Kabbalah Research Paper

What sets the center apart from other postmodern belief systems like Scientology, which have subverted the traditional relationship between spirituality and authenticity by insisting that authenticity itself is fungible or even beside the point, is that it has wrapped its ardent ecumenical message around the kernel of a centuries-old, highly ritualized religious tradition. Although the center denies its association with Judaism or any other existing religion (indeed, one of its leading members referred to the “stigma” of Judaism in conversation with me), its tiny insider circle of members (numbering a bit more than 200 in all), referred to as the chevra, or group of friends, abide by the laws and customs that are the underpinning of observant Judaism. These include observing Shabbat and a multitude of holy days; keeping kosher; maintaining a separation of sexes in synagogue; the wearing by men of crocheted yarmulkes of the modern Orthodox style that prevails both here and in Israel; and the wearing of skirts and sheitels by married women. (Sheitels are the wigs, usually made of real hair, that cover women’s natural hair to signify that they are no longer objects of allure and are off the marriage market, although the kabbalistic rationale is more exotic and quasi-scientific, having to do with negative filaments and positive circuitry.) The chevra are the chosen among the chosen, provided with housing, clothes, schooling for their kids, even plane tickets.

Still, given the proselytizing ambitions and will to visibility (there are a total of 10 centers in the United States and 16 internationally), it is difficult to get anyone close to the center to admit to this underlying belief system for fear of appearing too insular and exclusive. Even 34-year-old Michael Berg, the younger of the Bergs’ two sons, a graduate of rigorous Orthodox yeshivas in America and Israel like his 35-year-old brother, Yehuda, and one of several spiritual directors of all the centers, insisted that the center is without conventional religious affiliation. “We honestly do not believe we are spreading Judaism in the world,” he told me in a lengthy phone conversation. “The Creator gave the Jews these tools that were meant to be used and to show the way we should connect to the world.” When I asked him why the center insists on using “tools” instead of the word “mitzvot,” he answered without missing a beat, “If we used Jewish terms, we would alienate people.”

The history of kabbalah is long and thorny, filled with reversals in attitude toward the dissemination of its wisdom. It has been looked on with suspicion and even hostility by some Jewish authorities since it first emerged, its lore codified in an ur-text known as the Zohar, the authorship of which some attribute to Moses de León in the 13th century and others to the sage Simeon ben Yohai in the second century. Some principal ideas include a very specific and radical notion of cosmology, one that involves an initial cataclysmic “rupture,” or literally “shattering of the vessels” (shevirat hakelim), that occurred during the Creation, leaving in its wake a fragmented and disordered state of affairs that can be made whole through selfless devotion to tikkun olam. A second major theme focuses on a conception of God’s powers as being dynamic — God is evoked as a receptive female presence called the Shechinah — and the idea that human beings can unite with the divine spirit through meditation and by following the panoply of religious commandments, thereby restoring the universe to its original integrity. Although kabbalah was studied from early on by elite circles of Spanish Jews and from the 15th century through the 18th century by scattered communities in the European and Islamic worlds, the prevailing attitude within the normative Jewish community was restrictive. Fear of its antinomic implications being ever present, kabbalah was generally considered to verge on the dangerously heretic in its speculative and personalized approach to a hidebound and communal religious tradition. It was tenuously approved for study only for devout married men over the age of 40 who were well versed in the Talmud and Jewish law or for exceptionally gifted and sturdy-hearted yeshiva students.

