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[Heb.,=reception], esoteric system of interpretation of the Scriptures based upon a tradition claimed to have been handed down orally from Abraham.
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(an ancient Hebrew word, literally meaning “traditional lore”), a mystical current in Judaism.
Cabala combined the pantheistic constructions of Neoplato-nism and the mythologems of gnosticism with a Jewish belief in the Bible as a world of symbols. The Book of Creation, a treatise written between the third and the eighth century A.D. and the first attempt at abstract speculation in the Hebrew language, teaches about the 32 elements in the creation of the world. These elements included the ten fundamental numbers (as in Pythagoreanism in Greece) and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The cabala in the proper sense of the word arose in the early 13th century among Jews of Spain and Provence and developed in a complex interrelationship of mutual influence and conflict with an Arabic Jewish philosophical movement in Andalusia.
The fundamental work of the cabala is the Book of Splendor, or Zohar, which was written in Aramaic in Castile at the end of the 13th century. The book was probably written by Moses de Leon (Moshe de Leon), who, however, preferred to attribute it to the second-century Talmudic sage Simeon ben Yokhai. The Zohar takes the typical form of allegorical interpretations of biblical texts. The cabala took god as an absolute, incorporeal, indefinable, and boundless entity (Ein Sof), a negation of everything objective. However, this nothingness is at the same time everything in the objects into which its essence flows, and it limits itself for this purpose. Thus, the cabala replaces the theory of the creation of the world with the concept of emanation. The indefinable god acquires definition in the ten Sefirot, or stages in the unfolding of its meaning, which are analogous to the spheres of gnosticism (Supreme Crown, Wisdom, Intelligence, Love, Power, Compassion, Lasting Endurance, Majesty, Foundation of the World, and Kingdom); the relation of these hypostasized attributes of god is represented in a “tree of Sefirot.” In their totality, the Sefirot form the cosmic body of the perfect essence of the primeval man, the Adam Kadmon, in whom are concentrated the potentials of world being (compare the gnostic myth of the divine man who existed before the beginning of time). Strictly speaking, the cabala does not recognize anything besides or outside of god, and evil may therefore be presented, in this strictly monistic system, merely as a mode of the divine substance itself.
So-called practical cabala is a special aspect of cabala based on the faith that with the help of special rituals, prayers, and inner acts of will man can actively interfere in the divine cosmic process of history (for example, he can hasten the coming of the Messiah), since every “impulse from below” (from man) must necessarily be reciprocated by an “impulse from above” (from god). The major authority of practical cabala was Isaac Luria (Yitskhak ben-Shlomo Ashkenazi), or Ari (1534-72); his system of cabalistic theurgy had an influence on mystical currents in Judaism from the 17th to the 19th century, such as Shabbateanism and Hasidism.
Interest in cabala began spreading in the 15th century among Christian scholars of Europe, who tried to synthesize it with the dogmas of Christianity within the framework of a universal religion that would embrace all mankind (G. Pico della Mirándola, J. Reuchlin, C. Agrippa, Paracelsus). J. Boehme’s theory that world conflict originates in the very nature of god was very similar to cabalistic theory. Certain practices of the Masons show a superficial assimilation of cabalistic symbolism. G. Hegel, V. Solov’ev, N. Berdiaev, C. G. Jung, and M. Buber were directly or indirectly influenced by cabalistic mysticism.
Marxism views cabala, like other currents of Western European mysticism of the period, as a fanciful reflection in the social consciousness of the crisis that accompanied the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times.
REFERENCESLanger, G. Liebesmystik der Kabbah. Munich, 1956.
Scholem, G. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 4th print. New York, 1969. Pages 119-286.
S. S. AVERINTSEV