views updated May 18 2018


CABALA. The commonly used term for the mystical, magical, and theosophic teachings of Judaism from the twelfth century onward, the cabala (also cabbala, kabbala, or kabbalah) was considered the esoteric and unwritten portion of the revelation granted to Adam and again to Moses, while the Bible represented the exoteric revelation. (Although the term is often spelled with a 'k' when referring to the Jewish tradition and with a 'c' in the Christian version, it is spelled here with a 'c' for simplicity's sake.) The word means "that which is received" or "tradition," implying that the cabala was a body of knowledge that passed orally from generation to generation. A distinction is generally made between theoretical and practical cabala, the first dealing with theosophical issues, and the second with producing specific practical and eschatological effects (healing the sick, hastening the advent of the Messiah, attaining an ecstatic state) through the use of divine names and Hebrew letters.

The cabala proper developed from diverse esoteric and theosophical currents among Jews in Palestine and Egypt during the first Christian centuries. Early strands of Jewish apocalypticism and Merkabah (throne) and Hekhalot (palaces) mysticism were influenced by Hellenistic, Iranian, and gnostic thought, although scholars disagree about the extent and importance of these external influences. Merkabah and Hekhalot mysticism was devoted to descriptions of the dangerous ascent through various worlds and palaces that culminated in the vision of the divine throne described in Ezekiel. The Sefer Yezirah (Book of formation), a major source of later cabalistic speculation, belongs to the same period (second to sixth century). It describes the creative power of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten sefirot (numbers or manifestations of God) through whom the world came into being.

During the Middle Ages these traditions of early Jewish mysticism were fused with Christian and Islamic (Sufism) mysticism and Islamic and Christian Neoplatonism to produce the German Hasidic movement (Ashkenazi Hasidism), which peaked between the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries. Its leading figures were Judah he-Hasid (d. 1217) and his pupil Eleazar of Worms (d. 1238), who produced popular works combining elements of Merkabah mysticism and theurgy with mystical speculations about letters and numbers.

The cabala originated simultaneously from these same sources in southern France in the twelfth century. Among its most important proponents were Rabbi Abraham ben David and his son Rabbi Isaac the Blind (d. c. 1235). The Sefer ha-Bahir, composed in the late twelfth century, circulated among these cabalists. It elaborated on the idea of the ten sefirot, describing them as divine powers emanating from the hidden God (En Soph). This became a dominant motif in later cabala. Cabalist centers developed in Burgos, Toledo, and Gerona. Azriel of Gerona applied Neoplatonic philosophy to cabalist concepts. For Gerona cabalists the highest human goal was to attain Devekut (communion with God) through prayer and meditation on the sefirot. Nachmanides (c. 11941270) was the most famous member of this group. Many of the ideas of Ashkenazi Hasidism were absorbed by cabalists in Spain and southern France, who established new schools of cabala in Europe, Italy, and the East. Although there were considerable differences between the teachings of the various mystical and cabalistic groups in the medieval period, a common theme was the idea of the Godhead as a unity of dynamic forces.

A school of prophetic Cabala arose in connection with the teachings of Abraham Abulafia (c. 12401292), who devised "the science of combination," a mystical technique of meditating on the divine names and the Hebrew letters in order to draw down the divine spirit and attain ecstatic experiences. The main product of Spanish Cabala, however, was the Sefer ha-Zohar (The book of splendor), written largely between 1280 and 1286. More of a library than a book, the Zohar consists of some twenty independent works. While it was attributed to the second-century Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai, a renowned sage of the school of Rabbi Akiva, the actual author was the contemporary Spanish cabalist Moses de Leon. The whole thrust of the Zohar, and the Cabala in general, is to understand the nature of God and man's relation to him, but the picture that emerges is different from that found elsewhere in Judaism. Instead of the lawgiver and ruler of halakhah (Jewish law), the merciful father of aggadah (allegorical rabbinic literature), the awesome king of Merkabah and Hekhalot mysticism, or the necessary being of the philosophers, the Zohar envisions God as ten sefirot joined in a dynamic, organic unity. Each represents a distinct attribute of God, such as "wisdom," "understanding," "power," "beauty," "endurance," and "majesty."

Humanity is accorded tremendous power in the Zohar. Because people are made in the image of God and originate from the Godhead, they have the power to influence and act in the divine realm for good and ill. Through devotion in prayer and by fulfilling the commandments, people become active participants in the "mystery of unification" (sod hayihud), the process through which the divine forces are united, perfected, and return to their source. The notion that man can participate in the restoration, repair, and amendment of this world is stressed throughout the Zohar in the notion of Tikkun, which literally means 'restoration'.

