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Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Language Shift and the Maintenance of Cultural Identity: Kaifeng’s Jewish Descendants



In 1949 Ai Dianyuan, a resident of Kaifeng, attended the Fifth Founding Celebration of the People's Republic of China, where he met with Chairman Mao Zedong. Ai was a descendant of Kaifeng Jews who had arrived in China from Central Asia nearly a millennium earlier. His request to the Chairman was that his group, consisting then of only a few hundred families, be recognised as a separate ethnicity. Chairman Mao, who was acknowledged as an expert on Chinese history, was astounded to learn of the existence of a small Jewish community in China. He eventually ordered an investigation into this unusual phenomenon. In 1955 officials from the State National Affairs Committee visited Kaifeng and met with representatives of the seven acknowledged Jewish clans. They learned of the many legends, still preserved to this day as oral tradition, regarding the arrival of their ancestors in China; of the tribulations in maintaining its synagogue for over seven centuries amidst natural disasters, political violence and natural atrophy until its final destruction by a flood of the Yellow River in 1860; of the death of the last Hebrew-speaking rabbi several years before; and of the eventual deterioration of their exceptional variant of Jewish religion and culture.


Mao Zedong's response to the committee's investigation, endorsed by both Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, was as follows:


"According to Comrade Stalin's Theory of nationality, there should be at least three elements to be a nationality: its own language; its own folk (religious) customs: and its own living area (i.e. the Tibetan and Uighur Autonomous Regions in Tibet and Xinjiang). Since the Chinese Jews lost all the specialties and features mentioned above, they cannot still be taken as Jews."


The Chairman's ruling was later transposed to an official document that officially classified the Kaifeng Jewish descendants as Han Chinese and engendered subsequent political tensions for those who would attempt to assert their Jewish ancestry (Ehrlich and Liang 2008, 280-282).


Chroniclers of the history and culture of the Kaifeng Jews such as Bishop W. C. White (1966), Donald Leslie (1972) and Michael Pollak (1998), are in accord that the community's small number, rapid assimilation and geographical isolation from the Jewish Diaspora made their decline as a viable community all but inevitable. According to Ehrlich and Liang (2008, 278-279), the initial contingent of Jewish traders arrived in 998 CE in Kaifeng, at the time called Bianliang, the capital of the Northern Song dynasty. As merchants traversing the Silk Road, they arrived without female accompaniment, so that intermarriage with Chinese women occurred in the first generation of migrants. Although prayer books and Torah scrolls recovered from Kaifeng illustrate the use of Hebrew and Aramaic in the liturgy, evidence from the synagogue stelae first engraved in 1489 seem to indicate the use of Chinese as the lingua franca as well as a rapid language shift, required for their commercial endeavours in China. Yet, in spite of overwhelming acculturation, the Kaifeng Jews managed to preserve a unique religious culture and common identity for over eight centuries. Furthermore, even after the destruction of their last synagogue, the death of the last communal leader knowledgeable in Hebrew language and the loss of their religious literature, a small minority stubbornly persisted in asserting its Judaic heritage. This persistence has consistently weathered political repression from the Communist government and has endured until the present moment, when global interaction has at last begun to rejuvenate this insignificant, isolated and historically neglected community (Ehrlich and Liang 2008, 310-311).


It is vital to issue a caveat that the reference to this Kaifeng community as "Jewish" or "Jews" is in the most generic sense only. Quite possibly, as Jewish identity is matrilineal, with no documentation as to the conversion processes that took place in the first generations, the Kaifeng Jews ceased being technically Jewish within a relatively short time span after initial migration. More importantly, as documented by the 18th century Jesuits, their religious practice, influenced by the Confucianism of their environment, diverged significantly from that of their brethren in Europe or the Levant. As the focus of the argument presented here, however, is on the perpetuation of a sense of Jewish identity amidst concurrent language shift and assimilation, these terms are used here in a phenomenological rather than an ontological context.




Literature Review


With the increase in global mobility and migration patterns, recent socio-linguistic research has addressed the issues associated with language shift and maintenance. Socio-cultural factors such as demographics, institutional support, language loyalty and ethno-linguistic vitality all contribute to individual and collective choices to either discard or preserve a native language (Coulmas 2005). Further research discusses the significance of language in the construction of ethnic identity (Fought 2006, Paulston 1994). However, the question of how an ethnic group can succeed in perpetuating its cultural identity in the wake of language shift and adoption of a new language is one less frequently addressed. Because the phenomenon of language shift itself normally takes three generations (Coulmas 2005), the investigation into how a culture manages to retain its identity in the context of the acquired language may often only be established over an extended period of time. In that regard, the story of the Jewish community of Kaifeng serves as a unique model of an ethnicity managing to preserve its cultural identity for several centuries within the modality of an acquired language.


The research on the existence of an exiguous group of Jews among the numerous ethnicities in populous China is relatively recent and sparse (Ehrlich 2008). Academic debate over the Kaifeng Jewish community still continues concerning their place of origin, date of entry into China, proclivity to intermarriage, observance of Jewish custom as well as the reasons for its ultimate decline in the 19th century. The focus of this research, however, will examine how this group, having commenced to shift language not long after their arrival in Kaifeng during the Southern Song dynasty (Xu 2003), syncretised their native culture with that of their host in a manner that managed, paradoxically, to preserve their original identity even after centuries of assimilation.


The stelae of 1489, 1663 and 1679 that once adorned the Kaifeng synagogue mention three different arrival times of Jews into the Middle Kingdom: during the Zhou dynasty (c.1100 BCE- 221 BCE), Han dynasty (206BCE- 221BCE) and Song dynasty (960-1126). Although these contradictory dates have provoked considerable debate, the consensus amongst Chinese scholars is that the Jewish community in Kaifeng was established during the early Song by Jewish traders who hailed from Persia and whose native language was Judeo-Persian (Shapiro 1988, Xu 2003). Moreover, Xu (2003) points out that though the stelae refer to Tianzhu (which in modern Chinese can refer to India) as the place of their origin, linguistic analysis of the Torah scrolls and liturgical texts recovered from Kaifeng clearly point to a Persian derivation.


According to the 1489 lapidary inscription, the first synagogue was constructed in 1163, later rebuilt on a larger scale with the permission of the (Yuan) authorities in 1279. In the first century of their sojourn in Kaifeng, the Jews retained their original Hebrew names, their original tongue as well as the liturgical Hebrew utilised in the synagogue, although daily affairs were conducted in the lingua franca of Chinese (Leslie 1972, Xu 2003). By the early Ming period, however, the Jews had already adopted Chinese surnames; by the seventeenth century the surnames Zhao, Li, Ai, Gao, Jin, Shi and Zhang were the sole signifiers of the Jewish clans in Kaifeng (White 1966, Leslie 1972, Pollak 1998, Xu 2003). According to Leslie (1972), the adoption of these surnames represents "…both the assimilation and acceptance of the Jews by Chinese society." Simultaneously, numerous Jews enrolled in Chinese schools and excelled in the imperial examinations "out of all proportion to their numbers" (Xu 2003). In addition, Confucianist rituals, particularly those related to ancestor worship, were by then practiced in the synagogue (White 1966, Leslie 1972, Xu 2003).


