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Short description: Different forms of mysticism in Jewish history

Academic study of Jewish mysticism, especially since Gershom Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941), draws distinctions between different forms of mysticism which were practiced in different eras of Jewish history. Of these, Kabbalah, which emerged in 12th-century southwestern Europe, is the most well known, but it is not the only typological form, nor was it the first form which emerged. Among the previous forms were Merkabah mysticism (c. 100 BCE – 1000 CE), and Ashkenazi Hasidim (early 13th century) around the time of the emergence of Kabbalah.

Kabbalah means "received tradition", a term which was previously used in other Judaic contexts, but the Medieval Kabbalists adopted it as a term for their own doctrine in order to express the belief that they were not innovating, but were merely revealing the ancient hidden esoteric tradition of the Torah. This issue has been crystalized until today by alternative views on the origin of the Zohar, the main text of Kabbalah, attributed to the circle of its central protagonist Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the 2nd century CE, for opening up the study of Jewish Mysticism.[1] Traditional Kabbalists regard it as originating in Tannaic times, redacting the Oral Torah, so do not make a sharp distinction between Kabbalah and early Rabbinic Jewish mysticism. Academic scholars regard it as a synthesis from the Middle Ages, when it appeared between the 13th-15th centuries, but assimilating and incorporating into itself earlier forms of Jewish mysticism, possible continuations of ancient esoteric traditions,[2] as well as medieval philosophical elements.

The theosophical aspect of Kabbalah itself developed through two historical forms: "Medieval/Classic/Zoharic Kabbalah" (c.1175 – 1492 – 1570), and Lurianic Kabbalah (1569  – today) which assimilated Medieval Kabbalah into its wider system and became the basis for modern Jewish Kabbalah. After Luria, two new mystical forms popularised Kabbalah in Judaism: antinomian-heretical Sabbatean movements (1666 – 18th century), and Hasidic Judaism (1734 – today). In contemporary Judaism, the only main forms of Jewish mysticism which are practiced are esoteric Lurianic Kabbalah and its later commentaries, the variety of schools of Hasidic Judaism, and Neo-Hasidism (incorporating Neo-Kabbalah) in non-Orthodox Jewish denominations.

Two non-Jewish syncretic traditions also popularized Judaic Kabbalah through their incorporation as part of general Western esoteric culture from the Renaissance onwards: theological Christian Cabala (c. 15th  – 18th century) which adapted Judaic Kabbalistic doctrine to Christian belief, and its diverging occultist offshoot Hermetic Qabalah (c. 19th century – today) which became a main element in esoteric and magical societies and teachings. As separate traditions of development outside Judaism, drawing from, syncretically adapting, and different in nature and aims from Judaic mysticism, they are not listed on this page.

Three aims

The Kabbalistic form of Jewish mysticism itself is divided into three general streams: the Theosophical/Speculative Kabbalah (seeking to understand and describe the divine realm), the Meditative/Ecstatic Kabbalah (seeking to achieve a mystical union with God), and the Practical Kabbalah (seeking to theurgically alter the divine realms and the World). These three different, but inter-relating, methods or aims of mystical involvement are also found throughout the other pre-Kabbalistic and post-Kabbalistic stages in Jewish mystical development, as three general typologies. As in Kabbalah, the same text can contain aspects of all three approaches, though the three streams often distill into three separate literatures under the influence of particular exponents or eras.[citation needed]

Within Kabbalah, the theosophical tradition is distinguished from many forms of mysticism in other religions by its doctrinal form as a mystical "philosophy" of Gnosis esoteric knowledge. Instead, the tradition of Meditative Kabbalah has similarity of aim, if not form, with usual traditions of general mysticism; to unite the individual intuitively with God. The tradition of theurgic Practical Kabbalah in Judaism, censored and restricted by mainstream Jewish Kabbalists, has similarities with non-Jewish Hermetic Qabalah magical Western Esotericism. However, as understood by Jewish Kabbalists, it is censored and forgotten in contemporary times because without the requisite purity and holy motive, it would degenerate into impure and forbidden magic. Consequently, it has formed a minor tradition in Jewish mystical history.[citation needed]

Historical forms

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Historical phase[3] Dates Influential developments and texts
Early Israelite traditional origins 2nd millennium–800 BCE Prophetic meditation mystical elements in traditional prehistory and early Bible depiction encounters with the divine:
Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron
Hebrew Patriarchs and Matriarchs
Covenant of the pieces
Jacob's Ladder
Jacob wrestling with the angel

