Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, explains the many mysteries of Judaism. It seeks to answer questions from, “Why did God create the earth and humans?” to, “Why, if God is so good, is there evil in the world?” Kabbalah tries to arrive at mystical discoveries through the hermeneutical interpretation of Torah and Talmud. Its purpose is to find mystical truth or ascension to God.
Central to Kabbalistic belief is the notion that God has two forms: the one in which God manifested himself in order to create the earth and another that is wholly unknowable. Between these two aspects of God are ten Sefirot, or creative forces, which mediate between the unknowable God and the manifested God. Practitioners of Kabbalah believe these forces can be influenced to draw divine powers like compassion or judgment into the world. Kabbalism also holds that each letter in the Torah has a powerful meaning that can be deciphered. The most important Kabbalistic text is the Sefer ha-zohar, or simply Zohar.
This work was “discovered”—more likely written—by Moses ben Shem Tov de Léon in Spain during the thirteenth century. De Léon attributed the work to a second-century rabbi. This text was, as are other Kabbalistic texts, nearly incomprehensible unless the reader already had a very strong knowledge of the Hebrew Bible.
Although Kabbalah grew during the Middle Ages, its wide reach today stems from its spread during the eighteenth century, beginning with the Hasidic movement. Today, Kabbalah has made headlines as various celebrities have adopted its practice. However, most Kabbalistic experts insist this version of Kabbalah, consisting of spiritual charms, stones, and necklaces, is a corruption of the tradition’s true practice.
- Critics of Kabbalah dislike that it identifies two aspects of God, a notion difficult to reconcile with monotheism.
- The red strings worn by celebrity adherents to Kabbalah supposedly ward off evil spirits