<strong>Tree of Life.</strong>Each circle represents one of the ten sefirot, or emanations, by which the Divine manifests.
Tree of Life.Each circle represents one of the ten sefirot, or emanations, by which the Divine manifests.
Kabbalah (Hebrew קַבָּלָה “reception”, Standard Hebrew Qabbala, Tiberian Hebrew Qabbālāh; also written variously as Cabala, Cabalah, Cabbala, Cabbalah, Kabala, Kabalah, Kabbala, Qabala, Qabalah, Kaballah) is an interpretation (exegesis, hermeneutic) key, “soul” of the Torah (Hebrew Bible), or the religious mystical system of Judaism claiming an insight into divine nature.

Kabbalah became a reference to doctrines of esoteric knowledge concerning God, God’s creation of the universe and the laws of nature, and the path by which adult religious Jews can learn these secrets. Originally, however, the term Kabbalah was used in Talmudic texts, among the Geonim, and by early Rishonim as a reference to the full body of publicly available Jewish teaching. In this sense Kabbalah was used in referring to all of known Oral Law.

Kabbalah, according to the more recent use of the word, stresses the reasons and understanding of the commandments in the Torah, and the cause of events described in the Torah. Kabbalah includes the understanding of the spiritual spheres of creation, and the ways by which God administers the existence of the universe.

According to Jewish tradition dating from the 13th century, this knowledge has come down as a revelation to elect saints from a remote past, and preserved only by a privileged few. It is considered part of the Jewish Oral Law by the majority of religious Jews in modern times, although this was not agreed upon by many medieval Talmudic scholars, as well as a minority of current Orthodox rabbis.

Origin of Jewish Mysticism

According to adherents of Kabbalah, the origin of Kabbalah begins with the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible). According to Midrash, God created the universe with “Ten utterances” or “Ten qualities.” When read by later generations of Kabbalists, the Torah’s description of the creation in the Book of Genesis reveals mysteries about the godhead itself, the true nature of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, as well as the interaction of these supernal entities with the Serpent which leads to disaster when they eat the forbidden fruit, as recorded in Genesis 2[1].

The Bible provides ample additional material for mythic and mystical speculation. The prophet Ezekiel’s visions in particular attracted much speculation, as did Isaiah’s Temple vision (Chapter 6). Jacob’s vision of the ladder to heaven is another text providing an example of a mystical experience. Moses’ experience with the Burning bush and his encounters with God on Mount Sinai, are all evidence of mystical events in the Tanakh, and form the origin of Jewish mystical beliefs.

Jewish mystical traditions always appeal to an argument of authority based on antiquity. As a result, virtually all works 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 (after being evicted) by the angel Raziel. Another famous work, the Sefer Yetzirah, supposedly dates back to the patriarch Abraham. According to Apocalyptic literature, esoteric knowledge, such as magic, divination, and astrology, was transmitted to humans in the mythic past by the two angels, Aza and Azaz’el (in other places, Azaz’el and Uzaz’el) who ‘fell’ from heaven (see Genesis 6:4).

This appeal to antiquity has also shaped modern theories of influence in reconstructing the history of Jewish mysticism. The oldest versions of the Jewish mysticism have been theorized to extend from Assyrian theology and mysticism. Dr. Simo Parpola, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, has made some suggestive findings on the matter, particularly concerning an analysis of the Sefirot. Noting the general similarity between the Sefirot of the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life of Assyria, he reconstructed what an Assyrian antecendent to the Sepiroth would look like.[2] He matched the characteristics of En Sof on the nodes of the Sepiroth to the gods of Assyria, and was able to even find textual parallels between these Assyrian gods and the characteristics of god. The Assyrians assigned specific numbers to their gods, similar to how the Sepiroth assigns numbers to its nodes. However, the Assyrians use a sexagesimal number system, whereas the Sepiroth is decimal. With the Assyrian numbers, additional layers of meaning and mystical relevance appear in the Sepiroth. Normally, floating above the Assyrian Tree of Life was the god Assur, this corresponds to En Sof, which is also, via a series of transformations, derived from the Assyrian word Assur.

Furthermore, Dr. Paropla re-interpreted various Assyrian tablets in the terms of this primitive Sefirot, such as the Epic Of Gilgamesh, and in doing so was able to reveal that the scribes themselves had been writing philosophical-mystical tracts, rather than mere adventure stories. Traces of this Assyrian mode of thought and philosophy eventually makes reappearances in Greek Philosophy and the Kabbalah.

Skeptics would point out that the doctrine of the Sefirot only saw serious development starting in the 12th Century CE with the publication of the Bahir. To argue that the concept of the sefirot existed in an occult and undocumented form within Judaism from the time of the Assyrian empire (which fell from cultural hegemony in the 7th Cent. BCE) until it “surfaced” 17-18 centuries later strikes some scholars as far-fetched. A plausible alternative, based in the research of Gershom Scholem, the pre-eminent scholar of Kabbalah in the 20th Century, is to see the sefirot as a theosophical doctrine that emerges out of Jewish late antiquity word-mythology (as exemplified in Sefer Yetzirah) and the angelic-palace mysticism found in Hekalot literature being fused to the Neo-Platonic notion of creation through progressive divine emanations.

Textual antiquity of esoteric mysticism

Jewish forms of esotericism did, however, exist over 2,000 years ago. Ben Sira warns against it, saying: “You shall have no business with secret things” (Sirach iii. 22; compare Talmud Hagigah 13a; Midrash Genesis Rabbah viii.).

Apocalyptic literature belonging to the second and first pre-Christian centuries contained some elements that carry over to later Kabbalah. According to Josephus such writings were in the possession of the Essenes, and were jealously guarded by them against disclosure, for which they claimed a hoary antiquity (see Philo, “De Vita Contemplativa,” iii., and Hippolytus, “Refutation of all Heresies,” ix. 27).