Burning bush
Theophany at Sinai

Early Israelite monarchic and cult prophets:
Elijah's ascension
Prophetic Judaism[4] 800–5th century BCE Prophetic meditation, divine encounter, heavenly host throne of God visions, mystical elements, in the literary Prophetic books of the Bible, from the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah to the Babylonian captivity and Return to Zion:
Tomb of Ezekiel
Apocalyptic Judaism Beginning 5th century BCE
300–100 BCE
Continuing to 1st century CE
Mystical and apocalyptic speculation, heavenly angelology and eschatology, in Second Temple Judaism under foreign rule and oppression, after the social institution era of prophecy closed:[5]
Enoch Dead Sea Scroll c. 200–150 BCE
1 Enoch
Biblical apocrypha-pseudepigrapha
Mystical elements in Second Temple period sects c. 200 BCE–c. 100 CE Mystical, esoteric and pious elements among the diverse Jewish sects, in the religious syncretism of late Second Temple period Judea and the Diaspora:
Map of 1st–2nd century CE synagogues in the Diaspora
Second Temple Judaism
Hellenistic Judaism
Jewish Gnosticism
Philo's Platonic philosophy influence on early Christianity
Christian Jewish early Christian mysticism
Early Rabbinic mysticism and mystical elements in classic Rabbinic literature[6] c. 1–200 CE influence to 5th century CE References in exoteric Talmud and Midrash to Tannaic early Rabbinic mystical circles, Maaseh Merkabah – Work of the Chariot exegesis and ascent, Maaseh Bereshit – Work of Creation exegesis. Wider continuing mystical elements in aggadah Rabbinic theology and narratives:
Johanan ben Zakai on the Knesset Menorah
Johanan ben Zakai and his disciples
Rabbi Akiva
(Simeon bar Yochai traditional/pseudepigraphical attribution of later Kabbalist Zohar)

  Mystical aggadot examples:
Four who entered the Pardes
Oven of Akhnai Bath ḳōl
Torah: black fire on white fire, God looked in Torah to create World
Shekhinah accompanies Israel in exile
The Messiah at the Gates of Rome
Merkabah-Hekhalot esoteric texts and methods c. 2nd century–1000 Traditional/pseudepigraphical/anonymous esoteric Merkabah mysticism Throne and Hekhalot Palaces ascent literature and methods. Text protagonists are early Tannaic Rabbis, though texts academically dated variously from Talmudic 100–500 to Gaonic 400–800 periods, and sectarian/rabbinic origins debated:
Ancient synagogue in upper Galilee
  Earlier texts:
3 Enoch
Hekhalot Rabbati (The Greater Palaces)
Hekhalot Zutari (The Lesser Palaces)
Merkavah Rabbah (The Great Chariot)
  Later texts:
Shi'ur Qomah (Divine Dimensions)
Babylonian Jewish life
Mystical speculations of the Geonim
Influence of Post-Biblical Jewish mythology and folklore on mysticism c. early CE-early modernity Jewish mysticism, from early Hekhalot texts, through medieval spirituality, to the folk religion storytelling of East European shtetls, absorbed motifs of Jewish mythology and folklore through Aggadic creative imagination, reception of earlier Jewish apocrypha traditions, and absorption of outside cultural influences. Later Midrash and smaller Midrashim evolve towards the ethos of Kabbalistic mysticism:
Horb Synagogue, 1730s Bavaria
Kefitzat haderech
Evil eye
Superstition in Judaism
"Practical Kabbalah" white magic c. early CE–early modernity Elite Jewish use of white magic (direct spiritual practices to influence the material realm, or to gain spiritual ascent) by mystics, colloquially called "Practical Kabbalah", drawing from syncretically collected traditions of the Talmudic period to early modernity. Distinguished from Kabbalistic theurgy (influencing solely the supernal realm of inter-Divine attributes), from Natural magic interpretations of Kabbalah, and from popular folk magic:[7]
Sefer Raziel HaMalakh
Magical elements in Merkabah mysticism Hekhalot literature ascents
Use of Sefer Yetzirah for magic
Sefer Raziel HaMalakh
Joseph della Reina 1400s attempt to hasten the messiah
16th–19th century European Baal Shem
Proto-Kabbalistic 200–600 Maaseh Bereshit – Creation speculation text. Describes 10 sephirot, though without their significance to later Kabbalah. Received rationalist interpretations before becoming a source text for Kabbalah:
Hebrew alphabet
Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation)
Mystical elements in Medieval Jewish philosophy and culture 11th–13th centuries Mystical elements in the thought of Medieval rationalist and anti-rationalist Jewish philosophical theologians:
Solomon ibn Gabirol
Solomon ibn Gabirol Jewish Neoplatonism
Isaac Israeli ben Solomon Jewish Neoplatonism
Abraham ibn Ezra Jewish Neoplatonism
Judah Halevi anti-rationalism[8]
Moses Maimonides Neoplatonised Aristotelianism[9]