In the sixteenth century a new form of Cabala appeared, derived from the teachings of Isaac Luria (15341572). Where the Zohar and earlier cabalistic works concentrated on cosmology, the Lurianic Cabala focused on exile, redemption, and the millennium. Luria reasoned that in order for there to be a place for the world, God had to withdraw from a part of himself. This doctrine of Tsimsum (withdrawal) was both profound and ambiguous. It provided a symbol of exile in the deepest sense, within the divinity itself, but it also implied that evil was intrinsic to the creation process and not attributable to man alone. Two other doctrines are crucial to Luria's radical theology, the Shevirat-ha-Kelim (breaking of the vessels) and Tikkun (restoration). Both explain how the evil that emerged with creation represented a temporary state that would eventually end with the perfection of all things.

According to the complex mythology of the Lurianic cabala, after God withdrew from himself, traces of light were left in the void. These were formed into the image of the primordial man, Adam Kadmon, who was the first manifested configuration of the divine. However, at this point a catastrophe occurred. Further divine lights burst forth from Adam Kadmon, but the "vessels" meant to contain them shattered. With "the breaking of the vessels" evil came into the world as sparks of light (souls) became sunk in matter.

In the Lurianic cabala man is given an even more central role than in the Zohar, for it is only through human actions (observing the commandments, studying the Torah, and mystical meditation) that the souls, trapped among the shards of the broken vessels, can be reunited with the divine light. Luria viewed history as an ongoing struggle between the forces of good and evil played out by the same cast of characters, who experience repeated reincarnations (Gilgul ) until they become perfect. Although the process of Tikkun will be long and arduous, restoration will eventually occur as each exiled being moves up the ladder of creation, becoming better and increasingly spiritual until finally freed from the cycle of rebirth. The Lurianic cabala transformed mysticism into an activist historical force, involving individuals in a cosmic millennial drama in which their every action counted. The Lurianic cabala was the first Jewish theology to envision perfection in terms of a future state, not in terms of some forfeited ideal past.

Gershom Scholem believed that the Lurianic cabala became "something like the true theologia mystica of Judaism" from 1630 onward (Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 284). He attributed the emergence of the heretical movement connected with Shabbetai Tzevi (also Sabbatai Sevi; 16261676) to the messianic ideas inherent in Lurianic cabala. In Scholem's view, Shabbetai Tzevi's eventual apostasy and conversion to Islam led to a crisis in Judaism that precipitated the Haskalah, or secular Enlightenment. The cabala thus played a key role in transforming Jewish history and culture. Not all scholars agree. Idel and others deny that Messianism was a significant element of Lurianic cabala. In their view the Sabbatean movement was an outgrowth of popular apocalyptic Messianism and secularization that was largely the result of increased social and intellectual contact with Christians.

The last stage in the development of Jewish cabala occurred with the emergence of the modern Hasidic movement, founded by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, in the mid-eighteenth century. This movement created a serious rift within Judaism between Hasids and their rationalist opponents (the Mitnagedim ), who claimed that Hasidism ignored important aspects of the Jewish law, especially Torah study and prayer, and placed too much emphasis on the redeeming role of the Hasidic rabbi, or Tsaddik (holy one).


Christian interest in the cabala emerged at the end of the fifteenth century in the Platonic Academy at the Medici court in Florence. The cabala was seen as a source for retrieving the prisca theologia, or ancient wisdom, but being Jewish and not pagan in origin, cabalistic writings were regarded as the purest source of this divine knowledge. This was the view of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (14631494), who studied the cabala with the assistance of several Jewish teachers, Samuel ben Nissim Abulfaraj, Yoseph Alemano (14351504) and the converted Jew Raymond Moncada, also known as Flavius Mithradites (fl. 14701483). Pico's cabalistic studies were aimed at converting the Jews by showing them that their own ancient wisdom supported the truth of Christianity. Forty-seven of his famous nine hundred theses were taken directly from the cabala, while another seventy-two were based on his speculations about the cabala. As a result of his study, he concluded that "no science can better convince us of the divinity of Jesus Christ than magic and the cabala," an opinion the Catholic Church condemned. Pico's work influenced the German Christian Hebraist Johannes Reuchlin (14551522), who wrote De Verbo Mirifico (1494; On the miracle-working name) and De Arte Cabalistica (1517; On the science of the cabala). Reuchlin claimed that God revealed himself in three stages: first, to the Patriarchs through the three-letter name Shaddai (shin, dalet, yod); then in the Torah as the four-letter Tetragrammaton (yod, he, vav, he); and finally as the five-letter name Yehoshua (yod, he, shin, vav, he) or Jesus. Pico's and Reuchlin's work encouraged other Christians to explore the cabala. Cornelius Agrippa included discussions of the practical cabala in De Occulta Philosophia (1531), which led to the association of the cabala with magic and witchcraft. Cardinal Egidio da Viterbo (14651532) wrote a treatise on the Hebrew letters. The Franciscan Francesco di Giorgio (1460/661540) incorporated material from the Zohar in his De Harmonia Mundi (1525) and Problemata (1536). Guillaume Postel (15701581) translated the Sefer Yetzirah and parts of the Zohar into Latin with annotations. A fusion between the cabala and alchemy emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, appearing in Heinrich Khunrath's Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae (1609) and the writings of Robert Fludd (15741637) and Thomas Vaughan (16221666).