The Kaifeng synagogue, a focal point for the maintenance of collective cultural identity, was rebuilt and repaired several times during its 700 year history due to attrition, fire and flooding. The 1642 flood of the Yellow River was particularly devastating, eliminating over two-thirds of Kaifeng's population and destroying the synagogue along with its Torah scrolls and Hebrew literature (White 1966, Leslie 1972, Pollak 1998, Xu 2003). Only two hundred families survived, but, in a remarkable achievement, they succeeded in recovering many of the parchments damaged by the floods and rewriting them, though, according to Xu (2003) their scribal capabilities in the Hebrew language had diminished considerably over the centuries. With the advent of the Qing dynasty and gradual isolation of China to foreign influence, the Kaifeng Jewish community's previous geographic isolation from the Jewish Diaspora became absolute (White 1966, Leslie 1972, Pollak 1998, Xu 2003).


From then on until the turn of the twentieth century knowledge of the rapidly deteriorating culture of Kaifeng's kehillah (Jewish community) is gleaned almost exclusively through missionary sources, beginning with the initial encounter of Cardinal Matteo Ricci with the Jew Ai Tian in Peking in 1605. In the subsequent report of Ricci's envoys—trained in classical Hebrew—on their exploratory visit to Kaifeng, they claimed that although Hebrew was still chanted in synagogue liturgy, there were few in the community that could actually speak it and then with a flawed pronunciation. Nonetheless, despite their external acculturation to Han society, the observance of the Sabbath, holidays, circumcision, daily prayers and some of the scriptural dietary laws bolstered their inimitable sense of a cultural identity (Pollak 1998). Despite the gradual onset of economic hardship that afflicted the once-prosperous community and the continued erosion of their culture, all attempts by Jesuit and subsequent Anglican missionaries to convert the Jews to Christianity were of no avail (Pollak 1998). By the time the Canadian Anglican Bishop William C White arrived in Kaifeng in 1910, the community as a cohesive unit no longer existed. The last rabbi had died sixty years earlier, and the synagogue, ravaged by floods and in a state of decay, was dismantled several years thereafter, its bricks and tiles sold to feed the impoverished Jewish families for whom it once provided spiritual nourishment (Pollak 1998, Xu 2003).


Although Hebrew was now forgotten, and Jewish religious practice, except for the prohibition of eating pork, had become a memory of the distant past, the notion of a unique identity still persisted amongst the Jewish descendants. In the 19th and 20th centuries numerous letters were written to the Jewish Diaspora as well as to the thriving cosmopolitan Jewish community in Shanghai imploring for assistance in recruiting teachers who would be willing to resuscitate the failing kehillah; circumstances conspired that all of these pleas came to naught (Pollak 1998). White, whose Trinity Cathedral in Kaifeng inherited the synagogue's stelae and who, in letters to his superiors openly proclaimed his desire to convert this fallen people rather than have them succumb to the "heathen" religion of their Chinese neighbours, could not comprehend the stubborn refusal of the Jews to abandon their forsaken identity and take advantageous refuge in the Church (Pollak 1998). His English translation of the stelae reveals that, already several centuries ago, the influence of Confucianism and Taoism had corrupted the community's Jewish roots, making the seeds of decay inevitable (White 1966). Weisz (2008), however, in his later translation disputes this rendering and attempts to show that, although shrouded in the terminology of Chinese culture, the stelae were meant to preserve significant aspects of Jewish belief and culture.


Although White (1966) and Pollak (1998) both sounded a premature death-knell for Kaifeng Jewry, Leslie (1972), as the title of his book suggests, had a somewhat more positive outlook on the prospects for a community which had managed to preserve its identity as a tiny minority under adverse circumstances for almost nine centuries. Xu (2003), Ehrlich (2008) and Weisz (2006), having researched the kehillah in the wake of a Deng Xiaoping's policy of "Openness" and in the era of information technology, have seen the miraculous rejuvenation of this community from the brink of extinction. In recent years, several dozen of the Kaifeng Jewish descendants have established a modest community centre, instituted classes for three levels of Hebrew language study and celebrate communal Sabbath and festival meals. In addition, they have procured a library of Judaic resources in both English and Chinese and have commenced the process of reacquainting themselves with their lost traditions (Ehrlich 2008).


The focus of the second part of this paper will be on those particular referents within Han culture that enabled the Kaifeng Jewish community to maintain its identity despite its near total acculturation. In today's global era, where governments strive to preserve cultural diversity, the question of how a culture can maintain its fundamental identity in the wake of language shift is of tremendous importance both in regard to the formation of government policy and as a guide for immigrants themselves, who seek to become integrated citizens of their host country, while simultaneously preserving a resilient link to their original ethnicity. More specifically, what follows is an examination of the cross-cultural aspects in both Han and Jewish cultures that, in the aftermath of language attrition, contributed to a natural, inescapable absorption of Kaifeng Jewry into the mainstream society of their residence, but, more significantly, also managed to sustain an incontrovertible Judaic identity up until the present day.


Language shift and the conservation of cultural identity: the Jewish Diaspora and Kaifeng


The general question of how Jews were able to preserve their identity as a minority culture, including the specific question of the Jewish community in Kaifeng, was already addressed in the mid-nineteenth century by Immanuel Kant. Kant was attempting to formulate a general rule of history that the predictable fate of marginal ethnicities was assimilation into the host majority and eventual extinction. The Jews, however, were a notable exception to his theory: "…the Jews have continued to maintain themselves [as a distinctive religious body], though scattered throughout the world, whereas the faith of other religious fellowships has usually been fused with the faith of the people among whom they have been scattered. This phenomenon strikes many as so remarkable that they judge it to be impossible according to the nature of things, but to be an extraordinary dispensation for a special divine purpose (Kant 1960, 127)."


Kant, however, who was brought up as a Pietistic Christian, did not see any special "divine purpose" in the maintenance of Jewish cultural identity. Pragmatically, he declared Judaism's apparently uncanny survival was enabled by its possession of written scriptures that could be verified by those of the host culture either in Christendom's Old Testament or within Islam's biblical adaptations in the Koran. Nonetheless, Kant was troubled by the continued existence of a Jewish community for seven centuries in Kaifeng, news of which had been transmitted to Europe by Jesuits in the part of that century. Kaifeng Jews had survived for that length of time without the presence of Christianity's support. (Kant was apparently unaware of the large Muslim population of Kaifeng, which would have given some credence to his unusual theory.) In order to solve this anomaly, Kant declared, in what appears to be a blatant contradiction to his hypothesis on Jewish perseverance generally, that it was the total lack of compatibility between the belief systems of China and that of Judaism that allowed the Jews there to maintain their independent identity and distance from the mainstream culture (Kant 1960 ).


