Posts Tagged ‘anti-semitism


It’s the Jews Stupid!

The following is the inside cover blurb for a book called ‘Experiencing the Kabbalah’. Notice anything odd about it?:

‘The mystical Kabbalah is a tradition of spiritual knowledge based on human experience and incorporates Egyptian and Greek mystery religions, Pythagorean mathematics and philosophy, Gnosticism, Christianity, and Renaissance humanism. Today, many Kabbalists also belong to the thriv­ing Neo-Pagan community. The Kabbalah is an ancient sys­tem that has changed, adapted, and expanded to meet the needs of new generations of spiritual seekers, even while it retains the basic divine truths at its core’.

Yes, that’s right no mention of Jews! Having read up on the history it is clear that not only was the Kabbalah formulated and developed by Jewish mystics but that ‘the spiritual experience of the mystics was almost inextricably intertwined with the historical experience of the Jewish people’ (Scholem, 1965). In his overview of ‘Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism’, Scholem notes how ‘After the Exodus from Spain, Kabbalism underwent a complete transformation’, with the Spanish expulsion of Jews in 1492 starting a process that was ‘to merge the apocalyptic and Messianic elements of Judaism with the traditional aspects of Kabbalism’. This was a feature of the Kabbalah developed by Isaac Luria and his school in Safed in the 16th century, and it is easy to see how apocalyptic hopes of redemption might result from a catastrophic historical experience, gaining favour over earlier more contemplative approaches.


Down to the present day, the Kabbalah has been intrinsically bound up with Judaism, and indeed often its most orthodox forms. It is also true that from an early stage, different versions of Kabbalah have been elaborated by non-Jews. If there are mainstream currents of Kabbalah that only make sense in the context of Jewish religious practice, there are others that can be studied and perhaps practiced by non-Jews like myself.  But to deny the Jewish origins of the system is highly suspect. As Joseph Dan notes, ‘Today, it often seems that designating an idea as “kabbalistic” makes it more welcome to outsiders that if it were described as “Jewish”‘. Given the catastrophic history of anti-semitism this is not an ‘oversight’ that should be treated lightly.


Sources: Chic Cicero and Sandra Tabatha Cicero, Experiencing the Kabbalah (St Paul: Llewellyn, 1997) – to be fair to the authors they do fully acknowledge the Jewish origins of Kabbalah in the text, it is the publishers’ blurb I am taking issue with; Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism (New York: Schocken, 1965); Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken, 1954); Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: a very short introduction (Oxford: University Press: 2006).