Judah Halevi on the Knesset Menorah
  Mystical elements in the efflorescence of poetry in Moorish Spanish Jewish culture and Christian Spain[10]
Jewish Sufi piety 11th to 15th centuries Jewish mystical piety, influenced by Islamic Sufism, systemising meditative experiential practices:
Abraham ben Maimonides letter, Cairo Genizah
Bahya ibn Paquda 11th century – Chovot HaLevavot (Duties of the Heart)
Abraham Maimonides and the "Jewish Sufis" of Old Cairo 13th–15th century
Early Kabbalah c. 1174–1200 Emergence of mystical-mythic theosophical-theurgic Kabbalah among the Hachmei Provence in Southern France (Occitania).[11] The Bahir, regarded in academia as the first Kabbalistic work,[12] incorporates an earlier source text:
Sefer HaBahir sephirot
Sefer HaBahir (Book of Brightness)
Abraham ben David of Posquières (The Raavad) critic of Maimonides
Isaac the Blind
"Iyyun" and "Unique Cherub" mystical circles of unknown provenance
Chassidei Ashkenaz c. 1150–1250 Mystical-ethical piety and speculative theological theory in Ashkenaz-Germany. Shaped by Merkabah-Hekhalot texts, Practical Kabbalah magical elements, mystical reinterpretation of early medieval Jewish philosophy, Rhineland Crusader persecutions and German monastic values. Established a supreme value for devotional selflessness in Judaism:
13th-century German Jews
Samuel of Speyer
Judah of Regensburg – Sefer Hasidim (Book of the Pious)
Eleazar of Worms
Medieval Kabbalah development c. 1200–1492 Alternative philosophical vs. mythological interpretations of Theosophical Kabbalah: "Neoplatonic" quasi-philosophical hierarchy, and Jewish-"Gnostic" mythological interest in sexual theurgic and demonic dualism motifs. Centred in Spain's Kabbalistic golden age:

Synagogue in Girona, Spain
  Early 13th century Girona neoplatonic school:
Azriel of Gerona
Nahmanides (Ramban) – Torah commentary

  13th century Castile gnostic school:
Treatise on the Left Emanation

50px|Zohar first printing 1558
  The Zohar in Spain from c.1286:
Zohar literature (Book of Splendour) late 1200s–1400s. Castile's gnostic culmination. Canonised as Kabbalah's central poetic visionary scripture. Later strata (Ra'aya Meheimna, Idrot) are most esoteric and anthropomorphic. Subsequent Zohar exegesis dominated other Kabbalah traditions. Possible Kabbalists in Zohar circle:[13]
Moses de León
Todros ben Joseph Abulafia
and others

  Kabbalistic scholarship:
Joseph Gikatilla – Shaarei Orah (Gates of Light) c.1290 Spain
Sefer HaTemunah (Book of the Figure) 13th–14th century influential doctrine in Kabbalah of Cosmic Cycles, later rejected by Cordovero and Luria[14]
Bahya ben Asher Torah commentary
Medieval Ecstatic Kabbalah 13th–16th centuries Medieval Meditative Kabbalah developed its own traditions.[15] Abraham Abulafia's Ecstatic-Prophetic Kabbalah, his Maimonidean alternative competitor to Theosophical Kabbalah, embodies the non-Zoharic ecstatic stream in Spanish Kabbalism. Re-imagining Judaism's prophetic techniques, it remained marginal to mainstream Kabbalah, but established a following in east Mediterranean:

Abraham Abulafia
  Abulafian Prophetic Kabbalah school:
Abraham Abulafia Mediterranean area late 13th century
Judah Albotini Jerusalem 15th–16th century

  Other meditative methods:
Isaac of Acco 14th century
Joseph Tzayach Damascus and Jerusalem 16th century
Renaissance era Kabbalah influences c. 1450s-1600s Influence of the European Renaissance in crystalising philosophical and magical interpretations of Judaic Kabbalah, and fusions of philosophy with Kabbalah in late medieval-early modern Jewish philosophy:

Florence, Italy
Italian Jews' historical openness to general culture[16]
Florence centre of Renaissance humanism Perennial philosophy influences on Jewish philosophy[17]
Yohanan Alemanno culmination of Natural magic interpretations of Kabbalah, interpreting Judaism drawing down Divine influx to the material world. Influence on 16th century systemisations of Kabbalah, and later Hasidism[18]
Influence on Pico della Mirandola, Christian Cabala and Western esotericism

  Platonist influenced fusions of Kabbalah with Jewish philosophy:
Abraham Cohen de Herrera early 1600s

  Other mystical elements in early modern Jewish philosophy:
Judah Leon Abravanel (Leone Ebreo) Portuguese-Italian early 1500s "Dialogues of Love" Platonism
Post-1492 and Safed Kabbalah 16th century Transition from esoteric Medieval Kabbalism to Kabbalah as a national messianic doctrine, after 1492 Expulsion from Spain exile. Judaic renaissance of Palestine:
Signature of Solomon Molcho
Joseph Taitazak Salonica
Solomon Molcho Jewish Messiah claimant
Meir ibn Gabbai 16th century early systemiser