Before examining Pollak's response to Kant's supposition, one that reveals an obvious Christian bias of supercessionism, it is important to take note of a number of historical factors concerning European Jewry which Kant had conveniently chosen to ignore in ascribing Judaism's survival to its proximity to Christianity and Islam. In fact, it was Judaism's propinquity to Christendom that created the economic discrimination and religious persecutions that compelled the segregation of Jewish culture from that of the mainstream. According to Jewish historians like S. M. Perlmann, contrary to Kant's theory, it was precisely this oppression that reinforced the separate ethnic identity of the Jewish minority. Writing in 1912 Perlmann argues that the danger of assimilation and cultural extinction "… is not imminent in those countries where the hostility to the Jews is still strong and effective, for they will fight there and conserve themselves." The massive acculturation and conversion of Jews with the advent of post-Enlightenment humanism in the century after Kant's death seems to confirm this truth (Pollak 1998, 334-336).


In challenging Kant's assertion that Confucianism's antithetical nature to Judaism was the lynchpin of identity maintenance for Kaifeng Jewry, it is important to mention that the philosopher's comparison between the Jews of Europe and those of Kaifeng is a flawed premise at the onset. Despite the oppression confronting European Jewry, their conservation of identity created a rich religious and cultural life, where Jewish scholarship thrived and Hebrew, even in the wake of language shift, was preserved as a second language. This knowledge of Hebrew was reinforced by its continuous usage as a language of communication between the various European communities. By contrast, there is no recorded incidence of anti-Semitism towards the Jews of Kaifeng. According to their oral traditions, they were welcomed personally by the Song emperor, who bestowed upon them Chinese surnames, hastening the process of acculturation (Ehlich and Liang, 2008, Xu, 2003). Furthermore, the Kaifeng kehillah was for centuries the most isolated Jewish community on earth. They were forgotten by the world until the meeting of the Jesuit Mateo Ricci and the Kaifeng Jew Ai Tian in Beijing in 1605; at that time, according to the testimony of Ricci's emissaries, their knowledge of Hebrew was negligible. Following the Qing expulsion of missionaries in 1723, there was a veritable shutdown on all communication with Kaifeng Jewry until the 20th century in the wake of its cultural nadir (Xu 2003, 52-53).


Contesting Kant's thesis that the adversative native Chinese belief systems repelled Kaifeng Jewry into a mode of cultural maintenance, Pollak argues that, on the contrary, they served as a magnet to provide Jews with an opportune means to adopt the identity of the host Han culture and to obscure their foreign origins: "The inescapable impression that emerges from even a superficial reading of the Kaifeng synagogal stelae is that of a tiny community that is losing its ancestral heritage and becoming inextricably absorbed into the culture of the larger community around it." He further suggests that it was both the tolerance displayed by the Chinese to minorities who respected its values and the phenomenal determination of Kaifeng Jewry to conserve their ethnic identity that accounted for the perpetuation of that distinctiveness as long as it did. Moreover, the assimilation with Confucianist values not only enabled the Kaifeng Jews to assert their identification with Chinese civilization, it also facilitated the economic advancement of many of them who excelled in the civil service exams and were thus appointed to distinguished social positions. Based on this presumption that expediency alone impelled the adoption of Confucianist ideas and practices, Pollak then concludes, despite the lack of any supportive evidence, that this manoeuvring necessarily must have provoked the kind of internecine wrangling that characterized other historic confrontations between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. "Without question," writes Pollak, "the insistence of certain Confucian-oriented literati, and other assimilated-minded Jews as well, that such practices as ancestor adulation be brought into the synagogue was no less repugnant to their traditionally inclined co-religionists than, for example, the insistence of the proponents of Reform [Judaism] that the organ [prominent in Christian services] be given a place in communal worship would later be to their Orthodox brethren" (Pollak 1998, 337- 342). Significantly, Pollak's assumptions run contrary to Ehrlich and Liang's (2008, 279) contention that "… there is no record of the Jews demonstrating threat or offense to the ruling philosophies of the various successive dynasties."


White (1966, 3) argues that apart from the seemingly un-Jewish content of the lapidary texts, the form of the stelae in itself represented a departure from traditional Jewish synagogal architecture and therefore a turning point in the absorption process. Inscribed stelae have been a feature of Chinese, rather than Jewish, places of worship for about two thousand years. "For over 300 years following the erection of the synagogue in 1163 the Kaifeng Jews appeared not to have followed this practice, until the stone of 1489 was set up. This would seem to point to a breakdown of their Jewish conservatism and assimilation into the non-Jewish environment." This statement of White's betrays an ignorance of synagogal architecture: since the time of the Judean exile in 72 CE, synagogues in Diaspora have inexorably adopted the local architectural styles. The synagogue in Kaifeng was no exception to this rule, and, as Pollak (1998), Xu (2003), Ehrlich (2008) and Weisz (2006) all argue, the setting up of the stelae in the synagogue courtyard arouse more from the need to preserve communal history in written form than from a desire to wantonly abandon it.


Tangentially, in his defence of the motivation behind this decision to put up the stelae, Weisz (2006, xvii) erroneously declares: "Carving in stone was contrary to the Jewish precept against idolatry, and the Israelites in China faced the dilemma of either vanishing without a trace or incising their religious beliefs in stone to be preserved for perpetuity." However, although the carving of certain three dimensional figures falls under the proscription against idolatry, no Talmudic or halachic (Jewish legal) code has ever prohibited the carving of written words in stone, as a visit to any Jewish cemetery anywhere in the world would attest to. In fact, a careful examination of the biblical Book of Joshua reveals that before crossing the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, Joshua, similar to the Kaifeng Jews, "…inscribed there, on the stones, a repetition of the Torah of Moses, which he wrote before the Children of Israel" (8:32).


While the assimilation of Kaifeng Jewry is indisputable, particularly in light of their incomparable circumstances, reducing its cause to solely practical reasons or exaggerating its extent, may obscure many of the commonalities shared by both Jewish and Chinese cultures that made cultural integration not only probable but essentially desirable.