During the seventeenth century Jakob Boehme's (15751624) work was noted for its affinity to the cabala, and the German Jesuit Athansius Kircher drew a parallel between Adam Kadmon and Jesus. The most influential Christian cabalist, however, was Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (16361689), whose Kabbala Deundata (1677, 1684) offered the Latin-reading public the largest collection of cabalistic texts available before the nineteenth century. This collection was especially important because it included selections from the Zohar (with annotations and commentaries) and translations and synopses of treatises written by Luria's disciples Hayyim Vital and Israel Sarug. Scholars have recently begun to investigate the way in which this work and the cabala in general influenced such thinkers as Henry More, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, John Locke, and Isaac Newton, contributing to the modern idea of scientific progress and the concept of toleration. The German Pietists led by Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (17021782) were also influenced by von Rosenroth's translations, and he in turn influenced Franz von Baader, Martines de Pasqually, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Friedrich von Schelling. Georg von Welling published his popular Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum in 1735. The last great work of Christian cabala was Franz Josef Molitor's (17791861) Philosophie der Geschichte oder Ueber die Tradition, which in spite of its Christological approach received high praise from Scholem, influencing his own view of the cabala. The theosophical systems of eighteenth-century Freemasons, Illuminati, and Rosicrucians also reflect cabalistic concepts and symbolism. This connection unfortunately played into the hands of anti-Semites, who claimed that a Jewish "cabale" of revolutionary Freemasons and cabalists were infiltrating European institutions and destroying them from within. The legacy of the cabala in Europe is thus Janus-faced: on the one hand it contributed to ideas at the heart of the Enlightenment: scientific progress, the ability of man to shape his own destiny, and religious toleration; on the other hand, it fed into the anti-Semitic rhetoric that laid the foundation for genocide.

See also Catholic Spirituality and Mysticism ; Enlightenment ; Freemasonry ; Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) ; Jews and Judaism ; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm ; More, Henry ; Newton, Isaac ; Shabbetai Tzevi ; Vaughan, Thomas.


Altmann, Alexander. "Lurianic Kabbala in a Platonic Key: Abraham Cohen Herrera's Puerta del Cielo." Hebrew Union College Annual 53 (1982): 317355.

Blau, Joshua. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance. New York, 1944.

Cohn, Norman. Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World-Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Chico, Calif., 1981.

Coudert, Allison P. The Impact of the Kabbalah in the Seventeenth Century: The Life and Thought of Francis Mercury van Helmont, 16141698. Leiden, 1999.

. Leibniz and the Kabbalah. Dordrecht, 1995.

Fine, Lawrence, ed. Essential Papers on Kabbalah. New York, 1995.

Goldish, Matt. "Newton on Kabbalah." In The Books of Nature and Scripture: Recent Essays on Natural Philosophy, Theology, and Biblical Criticism in the Netherlands of Spinoza's Time and the British Isles of Newton's Time, edited by James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin. Dordrecht, 1994.

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Katz, Jacob. Jews and Freemasons in Europe, 17231939. Translated by Leonard Oschry. Cambridge, Mass., 1970.

Krabbenhoft, Kenneth. "Kabbalah and Expulsion: The Case of Abraham Cohen de Herrera." In The Expulsion of the Jews 1492 and After, edited by Raymond B. Waddington and Arthur H. Williamson, pp. 127146. New York, 1994.

Liebes, Yehuda. Studies in the Zohar. Translated by Arnold Schwartz, Stephanie Nakache, and Penina Peli. Albany, N.Y., 1993.

Ruderman, David. Kabbalah, Magic and Science: The Cultural Universe of a Sixteenth Century Jewish Physician. Cambridge, Mass., 1988.

. "Science, Medicine, and Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe." The Spiegel Lecture in European Jewish History. Tel Aviv University, 1987.

Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah. New York, 1974.

. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York, 1954.

. On the Kabbala and Its Symbolism. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York, 1965.

. "Zur Geschichte der Anfänge der christlichen Kabbala." In Essays Presented to Leo Baeck on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, pp. 158193. London, 1954.

Secret, François. Le Zohar chez les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance. Paris, 1958.

Tishby, Isaiah. The Wisdom of the Zohar: An Anthology of Texts. Arranged and rendered into Hebrew by Fischel Lachower and Isaiah Tishby; with introductions and explanations by Isaiah Tishby. Translated by David Goldstein. 3 vols. The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. Oxford and New York, 1991.

Wirszubski, Chaim. Pico della Mirandola's Encounter with Jewish Mysticism. Cambridge, Mass., 1989.

Allison P. Coudert


views updated Jun 11 2018


A system of occult theosophy based on a mystical interpretation of the Scriptures, common not only among the Jews of the Middle Ages but also with some influence on certain medieval Christians. This article considers its rise and spread, its principal literary works, particularly the Bahir and the Zohar, and its later development, especially in Lurianic circles.

