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kabbalah or cabala (both: kăbˈələ) [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 two principal sources of the kabbalists are the Sefer Yezirah (tr. Book of Creation, 1894) and the Zohar (tr. 1949; The Book of Enlightenment, 1985; The Book of Splendor, 1995). The first develops, in a series of monologues supposedly delivered by Abraham, the doctrine of the Sefirot (the powers emanating from God, through which the world is created and its order sustained), using the primordial numbers of the later Pythagoreans in a system of numerical interpretation. It was probably written in the 3d cent. The Zohar consists of mystical commentaries and homilies on the Pentateuch. It was written by Moses de León (13th cent.) but attributed by him to Simon ben Yohai, the great scholar of the 2d cent. A.D. Following the expulsion (1492) of the Jews from Spain, kabbalah became more messianic in its emphasis, as developed by the Lurianic school of mystics at Safed, Palestine. Kabbalah in this form was widely adopted and created fertile gound for the movement of the pseudo-Messiah Sabbatai Zevi. It was also a major influence in the development of Hasidism. Kabbalah still has adherents, especially among Hasidic Jews.


See G. Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (1965) and Kabbalah (1974); H. Weiner, Nine and One Half Mystics: The Kabbalah Today (1969); J. Dan and F. Talmage, ed., Studies in Jewish Mysticism (1982); M. Idel, Kabbalah (1988); D. Rosenberg, Dreams of Being Eaten Alive: The Literary Core of the Kabbalah (2000).

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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Kabbalah comes from the Hebrew letters qof-bet-lamed. When translated, it literally means "to accept" or "to receive." But it is usually translated as "tradition."

Kabbalah refers to a mystical branch of Judaism that traces its roots to the very beginnings of creation, but it was committed to writing in books such as the Zohar during the Middle Ages. This work was published in early-fourteenth-century Spain by Moses de Leon, but he attributed it to Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai, who lived in the second century CE. Many believe it to be a compilation of various streams of thought and teaching, and not the work of one man. The Zohar is a mystical commentary on the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, and it is thought by Kabbalists to be equal in holiness to the Bible and the Talmud.

Kabbalah deals with five theological issues:

The Nature of God

Yahveh, God, is described as the Eternal—in Hebrew, Ein Sof (the Endless). (Kabbalists and other religious Jews believe the name of the deity to be so holy that it is not voiced. To refrain from speaking that name, vowels are not used. Hence the Hebrew name YHVH for Yahveh, and, in English, the rendering of God's name as Gd.) Because God is above all existence, he (in Kabbalah, the masculine pronoun is most often used) did not actually create the world. Instead, all forms of life, both above and below the plane we experience, are emanations from Ein Sof.

Ein Sof is not a name. It is rather a description of the absolute transcendence that is so far above us we can only depict it by describing what it is not (similar to the Hindu concept of Brahman; see Brahman/Atman). But even though Ein Sof is absolutely transcendent, he interacts with the universe through what Tracey Rich in her article "Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism" refers to as "ten emanations from this essence." These are called Ten Sefirot, or the Ten Spheres. In English these spheres are translated as: crown, wisdom, intelligence (intuition, understanding), greatness, strength (power), beauty (glory), firmness (majesty), splendor, foundation, and kingdom (sovereignty).

1 Chronicles 10:11 quotes King David as he refers to the middle five of these emanations in order: "Yours, O Yahveh, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours." Perhaps this passage points to Kabbalah's ancient roots.

The names of these spheres, in Hebrew, allow for both masculine and feminine qualities, a characteristic that continues through much of Kabbalah theology. It is important to remember that the Ten Sefirot are not separate deities, but rather ways in which Ein Sof connects with the universe while at the same time remaining separate from it. Through these spheres God rules the world, and through them God's activities are explained.

The Creation of the Universe

If all that exists emanates from God and holds the universe together, then humans can interact with God by obeying the commandments and participating righteously within the framework of the intention of the Creator. The Hebrew people were given the law for that very reason. It was not just a law for them, it was the law for everyone. They were simply the ones chosen to demonstrate and preserve the universal law, which illustrates the very nature of the Creator.