Fast-forward to the last decade and a half. Enter Philip Berg and his second wife, Karen (he and his first wife had eight children before they divorced), who set up shop out of their Queens house with an original following that numbered no more than their two sons and a clutch of Israeli disciples. (Philip Berg, born Shraga Feival Gruberger, who changed his name in the 1960s, was a former insurance salesman; Karen was his onetime secretary.) When it comes to spreading the gospel of the theosophical system of kabbalah, lineage is all; if you can establish a proven generational link to a master kabbalist, you are immediately vaulted into a privileged position to transmit its enigmatic philosophy. Intent on validating his title to the dynasty of kabbalism, Berg linked his own genealogy through his teacher Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein (an uncle of Berg’s first wife), who in turn was the disciple of Rav Yehuda Ashlag. It is Ashlag who is the linchpin of the outwardly egalitarian but intensely hierarchical operation that is the Kabbalah Center — or, as many would argue, the justification behind an illegitimate group of squatters who lay claim to its ancient, sacral territory. A crucial and highly controversial figure who was born in Poland and immigrated to Palestine in the early 1920s, Ashlag began to revolutionize traditional attitudes toward the dissemination of kabbalah, prying open its historically hallowed, coded concepts. Among other innovations, he attempted to integrate kabbalistic ideas with communism and to modernize a system steeped in untouchable exclusivity by emphasizing the nonelitist nature of kabbalah and its ostensible link to scientifically ordained truths; his writings, which might be said to be the beginning of the “de-authenticization” process that many have accused the center of setting in motion, are the foundation of the movement, just as Ashlag himself is its sanctified figurehead. Thus the importance of Berg’s constantly reiterated link to his predecessors Brandwein and Ashlag, whose photos share an honored place surrounded by flickering candles on the bimah, the raised platform in the center’s synagogue from which the Torah portion is recited every Shabbat.

The Bergs have sold kabbalah as a source of inspiration to an audience that has nothing to do with academics and their careful distinctions between where one line of kabbalistic wisdom (the theosophic Lurianic strain) ends and another (the ecstatic Abulafian strain) begins. They have succeeded in boiling down an attenuated, arcane and often tedious system sprinkled with numerological symbolism and elaborate, loop-the-loop interlinkings of God, the world and the evil eye into an accessible lifestyle philosophy offering succor to the unaffiliated and disheartened of whatever racial or ethnic origin. Theirs is a canny reading of the infectious malaise of secular life and the widespread yearning for a transcendent context as well as an up-to-the-microsecond sense of branding.

In spite of my wide-ranging Jewish circle, I knew no one who had ever attended a class or service at the Kabbalah Center at either its New York East Side or its Los Angeles locations. Still, the fact that the movement seemed to speak to a hodgepodge of impulses and to represent a less than pristine — indeed, a somewhat tabloid — version of the religion I had been brought up in piqued my curiosity. My interest crystallized after a meeting with Madonna in the winter of 2006, months before my own first visit to the center. I met with her for nearly two hours in a hotel room on Central Park West in the process of writing a profile of her for a women’s magazine. She was dressed in her usual idiosyncratic mix of naughty and nice, wearing a form-fitting top tucked into a corduroy skirt that stopped modestly at the knees — all of it set off by a gold lamé belt, opaque brown knee socks and a pair of gold pumps. She was in New York to publicize the release of her album “Confessions on a Dance Floor.” In tribute to the nebulous spiritual guidance the center has offered her, which includes renaming her Esther, the CD features a track called “Isaac,” with a mantralike phrase in Hebrew, suggesting that Madonna is planning on ascending heavenward to join the sisterhood of Biblical foremothers — Sarah, Rivka, Leah and Rachel — at the right transmigratory, soul-evolving moment. (A core kabbalistic concept is gilgul neshamot, which refers to the recycling of departed souls.)

It became clear to me that Madonna had been schooled in basic center tenets: she let drop the exalted name of Brandwein, Philip Berg’s mentor; referred to the “light,” a term that would be much bandied about the center in my hearing, signifying a supremely opaque notion having to do with positive and negative cathodes (don’t ask) as well as the transmission of spiritual energy; and discussed reading the introduction to the Zohar, which she said was full of “potent information.” She went on to explain, in her prim, faintly British-accented voice, that kabbalah offered her “a reconciliation of science and spirituality” — of “the garden of Eden and superstring theory.” After informing me that her children and husband were taking Hebrew lessons, she evinced curiosity about my observant Jewish background, wanting to know whether my mother covered her hair. (She didn’t, in a break from her own family tradition.)

Finally, in what seemed to me a startling detour, she asked whether I believed in death. I answered somewhat bleakly that I did. When I turned the question back on her, she announced that she didn’t because she believed in the concept of reincarnation as taught by the Kabbalah Center. “The thought of eternal life appeals to me,” she told me, as though she were trying on a new outfit in front of a mirror. “I don’t think people’s energy just disappears.” I wasn’t sure what she meant by this — whether Madonna believed in a concrete form of reincarnation whereby she would return to earth as herself, all blond ambition and strenuously toned body, or in the more abstract concept of gilgul neshamot. But it made eminent sense that her link to the center would be based on something more than an altruistic vision of egoless self-betterment and earthly bliss, which is the message she conveys in her statements and songs. When I asked her why she hadn’t stuck with Catholicism, which incorporates belief in an afterlife, she snapped in reply: “There’s nothing consoling about being Catholic. They’re all just laws and prohibitions. They don’t help me negotiate the world.”