An analysis of the confluence of Confucianist and Jewish cultural referents in the lapidary inscriptions of Kaifeng


Xu (2003, 114-116) while acknowledging that Kaifeng's Jewish descendants excelled in the civil service examinations, argues that Kaifeng Jewry saw no contradiction between the social order espoused by Confucianist doctrine and the Jewish emphasis on fulfilment of God's will: "…Confucianism is a humanistic, rational and secular worldview, a social ethic, a political ideology, a scholarly tradition, and a way of life, sometimes viewed as a philosophy. But to reiterate what was said above, it is not a religion. This is critically important for an understanding why the Kaifeng Jews never hesitated to use Confucian sayings and customs in the synagogue. Since Confucianism has nothing to do with religious faith, they saw no conflict with Judaism." Expounding on Donald Leslie's (1979, 161) argument that in the inscriptions of the stelae "… the ideas expressed are sometimes Jewish in Confucian garb," Xu (2003, 119) suggests that the couching of Jewish concepts in Confucian terminology was often a linguistic convenience. Since Chinese language simply did not possess the theological equivalents of many Jewish concepts, it was necessary to adapt these concepts to the existing socio-cultural milieu. The 1489 inscription, for example, refers to the Sabbath as "four times a month"; this is because at that time there was no weekly division of the Chinese calendar, so that it was senseless to describe the Sabbath as a weekly event. Xu, however, goes further than stating that the camouflaging of Jewish theology in Confucianist terms was not a point of contention: he believes that, from an ethical standpoint, the two shared distinct commonalities: "… Moreover, as has often been noted, Judaism is not so much a religion as a way of life, and this may have made it similar to Confucianism in the minds of Kaifeng's Jews" (Xu 2003, 120). Reaffirming this suggestion is the 1663 inscription which reads: "The composition of the Scriptures, although written in an ancient script [Hebrew] and of a different pronunciation, is in harmony with the principles of the six classics [of Confucianism], and in no case is there anything not in harmony with them."


The following verses appearing towards the end of the 1489 inscriptions, amongst many in the stelae extolling the virtues of Confucianism, provide an example of several elements of cross-cultural value confluence:


"Although the religion of Confucius and this

religion are similar as a whole, and different in details.

Both are determined and set in ways.

Nevertheless they also

worship the heavenly Dao.

Honour the ancestors

Respect the relationship between Prince and Minister

Filial to their fathers and mothers

Peaceful to their wives and children

Have order in their social ranks

Interact with friends

And do not make exceptions to the Five Relationships

… May the Great Emperor of the Ming

His virtue surpass Yu and Tang

And His Highness that of Yao and Xun

His intelligence and intuitive wisdom

Be bright like the Sun and the Moon…" (Weisz 2006, 17-18)


According to Xu (2003, 121) "… the real implication of the 1489 inscription is that Confucianism and Judaism agree on essential points and differ only on secondary issues." The veracity of Xu's statement is paramount in understanding how the external "garb" of Confucianism could nonetheless potentially serve as a means of transmission of an essential, internal Jewish identity, even in the midst of extensive assimilation. The similarities delineated in the inscription include the acknowledgement of a higher moral authority, honour bestowed to the ancestors, respectful social and familial relationships, a stable social order and benevolent human interaction. Furthermore, in the closing salutation to the Emperor we find commendations of virtue, intelligence and wisdom.


The regular usage in all of the lapidary inscriptions of the Chinese words Dao (道, "the Way"), or Tian (天,"Heaven"), as an appellation for God is evidence to White (1966) that the Jews of Kaifeng had strayed far from their scriptural source. Xu, by contrast, indicates the compatibility of this term with the notion of a formless deity that is the essence of Judaism's monotheistic belief and its divergence from Christianity. In fact, he calls attention to a synagogue plaque describing the Divine donated by a Kaifeng Jew named Ai Shi-de which read: "Its presence is not impeded by visible form; its absence does not imply an empty void; for the Way is outside the limits of existence or non-existence." The thought expressed therein resonates with one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith formulated by the renowned Jewish codifier Maimonides: "I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is not a body, and that He is free from all the accidents of matter, and that He has not any form whatsoever"(Xu 2003, 117). Although the Torah, in stark contrast to the abstract Chinese concepts of Dao or Tian, describes God in anthropomorphic and androcentric terminology, the Babylonian Talmud (Yevamot 71a) explains that "the Torah speaks in the language of human beings" for the sake of comprehension; all Jewish sources concur, however, that God has no intrinsic physical form or gender.


More important than the terms utilized is the overarching concept that each culture acknowledged a higher moral authority that motivates human beings to act in a proper manner for the benefit of the collective whole. "Confucianism does not involve a religious belief system. Unconcerned with deities, the spiritual, or what happens after a person's death, it focuses on the establishment of a harmonious society, based upon a fixed idea of what each person's position and conduct demands—a society in which everyone does the right thing, especially in relation to others" (Xu 2003, 115). Although Judaism couches these moral imperatives as Divine commandments, the essential aim is the same: the creation of a just society. Commandments such as filial respect and honour; conjugal obligations; the honour due to a monarch; the hierarchy of the priestly (Kohen) and Levite castes; and reverence owed to a Torah scholar were all designed to ensure the preservation of a harmonious social order.


Although Pollack (1998) speaks disparagingly of the introduction of Confucian ancestor worship rituals as an aberration, as Xu (2003, 118) puts forward, a comparison of the prayer of ancestral veneration found in the Kaifeng Memorial Book differs very little from the Yizkor (memorial) prayer recited in the synagogue today to recall deceased family members. Most prayers in the Jewish liturgy address God as אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו (elohaynu v'elohay avoteinu), i.e. "our God and God of our ancestors" (Ganzfried 1963). Perhaps more than other cross-cultural commonalities, the veneration of ancestors in each tradition enabled the Kaifeng Jews to preserve the dual identity of Han Chinese and Judaism without contradiction.


As in Confucianism, where scholarship was considered to be the highest level of social achievement, so too, the tradition of Torah scholarship was always held in high esteem. In the Jewish tradition, a Torah scholar is to be given more respect than one gives to his own father, since "…his father has given [him] life in this world, while his teacher prepares him for life in the world to come" (Ganzfried 1963, 143:1-2). Although little is known about the way in which Jewish education was perpetuated in Kaifeng, in 1712 the Jesuit Gozani describes how Jews in Kaifeng "…start learning how to read Hebrew from childhood, and many of them know how to write it; I have seen them reading and writing with my own eyes " (Pollak 1998, 108). Although this linguistic knowledge was very basic, a small group of more educated scholars and rabbis preserved core Jewish knowledge until the middle of the 19th century. Xu (2003, 89) calls attention to the mention in the 1663 inscription of Zhao Yincheng and his brother Zhao Yingdou, each of whom is said to have written scholarly works of scriptural exegesis.