The Destiny of Humanity

All souls were created at the same time and are the most important part of each person. Souls that remain pure after contact with human bodies become, at death, part of the divine, the ten spheres of God. Those souls that are impure, that do not obey the divine law, must continue to migrate from body to body until they have been completely purified (note the similarity to Hinduism—see Hinduism; Karma).

The Nature of Evil

Evil is not a separate entity. Instead, it is understood to be a cessation of the good. It can be overcome through prayer, repentance, self-affliction, and, most important, by strict observance of the law. In this sense, evil, even a great evil such as the Holocaust, is seen as a purging and reminder, a call to repentance, not just a punishment.

The Meaning of the Bible

The very text of the Bible is a code from God to humanity. It is filled with layers upon layers of messages only now beginning to be understood. Indeed, new computer studies seem to reveal hidden meanings never before discovered. Like a multi-dimension crossword puzzle, those who study Bible codes find predictions of historical events described by some as uncanny and by others as completely coincidental.

Michael Drosnin is not a Kabbalist, but his book The Bible Code documents many of the early messages computer analysis seems to reveal. On September 1, 1994, he flew to Israel and met with a close friend of Yitzhak Rabin, warning him that he had found the prime minister's name encoded in the Bible. Crossing that name were the words, "Assassin that will assassinate." The code even seemed to indicate the assassination would take place in the Hebrew year that began in September of 1995 of the common calendar. Its warning was ignored. Two months later, on November 4th, Rabin was murdered.

There are many other such warnings. The assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. are said to be there, as are the Holocaust, the World Wars, and the birth and rise to world power of America. As computers make the search easier, there seems to be mounting evidence of something the Kabbalists have been saying for centuries. Indeed, Drosnin now claims the World Trade Center tragedy of September 11, 2001, was prophesied. The latest edition of his book even goes so far as to predict the date of the end of the world (2004), assuming human beings don't wise up. Drosnin is not religious. He doesn't even claim a belief in God, let alone Kabbalah. He is interested only in what he deduces from his computer readouts, and he presents a compelling case for hidden meanings in scripture.

But not all Jews accept Kabbalah teachings, and some are extremely skeptical. Tracey Rich quotes an Orthodox Jewish scholar on the subject of Jewish mysticism: "It's nonsense, but it's Jewish nonsense, and the study of anything Jewish, even nonsense, is worthwhile."

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The term Kabbalah means “doctrine received from tradition.” At one time it referred to the entire corpus of Hebrew writings apart from the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), but over the centuries it has come to designate a particular mystical system that came to the fore in the Middle Ages and was later adapted for use by non-Jewish Esotericists.

The Kabbalah describes the cosmos as having emanated from the utterly transcendent and unknowable God (the Ein Soph). The emanations appear as ten realms, the sephiroth, each emerging from the realm immediately above it. The tenth sephiroth includes the visible, manifest world. The ten sephiroth have been pictured in an intricate diagram called the Tree of Life, with the sephiroth shown as circles. In the diagram, the circles are connected to each other by lines, termed paths. The Tree of Life serves as a map of the spiritual realms one may traverse during meditative and magical states.

During the sixteenth century, following the banishment of the Jewish community in Spain and Portugal, kabbalistic wisdom was dispersed across Europe and found its way into Christian hands, the Old Testament scholar Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522) being a major force in the development and dissemination of a Christianized Cabala.

In subsequent centuries, the Hassidic Jewish movement, the major exponents of the Kabbalah, spread across Eastern Europe, where a variety of Hassidic dynasties were created around lineages of holy men, rebbes, who perpetuated this mystical form of Judaism. These communities assumed the brunt of the Nazi Holocaust and were largely wiped out, although remnants escaped to either Palestine or North America. In the decades since World War II, the Lubavitcher community has emerged as the single largest Hassidic group and now includes more than half of all Hassidic believers. Another Hassidic group, the Satmar, possibly the second largest, has become well known for its opposition to the Zionist vision that led to the creation of the modern state of Israel.

The Cabala was also integrated in the revival of magical religion in Western Europe in the nineteenth century. French magician Eliphas Levi (1810–1875) utilized the Cabala as a major building block of the system of ceremonial magic he developed. Magical activity, especially the development of the individual magician, was related to the Tree of Life. Levi advocated Tarot cards as magical tools and pushed the development of the Tarot decks so they correlated with the Cabala. Whilefew contemporary ritual magicians follow the Cabala exclusively, almost all use it to some degree.