Seven months later, in the immediate wake of my mother’s death from lung cancer, I took a trip to Los Angeles to begin my own year-and-a-half-long journey of exploration into the Kabbalah Center. I thought of it as an investigative-cum-personal search, the goal of which was to find out what its appeal was to Madonna and others and whether it might have anything to offer me, despite its mumbo-jumbo aspect and suspect “vulgarization” of a pre-existing religion (as Moshe Idel, the foremost scholar of kabbalah, described it to me). Although my curiosity was initially intellectual, the unfortunate — or, as some might have it, propitious — timing and my own sense of grief undoubtedly made me less skeptical of the form of solace the center had to offer.

I visited the Los Angeles center on two occasions, separated by a period of some months. So it was that one winter afternoon, on my second visit, I found myself in Michael Berg’s airy wood-paneled second-floor office at the center, filled with photos of bearded kabbalists and shelves of seforim, solemn-looking books of Jewish learning of the kind that filled my father’s study when I was growing up. Under Michael’s guidance, we delved into several passages of the Zohar. (According to the bio on one of his book jackets, he “achieved a momentous feat when he was only 28” by doing the first translation of the complete Zohar from ancient Aramaic to English.) I became immediately absorbed by the abstract, centrifugal line of reasoning that ran through the text. It reminded me of the Talmudic commentators I had studied in high school — forever engaged in exegetical flourishes — in the way it somehow managed to remain clear of sticky human emotions while at the same time dilating on the mechanics of human behavior at its most paradigmatic. Michael and I got on to the topic of my mother’s recent death, and I listened spellbound as he gently conjured the logistics of reincarnation — which has no place in the doctrine of normative Judaism but which is embraced in all its hazy and exploitable reality by the Kabbalah Center. True disbeliever that I am, I nonetheless figured it might well be possible that I would meet up with my difficult but vivid mother once again in some coffee shop in the world to come, where we would no doubt have a heated argument but would at least be in the presence of each other.

I was ripe, in other words, for seduction — or was I? Coming from an Orthodox background — I am the product of a yeshiva day-school education, and although I am no longer observant, I have five siblings who are — my own interest in taking a closer look at the Kabbalah Center had been percolating for a long time. I heard the center referred to both in conversation and in the media in only the most dismissive terms, ranging from derision at its unsubstantial and misleading synthesis of Jewish, New Age and Sufi elements to rantings about its being “dangerous.” Still, disenchanted as I was with the patriarchal foundation and prohibitions of observant Judaism, I wondered whether there might be something worthy in a more ecumenical approach.

The center seemed to answer an intractable longing among its followers for an old-style sense of order in the midst of the chaotic jumble of contemporary choices and for something that elevated the disappointing limitations of human existence. Could it be that the very obsession with “authenticity,” which is where the center clearly came up short, was itself an outdated obsession? Perhaps the Kabbalah Center was a celebration of an ad hoc mix-and-match approach, a renunciation of “the bottled product” of ritually driven Judaism — as Gershom Scholem, the founder of kabbalah as an academic discipline, once described it — in favor of something more nondenominational and contemporary? Or, as Ben-Gurion University’s Boaz Huss put it: “Why does kabbalah have to be clean? The center annoys people so much because they subvert the basic perceptions of modern society, which puts religion here and pop culture there, in opposition to each other.” Alluding to the many A-list types who come and go, Huss insisted that the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t quality of their involvement with the center is precisely the point: “Being in there for two minutes is a significant part of what the center is about. In a spiritual marketplace, most of the consumers don’t stay long.” Huss is also unperturbed by the spirit of entrepreneurship that commodifies everything the center touches, from flash cards to candles to baby bumpers. “They give spiritual guidance,” he asserted, “and they take money for it. Embedded in their philosophy is that giving as much as you can is important. They believe that they have the keys to redeeming themselves and humanity. People go freely, and most of the consumers are happy with what they get.” It doesn’t hurt the center’s gimme-gimme approach that kabbalah places great credence on the role of “giving,” although it’s dubious that the sort of “giving” the center encourages bears any resemblance to what the kabbalists originally had in mind.