The term comes from the Hebrew word qabbālâ, which etymologically means a "receiving, accepting," but which is used also in the sense of "tradition," both actively, as a "handing down" of traditional lore, and passively, as the lore itself thus handed down. In rabinical writings it is used both of the post-Mosaic Scriptures and of the traditional Talmudic law. In modern Israeli Hebrew it even has the sense of "receipt." But ordinarily it is used in the technical sense of the Jewish mystic lore of the Middle Ages, and this is the meaning in which the term is employed here.

Early Period. The cabala is basically a development of Jewish gnosticism. As a historical phenomenon it arose toward the end of the 12th century in Provence (southern France). From here it spread at the beginning of the 13th century to Spain, where it passed through its first classical period. It arose, therefore, in Christian surroundings; only after three generations did it take root in regions of Muslim culture. Its first centers were at Lunel, Narbonne, and Posquièresall in southern France. From there it was brought by students of the Provençal Jewish scholars to Burgos, Gerona, and Toledo, and from these cities its spread to the rest of Spain.

Provençal Cabala. In the 12th and 13th centuries Provençal Judaism reached a cultural zenith. In Provence the Tibbonide family (see ibn tibbon), the greatest translators of Arabic religious-philosophical works into Hebrew, were active. In this region Jews lived at the meeting place of Muslim and Christian cultures and in the immediate vicinity of the seething currents among Christians that led to the agitation for Evangelical poverty among the waldenses and to the Gnostic movements of the ca thari and the albigenses. It was not by accident that the Jews who lived in such surroundings gladly welcomed ascetical tendencies and mystic-Gnostic traditions that were at that time latent in Judaism itself. The intermediaries of these tendencies and traditions were the Ashkenazic asidim (pious men), who were very influential in Jewry from the middle of the 12th century to the beginning of the 13th. There is evidence that in the circles of certain Provençal scholars people were having peculiar mystical experiences known as "revelations of Elia." Such revelations were said to have been received by Abraham ben Isaac (d. 1179), the Abh Beth Din (head of the Jewish court) in Narbonne; by his son-in-law, Abraham ben David (d. 1198) of Posquières; by Jacob ha-Nazir of Lunel, a contemporary of Abraham ben David; and by Isaac Saggi Nehor (Isaac the Blind), Abraham ben David's son, who lived until the 1230s in Posquières or Narbonne. The last-mentioned was the most important personality in Provençal cabalism, and he was already using the terminology of the sephirot that would henceforth be customary in cabala. Thus the union of Jewish religious philosophy with Gnostic tendencies and mystical experiences among Provençal scholars led to the concrete phenomenon of cabala.

The Bahir. The first important work of the cabala was the Book of Bahir (Heb. bāhîr, taken here to mean "bright," although in Jb 37.21, which is the first Biblical quotation in the book and which thus gave the book its name, the word really means "obscured"). The work was already known by this name around a.d. 1200, but it was spread also under the names of haggadah, Yerushalmi, and midrash of Rabbi Neunya Ben Hakana, who is mentioned in the first section of the work as a bearer of the tradition. The text, as it has come down to us, is a collection of various literary units from different periods, some of them showing elements from an otherwise lost Jewish Gnosticism, others containing typical teachings of a date not earlier than the 12th century. Certain motifs in the Bahir are also found in the writings of the Ashkenazic asidim. One of the important sources that the author or editor of the book thus received and used was a book with the significant title of "The Great Mystery" or "The Great Secret" known at first in the Orient by the Aramaic title, Raza Rabba, but later given the Hebrew title, Sepher ha-Sôd ha-Gadôl. As early as the 9th century the Raza Rabba was known in the East as a work concerned with divine names, angelology, and magic. Typical of the 12th century are many of the ideas that have been taken over into the Bahir from Judeo-Spanish religious philosophy. Thus, for instance, the influence of the teachings of Abraham bar iya can be seen in Bahir 2.910. He was the first to interpret the tohu and bohu of Gn 1.2 as meaning matter and form, and the same idea appears in Bahir 2.910. Since Abraham bar iya died around the middle of the 12th century, the Bahir must have been composed in Provence around a.d. 1200.

The concept of God in the Bahir is theosophic-Gnostic. God is the bearer of cosmic forces, which He causes to flow into the cosmic tree. The God of the Bahir, therefore, is similar to the God of the Gnostic myth, even though the book adheres to the principle of pure monotheism. In ch. 14 it is emphatically stated that the angels were created on the second day of creation so that they might not claim that they assisted in the creation of the heavens and the earth. In this sense, mî'ttî, "Who was with me [when I created the world]?" in Is 44.24, is taken, as in Midrash Rabba on Gn 1.4, to be mêttî, "from me, by my own power." Moreover, the Bahir is acquainted with the concept of the golema legendary human figure made of clay (ch. 136) and the doctrine of the transmigration of souls [see G. Scholem, "Seelenwanderung und Sympathie der Seelen in der jüdischen Mystick," Eranos 24 (1956) 55118], which is used for solving the problem of theodicy (ch. 135).