That books containing secret lore were kept hidden away by (or for)the “enlightened” is stated in IV Esdras xiv. 45-46, where Pseudo-Ezra is told to publish the twenty-four books of the canon openly that the worthy and the unworthy may alike read, but to keep the seventy other books hidden in order to “deliver them only to such as be wise” (compare Dan. xii. 10); for in them are the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.

Instructive for the study of the development of Jewish mysticism is the Book of Jubilees written around the time of King John Hyrcanus. It refers to mysterious writings of Jared, Cain, and Noah, and presents Abraham as the renewer, and Levi as the permanent guardian, of these ancient writings. It offers a cosmogony based upon the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and connected with Jewish chronology and Messianology, while at the same time insisting upon the heptad (7) as the holy number rather than upon the decadic (10) system adopted by the later haggadists and the Sefer Yetzirah. The Pythagorean idea of the creative powers of numbers and letters was shared with Sefer Yetzirah and was known in the time of the Mishnah (before 200 CE).

Early elements of Jewish mysticism can be found in the non-Biblical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, such as the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice. Some parts of the Talmud and the midrash also focus on the esoteric and mystical, particularly Chagigah 12b-14b. Many esoteric texts, among them Hekalot Rabbati, Sefer HaBahir, Torat Hakana, Sefer P’liyah, Midrash Otiyot d’Rabbi Akiva, the Bahir, and the Zohar claim to be from the talmudic era, though it is clear now that some of these works, most notably the Bahir and Zohar, are actually medieval works spuriously ascribed to the ancient past. In the medieval era Jewish mysticism developed under the influence of the word-number esoteric text Sefer Yetzirah. Jewish sources attribute the book to the biblical patriarch Abraham, though the text itself offers no claim as to authorship. This book, and especially its embryonic concept of the “sefirot,” became the object of systematic study of several mystical brotherhoods which eventually came to be called baale ha-kabbalah (בעלי הקבלה “possessors or masters of the Kabbalah”).

Mystic doctrines in Talmudic times

In Talmudic times the terms Ma’aseh Bereshit (“Works of Creation”) and Ma’aseh Merkabah (“Works of the Divine Throne/Chariot”) clearly indicate the Midrashic nature of these speculations; they are really based upon Genesis 1 and Book of Ezekiel 1:4-28; while the names Sitrei Torah (Talmud Hag. 13a) and Razei Torah (Ab. vi. 1) indicate their character as secret lore. In contrast to the explicit statement of the Hebrew Bible that God created not only the world, but also the matter out of which it was made, the opinion is expressed in very early times that God created the world from matter He found ready at hand — (according to some, this is an opinion probably due to the influence of the Platonic-Stoic cosmogony).

Eminent rabbinic teachers in the Land of Israel held the doctrine of the preexistence of matter (Midrash Genesis Rabbah i. 5, iv. 6), in spite of the protest of Gamaliel II. (ib. i. 9).

In dwelling upon the nature of God and the universe, the mystics of the Talmudic period asserted, in contrast to the transcendentalism evident in some parts of the Bible, that “God is the dwelling-place of the universe; but the universe is not the dwelling-place of God”. Possibly the designation (“place”) for God, so frequently found in Talmudic-Midrashic literature, is due to this conception, just as Philo, in commenting on Genesis 28:11 says, “God is called ha makom (המקום “the place”) because God encloses the universe, but is Himself not enclosed by anything” (De Somniis, i. 11). This type of theology, in modern terms, is known as either pantheism or panentheism. Whether a text is truly pantheistic or panentheistic is often hard to understand; mainstream Judaism generally rejects pantheistic interpretations of Kabbalah, and instead accepts panentheistic interpretations.

Even in very early times of the Land of Israel as well as Alexandrian theology recognized the two attributes of God, middat hadin (the “attribute of justice”), and middat ha-rahamim (the “attribute of mercy”) (Midrash Sifre, Deuteronomy 27); and so is the contrast between justice and mercy a fundamental doctrine of the Kabbalah. Other hypostasizations are represented by the ten “agencies” (the Sefirot) through which God created the world; namely, wisdom, insight, cognition, strength, power, inexorableness, justice, right, love, and mercy.

While the Sefirot are based on these ten creative “potentialities”, it is especially the personification of wisdom which, in Philo, represents the totality of these primal ideas; and the Targ. Yer. i., agreeing with him, translates the first verse of the Bible as follows: “By wisdom God created the heaven and the earth.” Genesis Rabbah equates “Wisdom” with “Torah.”

So, also, the figure of the Sar Metatron passed into mystical texts from the Talmud. In the Heichalot literature Metatron sometimes approximates the role of the demiurgos, being expressly mentioned as a “lesser” God. One text, however, identifies Metatron as Enoch transubstantiated (III Enoch). Mention may also be made of other pre-existent things enumerated in an old baraita (an extra-mishnaic teaching); namely, the Torah, repentance, paradise and hell, the throne of God, the Heavenly Temple, and the name of the Messiah (Talmud Pes. 54a). Although the origin of this doctrine must be sought probably in certain mythological ideas, the Platonic doctrine of preexistence has modified the older, simpler conception, and the preexistence of the seven must therefore be understood as an “ideal” preexistence, a conception that was later more fully developed in the Kabbalah.

The attempts of the mystics to bridge the gulf between God and the world are evident in the doctrine of the preexistence of the soul, and of its close relation to God before it enters the human body — a doctrine taught by the Hellenistic sages (Wisdom viii. 19) as well as by the Palestinian rabbis. The mystics also latch on to the phrase from Isaiah, as expounded by the Rabbinic Sages, “The whole world is filled with his glory,” to justify a panentheistic understanding of the universe.

In the 17th century, Baruch Spinoza may have had this passage in mind when he said that the ancient Jews did not separate God from the world. This conception of God may be pantheistic or panentheistic. It also postulates the union of man with God; both these ideas were further developed in the later Kabbalah. (Spinoza was excommunicated from the main Jewish community by the rabbis at the time for publically espousing these views, more likely out of fear of Christian reaction then out of their own outrage).