50px|Safed, Galilee
  The 2 definitive systemisations of Kabbalah, in latter 1500s Safed-Galilee:
1 Quasi-Rational: Moses Cordovero (Ramak) – Pardes Rimonim. Cordoverian systemisation of Medieval Kabbalah until 1570
2 Supra-Rational: Isaac Luria (the Ari) – new post-Medieval Lurianic systemisation taught 1570–1572

  Other Kabbalists of the Safed mystical and scholarly renaissance:
Joseph Karo central legalist and mystic diarist
Shlomo Alkabetz
Hayim Vital main Lurianic compiler and other writings
Safed Meditative Kabbalah: Vital – Shaarei Kedusha (Gates of Holiness), Luria – Yichudim method
Maharal's mystical theology 16th century Medieval Kabbalah expressed in non-Kabbalistic philosophical theology:
Grave of Maharal
Judah Loew (Maharal) Prague
Early Lurianic and post-medieval Kabbalism 16th-mid–18th centuries Esoteric Lurianism, the second of Kabbalah's two systems of theosophy after Medieval-Cordoverian, incorporating dynamic myth of exile and redemption in divinity taught by Isaac Luria 1570–1572. Other post-medieval popularising/ethical Kabbalah based itself on the more exoteric system of Moses Cordovero:

Grave of Luria, Safed
  Disciples compile Kitvei Ari Lurianic thought:
Hayim Vital – Etz Hayim (Tree of Life)
Israel Sarug spread Lurianism in Europe
Lurianic exegesis and meditative methods dominated other post-medieval Kabbalah trends

  Popularising Kabbalistic Musar and homiletic literature 1550s–1750s:
Moses Cordovero – Tomer Devorah (Palm Tree of Deborah)
Eliyahu de Vidas – Reshit Chochmah (Beginning of Wisdom)
Kav ha-Yashar
Isaiah Horowitz (Shelah) – Shnei Luchot HaBrit (Tablets of the Covenant) Central Europe

Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal)
  Kabbalistic renewal and scholarship:
Abraham Azulai
Chaim ibn Attar (Or ha-Hayim) Torah commentary
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal) Italian early 18th century mystical-messianic circle, new public dissemination and revelation of Kabbalah
Joseph Ergas
Sabbatean movements 1665–c. 19th century Kabbalistic messianic-mystical heresies developing antinomian new theologies from Zoharic and Lurianic Kabbalah. Theological spectrum from mild to strong:
Sabbatai Zevi enthroned 1666
Sabbatai Zevi messianic claimant Islamic convert
Nathan of Gaza Sabbatean prophet
Moderate-crypto and radical-antinomian factions
Emden-Eybeschutz controversy and Rabbinic excommunication of Sabbateans

Jacob Frank messianic claimant pseudo-Christian convert, late 18th century nihilism
Early and formative Hasidic Judaism 1730s–1850s Eastern European mystical revival movement, popularising and psychologising Kabbalah through Panentheism and the Tzadik mystical leader. Neutralised messianic danger expressed in Sabbateanism:
Tomb of Baal Shem Tov and followers, Ukraine
Pre-Hasidic origins:
Baal Shem Eastern Europe Practical Kabbalists
Tzadikim Nistarim mythology

Early Hasidism:
Israel ben Eliezer (Baal Shem Tov, Besht) founder of Hasidism
Dov Ber of Mezeritch (The Magid) systemiser and architect of Hasidism
Jacob Joseph of Polonne
Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev

50px|Magid of Kozhnitz
  Main Hasidic schools of thought (mystics after 1850s shown later):

Mainstream Hasidic Tzadikism:
Elimelech of Lizhensk – Noam Elimelech (Pleasantness of Elimelech)
Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin (The Chozeh)

Chabad intellectual Hasidism – Russia:
Shneur Zalman of Liadi – Tanya (Likutei Amarim-Collected Words) theorist of Hasidism[19]
Aaron of Staroselye

Breslav imaginative Hasidism – Ukraine:
Nachman of Breslav – Likutei Moharan (Collected teachings)
Nathan of Breslav

Peshischa-Kotzk introspective Hasidism – Poland, mystical offshoot from:
Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica – Mei Hashiloach (Waters of Shiloah), personal illumination

Shivchei HaBesht
  Hasidic storytelling:
Shivchei HaBesht (Praises of the Besht) published 1814
Sippurei Ma'asiyot (Stories that were told) Nachman of Breslav's 13 mystical tales 1816
Later traditional Lurianic Kabbalah 18th century–today Traditionalist esoteric interpretations and practice of Lurianic Kabbalah from 18th century until today, apart from Hasidic adaptions:

Brody Kloiz and pre-Hasidic introverted Hasidim kabbalistic circles in Eastern Europe. Renewed esotericism in response to Sabbatean heresy

Vilna Gaon
  Mitnagdic-Lithuanian non-Hasidic Kabbalah:
Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman (Vilna Gaon, Gra) figurehead of Mitnagdim 18th century
Chaim of Volozhin – Nefesh HaChaim (Soul of Life) theorist of Mitnagdism,[19] founder of Yeshiva movement
Shlomo Elyashiv
Influence of Hasidism on later Lithuanian Musar-ethics of Eliyahu Dessler

50px|Grave of Shalom Sharabi, Jerusalem
  Mizrahi-Sephardi Oriental Kabbalah:
Shalom Sharabi 18th century (from Yemen) and Beit El Synagogue (Jerusalem) introverted esotericism response to Sabbateanism. Lurianic exposition and elite meditation circle
Chaim Yosef David Azulai (Hida) 18th century
Yosef Hayyim (Ben Ish Chai) 19th century Hakham Baghdad
Abuhatzeira Moroccan Kabbalist dynasty
Mordechai Sharabi
Yitzhak Kaduri

  20th century Ashkenazi European Kabbalah (apart from Hasidic thought):
Shaar Hashamayim Yeshiva (Jerusalem)
Yehuda Ashlag 20th century Israel – HaSulam (The Ladder) Lurianic Zohar
Later Hasidic Judaism 1850s–today Dynastic succession and modernising society turned Hasidism away from pre-18₩10s mystical revivalism, to post-1850s consolidation and rabbinic conservatism. Mystical focus continued in some schools:
Chachmei Lublin Hasidic Yeshiva
Yitzchak Eisik Safrin of Komarno visionary mystic
Chabad-Lubavitch – intellectual Hasidism communication
Zadok HaKohen late 19th century Izbica school
Aharon Roth early 20th century Jerusalem piety
Kalonymus Kalman Shapira response to Holocaust
Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Lubavitch Rebbe) Hasidic outreach and 1990s messianism
Breslav contemporary mystical revivalism
Syntheses of Haskalah, political ideologies and secular culture with mystical elements c. 1800s-1950s Haskalah Jewish Enlightenment promoted critical Rationalism, strongly opposing Kabbalistic and Hasidic anti-modern mysticism. However, moderate Maskilim began scholarly investigation of Jewish mystical texts, and adapted Haskalah to Orthodox religiosity, while modern Jewish philosophy encountered universalist intellectual mystical elements in German Idealism. Late 1800s East Europe shift to Jewish political movements awakened secular Jewish cultural spirituality:

Elijah Benamozegh
Elijah Benamozegh 1800s Universalist, modern interpretation of Kabbalah, continuing Italian Jewry's fusion of Kabbalah with general Humanist culture[20]

  Wissenschaft des Judentums early critical-historical scholars of jewish mystical texts:
Adolf Jellinek 1800s Austrian Reform Rabbi scholar

  German Idealist rational mystical elements in modern Jewish philosophy:
Nachman Krochmal Galicia early 1800s, Jewish Hegelianism

New Colony by Reuven Rubin, Israel 1929
  Mystical elements and influences in Post-1880s Jewish political movements and secular Jewish culture:
Secular Yiddish Renaissance mystical themes in Yiddish literature
Jewish Autonomism cultural folkism and Jewish folklorists
Cultural Zionism National revival secular spirituality
Hayim Nahman Bialik, Israel's National Poet, and mystical influences on secular Hebrew literature
Fusions of Kabbalah and Hasidism with Jewish anarchism
Neo-Hasidism and Neo-Kabbalah c. 1900–today Modernist and Non-Orthodox Jewish denominations' adapted spiritual teaching of Kabbalistic and Hasidic theology and mysticism to modern critical thought and interpretations:
Kabbalistic Tree artwork
Early 20th century:
Martin Buber from existential Neo-Hasidism to dialogical encounter
Hillel Zeitlin Philosophical Neo-Hasidism
Erich Neumann Jungian interpretation of Hasidic Kabbalah and Depth psychology[21]

Post War and contemporary:
Abraham Joshua Heschel Neo-traditional aggadic Judaism
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi Jewish Renewal
Arthur Green Reconstructionist academic and mystical theologian
Lawrence Kushner Reform Neo-Kabbalah
Gershon Winkler shamanic Judaism[22]

Influence on modern and postmodern Jewish philosophy:
Jewish existentialism subjective experience of Divine relationship
Postmodern Jewish philosophy narratives of meaning[23]