Spanish Cabala. An important center of the early cabala in Spain was the city of Gerona, where from 1215 to 1265 many influential cabalists were active. Most of these men had studied in the Jewish schools of Provence. Some of them are known to have been disciples of Isaac Saggi Nehor. The most important one was Azriel of Gerona, who, together with other disciples of Isaac Saggi Nehor, was interested in "Platonizing" the Gnostic material contained in the Bahir. A sort of cabalistic catechism of his has been preserved under the title, Shaar ha-Shöēl (Gate of the Inquirer), later called the Perush 'Eser ha-Sephirot (Explanation of the Ten Sephirot) and printed as the introduction to the edition of Meir ben Gabbi's Derekh 'Emûnâ "Way of Faith" (Berlin 1850). The influence of Neoplatonism can clearly be seen in this work. Another important cabalist in Gerona was Moses nahmanides (11941270), who was likewise famous as a physician, philosopher, Talmudist, exegete, and poet. Cabalistic influence is unmistakable in his works, particularly in his commentary on the Book of yeirah (Jesira), since this commentary, in contrast to his other books, was primarily intended for readers interested in cabalism. The concept of God that is presented here is influenced both by the Neoplatonic doctrine of emanations and by the Gnostic doctrine of the aeons. The 'Ên Sôph (Infinite One), as the Furthest Removed, is not the personal God of the Bible; the latter becomes manifest only through the sephirot, to which the divine attributes correspond.

The Zohar. The most important cabalistic work is the zohar ("illumination," a term taken from Dn 12.3). About 100 years of development lie between the Bahir and the Zohar.

Authorship. The alleged author of the Zohar is Simeon bar Yochai, a Tanna (see mishnah) of the 2nd century, of whom it is said, in the Mishnah tractate Sabbath 33b, that he hid in a cave in order to escape the persecution of the Romans. This legendary anecdote is introduced into the Zohar in connection with its alleged authorship. Actually, the work was composed by the cabalist Moses de Leon, who was active in Spain during the last quarter of the 13th century. The whole corpus of the Zohar consists of five books, of which the first three are the most important. These three books contain midrashim (see midrash; midrashic literature) on the Pentateuch: Book 1 on Genesis, Book 2 on Exodus, and Book 3 on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Book 4, called Tiqqunē Zohar (Emendations on the Zohar ), is a literary unit by itself, and Book 5, called Zohar adash (New Zohar), is made up of sections of the first four books that were missing in the manuscripts used for the first printed edition (Mantua 155860). With the exception of Book 4, the work consists of numerous small literary units. It is written in an artificial Aramaic, only the part called Midrash ha-Nelam (Interpretation of What Is Hidden) being written partly in Hebrew. The parts called Raya Mehemna (The True Shepherd) and Tiqqunē Zohar were not written by Moses de Leon, but were added by some other cabalist shortly after a.d. 1300.

From the very beginning opinions were divided on the question of the origin of the Zohar. Clear evidence for it comes from the information supplied by Isaac of Accho, who migrated to Spain when the Muslims captured Accho in 1291. According to this man, Moses de Leon had indeed sworn that Simeon bar Yochai had composed the work and that he himself had merely made a copy of it; but, according to Isaac of Accho, Moses de Leon's wife had stated after his death (1305) that her husband had written the Zohar "out of his own head, his own heart, his own knowledge, and his own understanding," This statement of Moses de Leon's wife deserves the fullest confidence, for modern research has established with certainty the pseudepigraphic character of the Zohar. Moreover, the writings of Moses de Leon show that, in any case, he took a decisive part in the spread of the work; his own writings contain numerous Zoharic expressions at a time when the Zohar itself was hardly known.

The earliest citations from the Zohar are found in the cabalistic literature written toward the end of the 13th century. These quotations show that the writers who cited the Zohar at that time were acquainted only with certain parts of it. This confirms the statement of Isaac of Accho that Moses de Leon gradually spread the work in the form of separate fascicles. Quotations of greater length and from all parts of the complete Zohar are first made in the 3rd decade of the 14th century. Many other arguments can be adduced to show that the Zohar could not have been composed at the time of Simeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century. Thus, the generations of the Talmudic rabbis are frequently confused, and many Talmudic statements are wrongly understood. The author of the Zohar knew Palestine only from literature, and even this he at times misunderstood. The artificial Aramaic of the Zohar depends on the Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud and of the Targums, and it is also influenced by the Hebrew of the 13th century. Besides, clearly in evidence is the philosophical terminology of the Hebrew philosophical literature of the 12th and 13th centuries. From the Zohar 's frequent changes of the modifications of the verbal roots it is clear that, for its author, Aramaic was no longer a living language. Moreover, the many later sources that are used in the Zohar prove that it could not possibly have been composed as early as the 2nd century. Such sources are the Targums, both Talmuds, various midrashic works, avicebron's Keter Malkuth, Judah al-arīzī, Judah Ben Samuel Ha-Levi, Abraham Bar iyya, maimonides, rashi, etc. Even the Hekhalot literature, the Book of Yeirah, the Book of Bahir, and the cabalistic literature from the end of the 12th and from the 13th century are used in the Zohar. These reasons, as well as the testimony of Isaac of Accho, justify the conclusion that the Zohar was composed and circulated by Moses de Leon between 1275 and 1290.