My own more religiously informed background might have militated against my falling in with a bunch of lost, lemminglike souls who mumbled robotically about chakras, cosmic karmas and energy flows and whose eyes lit up when they talked about the “rav” and Karen as though they had just glimpsed the Messiah and his missus hurrying through the corridors, carrying bottles of kabbalah water and wearing the red bracelet said to be directly connected to Rachel’s tomb. But my self-imposed exile from the orbit of Friday-night dinners and Shabbat services and abiding nostalgia for the encircling warmth of the Jewish community made me more open-minded than I otherwise might have been. The fact that the chevra’s immersion in the classic minutiae of Orthodox Judaism was kept under tight wraps lest it scare off followers was precisely the aspect, the strategic missing piece in the puzzle, that forged the bridge from the center to the lost milieu of my childhood. It was what led me, in the initial throes of my exposure to this hitherto unsuspected enclave of closeted Jewishness, to call up an ex-Orthodox friend and tell her that she should take the first plane out of New York to attend the celebrity-studded celebration that was being planned for the rav’s birthday, with Donna Karan in attendance.

I was given fairly generous but carefully monitored access to the center and its doings. I attended Friday-night services at the New York center, where the prayer books include “directions for scanning” and a transliterated English text for non-Hebrew-speaking members. I noticed a sprinkling of Filipinos and other Asians as well as several diamond-bedecked Upper East Side women, all of whom looked as if they were just warming up to the strange brew on tap, clapping their hands and tentatively singing along with the Shabbat prayer. The women, cordoned off in a makeshift women’s section, seemed merry and carefree, while their children ran amuck, playing with Rubik’s Cubes and prancing around the bimah. Although there was no evidence of a formal dress code, as there usually is in an Orthodox synagogue, where pants and tank tops are eschewed, there is a casually imposed but strict gender divide, which put me in mind of all the Orthodox synagogues I had ever attended and reminded me uneasily of the compensatory ethos of liberation in confinement that is the Orthodox woman’s lot.

In Los Angeles, I attended a Friday-night dinner, where the emphasis on kabbalah not being a “religion” (always referred to in quotation marks, as though it were another of those tossed-out, old-hat ideas, like fidelity) is heightened to offset the lure of shopping at Fred Segal and where a microphone and slides accompanied the singing of prayers. The men circled Philip Berg, hands clasped around one another’s shoulders singing and dancing in the ecstatic, overheated manner of a Lubavitch gathering. I also went to Saturday mincha and maariv services, leading up to the Habdalah ceremony, in which a braided candle is lit, a symbolic sip of wine is drunk and a box of scented cloves is inhaled, marking the demarcation of Shabbat from the workweek. Again, the women were observers from the sidelines while the main action went on among the men, who wore white track suits and baseball caps in tried-and-true Guy Ritchie fashion. (The men wear white, one of the chevra told me, because “they are the ones reaching the light through prayer, while women are only vessels.”) The proceedings grew weirder as they went along, with a lot of football-huddle sort of male bonding interspersed with hora dances, gutteral noises and a talk by one of the chevra that ramblingly connected the weekly Torah portion with some aspect of goodness or spirituality.

Both Friday-night dinners followed the same pattern: tickets purchased ahead of time, prearranged seating at round tables (Madonna and Guy Ritchie are said to eat behind a screen, I was told), which appears to follow some invisible hierarchy of important and less-important guests. For all the press hubbub that surrounds the center’s doings and the 150,000 hits it gets every month on its Web site, the center’s dinners draw a relatively small number of people — several hundred in Los Angeles and less than half that in New York. (Although the center’s Web site alludes to a worldwide following in the millions, it is impossible to get an accurate number as to its actual following; one disenchanted observer puts it as low as 3,000 to 4,000 people.) The dinners are presented Chinese-style and are a mixture of Middle Eastern food — hummus and baba ghanouj — as well as the more ordinary Friday-night roast chicken or overcooked brisket.

During the course of my visits, I also sat in on the third session of a class called Kabbalah 101 at the Los Angeles center, taught by a patronizing and seemingly bored therapist named Jamie Greene. He quickly summed up the “universal wisdom” dispensed in the first two classes and then went on to talk generically about taking responsibility for your behavior and drew simplistic chalk diagrams with a white marker on a big blackboard. Listening to him coolly dispatch such enlightening concepts as “a credit card is a dangerous little thing” and “fear of intimacy guarantees that we’ll never experience intimacy,” I wondered if everything could be twisted into an emanation of kabbalistic principle, from gambling to self-destructive behavior, from business dealings to romance.