Kabbalah of the 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,” or German Pietists. This 13th Century movement arose mostly among a single scholarly family, the Kolanymus family of the French and German Rhineland. There were certain rishonim (“Elder Sages”) of exoteric Judaism who are known to have been experts in Kabbalah. One of the best known is Nahmanides (the Ramban) (1194-1270) whose commentary on the Torah is considered to be based on Kabbalistic knowledge as well as Bahya ben Asher (the Rabbeinu Behaye) (d. 1340). Another was Isaac the Blind (1160-1235), the teacher of Nachmanides, who is widely argued to have written the first work of classic Kabbalah, the Bahir.

Sefer Bahir and another work entitled “Treatise of the Left Emanation”, probably composed in Spain by Isaac ben Isaac ha-Cohen, laid the groundwork for the composition of Sefer Zohar, written by Moses deLeon and his mystical circle at the end of the 13th Century, but credited to the Talmudic sage Shimon bar Yochai, cf. Zohar. The Zohar proved to be the first truly “popular” work of Kabbalah, and the most influential. From the thirteenth century onward Kabbalah began to be widely disseminated and it branched out into an extensive literature. Arthur Green argues this public coming out of Jewish esoteric thought at this particular time coincides with, and represents a response to, the rising influence of rationalist philosophy in Jewish circles. Orthodox Judaism rejects the idea that Kabbalah underwent significant historical development or change such as has been proposed above.

Lurianic Kabbalah in the Early Modern Period

Following the upheavals and dislocations in the Jewish world as a result of the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the trauma of Anti-Semitism during the Middle Ages, Jews began to search for signs of when the long-awaited Jewish Messiah would come to comfort them in their painful exiles. As part of that “search for meaning” in their lives, Kabbalah received its biggest boost in the Jewish world when the explication of the Kabbalistic teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), by his disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital who published the Luria’s teachings, gained wide-spread popularity. It was first Luria’s teacher, Moses Cordovero, then Luria himself who together popularized the teachings of the Zohar which had until then been only a modestly influential work. The author of the Shulkhan Arukh (the Jewish “Code of Law”), Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575), was also great scholars of Kabbalah and spread its teachings during this era.

Kabbalah of the Sefardim and Mizrahim

The Kabbalah of the Sefardi (Spanish/Mediterranean) and Mizrahi (African/Asian) Torah scholars has a long history. Kabbalah flourished among Sefardic Jews in Tzfat (Safed), Israel even before the arrival of Isaac Luria, its most famous resident. Shlomo Alkabetz, author of the famous L’cha Dodi, taught there. His disciple Moses ben Jacob Cordovero 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 the arrival of the Ari. Rabbi Moshe’s disciple Eliyahu De Vidas authored the classic work, Reishit Chochma, combining kabbalistic and mussar teachings. The great Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Arukh was also part of the Tzfat school of Kabbalah. Chaim Vital also studied under Rabbi Cordovero, but with the arrival of Rabbi Luria became his main disciple. Vital claimed to be only one authorized to transmit the Ari’s teachings, though other disciples also published books presenting Luria’s teachings.

Kabbalah in various forms was widely studied, commented upon, and expanded by North African, Turkish, Yemenite, and Asian scholars from the 16th Century onward. Among the most famous was the “Beit El” mystical circle of Jerusalem, originally a brotherhood of twelve, mostly Sefardic, mystics under the leadership of Gedaliyah Chayon and Shalom Sharabi in the mid-18th century. The group endured into the 20th Century.

Kabbalah of the Maharal

One of the most important teachers of Kabbalah recognized as an authority by all serious scholars until the present time, was Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1525-1609) known as the Maharal of Prague. Many of his written works survive and are studied for their deep Kabbalistic insights. During the twentieth century, Rabbi Isaac Hutner (1906-1980) continued to spread the Maharal’s teachings indirectly through his own teachings and scholarly publications within the modern yeshiva world.

The failure of Sabbatian mysticism

The spiritual and mystical yearnings of many Jews remained frustrated after the death of Rabbi Isaac Luria and his disciples and colleagues. No hope was in sight for many following the devastation and mass killings of the pogroms 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 (1626-1676) captured the hearts and minds of the Jewish masses of that time with the promise of a newly-minted “Messianic” Millennialism in the form of his own personage. His charisma, mystical teachings that included repeated pronunciations of the holy Tetragrammaton in public, tied to an unstable personality, and with the help of his own “prophet” Nathan of Gaza, convinced the Jewish masses that the “Jewish Messiah” 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 to Judaism by converting to Islam after he was arrested by the Ottoman Sultan and threatened with execution for attempting a plan to conquer the world and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

Many of his followers 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” movement in modern Turkey is a surviving remnant of the Sabbatian schism. The Sabbatian movement was followed by that of the “Frankists” who were disciples of another pseudo-mystic Jacob Frank (1726-1791) who eventually became an apostate to Judaism by apparently converting to Catholicism. This era of disappointment did not stem the Jewish masses’ yearnings for “mystical” leadership.

Spread of Kabbalah during the 1700s

The eighteenth 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:

  1. Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698-1760) in the area of Ukraine spread teachings based on Rabbi Isaac Luria’s foundations, simplifying the Kabbalah for the common man. From him sprang the vast ongoing schools of Hasidic Judaism, with each successive rebbe viewed by his “Hasidim” as continuing the role of dispensor of mystical divine blessings and guidance.
  2. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (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, White Russia, Lithuania 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.
  3. Rabbi Elijah of Vilna (1720-1797), based in Lithuania, had his teachings encoded and publicized by his disciples such as by Rabbi Chaim Volozhin 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.
  4. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746), based in Italy, was a precocious Talmudic scholar who arrived at the startling conclusion that there was a need for the public teaching and study of Kabbalah. He established a yeshiva for Kabbalah study and actively recruited outstanding students, in addition, wrote copious manuscripts in an appealing clear Hebrew style, all of which gained the attention of both admirers as well of 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. Some of his most important works such as Derekh Hashem survive and are used as a gateway to the world of Jewish mysticism.