Contents. The concepts of God and creation in the Zohar are based upon those of the 'Ên Sôph (the Infinite) and the ten sephirot. The idea of the sephirot and of their number, ten, comes from the Book of Yeirah. In the Yeirah the term sephirot (numbers) refers to the elements of creation. In cabala this term received an entirely new meaning. Under the influence of Neoplatonic philosophy the sephirot became the intermediaries and bases of all existence in God, yet without losing their original character as dynamic powers. In the Zohar, however, the term sephirot is found but seldom; the author, for the sake of protecting his anonymity, substitutes numerous symbolic expressions for them. The current names for the ten sephirot are: (1) Keter, "Crown"; (2) ohkmah, "Wisdom"; (3) Bînah, "Understanding"; (4) esed or Gedullah, "Grace" or "Greatness"; (5) Dîn or Gebhurah, "Judgment" or "Strength"; (6) Raamîm or Tiph'eret, "Mercy" or "Majesty"; (7) Nea, "Eternity"; (8) Hôd, "Splendor"; (9) Yesôd or Saddîq, "Foundation" or "the Just Man"; (10) Malkhût, "Kingdom."

The 'Ên Sôph is the Hidden God (Deus absconditus ) who reveals Himself through the sephirot. These are not intermediate degrees between God and creations in the sense of the purely Neoplatonic degrees of emanation, but rather the self-revealing Deity Itself in jointly acting dynamic powers. Although the Zohar speaks of the sephirot as degrees in the figurative sense, they are only gradations in God Himself. Thus, in Zohar 3.70a it is said, as similarly in Yeirah 1.7, "Come and see. The Holy one (praised be He!) brought forth ten crowns, holy crowns, above. He crowned Himself with them and bedeckt Himself with them, and He is they, and they are He, as the flame is one with burning coal, and there is no separation at all." The sephirot, therefore, do not form a fixed ontological hierarchy, as the Neoplatonic degrees of emanation do, but they are all in equal proximity to their source and unite with one another in syzygies unto mystic glory as they move up and down in the divine Organism. Very frequently the relationship of the sephirot to one another is presented under the form of sexual symbolism. One and the same sephirah can be both feminine in relationship to its source of power, and masculine in relationship to the sephirah depending on it. The sephirot are also likened to doorways through which man, by means of the right intention in his prayers and keeping of the commandments, can enter into the apprehension of the divine mysterium. Man is capable of this (only Keter and okhmah being too subtle for a direct knowledge of God) because he, like the rest of the world, has been created in the likeness of the sephirot and because the sephirot pour themselves forth as creative powers on the lower world. Thus man, like the rest of creation, becomes an image of the divine essence manifesting itself in the sephirot.

In the history of the cabala the sephirot were often portrayed in the representation of a figure, e.g., in the form of the heavenly "protoman." This idea is already found in embryo in the Abhot de Rabbi Nathan 31, and it is met with in the later cabala (especially after Isaac Luria) in the form of Adam Qadmon (earlier man). For the idea of the heavenly protoman the Zohar uses the symbol of Adam Dalela or Adam Ilaa (Upper Man). Besides being portrayed in human form, the sephirot are presented in the form of a tree or of a circle.

The doctrine of creation out of nothing was understood to mean that the "nothing" was a highest "something," the first externalization of God. The "nothing" therefore received a positive significance. It is the first sephirah, Keter, and thus emanated as the first activity directly from the 'Ên Sôph. It is a "nothing" only subjectively from the viewpoint of the creature. It is the bridge between the transcendence of the 'Ên Sôph and the divine creative power that reveals itself in the sephirot. In Zohar 2.239a it is said:

Only the earliest nothing [Keter ] brings forth a beginning [okhmah ] and an end [Malkhût]. What is the beginning? It is the highest point [okhmah ] that is the beginning of all things, that is hidden, and that has existence within thought. This achieved an end, which is then called the end of the thing. But there, in the 'Ên Sôph, there is neither will, nor lights, nor lamps. All these lamps and lights depend on It, but It Itself is not known. That which the 'Ên Sôph knows and also does not know is nothing else than the highest will, the most hidden of all, the nothing.

Under the symbol of the lamps and the lights the sephirot are meant.