Most of the students were wearing the red string bracelet (notwithstanding the fact that the color red, according to Moshe Idel, has negative connotations in kabbalah) and all of them had copies of “The Power of Kabbalah,” written by Yehuda Berg, the more populist of the two brothers, with a cover blurb courtesy of Madonna: “No hocus-pocus here. Nothing to do with religious dogma, the ideas in this book are earth-shattering and yet so simple.” Subtitled “Technology for the Soul,” Berg’s book includes brief chapters on such subjects as “The DNA of God,” “The Light Bulb Metaphor Applied to the Endless World” and “Nanotechnologists Confirm the Kabbalists.” The class was a multiethnic assortment of mostly blue-collar workers of different ages. There was much talk about flows of consciousness, forces of darkness and blocking the light. “The light is always there,” Greene assured the class before they departed. “The light is endless.”

I met separately with some of the more significant teachers, including Eitan Yardeni (Madonna’s teacher), an intense 42-year-old Israeli who has been instrumental in opening Kabbalah Centers elsewhere in America and is currently the spiritual director of the London center. Yardeni grew up in a nonobservant family and started studying kabbalah as a teenager while in the Israeli Air Force, where he gave instruction in Hawk missiles. He explained the center’s grandiose mission to me: “We’re much bigger than Jewish; we’re here to touch souls all over the world, to give people universal tools to access the practical.” He added, “We’re talking about effecting change on a global level.” I had my horoscope read by Yael Yardeni, the center’s resident astrologer, who also happens to be the sister-in-law of Eitan, keeping it all in the family, and discovered that in one of my three past lives I had been a rebbetzin with oodles of children. (Yael has a waiting list of three months and charges $200 a session.) Astrology is a big part of the center’s construction of meaning, though it plays a marginal role in kabbalistic thought. When I met Karen Berg, she immediately pointed out that Donna Karan was a Libra, and at a Friday-night dinner in New York, Miriam, one of the hipper and better dressed among the chevra, confidently assessed me as a Scorpio. (Just for the record, I am a Gemini.)

During an earnest phone conversation with Michael Berg, I found myself growing teary-eyed when we got into a discussion of why, despite my late mother’s fervent wish, I had never put up on my doorways those small, elongated objects known as mezuzot, which enclose a klaf, a handwritten rolled scroll of parchment inscribed with a section of Deuteronomy. I was truly touched when Michael promised to send someone that very Sunday to put them up, only to discover that that was the last I would hear of it.

A year and a half after I began my explorations, the cynic in me writes the center off as hokum, a brilliantly shrewd commercial enterprise, playing on the existentially orphaned state that is the general condition of many people today, in or out of Los Angeles, offering spiritual cachet for cash. Still, the ever-hopeful, lapsed Orthodox Jew in me wonders whether I might have found my own personal mystically tinged form of antireligious religion had I been willing to overlook the crass reductionism and imbibe the New Age atmosphere of nonjudgmental compassion. Gershom Scholem, in “Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism,” observes on the last page: “The story is not ended, it has not yet become history, and the secret life it holds can break out tomorrow in you or in me. Under what aspects this invisible stream of Jewish mysticism will again come to surface we cannot tell.”

That there are glaring holes in the center’s facade — discrepancies and yawning gaps in scrutability — cannot be denied. Why, for instance, as many observers have wondered, is the center so reluctant to discuss how the millions it raises every year as a nonprofit organization are actually spent? Michael Berg insists that the center is a flawed “work in progress” that has made mistakes it must rectify.

Here’s what I do know: My mother has shown no signs thus far of resurfacing, and I would guess that Madonna continues to believe in her own immortality, as guaranteed by the center. And yet, who’s to say that the Bergs aren’t on to something more sustaining than kabbalah-imprinted merchandise, that they aren’t providing access to the secret life of mysticism that Scholem is referring to, albeit the Oprah version. Meanwhile, the couple from Queens and their chevra have pulled a rabbit out of a hat, made believers out of ex-car mechanics and former real-estate brokers. That’s them in the corner, flashing their red bracelets; that’s them in the spotlight, finding their nouveau, pseudo, po-mo religion.

