the creation, and the attempt to interfere with its workings for personal betterment. Modern Kabbalah outside of Judaism appears in many guises, and is often associated or combined with ceremonial or ritual. It may be mixed with a wide range of theosophical traditions. This does not in itself set it apart from historical Kabbalah. Ritual has always been an integral part of Kabbalah, and Kabbalah has absorbed from cultures and traditions all over Europe and the Middle East. Even the distinction between theurgy and thaumaturgy may be meaningless, as similar techniques can be used for both - only by examining intention could one begin to judge which was which.
Given the lack of a dogmatic tradition in Kabbalah it is not clear that the question about the legitimacy of Hermetic Kabbalah is meaningful. Even within Judaism it is unclear what the authentic spirit or tradition is - there are large differences in outlook between someone like Abraham Abulafia and Isaac Luria.
There is no good answer. One person will be reassured that the tradition is alive and going off in many different directions - that is the sign of a living tradition. Another person will feel threatened by outsiders and dilettantes who are bringing the tradition into disrepute. About the only thing which can be said with complete certainty is that there is a great deal of prejudice. Just about everyone who studies Kabbalah seems to be certain that someone else hasn't a clue what Kabbalah is about!
History of the Kabbalah
(Contra) From Issues
Kabbalah: Fact or Fiction?
(Contra) From Issues
Kabbalah In English
(Pro) " Guide to English Language Resources for the Student of
Traditional Rabbinic Kabbalah"
Roots of the Kabbalah
(Contra) From a Jewish perspective
Secrets of a celebrity sect
Newspaper article by David Rowan, Evening Standard (England), Oct. 3, 2002
The Truth about The Kabbalah Centre
(Contra) Published by Task Force on Cults and Missionaries
Judaism's Strange Gods
by Michael A. Hoffman II
In this scholarly and deeply considered work, the author documents his provocative thesis that Judaism is not the religion of the Old Testament, but the newly formalized belief system of the Pharisees, which arose in Babylon with the commitment of the formerly oral "tradition of the elders" to writing, in the wake of the crucifixion of Israel's Messiah and the destruction of the Temple.
Basing his findings on authoritative Judaic sources, Hoffman demonstrates that Judaism is a man-made religion of tradition and superstition, which represents the institutionalized nullification of Biblical law and doctrine.
Liberating the reader from the accumulated shackles of decades of misinformation, this book shows that Judaism’s God is not the God of Israel, but the strange gods of Talmud and Kabbalah, and the racial self-worship they inculcate.
(Pro) prepared for the usenet group, alt.magick
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Colin's Hermetic Kabbalah Page
(Pro) "[D]edicated to publishing modern material
on Kabbalah and related topics"
The Wisdom of Kabbalah
Subtitled the "Bnei Baruch World Center for Kabbalah Studies"
. Published by Rabbi Michael Laitman's "Bnei Baruch", a " non-profit group that is spreading the wisdom of Kabbalah to accelerate the spirituality of mankind."