The modern world

Two of the most influential sources spreading Kabbalistic teachings have come from the growth and spread of Hasidic Judaism, as can be seen by the growth of the Lubavitch movement, and from the influence of the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1864-1935) who inspired the followers of Religious Zionism with mystical writings and hopes that interpreted the rise of modern day Zionism as the onset of the atchalta dege’ula – the “beginning of the redemption” of the Jewish people from their exile, in expectation of the arrival of the “final redemption” of the Jewish Messiah. The varied Hasidic works (sifrei chasidus) and Rabbi Kook’s voluminous writings drew heavily on the long chain of Kabbalistic thought and methodology.

Renewed interest in Kabbalah has appeared among non-traditional Jews, and even among non-Jews. Neo-Hasidism and Jewish Renewal have been the most influential groups in this trend.

Primary texts

Like the rest of the Rabbinic texts, much of the texts of Kabbalah are an ongoing oral tradition (similar to taking notes in a class discussion). They are mostly meaningless to readers who are unfamiliar with Jewish spirituality, and assume extensive knowledge of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), Midrash (Jewish hermeneutic tradition) and Halakhah (practical Jewish law). Nevertheless, Kabbalistic literature uses powerful paradigms that are elegant, universal, and easy for anyone to understand when pointed out.

  • Heichalot
  • Yetzirah יצירה “Formation, Creation”, also known as Hilkhot Yetzirah “Customs of Formation” The first commentaries on this small book were written in the 10th century, perhaps the text itself is quoted as early as the 6th century, and perhaps its linguistic organization of the Hebrew alphabet could be from as early as the 2nd century. Its historical origins remain obscure. It exists today in a number of editions, up to 2500 words long (about the size of a pamphlet). It organizes the cosmos into “32 Paths of Wisdom”, comprising “10 Sefirot” (3 elements – air, water and fire – plus 6 directions and center) and “22 letters” of the Hebrew alphabet (3 mother letters, 7 double letters plus 12 simple letters). It uses this structure to organize cosmic phenomena ranging from the seasons of the calendar to the emotions of the intellect, and is essentially an index of cosmic correspondences.
  • Sefer Chasidim ‘”Book of the Pious.” This ethical/mystical text credited to Samuel ben Judah he-Hasid, is the central work of the German Pietists. It consists of hundreds of pericopes, some of them homilies, some illustriative stories, some simply exhortations. The bulk of the book is devoted to a severe but readily understood pietism. Some material, however, concerns the divine economy, secrets of prayer, and paranormal phenomena such as divinatory dreams, witches, vampires, and poltergeists. * Raziel Ha-Malakh רזיאל המלאך “Raziel the Angel” – an astral-magical text published in the 13th century in Germany and probably written by Eliezer of Worms. It cites the text of the Yetzirah, explains the concept of mazal “fortune, destinity” associated with Kabbalah astrology, and records an encrypted alphabet for use in mystical formulas.
  • Bahir בהיר “Illumination”, also known as “Midrash of Rabbi Nehuniah Ben Ha-Kana” – a book of special interest to students of Kabbalah because it serves as a kind of epitome that surveys the essential concepts of the subsequent literature of Kabbalah. It is about 12,000 words (about the size of a magazine). Despite its name “Illumination”, it is notoriously cryptic and difficult to understand (but not impossible). Much of it is written in parables, one after the other. The Bahir opens with a quote attributed to Rabbi Nehuniah Ben Ha-Kana, a Talmudic sage of the 1st century, and the rest the book is an unfolding discussion about the quote. Jewish tradition considers the whole book to be written in the spirit of Rabbi Nehuniah (or even literally written by him). It was first published in Provence France (near Italy) in 1176. Historians suspect Rabbi Yitzhak Ha-Ivver (also known as Isaac the Blind) wrote the book at this time, albeit he incorporated oral traditions from a much earlier time about the Tanakh, Talmud, Siddur, Yetzirah, and other Rabbinic texts.
  • Zohar זהר “Splendor” – the most important text of Kabbalah, at times achieving even canonical status as part of Oral Torah. It is a mystical commentary on the Torah, written in Medieval Aramaic. There is an academic consensus regarding the medieval authorship of the Zohar but most traditional Kabbalists agree amongst themselves that the oral author of the Zohar was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and the text was scribed by Rav Abba, a student of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The academic opinion is that Rabbi Moshe de Leon wrote it himself (or perhaps with help) before he published it in Spain in the 13th century. He claimed to discover the text of the Zohar (in a vision?) and attributed it to the 2nd century Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai who is the main character of the text. The text gained enormous popularity throughout the Jewish world. Though the book was widely accepted, a small number of significant rabbis over the subsequent centuries published texts declaring Rabbi Moshe invented it as a forgery with concepts contrary to Judaism. However, many of these Rabbis were not Kabbalists themselves. This was a major point of contention made by a community among the Jews of Yemen, known as Dor Daim (a religious intellectual movement that called for a return to a more Talmudic based Judaism). While organized into commentaries on sections of the Torah, the Zohar elaborates on the Talmud, Midrash Rabba, Yetzirah, the Bahir, and many other Rabbinic texts. To some degree, the Zohar simply is Kabbalah.
  • Pardes Rimonim פרדס רימו� ים “Garden of Pomegranates” – the magnum opus of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, published in Spain in the 16th century and the main source of Cordoverian Kabbalah, a comprehensive interpretation of the Zohar and a friendly rival of the Lurianic interpretation. Among other important books by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero is Tomer Devorah.
  • Ets Khayim עץ חיים “Tree of Life” – useful text of the teachings of Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (also known as the Ari), collected by his disciples (The Ari published nothing himself). It was published in Tsfat Israel in the 16th century. It is a popular interpretation and synthesis of Lurianic Kabbalah.
  • Sulam סולם “Ladder”, also known as Zohar Im Perush Ha-Sulam “Zohar with the Explication of the Ladder” – a translation of the Zohar into Hebrew that includes parenthetical comments. Despite being a late text by a modern Kabbalist, it is widely distributed. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ashlag wrote and published it in Israel in 1943. In the Sulam, the text of the Zohar includes parenthetical notes that explain some of the cryptic metaphors found in the Zohar, according to the interpretive tradition of Rabbi Yitzhak Luria. Much of the Zohar remains meaningless without the Sulam, and virtually every student of Kabbalah must at some point refer to it.