Independent scholarship:
Sanford Drob – The New Kabbalah[24]
Zevi Slavin – Seekers of Unity[25]
Zionist and monistic mystical thought of Rav Kook c. 1910s–today Innovative teachings and influence of Abraham Isaac Kook, pre-State Chief Rabbi of Mandate Palestine and poetic mystic. Harmonistic unity of religion and secularism, halakha and aggadah, activism and quietism, developed from Kabbalistic, Hasidic, philosophic and secular thought:
Works of Abraham Isaac Kook
Abraham Isaac Kook Neo-Hasidic monistic poetic mysticism beyond Kabbalah and Philosophy[26]
Atchalta De'Geulah Religious Zionism
Rav Kook's partial influence on Modern Orthodox Judaism[27]
Academic study of Jewish mysticism c. 1920s–today Critical-historical study of Jewish mystical texts began in 19th century, but Gershom Scholem's school in the mid-20th century founded the methodological disciple in academia, returning mysticism to a central position in Jewish historiography and Jewish studies departments. Select historian examples:
Scholem collection, National Library of Israel

First generation:
Gershom Scholem discipline founder Hebrew University
Alexander Altmann American initiator

Present generation, multi-disciplinary approaches:
Moshe Idel Hebrew University revisionism
Elliot R. Wolfson feminist contributions