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Kabbalah is described as Jewish mysticism dating back to the beginning of time according to holy beliefs. Opposed to traditional Judaism, Kabbalistic beliefs are based on a different interpretation of the book of Genesis. Kabbalistic concepts consist mainly of a Sephirot Tree which organizes the ten basic principals of life and an organized Universe making this branch of Judaism very different than other mainstream religions. Kabbalists have faith that divine status can be reached through means of traditional magick to find the meaning in numbers and letters of the holy scriptures making Kabbalah very unique in it's beliefs.

I. Creation

A. Taught by God to a group of angels

B. Hebrew Sources in Israel

C. first centuries B.C.E.

II. Scriptures

A. Book of Zohar (Book of Splendor)

B. Sefer Yezirah

C. Genesis, Old Testament

III. Beliefs

A. World Can be grasped through numbers and letters

B. Job to discover hidden meaning in numbers and letters of holy scriptures through traditional magick methods

C. Sephirot Tree of Life

1. ten numbers are working principals of life organized and pictured in the S.T.L.

10 - Malkuth Kingdom - Divine (Exile/Physical)

9 - Yesod - Foundation (Union of Male and Female)

8 - Hod - Glory (Dependence/Vulnerability)

7 - Netzach - Firmness (Leadership/Conference)

6 - Tiphareth - Beauty (Balance/Harmony)

5 - Geburah - Strength/Severity (Discipline/Boundaries)

4 - Chesed - Mercy/Love (Compassion/Healing)

3 - Binah - Intelligence/Understanding (Differentiation/Repentance)

2 - Chochmah - Wisdom (Pure Thought/Connectedness)

1 - Kether - Being/Existence (Will/Selflessness)

2. 11th Sephirot - Between Chochmah and Binah - Daath - Knowledge (sex) found in the first chapters of Genesis

3. climb tree by means of magick

D. God

1. fills Universe

2. all things, good and evil/immanent and transcendent

3. boundless

IV. Rituals/Ceremony

A. Coming of Age

1. Bar Mitzvah

a. ceremony of admitting a boy (13) to the adult Jewish community

2. Bat Mitzvah

a. ceremony of admitting a girl (12 or 13) to the adult Jewish community

B. Hanukah

1. eight days

2. signified with the Menorah

3. commemorating the rededication of The Temple in Jerusalem

C. Prayer

1. pray in Hebrew

2. Shabbat is celebrated as the day of rest (sundown on Friday night to sun down on Saturday)

3. bow before entering a Jewish worship service


Kabbalah is described as Jewish mysticism dating back to the beginning of time according to holy beliefs. Opposed to traditional Judaism, Kabbalistic beliefs are based on a different interpretation of the book of Genesis. Kabbalistic concepts consist mainly of a Sephirot Tree which organizes the ten basic principals of life and an organized Universe making this branch of Judaism very different than other mainstream religions. Kabbalists have faith that divine status can be reached through means of traditional magick to find the meaning in numbers and letters of the holy scriptures making Kabbalah very unique in it's beliefs.


Kabbalah is described as Jewish mysticism dating back to the beginning of time according to holy beliefs. Opposed to traditional Judaism, Kabbalistic beliefs are based on a different interpretation of the book of Genesis. Kabbalistic concepts consist mainly of a Sephirot Tree which organizes the ten basic principals of life and an organized Universe making this branch of Judaism very different than other mainstream religions. Kabbalists have faith that divine status can be reached through means of traditional magick to find the meaning in numbers and letters of the holy scriptures making Kabbalah very unique in it's beliefs.

Kabbalistic practices are believed to originate straight from God. Kabbalists believe that the secrets of the holy scriptures were taught by God to a group of angels in Heaven. The angels then came down upon earth in human form and taught the religion to the people of Israel. Writing of the Kabbalah dates back to the first reordered centuries of the earth (B.C.E.) known to creationists.

The scriptures of Kabbalah include the Book of Zohar or Book of Splendor. The Zohar is a five-volume mystical commentary on the Torah. Torah is the Hebrew word for law or teaching and it more commonly referred to as the Books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; and Deuteronomy. It is traditionally said to be authored by Rabbi Shim'on bar Yohai, about 2000 years ago. Historically, it was probably put into written form in the fourteenth or fifteenth century by the Spanish rabbi Moses de Leon. Another scripture of Kabbalah is Sefer Yetzirah which means "Book of Formation". Sefer Yetzirah is a brief work on the Creation. It is traditionally ascribed to Abraham, but its actual authorship is unknown. It dates to about 2500 years ago. Both of these books are also considered holy scriptures of Judaism but the interpretation of the scriptures is what sets Kabbalah apart from traditional Judaism.