Theodicy: explanation for the existence of evil

Kabbalistic works offer a theodicy; a philosophical reconciliation of how the existence of a good and powerful God is compatible with the existence of evil in the world. There are mainly two different ways to describe why there is evil in the world, according to the Kabbalah. Both make use of the kabbalistic Tree of Life:

  • The kabbalistic tree, which consists of ten Sephiroth, the ten “enumerations” or “emanations” of God, consists of three “pillars”: The left side of the tree, the “female side”, is considered to be more destructive than the right side, the “male side”. Gevurah (גבורה), for example, stands for strength and discipline, while her male counterpart, Chesed (חסד), stands for love and mercy. Chesed is also known as Gedulah (גדולה), as in the Tree of Life pictured to the right. The “center pillar” of the tree does not have any polarity, and no gender is given to it. Thus evil is really an emanation of Divinty, a harsh byproduct of the “left side” of creation.
  • In the medieval era, this notion took on increasingly gnostic overtones. The Qliphoth, (or Kelippot) (קליפות the primeval “husks” of impurity) emanating from the left side were blamed for all the evil in the world. Qliphoth are the Sephiroth out of balance. The tree of Qliphoth is usually called the kabbalistic Tree of Death, and sometimes the qliphoth are called the “death angels”, or “angels of death”. References to a word related to “qlipoth” are found in some Babylonian incantations, a fact used as evidence to argue the antiquity of kabbalistic material.
  • Not all Kabbalists accepted this notion of evil being in such intimate relationship with God. Moses Cordovero (16th Cent.) and Menassseh ben Israel (17th Cent.) are two examples of Kabbalists who claimed “No evil emanates from God.” They located evil as a byproduct of human freedom, an idea also found in mythic form in Rabbinic traditions that claim most demons are either the “dead of the flood” or products of human sexual incontinence.

Kabbalistic understanding of God

Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. Rather God is the creator of both, but is himself neither. But if God is so different than his creation, how can there be any interaction between the Creator and the created? This question prompted Kabbalists to envision two aspects of God, (a) God himself, who in the end is 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 (אין סוף); this is translated as “the infinite”, “endless”, or “that which has no limits”. In this view, nothing can be said about this aspect of God. This aspect of God is impersonal. The second aspect of 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. The structure of these emanations have been characterized in various ways: Four “worlds” (Azilut, Yitzirah, Beriyah, and Asiyah), Sefirot, or Partzufim (”faces”). Later systems harmonize these models.

Some Kabbalistic scholars, such as Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, believe that all things are linked to God through these emanations, making us all part of one great chain of being. Others, such as Schneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of Lubavitch (Chabad) Hasidism), hold that God is all that really exists; all else is completely undifferentiated from God’s perspective. If improperly explained, such views can interpreted as panentheism or pantheism. In truth, according to this philosophy, God’s existence is higher than anything that this world can express, yet He includes all things of this world down to the finest detail in such a perfect unity that His creation of the world effected no change in Him whatsoever. This paradox is dealt with at length in the Chabad Chassidic texts.


Most forms of Kabbalah teach that the Sefirot are not distinct from the Ein Sof, but are somehow within it in a potential manner. Kabbalists most often speak of the second aspect of God as being seen by the universe as ten emanations from God; these emanations are called sefirot.

The sefirot mediate the interaction of the ultimate unknowable God with the physical and spiritual world. Some explain the sefirot as stages of the creative process whereby God, from His own infinite being, created the progression of realms which culminated in our finite and physical universe. Others suggest that the sefirot may be thought of as analogous to the fundamental laws of physics. Just as gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force allow for interactions between matter and energy, the ten sefirot’ allow for interaction between God and the universe.

The Eastern Orthodox Christian theological view

The Kabbalah’s idea of emanations can be compared to the distinction made by fourteenth-century Eastern Orthodox theologian Gregory Palamas. Palamas drew a distinction between God’s essence and energies, affirming that God was unknowable in His essence, but knowable in His energies. Palamas never enumerated God’s energies, but described them as ways that God could act in the universe, and particularly on people, from the light shining from the face of Moses after Moses descended Mt. Sinai, to the light surrounding Moses, Elijah and Jesus on Mt. Tabor during the transfiguration of Jesus. For Palamas, God’s energies were not some other thing separate from God, but were God; however the idea of energies was kept distinct from the idea of the three Persons of the Trinity.

The human soul in Kabbalah

The Zohar 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 (� פש) – the lower part, or “animal part”, of the soul. It is linked to instincts and bodily cravings.
  • Ruach (רוח) – the middle soul, the “spirit”. It contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil.
  • Neshamah (� שמה) – the higher soul, or “super-soul”. This separates man from all other lifeforms. It is related to the intellect, and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. This part of the soul is provided both to Jew and non-Jew alike at birth. It 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, discusses the two other parts of the human soul, the chayyah and yehidah (first mentioned in the Midrash Rabbah). Gershom Scholem 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 also a few additional, non-permanent states to 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 prophesy any longer. See the teachings of Abraham Abulafia for differing views of this matter.
  • Neshamah Yeseira – The “supplemental soul” that a Jew experience on Shabbat. 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 commandments. It exists only when one studies and follows Torah; it can be lost and gained depending on one’s study and observance.