See also


  1. "Jewish Mysticism (Explained)". judaismtimes.com. https://www.judaismtimes.com/mysticism/. Retrieved 20 August 2022. 
  2. In Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941), Gershom Scholem rejected the possibility of original ancient source texts for the Zohar. In Kabbalah: New Perspectives (1990), Moshe Idel reassessed this, seeing implicit continuity between options in ancient jewish mystical ideas (including orthodox Rabbinic and heterodox Jewish Gnostic), and the medieval emergence of Kabbalah
  3. Structure of the table based on an expanded version of the table in Kabbalistic Metaphors: Jewish Mystical Themes in Ancient and Modern Thought, Sanford L. Drob, Jason Aronson, 2000; "The Historical Context" p.2-4
  4. There is academic debate whether Prophetic Judaism is phenomenologically a mysticism. While the prophets differed from many (not Hasidic) Jewish mystics in their social role, there are mystical passages in the prophetic books; eg. Ezekiel 1 became the basis of Merkabah mysticism. The Talmud says that there were hundreds of thousands of prophets among Israel: twice as many as the 600,000 Israelites who left Egypt; but most conveyed messages solely for their own generation, so were not reported in scripture (Judaism 101-Prophets and Prophecy). Scripture identifies only 55 prophets of Israel. In Meditation and the Bible, Aryeh Kaplan reconstructs meditative-mystical methods of the Jewish prophetic schools.
  5. Kabbalah - A Guide for the Perplexed, Pinchas Giller, Continuum 2011, p 11-12, 14: Mysticism that later evolved into Kabbalah began when prophecy ended. The activities of the prophets and their followers did not cease with the last "accredited" Hebrew prophets, Hagai, Zecharia and Malachi. Their students didn't know their masters would be remembered as prophets, while they wouldn't. Prophetic activity continued. Their students did their thing, which probably consisted of meditation, speculation over the political fate of the Jews and mystical visions of God and the heavenly host. They got their ideas from their new access to the Bible, which had been organised in the Babylonian exile by Ezra the Scribe, who, in order to save Judaism, popularly replaced the Temple cult with a sacred book cult. Jews began to be scattered, but besides yearning for Israel and the Temple, they channelled their spiritual urges into mystical speculation and esoteric exegesis of scripture. This "unaccredited" prophetic activity evolved into the Merkabah and Bereishit mysticism of the Talmudic era rabbis
  6. There is academic debate about how the mystical references in early exoteric Rabbinic literature relate to, or the degree it can be identified with, the mysticism and methods of subsequent esoteric Merkabah-Hekhalot texts.
  7. Representative of academic differentiation between elite and popular/common jewish views and practices of magic: "It should be stated from the very beginning that the following typology deliberately excludes the more popular magic among the Jews, which apparently continued to be practiced in the same manner as for hundreds of years beforehand." Quoted in Jewish Magic from the Renaissance Period to Early Hasidism, Moshe Idel
  8. Maimonides' Confrontation with Mysticism, Menachem Kellner, Littman Library: describes Judah Halevi as "Proto-Kabbalistic" in his conception of prophecy and Jewish chosenness in the Kuzari
  9. While Menachem Kellner reads Maimonides as anti-"Proto-Kabbalah" (Maimonides' Confrontation with Mysticism, Littman Library), David R. Blumenthal (Philosophic Mysticism and anthologies) reads Maimonides as a rationalist mystic: "The thesis of the book is that medieval philosophers had a type of religious mysticism that was rooted in, yet grew out of, their rationalist thinking. The religious experience of "philosophic mysticism" was the result of this intellectualist and post-intellectualist effort." ([1][2])
  10. The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492, translated edited and introduced by Peter Cole, Princeton University Press 2007
  11. Gershom Scholem's magisterial Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton University Press, edited by R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, from Scholem's work of 1962) explores the consequentially seminal question of how "gnostic mythology" emerged from within the heart of 12th century orthodox Rabbinic Judaism, including its geographical coincidence with Christian dualistic Catharism of Languedoc. Subsequent scholarship has questioned Scholem's theses and historiography, which attribute internal changes in Jewish thought to reactions to external historical processes: Eliezer Schweid's Judaism and mysticism according to Gershom Scholem: A critical analysis and programmatic discussion (Scholars Press, Atlanta 1985); Joseph Dan's Gershom Scholem and the mystical dimension of Jewish history (New York UP, 1987); Moshe Idel's Kabbalah: New Perspectives (Yale University Press, 1990). Idel, the first to establish a revisionist new historiographical alternative paradigm of Kabbalah after Scholem's, attributes changes in Jewish thought to the internal development of implicit potentials from earlier Jewish sources, as well as exploring the experiential and ecstatic elements motivating Jewish mystical ideas.
  12. Joseph Dan Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press 2005. Despite the diverse traditions within Kabbalah, Dan characterises Kabbalah as generally describing 10 mythic dynamic powers in the Divine, generally treated as hypostases (though Abraham Abulafia's anti-theosophical Ecstatic Kabbalah treats them as psychological); attribution of male or female qualities to particular Divine powers; and the theurgic influence of man upon the supernal attributes.
  13. Kabbalah - A Guide for the Perplexed, Pinchas Giller, Continuum 2011, p 27-30: The Zohar "book" remained a snowballing collection of multiple materials during its development, including later strata Tiqqunei ha-Zohar and Ra'aya Meheimna. The process of collecting and editing texts continued to the late 1500s. Scholem's attribution of the main body of the Zohar to single authorship of Moses de Leon dominated 20th century scholarship. However, recent scholarship of Yehudah Liebes, Ronit Meroz and others, has served to blur the identity of the Zohar as a single composition. A collective view has emerged attributing the Zohar to a series of authors over a century and a half in Spain, and possibly including some ancient materials. If the Zohar did emerge from de Leon's study, his role was at best ancillary, recording notes of a Kabbalist circle that remains mysterious, possibly including Todros Abulafia or his son Yosef, Yosef of Hamadan, Yosef Gikatilla, Yosef Angelet and others, arguably stronger and more influential than de Leon
  14. The shemitot and the age of the universe , 3 part video class from inner.org