As mentioned before, the Jewish inclination to erudition led many Jews to succeed in the prestigious civil service examinations, and, as Pollak (1998) has noted, this success led to their assimilation and advancement in Han culture. It is not clear, however, that assimilation with Han culture necessarily entailed the abnegation of Jewish tradition. The biography of Zhao Yincheng, mentioned above, exemplifies the way in which Han acculturation was capable of co-existing with a strong Jewish identity. Zhao was born in Kaifeng in 1619, received his juren (举人) degree in 1645 and the following year the ultimate jinshi (进士) rank. After being appointed as the department director of the Ministry of Justice, he was sent to Fukien Province, where he was successful in cultivating a strategic victory against an insurgency of armed bandits. Furthermore, he was also acclaimed in subsequent gazetteers as having "…promoted schools…cleared up judicial cases… The people were delighted to be free of calamity…" Yet, despite his achievements as a Chinese citizen, Zhao did not shirk his obligations as a Jew. After the death of one of his parents in 1653, Zhao returned to Kaifeng to begin the three year period of mourning. During this period, he became involved in communal Jewish affairs. More competent in Hebrew than other laypeople, he assisted the rabbi Li Zhen with the collation of Torah parchments that had been recovered from the devastating flood of 1642. Together with his brother Yingdou and cousin Zhengji, he succeeded in locating the foundations of the inundated synagogue. From his own income, which must have been significant for a man of his social prominence, he funded the total costs for three sections of the rear hall in the reconstructed house of worship. During this period he authored the book of biblical commentary The Vicissitudes of the Holy Scriptures. In 1656 he was appointed assistant surveillance commissioner in Hubei Province but died a year later, lavishly eulogized in three Chinese gazetteers (Pollak 1998, 327-328).


The confluence of ethical values in both Judaism and Confucianism enabled Zhao to embrace Han culture while fully partaking of his Jewish heritage. There is evidence that many more of the Kaifeng kehillah shared this dual affiliation, which, while integrating them into the host culture permitted the conservation of their original ethnic identity.


The effects of globalization on a revitalized cultural identity for Kaifeng's Jewish descendants


The 1605 meeting between Cardinal Matteo Ricci and the Kaifeng Jew Ai Tien, a documented incident that often reads like a comedy of errors, was seminal in the Western awareness of the existence of a Jewish community in China. Ai Tien, who had heard of the arrival in Peking of a group of white-skinned aliens from a faraway land, believing in one God and yet denying any connection to Islam, naturally assumed that these barbarians were in fact Jewish. Ricci, by contrast, presumed from Ai's professed monotheism that he had discovered a representative from an extraordinary Nestorian Christian enclave in China. Ai mistook Ricci's genuflection before a painting of the Madonna, St. John and the Christ child to be his reverence towards the matriarch Rebecca and her two sons Esau and Jacob; he further misconstrued a portrait of the four Christian evangelists on the chapel wall as a likeness of four of Jacob's twelve sons. Only later in Ricci's study did the religious identity of each man finally become clarified (Pollak 1998, 4-7). According to Pollak, the original intention of Ai's visit was the expectation that if "…some form of continuing communication could then be instituted with the centres of Western Judaism through the good offices of the recent immigrants, Chinese Jewry would at long last be given an opportunity to reforge its severed links to the mainstreams of its faith" (Pollak 1998, 5).


In the years that followed, even in the aftermath of near complete linguistic and cultural attrition, the Jewish descendants of Kaifeng persisted in appealing to the Jewry of the Diaspora to help them re-establish their fading ethnic identity. A letter written on behalf of the kehillah addressed to T. H. Layton, the British consul in Amoy, and dated August 15, 1850, the year of the death of Kaifeng's last rabbi, summarizes the community's predicament: "For the past forty or fifty years our religion has been but imperfectly transmitted, and although its canonical writings are still extant, there are none who understand so much of one word of them. It happens that there yet survives an aged female of more than seventy years, who retains in her recollection the principle tenets of the faith… Morning and night with tears in our eyes and with offerings of incense, do we implore our religion may again flourish… Daily, with tears, have we called on the Holy Name! If we could again procure ministers and put in order our temple, our religion would have a firm support for the future; and its sacred documents would have a secure repository" (Pollak 1998, 144-145). Due to both incredulity at the existence of a community of Chinese Jews and circumstantial priorities, the request of Kaifeng's Jews went unheeded. Fifty-two years later they sent a delegation to the wealthy Jewish community of Shanghai, where, once again, financial assistance to the Jews of Eastern Europe took precedence over the needs of this obscure, acculturated community of Chinese Jews (Xu 2003, 60).


Ironically, where appeals to the Diaspora have failed, the policies of Deng Xiaoping which opened China to global influences, including tourism, have succeeded in revitalising the small group of Jewish descendants in Kaifeng. Although their plea to both the Chinese and Israeli governments for recognition as Jews has been rejected, the remaining Kaifeng Jews, according to Ehrlich and Liang (2008, 311) numbering close to 1,000 individuals, have recently begun a process of restoring their lost cultural heritage. "The general interest in Judaism is high," write Ehrlich and Liang. "Though strongly patriotic as Han Chinese, there is great interest in studying English and Hebrew and in modernizing." As governmental suspicion of their religious activity gradually eases, the community has invested money and time into their future as a viable minority culture: they have recently rented a small room for their activities which presently include the communal observance of Friday night Sabbath dinners, festival celebrations and Hebrew classes taught by Israeli or American Jewish students from Henan University. The Sabbath kiddush (i.e. sanctification of the day) is recited in Hebrew and the meal is followed by a talk in Chinese on the weekly Torah portion. There are over thirty people, ranging from high-school age to pensioners, who currently study Hebrew twice a week. Although a dozen or so have immigrated to Israel in recent years, most of those who remain in Kaifeng, like Guo Yan (A Jew in Kaifeng,
2009), a schoolteacher of Chinese language and organiser of many of the kehillah's current activities, share the sentiments she expresses on her website: "…I cannot but intensely hope that on the world's edge [sic], in Kaifeng, extremely remote from our homeland Jerusalem, a Torah and a Hebrew culture can be preserved." Recently, the Israeli organization Shavei Yisrael, dedicated to the restoration of lost Jewish communities across the globe, sponsored a year-long visit to Israel for seven of the kehillah's younger members, where they will study Hebrew and undergo formal conversion. One of them, 23-year old Yaakov Wang, also aims to enter into the rabbinate. "My dream," he declares, "is to complete the process of converting to Judaism and become a certified rabbi, after which I will return to my community and serve as its first rabbi since the dissolve [sic] of the Jewish community some 150 years ago" (Chinese descendants of ancient Jewish community make aliyah, 2009).




During the eight centuries in which Jews resided in Kaifeng, despite bouts of official xenophobia and occasional tensions with the Moslem community, there is no recorded incident of Han anti-Semitism. Furthermore, unlike Jews in other Diaspora communities, the Jews of Kaifeng were free to advance economically and socially. Finally, the many similarities in the ethical parameters of Confucianism resonated with many primary Jewish values. All of these factors, compounded with normative language shift, served to hasten the assimilation of Kaifeng Jewry into the culture of its Chinese host. Yet, in spite of a syncretistic religious culture that bore little resemblance to that of their Western co-religionists, many of the descendants of Kaifeng's original Jewish migrants, though not technically Jewish, have maintained a unique sense of Jewish cultural identity up until the present.