Among its many pre-occupations, Kabbalah teaches that every Hebrew letter, word, number, even the accent on words of the Hebrew Bible contains a hidden sense; and it teaches the methods of interpretation for ascertaining these meanings. One such method is as follows:

Number-Word Mysticism

Gematria:As early as the 1st Century BCE Jews believed Torah (first five books of the Bible) contains encoded message and hidden meanings. Gemetria is one method for discovering hidden meanings in Torah. 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 hidden meaning in each word. This method of interpretation was used extensively by various schools. An example would be the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria[1].

There is no one fixed way to “do” gematria. Some say there are up to 70 different methods. One simple procedure is as follows: each syllable and/or letter forming a word has a characteristic numeric value. The sum of these numeric tags is the word’s “key”, and that word may be replaced in the text by any other word having the same key. Through the application of many such procedures, alternate or hidden meanings of scripture may be derived. Similar procedures are used by Islamic mystics, as described by Idries Shah in his book, “The Sufis”.

Divination and Clairvoyance

A small number of Kabbalists have attempted to foretell events or know occult events by the Kabbalah. The term Kabbalah Maasit (”Practical Kabbalah”) is used to refer to secret science in general, mystic art, or mystery. However, within Judaism proper, the foretelling of the future through magical means is not permissible, not even with the Kabbalah. However, there is no prohibition against understanding the past nor coming to a greater understanding of present and future situations through inspiration gained by the Kabbalah (a subtle distinction and one often hard to delineate). The appeal to occult power outside the monotheist deity for divinative purpose is unacceptable in Judaism, but at the same time it is held that the righteous have access to occult knowledge. Such knowledge can come through dreams and incubation (inducing clairvoyant dreams), metoscopy (reading faces, lines on the face, or auras emanating from the face), ibburim and maggidim (spirit possession), and/or various methods of scrying.

Practical applications

The Midrash and Talmud are replete with the use of Divine names and incantations that are claimed to effect supernatural or theurgic results. Most post-Talmudic rabbinical literature seeks to curb the use of any or most of these formulae, termed Kabbalah Ma’asit (”practical Kabbalah”). There are various arguments for this; one stated by the Medieval Rabbi Jacob Mölin (Maharil) is that the person using it may lack the required grounding, and the spell would be ineffective. Yet the interest in these rituals of power continued largely unabated until recently. And in fact, since the Talmud exempts virtually all forms of magical healing from this prohibition (Whatsoever effects healing is not considered witchcraft – Tractate Shabbat), there has been the widespread practice of medicinal sorcery, amulets, and segullot (folk remedies) in Jewish societies across time and geography.

Other dramatic examples of such “practical” power include: the knowledge required to produce a Golem, a homoculous or artificial lifeform. Some adherents of Kabbalah developed the idea of invoking a curse against a sinner termed a Pulsa diNura (lit. “lashes of fire”) although the majority of Kabbalists reject the notion that a person can actually cause it.

Many kabbalistic rituals require the participation of more than one individual, i.e. the creation of a Golem, for which (at least) three individuals are required. Still, Kabbalah itself could only be taught to a very small group of select individuals who had mastered the other branches of Torah – for these reasons, the English word “cabal” came to refer to any small, secretive and possibly conspiratorial group.

Gnosticism and Kabbalah

Gnosticism frequently appears as an element of Kabbalah. Gnosticism – systems of secret spiritual knowledge, or some sources say – — that is, the concept Chochmah (חכמה “wisdom”) – seems to have been the first attempt on the part of Jewish sages to give the empirical mystic lore, with the help of Platonic and Pythagorean or Stoic ideas, a speculative turn. This led to the danger of heresy from which the Jewish rabbinic figures Rabbi Akiva and Ben Zoma strove to extricate themselves.

Original teachings of gnosticism have much in common with Kabbalah:

  1. Core terminology of classical gnostics include using Jewish names of God.
  2. Mainstream Gnostics accepted a “Jewish Messiah” as a key figure of gnosticism
  3. A Key text of Gnosticism – Apocryphon of John – mentions 365 powers who created the World. 365 is a number of recurrent interest in the Dead Sea Scroll (the solar year figured prominently in their thinking).

However there are also aspects of Gnosticism at odds with Kabbalah. Most glaring is the fact that within most of the Christian Gnostic groups the Jewish creator God was looked down on. This ranged from somewhat sympathetic pity for what the Gnostics felt was a deranged abortion, to outright identification of the Jewish God to evil incarnate.



One of the most serious and sustained criticisms of Kabbalah is that it may lead away from monotheism, and instead promote dualism, the belief that there is a supernatural counterpart to God. The dualistic system holds that there are good and of evil powers. There are (appropriately) two primary models of Gnostic-dualistic cosmology. The first, which goes back to Zoroastrianism, believes creation is ontologically divided between good and evil forces. The second, found largely in the Greco-Roman world, believes the universe knew a primoridal harmony, but that a cosmic disruption yielded a second, evil, dimension to reality. This second model influenced the cosmology of the Kabbalah. While God, in Kabbalah, on one level exhibits a dual nature (masculine-feminine/compassionate-judgmental), all adherents of Kabbalah have consistently stressed the ultimate unity of the Godhead. In all discussions of Male and Female, the hidden nature of God, “Without Boundaries” (Ein Sof), is above it all – neither one nor the other, transcending any definition.