Unique Kabbalistic beliefs include that the immortal world is in everyone's grasp. Kabbalists believe that immortality can be grasped through the understanding of the letters and numbers included in the holy scriptures. It is mortal responsibility to discover the hidden meaning in the numbers and letters through methods of traditional magick. Kabbalists believe that the truth lies in the Sephirot Tree of Life. It organizes and pictures the ten numbers that are the working principals of life The Sephirot Tree of Life can be climbed through magick.

Sephirot Tree of Life

10 - Malkuth Kingdom - Divine (Exile/Physical)

9 - Yesod - Foundation (Union of Male and Female)

8 - Hod - Glory (Dependence/Vulnerability)

7 - Netzach - Firmness (Leadership/Conference)

6 - Tiphareth - Beauty (Balance/Harmony)

5 - Geburah - Strength/Severity (Discipline/Boundaries)

4 - Chesed - Mercy/Love (Compassion/Healing)

3 - Binah - Intelligence/Understanding (Differentiation/Repentance)

2 - Chochmah - Wisdom (Pure Thought/Connectedness)

1 - Kether - Being/Existence (Will/Selflessness)

When the tenth branch is reached, the divine state is entered into immortality. More recently, an eleventh branch has been added to the Tree. It falls between Chochmah and Binah, Daath. It signifies knowledge in relation to sex. It is said to be discovered in the first chapter in the book of Genesis. Kabbalah truth is that God is both good and evil. He is both immanent and transcendent. Kabbalists believe that God is boundless and fills every aspect in both the spiritual Universe and the physical Universe. God is everything.

Coming of age is an event that is celebrated by the Kabbalistic population. Kabbalists celebrate through Bar Mitzvahs for boys and Bat Mitzvahs for girls. These ceremonies signify the admittance of the child of age thirteen to the adult Jewish community. The child spends years studying the Hebrew language and Jewish holy scriptures to prepare for this event. Friends and family whether or not they are Jewish are invited to this celebration which normally takes place the Saturday after the child's thirteenth birthday. One of the most important holidays to Judaism is Hanukah. Hanukah is an eight day celebration that is signified with the lighting of a candle on a menorah every night at sundown. Hanukah commemorates the rededication of The Temple in Jerusalem. The holy temple was taken away from the Hebrew slaves by the Egyptians. The Jews only had one nights worth of oil for their lamp while hiding out from the Egyptians in this safe haven. The miracle that took place was that the oil lasted for eight days and eight nights. Every night of Hanukah, gifts are exchanged with the largest gift presented on the final night of the celebration. These gifts represent all the gifts that God has given his people. Prayer is an important part of Kabbalah. Kabbalists pray in Hebrew because that is believes to be the original language of God. Upon entering a Jewish worship service, Jews bow which shows their humbleness to God. Shabbat is celebrated as the day of rest for the Jewish community. It begins sundown of every Friday night to sun down on Saturday. It is believed to be the day that the messiah while arrive from the Heavens and Jews want to be in the presence of their God when he arrives. It is a say of quiet, solitude, and reflection.

Kabbalah is described as Jewish mysticism dating back to the beginning of time according to holy beliefs. Opposed to traditional Judaism, Kabbalistic beliefs are based on a different interpretation of the book of Genesis. Kabbalistic concepts consist mainly of a Sephirot Tree which organizes the ten basic principals of life and an organized Universe making this branch of Judaism very different than other mainstream religions. Kabbalists have faith that divine status can be reached through means of traditional magick to find the meaning in numbers and letters of the holy scriptures making Kabbalah very unique in it's beliefs.

Works Cited

Melton, J. Gordon. (1999). The Encyclopedia of American Religions; 6th Edition. Detroit: Gale Research.

Matt, Daniel C. (1995). The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club.

Zetter, Kim. (1999). Simple Kabbalah. Berkeley: Conari Press.

Kabbalah; http://www.kabbalah.com

Home Page of Bnei Baruch; http://kabbalah-web.org/


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