Bishop White, in his translation and analysis of the centuries-old lapidary inscriptions, alleged that the Kaifeng Jews had abandoned their heritage and completely assimilated into Han culture. There are many today, particularly more orthodox Jews, who might similarly dismiss the significance of this community, given their inconsequential numbers and heterodox orientation. Others, like Tiberiu Weisz, who claims to have corrected many of the shortcomings in White's original translation, argue that the Jews of Kaifeng preserved a high degree of Judaic observance, albeit camouflaged in the linguistic and cultural referents of their habitation. According to Xu Xin, "Some scholars maintain that these writings were heavily influenced by Chinese culture, Confucianism in particular, and were inspired by and taken from Chinese teachings. Others hold that they were inspired by the Jewish spirit and express nothing but Judaism… Even a cursory glance makes it obvious that the writings of the Kaifeng Jews are a mixture of Confucianism and Judaism." More importantly, due to the complementary nature of these teachings, the dichotomous identities managed to re-enforce one another for over a thousand years.


Further research is required as to whether or not this cultural phenomenon is unique to Kaifeng Jewry's integration into Han culture, or whether any immigrant group, in the wake of language shift, is capable of anchoring its original ethnic identity through the cultivation of confluent values. Additionally, the recent phenomenon of cultural renewal through the effects of increased globalization is worthy of academic attention. After a hiatus of a thousand years, Kaifeng Jews are finally in contact with the Jewish Diaspora and with it, a number of varied influences. How these will affect the syncretised balance of Han and Jewish cultures which have imbued the Kaifeng kehillah with its distinctive sense of identity is unpredictable. What seems fairly certain, however, is that, despite their small number, the faint spark of identity which tenaciously endured among Kaifeng's Jewish descendants throughout the centuries, has not yet been extinguished and continues to this day to glow with increasing luminosity.




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Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Power Within: The Feminine Principle in Chinese and Jewish Mystical Traditions


A perfunctory examination of Chinese and Jewish cultures reveals many features that are patriarchal. In the Confucian order a wife must abidingly obey her husband (Jinfen 2002, 4); Jewish law adopts a similar demand and further excludes a woman from acting as a legal witness and the performance of certain religious precepts. Both cultures display a significant bias towards the procreation of male progeny (Kaup 2007, 330; Rosner 2001, 168), while the Chinese veneration of ancestors and the lineage of Jewish rabbinic and priestly traditions are reserved exclusively for males. However, when one delves beneath the surface into the ancient, mystical traditions of China and Israel-- Daoism and kabbalah-- a different picture emerges. In both of these traditions, the feminine aspect plays a vital role not only in the celestial realm but also in the earthly relationships between men and women. Furthermore, in both of these traditions a surprising yet paradoxical element of feminine superiority comes to the fore.

The focus of this study will be of principles manifest in the earlier conventions of philosophical Daoism, dao jia (道家), and theoretical kabbalah, kabbalah ha-iyunit (קבלה העיונית). The former begins with Lao Zi in the 6th century BCE and extends roughly 500 years until the development of a more ritualised Daoist church, including ideas from this time period antedated to the legendary Yellow Emperor, Huang Di (黄帝) (Fowler 2005, 29-33). Theoretical kabbalah begins at a much later date with the appearance of Sefer Ha-Bahir, (The Book of Illumination) in the 12th century and stretches to its apex in the 16th century, the period of the renowned kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safed in the Upper Galilee (Kaplan 1991, 5). Many of these kabbalistic views on the feminine principle were embellishments of earlier references in the Torah (i.e. the Pentateuch) and Talmud. Although subsequent religious Daoism, dao jiao (道教), and practical kabbalah, kabbalah ma-asit (קבלה המעשית), both exhibit certain feminine elements-- the former in its pantheon of deities (e.g. the goddess Dou-Mu, 斗母, the “Mother of Light”) and the latter in its demonology (e.g. Lilith, Queen of the Night)—these expressions had already degenerated into superstitions as opposed to purely philosophical doctrine.

The Supernal Feminine

Unlike Western religions, philosophical Daoism lacks the concept of a personal God. The Dao, the source of all creation, is ineffable. As described succinctly in the first chapter of the Dao De Jing (道德经):

“The way that can be spoken is not the real Way
The name that can be named is not the real name.”

A euphemism for the Dao is wu-ji (無極), a primordial state of Nothingness that is “without bounds and limits”. It is from this Nothingness that Taiji (太極), the Supreme Ultimate Source, manifesting as absolute Oneness, comes forth. From Taiji then proceed the dual, yet entwined forces of yin (阴) and yang (阳), which in turn become the components of the myriad forms that characterize creation:

“Dao gave birth to the One;
The One gave birth to two things,
Then to three things, then to ten thousand…” (ibid, 42)

Whereas the Dao is the ineffable and nameless void, its manifestation as Taiji represents its latent immanence in all existence. It has also been referred to as the “supreme mother of all things” (Fowler 2005, 108); as such, it may be conceived of as a womb of complete potentiality. From this womb the generation of masculine yang, literally “the sunny place” or “south slope”, and feminine yin, “the shady place” or “north slope”, encompasses a tripod of Heaven (the transcendent), Earth (the immanent) with Humanity poised between them. Through descent into the Four Realms and substantiation into the Wu Xing (五行), the five elements of Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood, the physical world with all of its possibilities materialises. It should be emphasized that Daoism’s worldview is holistic rather than dualistic: its masculine and feminine elements are interdependent and dynamic. Moreover, as every quality is defined by the gradient of its opposite, the feminine yin is contained as potential within the masculine yang, and vice-versa (Fowler 2005, 81-84).

Readers of the Old Testament are familiar with the anthropomorphic imagery of the patriarchal “Jehovah”. In Jewish tradition this name, better known as the Tetragrammaton, or “four-lettered name” represented as Y-H-V-H (י-ה-ו-ה) is never pronounced but replaced with the euphemistic adonai (א-ד-נ-י), meaning “my Lord”. According to Jewish mysticism, however, neither of these names, nor the personalised, masculine deity they signify, is indicative of the intrinsic nature of God. Not unlike the Dao, the absolute nature of the Supreme Being is ineffable and completely unknowable; the kabbalists gave it the appellation Ayn Sof (אין םוף), literally “without bounds” or “Nothingness without limits” (Kaplan 1991, 23-24).

