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Mystical Judaism

By Uriel Sella

Cosmological Questions & Judaism

Often, when people speak to religious people of any religion, they are intrigued by how the religious people view subjects such as heaven and hell; angels and devils; life after death and G-d's nature. Judaism is no different in that it addresses these questions; perhaps what sets it apart from other religions is the openness with which is deals with them. It would be correct to say that Jewish mysticism discusses these issues extensively yet was traditionally not taught to people until they reached the age of forty, by which time it was assumed that they were fluent in their Torah and Talmud knowledge.

How do Judaism and mysticism interact?

There is no denying that mysticism has been an intrinsic part of Judaism since the very beginning. The Torah contains many mystical episodes including angels, prophetic dreams and visions. The oral Torah speaks of the soul and how it interacts with the body. Jewish tradition is also full of mystical ideas, such as the common belief that all of the souls of the Jews from all time periods were present at the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. There are also hints in the oral Torah of mysticism that was taught only to the most advanced students and was passed down strictly by word of mouth. The sources of the days of creation and the vision of Ezekiel (of the chariot) are two prime examples of mystical texts in the Bible.

Kabbalah

In the Middle Ages mystical teachings were written down for the first time in book such as the Zohar. Jewish opinion of these mystical teachings varies from community to community with some taking it very seriously and others steering clear from it. Hassidic Judaism views Jewish mysticism as an integral part of Judaism and passages from Kabbalistic sources are even included in prayer books.

The mystical school of thought became known as Kabbalah. The Hebrew word Kabbalah is made up of the root Kuf-Bet-Lamed which means "to receive, to accept," and is usually translated as "tradition."

Kabbalah- misunderstood

Unfortunately Kabbalah is one of, if not the most, the misunderstood parts of Judaism. Non-Jewish people often equate Kabbalah with dark magic, or, on the other side of the spectrum, want to learn it as it is the "in" thing to learn.

A main reason for this misunderstanding is the distortion of the teachings of Kabbalah by others. Christian intellectuals in the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods twisted Kabbalah so that it would fit in with Christian dogma. In more recent times, Kabbalah has been reinterpreted and used in tarot card readings and other forms of magic that were never a part of the original Jewish teachings.

That is not to say that supernatural activities are not a part of Judaism; Judaism is full of stories of Rabbis who performed supernatural acts but this kind of "practical Kabbalah" is not practiced by the average Jew or even the average Rabbi. Regarding the practical Kabbalah that is all-too-prevalent today, one should stay far away from such things as this kind of knowledge was traditionally never distributed to the masses.

Readings in the area of Kabbalah should be undertaken carefully as there is way too much material out there that goes by the name Kabbalah that is far-removed from the true subject. As stated above, practical Kabbalah books should be disregarded as no legitimate source would make such readings available on a wide scale. It is worth checking out the works of Aryeh Kaplan, an authoritative and Orthodox writer who has some excellent books, including one called Jewish Meditation that can change one's devotional practices immensely.

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About the Author

Uriel Sella is one of the owners at www.ajudaica.com Jewish web-store, where you can find Kabbalah products and gifts. 

Disclaimer:

The above guest post is published based on the premise that it will be helpful and informative. The opinions made within it are those of the author and not of sunnyray.org. The links you may find within this post do not necessarily imply our recommendation or endorsement of the views expressed within them.

Comments:

Ben says:
01-18-2013


great text. i enjoyed reading it.

ali says:
08-12-2014


The vision of the chariot of God of the prophet Ezekiel is very important for the Hebrew mysticism. This vision was what brought about the so called Merkabah mysticism as a part of the mystical Judaism. Merkabah stands for the chariot which took Ezekiel to the heavens, and the students of this type of mysticism aspire to ascend to God by similar experience to Ezekiel's. In the mystical school of Merkabah, the students seek no rational explanation of the vision of Ezekiel. In fact, this vision is something so different from the experiences of the other prophets of the Old Testament, that it brings a feeling of unveiling the deepest secrets of the Divine worlds. So, the chariot is understood as a personal vehicle that, while in the restraints of the flesh, the student can prepare to ride toward the heavens.

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