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Kabbalah – Define

Kabbalah

(קבלה “Reception”, Standard Hebrew Qabbala, Tiberian Hebrew Qabbālāh; also written variously as Cabala, Cabalah, Cabbala, Cabbalah, Kabala, Kabalah, Kabbala, Qabala, Qabalah) is a religious philosophical system claiming an insight into divine nature.

“Kabbalah” is a doctrine of esoteric knowledge concerning God and the universe, asserted to have come down as a revelation to the Sages from a remote past, and preserved only by a privileged few. Kabbalah is considered part of the Jewish Oral Law. It is the traditional mystical understanding of the Torah. Kabbalah stresses the reasons and understanding of the commandments, and the cause of events described in the Torah. Kabbalah includes the understanding of the spiritual spheres in creation, and the rules and ways by which God administers the existence of the universe.

Origin of Jewish mysticism

Early forms of Jewish mysticism at first consisted only of empirical lore. Much later, under the influence of Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean philosophy, it assumed a speculative character. In the medieval era it greatly developed with the appearance of the mystical text, the Sefer Yetzirah. Jewish sources attribute the book to Abraham. It became the object of the systematic study of the elect, called “baale ha-kabbalah” (בעלי הקבלה “possessors or masters of the Kabbalah”). From the thirteenth century onward Kabbalah branched out into an extensive literature, alongside of and often in opposition to the Talmud.

Most forms of Kabbalah teach that every letter, word, number, and accent of scripture contains a hidden sense; and it teaches the methods of interpretation for ascertaining these occult meanings.

Some historians of religion hold that we should limit the use of the term Kabbalah only to the mystical religious systems which appeared after the twelfth century; they use other terms to refer to esoteric Jewish mystical systems before the 12th century. Other historians of religion view this distinction as arbitrary. In this view, post 12th-century Kabbalah is seen as the next phase in a continuous line of development from the same mystical roots and elements. As such, these scholars feel that it is appropriate to use the term “Kabbalah” to refer to Jewish mysticism as early as the first century of the common era. Orthodox Jews typically disagree with both schools of thought, as they reject the idea that Kabbalah underwent significant historical development and change.

Since the late 19th century, with the emergence of the “Jewish Studies” approach, the Kabbalah has also been studied as a highly rational system of understanding the world, rather than a mystical one. A pioneer of this approach was Lazar Gulkowitsch.

Some groups have claimed authorship of the Kabbalah. For instance, Nasorean Essenes claim that Qabalta is the original Kaballah.

One of the first books on Kabbalah is the Sefer Yetzirah, Book of Creation. The first commentaries on this small book were written in the 10th century, and the text itself is quoted as early as the sixth century. Its historical origins are unclear. It exists today in a number of recensions, up to 2500 words long. Like many Jewish mystical texts, it was written in such a way as to be meaningless to those who read it without an extensive background in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Midrash.