The sephirot were thought of as three columns: to the right, the column of divine grace and love; to the left, that of divine rigor and judgment; in the middle, that of mercy. The sephirah Tip'ert, the first sephirah after Keter in the middle row, is therefore also called Raamîm (Mercy). In this way a reconciliation is made between God's goodness and His severity. Thus also, in the representation of the sephirot tree, the sephirah Tiph'eret is symbolized by the trunk; in the representation of the Adam Qadmon, it is symbolized by the trunk of his body. The place for hell is at the left side (Zohar 1.17a), an idea already present in embryo in Bahir 109. Evil is thus a consequence of God's power of judgment and punishment; it is God's sitrā [symbol omitted]ērā (other side), which comes into play only when it loosens itself from the state of intercommunion with God's love and mercy and so acts on its own. As long as man does not sin, God's "other side" can have no power over him. If man's sin would not disturb the harmony in the sephirot world, the "other side," the sephirah Gebhurah, could not develop as an evil power, but would be suspended in its quality as an evil power because of its intercommunion with love and mercy. The last sephirah, Malkhût, should, as the "tree of knowledge," be in union with Tiph'eret, the "tree of life." But man's sin destroys this unity and lets the powers of the "other side" have the upper hand. When this happens, the function of Malkhût as the "tree of knowledge" is changed into the function of a "tree of death".

By its position at the end of the emanation series, Malkhût has a double function. On the one hand, it is the last member of the sephirot world; on the other it is the forms that lie below it. It is thus both the channel by which the divine creative power descends to the world below and the doorway by which man can ascend to the contemplation of the sephirot world above. In the Zohar, Malkhût is frequently called shekinah, God's presence, and as the mother of the lower world, especially as the mother of Israel, it is called Matronita (Matron). In relation to the upper mother in the sephirah worldthe Sephirah Bînah, which is the "upper" Shekinah, Malkhût is also the "lower" Shekinah. Because Israel stands directly under the faithful protection of the Shekinah, Malkhût is also called, in the Zohar, the "Commuity of Israel," and thus it is also the mystical archetype of Israel.

The procedure of the creation and conservation of the world within the sephirot corresponds to the procedure of the divine emanation and is, in particular, the work of the last sephirah, Malkhût. In Zohar 1.240b it is said, "The act of creation proceeds on two levels, one above and one below; that is why the Torah begins with the letter Beth [the numerical value of which is two]. The lower corresponds to the upper. The one [Bînah ] is effective in the upper world [of the sephirot ], the other [Malkhût ] in the lower world [of creation]." The principal, original part of the Zohar does not present a well-developed picture of the forms of existence below the sephirot. But around a.d. 1300 (already in the Raya Mehemna and the Tiqqunim ) there appeared the doctrine of the four regions, although it was only after 1500 that its importance grew. These four regions are: (1) the world of Ailut (noblest) emanation, which is the world of the Sephirot; (2) the Berîah (creating) world, which is the world of God's throne and Merkabhah ("chariot" of Ez1.428); (3) the Yeirah (forming) world, in which are the angels and the celestial spheres; (4) the 'Aśîyah (making) world, the material world. (The names of the last three regions are taken from Is 43.7: berā'tîw yeartîw 'ap-'aśîtîw, "I have created it, I have formed it, I have made it.")

Later Cabala. After the Jews were driven from Spain in 1492, there was a strong upsurge of interest among them in the cabala. Only mysticism could give them an answer to the burning questions, why the coming of the messianic times should be so long delayed and why Jewry seemed destined for unending oppression. The center of the cabala in the 16th century was the city of Safed in Upper Galilee, which was also the home at this time of the great scholar of Jewish law Joseph caro. The two outstanding leaders of the cabala in this period were Moses Cordovero and Isaac luria. Cordovero (152270) was the greater systematizer, who collected the products of the old cabala and arranged them in logical order. Luria (153472) was the more original thinker, who gave to the cabala a new impetus. Even the first major work of Cordovero, the Pardes Rimmônîm (Garden of Pomegranates), which was completed in 1548, was a systematic standard work on cabalism; in his later writings, too, he knew how to use his special talent for systematizing.

Lurianic Cabala. Very few of the authentic writings of Isaac Luria are preserved. Immediately after his arrival at Safed in 1569 he became a disciple of Cordovero. After the latter's death he wrote a commentary on the beginning of the Zohar, but most of his new teachings he set forth merely in oral fashion. His intellectual legacy was handed down by his disciple, ayyim Vital (15431620), in the latter's two major works, 'E ayyim (Tree of Life) and Sepher Ha-Gilgûlîm (Book on Transmigration of Souls).