  • Later Kabbalistic works, including the Zohar, appear to more strongly affirm dualism, as they ascribe all evil to a supernatural force known as the Sitra Ahra (”the other side”) that emantes from God. “The dualistic tendency is, perhaps, most marked in the Kabbalistic treatment of the problem of evil. The profound sense of the reality of evil brought many Kabbalists to posit a realm of the demonic, the Sitra Ahra, a kind of negative mirror image of the “side of holiness” with which it was locked in combat.” [Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 6, “Dualism”, p.244]. However the Zohar indicates that the Sitra Ahra has no power over God, 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 – not a supernatural force opposed to God, but a reflection of the inner moral combat within mankind between morality and one’s basic instincts.
  • Rabbi Dr. David Gottlieb notes that many Kabbalists hold that the concepts of, for example, a Heavenly Court or the Sitra Ahra are only given to humanity by God to give humanity a working model to understand His ways within our own epistemological limits. They reject that a Satan or angels actually exists. Others hold that non-God spiritual entities were indeed created by God as a means for exacting his will.
  • According to Kabbalists, no person can understand the true, unknown nature of God. Rather, there is God that makes Himself known to man, and a hidden Ein Sof that is totally removed from man’s experience. One can have a reading of this theology which is totally monotheistic, similar to panentheism; however one can also have a reading of this theology which is essentially dualistic. Professor Gershom Scholem writes “It is clear that with this postulate of an impersonal basic reality in God, which becomes a person – or appears as a person – only in the process of Creation and Revelation, Kabbalism abandons the personalistic basis of the Biblical conception of God….It will not surprise us to find that speculation has run the whole gamut – from attempts to re-transform the impersonal En-Sof into the personal God of the Bible to the downright heretical doctrine of a genuine dualism between the hidden Ein Sof and the personal Demiurge of Scripture.” (Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism Shocken Books p.11-12)

Debate about Kabbalah in Judaism

Although it has been criticized by a number of rabbis, Kabbalah has nevertheless remained an influential ideology in Jewish theology since the 13th Century, and is particularly influential in Hasidic and Sephardic thought. As well, the Vilna Gaon, the greatest leader of the Mitnagdim – former opponents of the Hasidim – was also a major Kabbalist. Gershom Scholem has written that between 1500 and 1800 “Kabbalah was widely considered to be the true Jewish theology”. Though the medieval rationalists,Dor Daim, and many in Liberal Judaism and Modern Orthodoxy do not ascribe to Kabbalah, other Orthodox Jews still consider it a fundamental part of Jewish thought and belief, though different individuals and groups ascribe to different schools of Kabbalistic thought.

Early critiques

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.

Maimonides (12th Century) belittled many of the texts of the Hekalot, particularly the work Shiur Komah with its starkly anthropomorphic vision of God.

Rabbi Leon Modena, a 17th century Venetian 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 sefirot. This critique was in response to the fact that some Jews went so far as to address individual sefirot individually in some of their prayers, although this practise was far from common. This interpretation of Kabbalah in fact did occur among some European Jews in the 17th century. To respond, others say that the sefiros (To clarify for the reader not accustomed to the jargon, Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum says “The names of God are the Ten Sefiros of which the kabbalists spoke. The Ten Sefiros are ten kinds of revelation of God’s powers that are accessible to us: these are His Ten Names, as explained in the Zohar and Sefer Yetzirah”) represent different aspects of God. In order, the first six are Chesed (kindness), Gevurah (might). Tiferes (harmony), Netzach (victory), Hod (splendor), and Yesod (foundation). The German Jews may have been praying for and not necessarily to those aspects of Godliness.

Kabbalah had many other opponents, notably Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet Perfet (The Rivash); he stated that Kabbalah was “worse than Christianity”, as it made God into 10, not just into three. The critique, however, is considered irrelevant to most Kabbalists. Most followers of Kabbalah never believed this interpretation of Kabbalah. The Christian Trinity concept posits that there are three persons existing within the Godhead, one of whom literally 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 can not become a human being. They are conduits for interaction – not persons or beings.

Within Conservative and Reform Judaism

Since all forms of reform or liberal Judaism are rooted in the Enlightenment and tied to the assumptions of modernity, Kabbalah tended to be rejected by most Jews in the Conservative and Reform 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 of the Jewish Theological Seminary, 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 (Dean of the Conservative Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies in the University of Judaism), “many western Jews insisted that their future and their freedom required shedding what they perceived as parochial orientalism. They fashioned a Judaism that was decorous and strictly rational (according to 19th-century European standards), denigrating Kabbalah as backward, superstitious, and marginal”.

However, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries there has been a revival in interest in Kabbalah in all branches of liberal Judaism. The Kabbalistic 12th century prayer Ani’im Zemirot was restored to the new Conservative Sim Shalom siddur, as was the B’rikh Shmeh passage from the Zohar, and the mystical Ushpizin service welcoming to the Sukkah the spirits of Jewish forbearers. Ani’im Zemirot and the 16th Century mystical poem Lekha Dodi reappeared in the Reform Siddur Gates of Prayer in 1975. All Rabbinical seminaries now teach several courses in Kabbalah, and the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies in Los Angeles has a fulltime instructor in Kabbalah and Hasidut. Reform Rabbis like Herbert Weiner and Lawrence Kushner have renewed interest in Kabbalah among Reform Jews.

According to Artson “Ours is an age hungry for meaning, for a sense of belonging, for holiness. In that search, we have returned to the very Kabbalah our predecessors scorned. The stone that the builders rejected has become the head cornerstone (Psalm 118:22)… Kabbalah was the last universal theology adopted by the entire Jewish people, hence faithfulness to our commitment to positive-historical Judaism mandates a reverent receptivity to Kabbalah”.[1]

Kabbalah Centre

A recent modern revival has been initiated by the controversial Kabbalah Center founded by Philip Berg in Los Angeles in 1984, and run by him and his sons Yehuda and Michael. With a number of branches worldwide, the group has attracted many non-Jews, including entertainment celebrities such as Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Mick Jagger, Anthony Kiedis and Britney Spears. Lindsay Lohan also is believed to study Kabbalah. Reactions from organized Jewish groups have been almost uniformly negative. This center is frowned upon by some people involved in the serious study of Kabbalah including those that are in favour of broadening the knowledge of Kabbalah. Some are of the opinion that the Centre’s teachings are viewed as a mixture of Kabbalistic terminology and various new age teachings, having little to do with Jewish Kabbalistic belief.