In order for this Nothingness to manifest as creation, a process of Divine Emanation occurs. This results in the model of the Ten Emanations, or Sefirot. The arrangement of these Divine Emanations in a tripartite alignment, with the right column representing masculine forces, the left side feminine and the centre their line of mutual confluence, is known as tikun, or rectification. Furthermore, the Sefirot combine in such a way to reflect the quality of the Four Worlds through which they descend in order to become manifest. These are: the World of Emanation (Atziltuh), the World of Creation (Beriyah), the World of Formation (Yetzirah) and the World of Action (Assiyah). A further ethereal quasi-realm of “Primordial Man”, Adam Kadmon, signifying the Divine Will to emerge from Nothingness, precedes these four (Kaplan 1991, 15-16).

These five sefirotic combinations are known in kabbalah as Partzufim, or Divine Expressions, and from the sublime to the more mundane, are known as Arich Anpin, “the Extended Face” (but also referred to as Ayin or Nothingness), Aba, Father, Ima, Mother, Zeir Anpin, “the Reduced Face” and, finally Nukva, the Female, comprised solely of the final Sefirah of Malchut, Kingdom (Kaplan 1991, 95-96).

The feminine aspects of Ima and Nukva are also referred to respectively as the Upper and Lower Shekhina. The term Shekhina, literally meaning “dwelling place”, is mentioned frequently in the Talmud as a referent to “the Divine Presence”. In this earlier usage, however, despite its grammatical feminine gender, the term had not yet developed into the female hypostases within the Godhead that later kabbalistic works like Sefer Ha-Bahir and, in particular, Sefer Ha-Zohar (The Book of Radiance) would boldly articulate (Scholem 1991, 150).

The Upper Shekhina, which is designated in Sefer Ha-Zohar as “the Palace” or “Celestial Womb “and reminiscent of Taiji, exemplifies the process whereby Nothingness transforms into infinite potentiality. The Upper Shekhina, while serving as a receptor of the supernal flow of Divine Life, simultaneously functions as a dynamic agent in which the ineffable becomes revealed through the emanations (i.e. the seven lower Sefirot) that it emits. Borrowing Indian terminology, Gershom Scholem describes the Upper Shekhina as “the Shakti of the latent God: it is entirely active energy, in which what is concealed within God is externalized.”

By contrast, the Lower Shekhina of Malchut (Kingdom) receives the influx of all the supernal emanations but what it transmits is no longer within the realm of the Godhead but rather Creation itself. Allegorized in Sefer Ha-Zohar as “the Moon” and “the Earth”, the Lower Shekhina possesses no light of its own. (This attribute resulted in its later development as the potential to at times infuse “darkness” and “evil” into the world.) Apart from the influx of the nine Sefirot preceding it, more significantly, the Lower Shekhina receives a reflux from below through human actions, which it then transmits upwards to the transcendent realms of being. Significantly, the kabbalists held that the sin of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden had caused the Shekhina to likewise become exiled from her earthly domain and separated from her male counterpart Zeir Anpin, also known as “The Higher Man” from Ezekiel’s vision. The Zohar repeatedly emphasizes the fundamental role of human endeavour in restoring the immanent Shekhina in union with her transcendent partner, Zeir Anpin. In the kabbalah of R. Isaac Luria many meditative prayers known as yichudim (unities) were established to precede the performance of certain Torah precepts, expressing the conscious intent to restore the harmonious balance within the Divine (Scholem 1991, 186-187).

The Mundane Feminine

Daoism maintains that sexual relations between male and female are a microcosmic paradigm of the macrocosmic Yin and Yang. Works ascribed to the legendary Yellow Emperor, such as The Classic of the Plain Girl, viewed heterosexual relations as a natural function and discuss its various aspects with candour. Since the hormonal secretions of both male (yang) and female (yin) were considered storehouses of “life essences”, or jing (精), the goal of sexual relations was to achieve a healthy absorption of these essences. There was, however, a fundamental difference in the sexual nature of men and women. As expressed by the Daoist adept Wu Xian of the Han Dynasty (Reid 1989, 258):

“The male belongs to Yang. Yang’s nature is such that the male is easily aroused but also quick to retreat. The female belongs to Yin. Yin’s nature is such that the female is slow to be aroused and also slow to be satiated.”

Furthermore, male orgasm involved a depletion of jing, whereas female climax entailed its retention. In order to balance the inequity of nature in this arena, Daoists advocated a regimen of semen retention during coitus. This type of sexual practice was meant to enable the female to have more time to reach her climax, at which time her partner would reap the dual benefits of retaining his own jing, while simultaneously absorbing hers (Reid 1989, 263-264). Although younger adepts were allowed occasional ejaculations, these were viewed as progressively detrimental with age (Reid 1989, 261). According to Daoist principles, sexuality was not about satisfaction of desires but rather a means to nurture vital essence. As stated by the renowned Tang dynasty Daoist Dr. Sun Ssu-Mo, “a man must think of how this act will benefit his health and thus keep himself free from disease. This is a subtle secret of the art of the bed-chamber.”

A hedonistic stream of Daoism subsequently developed by the 3rd century, and its utilization of these sexual techniques in Daoist temples without regard to moral ramifications, at various junctures in Chinese history evoked a strong public reaction by the authorities against these practices (Reid 1989, 13).

Like the Daoists, kabbalists also saw the sexual act as the primary earthly paradigm of the Union between the Bride (Shekhina) and her Spouse, the Higher Man (Zeir Anpin). Kabbalah, however, imbued the sexual act with a sanctity and moral quality which naturalistic Daoism did not. This meant that the sexual act could only be performed within the sanctity of marriage and after the woman’s ritual purification following her menses.

Though both the Talmud and the medieval Jewish physician Maimonides call attention to the deleterious mental and physical effects of excess depletion of semen, Judaism still championed the procreative effects of sexuality as fulfilment of the first Torah precept “Be fruitful and multiply…” The Talmud, however, recommends that during intercourse a husband delay his ejaculation in order that his wife may climax first. (Ironically, the stated purpose of this practice is to engender male offspring!). Furthermore, according to the laws of onah (Exodus 21:11), in which a husband is obliged to provide his spouse with food, clothing and sexual relations, it is not merely the frequency of the latter for which the male is responsible but also its qualitative aspect.

The unio mystica advocated by the kabbalists was reinforced with the Zohar’s interpretation of the creation myth. Mentioned several centuries earlier in both Midrash and Rashi commentaries, Adam was said to have been created du-partzufim (דו-פרצופים), or androgynous. The taking of Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21) in order to create Eve was the forceful Divine act of separating this heretofore unified androgynous being. The human process of finding a mate and binding that relationship within the sanctity of marriage was deemed a restoration of the pristine unity that had existed prior to this rupture. This restoration was in itself paradigmatic of the rectification inside the Godhead which occurred during performance of the sexual act within the parameters of sanctity and morality set by the Torah (Green 2006, 39).

As with the licentious tendencies that developed in the Daoist tradition, the Sabbatian and Frankist heresies which emerged in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries respectively were perversions of this kabbalistic notion that human coupling could affect the restitution of unity within the Godhead. These heresies similarly affected a reactionary backlash against the promulgation of kabbalah.