Bringing the two traditions of Kabbalah and Cabala together are the works of Philip Berg, the leader of the Kabbalah Centre, a controversial movement that has attempted to popularize the teachings of Jewish mysticism quite apart from the traditional Hassidic communities. It has attracted a number of celebrities—among them Madonna, Demi Moore, Roseanne Barr, Britney Spears, Sarah Bernhardt—while being heavily criticized by some Jewish leaders for distorting and diluting the tradition.


Berg, Philip S. Kabbalah for the Layman: A Guide to Cosmic Consciousness; an Opening to the Portals of Jewish Mysticism. Richmond Hill, NY: Research Centre Of Kabbalah, 1982.
Greer, John Michael, Paths of Wisdom: The Magical Cabala in the Western Tradition. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1996.
Reuchlin, Johann. On the Art of the Kabbalah. New York: Abaris Books, 1983.
Scholem, Gershom. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism. New York: Schocken Books, 1960.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
Enlarge picture
Frontispiece and title page of Knorr von Rosenroth's Kabbala Denudata. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A Jewish system of theosophy, magic, philosophy, science, and mysticism. The name means "knowledge received through tradition." Legend has it that God whispered the secrets of the Kabbalah to Moses who, in turn, passed it on to seventy elders. They, in turn, passed it to their successors, and so it continued as an oral tradition. In the Middle Ages various authors—many of them writing anonymously— published versions of it, but some say that even today there are some of the most secret parts of the Kabbalah known only to a few initiates.

The two most important books on the subject are Zohar, or "Book of Splendor," written in Spain in the late thirteenth century by Moses de Léon, and Sefer Yetzirah, or "Book of Creation," written in either Babylon or Palestine between the third and sixth centuries.

The Kabbalah teaches that God (known as En Soph, "infinite radiance") is in all things, good and evil; all things in the universe are part of an organized whole. But this whole is governed by secret laws with hidden connections to each other. Ten emanations, known as the sephiroth (singular sephirah), come from God. These, in the form of angels and men, make up the Tree of Life, which contains aspects of the divine. The Tree is arranged in three triangles representing the human body, with the tenth point being the reproductive organs. The ten sephiroth underlie the construction of the universe and of humankind. Twenty-two paths connect them all together. These link to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The Tree of Life shows how God descended from Kether, the Crown, to

Malkuth, the Earth. It also shows how humankind can rise from Earth to God.

The Kabbalah's teachings are similar to those of Gnosticism, which flourished in the countries around the eastern Mediterranean at the time that Christianity was first taking root. Kabbalists and Gnostics both believed that the way to God is through knowledge and that the only sin is ignorance.

The Kabbalah is used by many Ceremonial Magicians. Since it incorporates Judaism's authoritative monotheism and strict codes of behavior, is not a part of Witchcraft. Many individual Wiccan, however, are interested in it and pursue their own studies and practice of it.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
His introduction to cabbalistic thought confronted him with the animosity of cabbalists towards his attempts at making sense of that divine science.
then proceeds to analyze typologically, phenomenologically, and historically visions of God in the early Hekhalot literature, some important medieval pre-Cabbalistic figures, and more extensively the German Pietists of the 12th-13th centuries, and the array of Provencal-Spanish cabbalists whose work culminates in The Zohar.
The Zohar (a mystical commentary on the Pentateuch written in the late thirteenth century) speculated about intercourse between the male and female aspects of God, believing it could actually be influenced by the way in which human sexual relations were conducted; for this exalted purpose, the Cabbalists were encouraged to have intercourse with their wives on Sabbath eve.(10) Christian mystics like Bernard of Clairvaux in the twelfth century, or St.
The heart of these aesthetic theories is based on the principle of an analogous explanattion of reality, which harks back to the age-old analogous thinking of ancient philosophers and thinkers such as the Pythagorians, Platonics, neo-Platonics, gnostics, and cabbalists, and which took on its most fantastic forms in the alchemy of the Middle Ages.
Thus Tzinacan, like the cabbalists, pursues the Idea of language--a search that is a frequent theme in Borges' work (9).
According to Nahmanides and Crescas, not to mention the Cabbalists, the soul, having been imparted by God and being a simple, non-composite substance, is not subject to decomposition and disintegration.(18)