Kabbalah in non-Jewish society

Kabbalah eventually gained an audience outside of the Jewish community. Nominal-Christian versions of Kabbalah began to develop; by the early 18th century some kabbalah came to be used by many hermetic philosophers, neo-pagans and other new religious groups.

Hermetic Kabbalah

The Western Esoteric (or Hermetic) Tradition, a precursor to both the neo-Pagan and New Age movements, differs from the Jewish form in being a more admittedly syncretic system. However it shares many concepts with Jewish Kabbalah.

Hermetic Kabbalah probably reached its peak in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a 19th-century organization that was arguably the pinnacle of ceremonial magic (or, depending upon one’s position, its ultimate descent into decadence). Within the Golden Dawn, Kabbalistic principles such as the ten Sephiroth were fused with Greek and Egyptian deities, the Enochian system of angelic magic of John Dee, and certain Eastern (particularly Hindu and Buddhist) concepts within the structure of a Masonic- or Rosicrucian-style esoteric order. Many of the Golden Dawn’s rituals were published by the legendary occultist Aleister Crowley and were eventually compiled into book form by Israel Regardie, an author of some note. The credibility of Crowley is inconsistent at best though, as many of the rituals published were actually manipulated versions.

Crowley made his mark on the use of Kabbalah with several of his writings; of these, perhaps the most illustrative is Liber 777. This book is quite simply a set of tables relating various parts of ceremonial magic and Eastern and Western religion to thirty-two numbers representing the ten spheres and twenty-two paths of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The attitude of syncretism embraced by Hermetic Kabbalists is plainly evident here, as one may simply check the table to see that Chesed (חסד “Mercy”) corresponds to Jupiter, Isis, the color blue (on the Queen Scale), Poseidon, Brahma, and amethysts. These associations are not shared with the Jewish Kabbalah.

Although popular within certain groups, especially the Thelemic Orders such as the O.T.O., Crowley is not without critics. Dion Fortune, a fellow initiate of the Golden Dawn, disagreed with Crowley. Elphas Levi’s works such as Transcendental Magic, heavily steeped in esoteric Kabbalah (rendering it very difficult to understand correctly; it is completely misunderstood by critics), agrees. Samael Aun Weor has many significant works that discuss Kabbalah within many religions, such as the Egyptian, Pagan, and Central American religions, which is summarized in his work The Initiatic Path in the Arcana of Tarot and Kabbalah.

Fictional representations

The anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion utilised Kabbalah imagery heavily and posits the existence of a secret portion of the Kabbalah contained within the Dead Sea scrolls which has been maintained through time by various individuals and a group currently known as SEELE (which, in production materials for the series, are identified with the Essenes). Imagery such as the Systema Sephiroticum is utilised by various characters in the decorum of their offices and operation areas. During an apocalyptic sequence, referred to as the “Third Impact”, in the film End of Evangelion, heavy use of the Tree of Life is undertaken, both visually and with characters “walking through” the explanation of what is happening.

The Science Fiction world-building project Orion’s Arm calls the greatest AI ruled empires sephirotics. The Archaelects that rule them are said to personify the archetypal essences of the Cosmos.

The comic series Promethea by Alan Moore draws heavily on Kabbalah, and is in large part a framework for an overview and explanation of many Kabbalistic concepts. The main character journeys up through the entire tree of life over the course of many issues exploring the symbolism and meaning of each level and of the journey itself.

Umberto Eco’s 1989 novel Foucault’s Pendulum weaves Kaballistic concepts into an imagined global conspiracy involving Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, druidism, and the Knights Templar. The book’s ten sections are named after the ten Sefiroth.

Recent role playing games produced by Squaresoft contains references to Kabbalah. Xenosaga contains strong links and elements to Kaballah, including the Zohar being a light creating alien object that was uncovered in the latter 25th century. Sephiroth as a one winged dark angel created by Jenova in Final Fantasy VII. Not only is Sephiroth used here as a name refrence to Kabbalh, but in Kabblah it is the Holy Ten, the Sefirot, that make up the tree of life, and in Final Fantasy VII there are ten forms of the Sephiroth, between clones, ghosts and true forms.


  1. a b Artson, Bradley Shavit. From the Periphery to the Centre: Kabbalah and the Conservative Movement, United Synagogue Review, Spring 2005, Vol. 57 No. 2
  2. Parpola S. 1993. The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy. Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 52(3) pp161-208

Kabbalah personalities

  • Shimon bar Yochai
  • Moses de Leon
  • Moses ben Jacob Cordovero
  • Yosef Karo
  • Isaac Luria
  • Chaim Vital
  • Israel ben Eliezer
  • Yitzchak Kaduri
  • Baba Sali
  • Elijah ben Solomon
  • Yehuda Ashlag
  • Baruch Ashlag
  • Michael Laitman


  • Aivanhov, Omraam Mikhael THE FRUITS OF THE TREE OF LIFE (The kabbalistic Tradition), ISBN 2-85566-467-5
  • Kaplan, Aryeh Inner Space: Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation and Prophecy. Moznaim Publishing Corp 1990.
  • Scholem, Gershom, Kabbalah, Jewish Publication Society.
  • Dominique Aubier, Don Quijote, Profeta y cabalista, ISBN 84-300-4527-9
  • Wineberg, Yosef. Lessons in Tanya: The Tanya of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi (5 volume set). Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, 1998. ISBN 082660546X
  • The Wisdom of The Zohar: An Anthology of Texts, 3 volume set, Ed. Isaiah Tishby, translated from the Hebrew by David Goldstein, The Littman Library.

External links

Jewish/Hebrew Kabbalah

Language Resources for the Student of Traditional Rabbinic Kabbalah]


This article incorporates text from the public domain 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Kabbalah“.