If, according to Luria, the 'Ên Sôph is really infinite or "without end" (as the term literally means), outside the 'Ên Sôph there is no place left for any emanation or any created universe. If something is to go out of the absolutely Infinite One, He must first set aside, out of Himself, a region for the finite. This self-limiting of the 'Ên Sôph is called imûm (contraction) in the Lurianic cabala. Of His own free will God has, so to say, drawn back from an unlimited infinity to a limited infinity, and what is left over is the realm of evil, in fact, evil itself. Creation therefore necessarily presupposes the existence of evil. Yet in drawing back, God left something of His essence in the vacated spacea small remnant, which Luria calls Reshîmô (His trace), like the few drops left in a bottle when it is emptied. Luria describes this in his commentary on Zohar 1.15a, on which he must have worked shortly before his death [see G. Scholem, Kiryath Sepher 19 (1943) 184199, esp. 197]. The later cabalists did not concern themselves much with the problem of the Reshîmô.

As man was conceived of as a microcosm (an epitome of the whole world), so God was regarded as a "macroanthropos" (man on an infinite scale). When the Adam Qadmon, the protoman of the sephirot, drew back into the imûm region, the lights of the sephirot were forced out of his eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth. At first they were a unit, without any differentiation. In order to give to each sephirah its proper place, vessels were needed for receiving the emanations of the sephirot. The vessels of the first three sephirot were able to hold the light that emanated from these sephirot, but the vessels of the lower sephirot broke to pieces. Thus the divine light mixed with the non-divine, the divine light was caught and held in the "cups" of the extradivine. The rays of the divine light that are in the cups are "in exile." Not only Israel, but God Himself is in exile. Corresponding to Israel's exile here below is an exile of the Deity in the cosmos.

Therefore, because the vessels of the sephirot were broken, and the divine rays emanated out of the broken vessels into the extradivine and mixed with it, there is need of the so-called Tiqqûn, "restoration," of the original order. By means of the Tiqqûn the rays are brought back from their scattered and banished state. Since God was thought of a macroanthropos, there was need of man here below in order to complete the process of the Tiqqûn.

Man's decision in favor of the good is Tiqqûn, but by committing sin he causes a further intensification of the exile of the divine rays and sparks of light under the "cups." The first Adam did not fulfill his task of completing the Tiqqûn; on the contrary, he committed sin and thereby again banished under the "cups" the sparks of light that were already on their way back. The task that Adam did not complete is now laid upon Israel, whose dealings through the covenant with God become relevant in the sense of the Tiqqûn. Here there is a cabalistic modification of the idea that is frequently attested to in the OT and the Talmudic literature, that Israel's fidelity brings on the eschatological consummation, whereas its sins delay it.

Israel has failed and sinned. Consequently, Israel must also bear the lot of exile, so that in the Diaspora among the Gentiles it can do its work in the sense of the Tiqqûn. Israel's exile corresponds to man's exile from paradise and the exile of the divine rays of light that have fallen under the "cups." Because of the task that is laid on Israel in the Tiqqûn, it is directly entrusted with the messianic task also. The appearance of the Messiah is nothing else than the visible sign that Israel has fulfilled the task of the Tiqqûn that was laid on it. Israel's existence and sufferings thus received an eschatological character. In this total picture there is also a place for the trait on the transmigration of souls. Every soul receives a new existence after death until it has done its duty and completed its Tiqqûn.

Post-Lurianic Cabala. The two messianic movements that were founded respectively by Shabbatai Zevi (see shabbataiÏsm) in the 17th century and by Jacob frank in the 18th were, in a certain sense, consequences in the political sphere of Lurianic cabalism. Both movements were sparked by the thought that at last the period of the Tiqqûn was coming to an end and that the messianic age was about to dawn. Both movements were concerned with messianic attempts to break out of the age-long Jewish destiny. On account of the widespread popularization of the Lurianic teachings, east European hasidism succeeded in controlling the messianic activity and giving the idea of the Tiqqûn real significance for the life of the Hasidic community.

Bibliography: a. franck, La Kabbale ou la philosophie religieuse des Hébreux (new ed. Paris 1889). e. mÜller, Der Sohar und seine Lehre (Vienna 1932); History of Jewish Mysticism, tr. m. simon (Oxford 1946). d. neumark, Geschichte der jüdischen Philosophie des Mittelalters, 2 v. in 3 (Berlin 190728). g. g. scholem, Das Buch Bahir (Leipzig 1923); Bibliotheca Kabbalistica (Leipzig 1927); Die Geheimnisse der Schöpfung (Berlin 1935); Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (3rd rev. ed. London 1955); Zohar, the Book of Splendor (New York 1949); Zur Kabbala und ihrer Symbolik (Zurich 1960); Ursprung und Anfänge der Kabbala (Berlin 1962). The Zohar, tr. h. sperling et al., 5 v. (London 193134). g. vajda, Introduction á la pensée juive du moyen-âge (Paris 1947). r. j. z. werblowsky, "Philo and the Zohar," Journal of Jewish Studies 10 (1959) 2344, 112135. e. benz, Die christliche Kabbala (Zurich 1958).

[k. schubert]


views updated May 17 2018

Cab·a·la • n. variant spelling of Kabbalah.