  15. Traditionalist historiography Meditation and Kabbalah, Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel Weiser publishers; overview of the Meditative schools in Kabbalah. Some medieval Meditative Kabbalists also followed the Theosophical Kabbalah, though not its greatest exponent Abulafia in his esoteric system. In turn, the 16th century Safed culmination of theosophy by Cordovero, Luria and Vital dominated and subsumed the previous divergent Kabbalistic streams into their teachings, drawing from the earlier schools. After Luria, Meditative Kabbalah followed his new system of Yichudim. In Kabbalah: New Perspectives, Yale University Press 1988, chapter 5 Mystical Techniques, Moshe Idel reinstates the meditative and experiential dimensions of Kabbalah as an inherent companion to the theosophical in academic historiography. Kabbalists often attributed their theosophical doctrines to new meditative revelations.
  16. [3] Describes Renaissance era jewish communities in Italy: indigenous Italian jews, immigrant Sephardi and Ashkenazi groups, and their respective views of general Italian intellectual culture; indigenous communities and Rabbinic leadership being receptively in favour, a tradition that continued through modernity.
  17. Cultural Relationships between Jews and Non-Jews in Fifteenth-Century Italy: The Case of Yohanan Alemanno For Alemanno, "Florence, the new Constantinople, was the place where the study of philosophy and the natural and divine law allowed...a holy wisdom...a universal system of thought, in which politics and sciences could coexist with religion and mysticism, would become the basis for the revival of a 'jewish nation'. Moses -regarded by humanists as one of the Oriental prisci philosophi (ancient philosophers) who had received intellectual secrets directly from God- was to Alemanno also the model of the perfect Platonic ruler..."
  18. Astral Dreams in R.Yohanan Alemanno's Writings, Moshe Idel, introduction: "A long Jewish medieval tradition, represented by tens of authors in the 14th and 15th centuries who composed their writings in Spain and Provence, which gradually interpreted all the main aspects of Judaism in astro-magical terms culminated, from many points of view, in Alemanno's writings. His thought represents one of the moments of the move of this Hermetic interpretation of Judaism from West to East; By East I mean the land of Israel, where the astro-magical interpretations become evident in the writings of the 16th century Kabbalists R.Joseph Albotini, R.Shlomo Al-Qabetz, R.Moshe Cordovero and his disciples. Under their impact, 18th century Hasidism in Eastern Europe absorbed important Hermetic elements, which had been attenuated and transformed."
  19. 19.0 19.1 Torah Lishmah-Torah for Torah's Sake, Norman Lamm, Ktav 1989; summarised in Faith and Doubt, Norman Lamm, chapter "Monism for Moderns". Identifies Chaim of Volozhin as the main kabbalistic-theological theorist of Mitnagdism, and Schneur Zalman of Liadi as the main theorist of Hasidism, based on interpretation of Lurianic Tzimtzum. For Chaim Volozhin, Divine immanence is monistic (the acosmic way God looks at the world, reserved for man only in elite kabbalistic prayer) and Divine transcendence is pluralistic (man relates to God through pluralistic Jewish law), leading to Mitnagdic transcendent Theism and popular ideological Talmudic study focus. For Shneur Zalman, Immanence is pluralistic (man relates to mystical Divine immanence in pluralist Nature) and Transcendence is monistic (Habad Hasidic meditation on acosmic nullification of world from God's perspective), leading to Hasidic Panentheism and popular mysticism Deveikut fervour amidst materiality
  20. Kabbalah in the Age of Reason: Elijah Benamozegh by Alessandro Guetta, symposium “Humanism and the Rabbinic Tradition in Italy and Beyond” 2005
  21. The Roots of Jewish Consciousness, Volume Two: Hasidism, Erich Neumann written manuscript 1940-1945, first published Routledge 2019, edited by Ann Conrad Lammers, foreword by Moshe Idel
  22. Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism, North Atlantic Books
  23. Reasoning After Revelation: Dialogues in Postmodern Jewish Philosophy, Steven Kepnes – Peter Ochs – Robert Gibbs, Westview Press 2000. "Postmodern Jewish thinkers understand their Jewishness differently, but they all share a fidelity to what they call the Torah and to communal practices of reading and social action that have their bases in rabbinic interpretations of biblical narrative, law, and belief. Thus, postmodern Jewish thinking is thinking about God, Jews, and the world—with the texts of the Torah—in the company of fellow seekers and believers. It utilizes the tools of philosophy, but without their modern premises." Commentaries in later chapters describe the contribution of Kabbalistic mythological thinking to this project.
  24. newkabbalah.com
  25. seekersofunity.com
  26. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and Jewish Spirituality, edited by Lawrence J. Kaplan and David Shatz, NYU Press 1994. Introduction describes Rav Kook as the most innovative jewish mystic of the 20th century. Essays study his thought through the lenses of jewish mysticism, philosophy, aggada, halakha, poetry, sciences, society, Zionism and messianism. Lawrence Fine describes Kook's thought as "Neo-Hasidic", extrapolating Hasidic monistic ideas to their fullest implications beyond traditional Judaic boundaries of religion, secularism and Haredi theological anti-Zionism
  27. Faith Without Fear: Unresolved Issues in Modern Orthodoxy, Michael J. Harris, Vallentine Mitchell 2016. Chapter 3 "Modern Orthodoxy and Jewish Mysticism", as well as other chapters, discusses unresolved tensions and intellectual options open to Modern Orthodox jews, who are often characterised by non-mystical Rationalist inclinations. Rav Kook offers a potential model of harmonisation with mysticism. Harris hilights the fundamentalist dangers and spiritualising opportunities a critical modernist mysticism could offer Modern Orthodoxy. Norman Lamm in Faith and Doubt: Studies in Traditional Jewish Thought, chapter "Monism for Moderns", also draws on Rav Kook's mystical holism. Tamar Ross develops an evolving Modern / Open Orthodox feminist approach to the problems of revelation, developed from the theology of Rav Kook, in Expanding the Palace of Torah – Orthodoxy and Feminism


  • Biale, David Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and counter-history, Harvard University Press
  • Biale, David Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought, Princeton University Press (secularised jewish adaptions of Kabbalah)
  • Brenner, Michael Prophets of the Past: Interpreters of Jewish History, Princeton University Press (mystical and other historiographies of judaism)
  • Dan, Joseph Gershom Scholem and the Mystical Dimension of Jewish History, NYU Press
  • Dennis, Geoffrey W, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic & Mysticism, Llewellyn Publications 2nd edition illustrated 2016
  • Heschel, Abraham Joshua Heavenly Torah: As Refracted through the Generations, edited and translated by Gordon Tucker, Bloomsbury Academic 2006 (existential-mystical exploration of revelation)
  • Idel, Moshe Old Worlds, New Mirrors: On Jewish Mysticism and Twentieth-Century Thought, University of Pennsylvania Press (influence of jewish mysticism on secular jewish thinkers)
  • Jacobs, Louis Jewish Mystical Testimonies, Schocken
  • Kaplan, Aryeh Meditation and the Bible, Red Wheel/Weiser 1978 (exegesis of prophetic meditation techniques)
  • Scholem, Gershom Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Schocken, (classic work, first pub.1941)
  • Winkler, Gershon Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism, North Atlantic Books

External links