Excepting the enhanced stamina of the female in sexual matters, Lao Zi makes several references in the Dao De Jing to an intrinsic superiority of the Yin aspect:

“The female by quiescence conquers the male;
By quiescence she gets underneath.” (61)

“Truly, the hard and strong are cast down,
While the soft and weak rise to the top.” (76)

“When you know the male, yet hold on to the female,
You’ll be the ravine of the country.” (28)

In the psychological, political and spiritual matters referred to in these verses, the Dao De Jing regarded the yielding Yin as more capable of attaining results than the more abrasive Yang. Likewise, the practice of Wu-Wei, or effortless achievement, involved a passive Yin approach that enabled all human artifice to acquiesce to the greater flow of Dao.

It is in the eschatological teleology of kabbalah, where aspects of feminine superiority become visible. In the world of time and space, the six masculine emanations of Zeir Anpin symbolized by the 6th masculine letter vav, “ו”, representing the phallus, encapsulate the six directions of space (N, S, E, W, up, down) and the six days of the week. By contrast, the feminine letter heh “ה” corresponding to the (Lower) Shekhina represents a singular, internal spatial point and the temporal Sabbath day (Kaplan 1991, 11). Though the Sabbath is the seventh and final day of the week, the Talmudic sages classified it as “the last in Creation; the first in Thought.” In this context, in the same way that in the Jewish religious tradition the Sabbath day has a greater sanctity than weekdays, likewise the revelation of Divinity in the immanent natural order of the Shekhina appears as the primary motif of Creation itself (Green 2006, 8-9).

Furthermore, according to Jewish tradition, with the dawn of the Messianic era, predicted to occur after 6000 years of the Jewish calendar (currently at 5769) at the threshold of the Sabbatical millennium, Adam’s sin will be removed. This will have a profound effect on the status of women. Isaiah’s prophecy that “…the light of the Moon will be like the light of the Sun” (Isaiah 30:26) is said to reflect this transformation in the eminence of women. So too, according to the Zohar, does the prophecy of Jeremiah: “For God will create a new thing, a woman shall court a man” (Kaplan 1993, 62).

With the socio-cultural advancement of women in the postmodern era, more people are questioning the mythology of the masculine God portrayed in exoteric Jewish scriptures and other religious narratives. Furthermore, men and women alike are rejecting patriarchal structures as enshrined in Confucian thought and still operative in numerous societies around the world. The exploration of mystical traditions such as Daoism and kabbalah reveal a worldview where the feminine principle plays a dominant role both in the supernal and earthly domains. A greater understanding and implementation of these ideas could ultimately facilitate a more sophisticated notion of the Divine. More importantly, the respective practices associated with each of these traditions radically transform our view of Ultimate Reality from a transcendent concept beyond our grasp to a simple experience which, if we can only surrender to the power within, we all have the capacity to access in every moment of our lives.


Fowler, Jeaneane D. An Introduction to the Philosophy and Religion of Taoism: Pathways to Immortality. 2005. Sussex: Sussex Academic Press. Google Books. http:// books.google.com (accessed September 22, 2008).

Green, Arthur. A Guide to the Zohar. 2004. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Green, Arthur. Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology. 2006. Woodstock: Jewish Lights Publishing.

Jinfen, Yan. 2002. A feminine expression of mysticism, romanticism and syncretism in A Plaint of Lady Wang. Inter-Religio 42: 3- 18. Nanzan University. http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/ (accessed September 29, 2008)

Kaplan, Arye. Immortality, Resurrection and the Age of the Universe: A Kabbalistic View. 1993. Hoboken: Ktav Publishing House.

Kaplan, Arye. Innerspace. 1991. Brooklyn: Moznaim Publishing Company.

Kaup, Katherine P., ed. 2007. Understanding Contemporary Asia Pacific. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers,

Lao-Tzu. Te Tao Ching. 1993. New York: Random House Inc.

Reid, Daniel P. The Tao of Health, Sex and Longevity: A Modern Practical Guide to the Ancient Way. 1989. New York. Simon and Schuster.

Rosner, Fred. Biomedical Ethics and Jewish Law. 2001. Hoboken Ktav Publishing House. Google Books. http://books.google.com (accessed October 4, 2008).

Scholem, Gershom. On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah. 1991. New York: Schocken Books.

Friday, 21 March 2008

On Lotteries, Adultery and Fragrant Herbs

The name of the Jewish holiday of Purim means "lottery". It refers to the lottery that the Persian vizier Haman, the antagonist of the story in the Book of Esther, conducted to determine the month for his nefarious campaign to eliminate the Jews of ancient Persia. In all other Jewish holidays the name follows the symbol of redemption: Pesach denotes God's passing over the homes of the Jews in Egypt during the plague of the first-born, the final blow leading to Israel's exodus; Sukkoth refers to the "clouds of glory" surrounding the Israelites during their sojourn in Sinai. Why does the Purim story use the term related to the catastrophe rather than one referring to the deliverance?

To understand this, one must go deeper than the literal level of the Torah and examine it through the lens of the Pardes ("the Orchard", an acronym for pshat, the simple meaning; remez, the hermeneutic; drash, the exegetical; and sod, the mystical.) In fact the Hebrew name for the Book of Esther is מגילת אסתר, Megilat Esther, which can also be read as 'revelation of the concealed'. There is much that is hidden behind the visible garment of the Purim story.

On the simple level is a story of political intrigue, which the text claims is also recorded in the chronicles of Persia, though this claim has no historical verification. King Achashverosh, who some commentators suggest is Xerxes, has a lavish banquet for his subjects of 127 nations. He asks his wife, Vashti, to appear before the guests in her royal crown, but she refuses. The Talmud fills in the reason for that refusal: she was asked to comeby her drunken husband wearing only the royal crown and nothing else. She is put to death for her disobedience. On the advice of his advisors virgins are gathered from all over Persia in a selection process for the next queen. The King finally selects Esther, the niece of Mordechai the Jew, as his consort, but Esther conceals her ethnicity. While Esther is in the royal palace, her uncle Mordechai uncovers a plot against the king's life. The king neglects to reward him for this act.

In the interim Haman seals a deal with the king to destroy a "certain people scattered about the kingdom", a people who adhere to "their own laws." Though he hates all Jews, he is particularly irked by Mordechai who refuses to bow down to him. Mordechai hears of the edict to instigate a Jewish massacre, determined in Haman's lottery to be this month of Adar in the Hebrew calendar. In a public display of mourning at the royal palace gate, he sends a message to Esther to intercede on behalf of her people; but she has not been called to the King's chambers in 40 days. To appear before him without being summoned can carry the penalty of death. She tells Mordechai to organise a three-day fast on the part of the Jews, after which she goes to the king. His feelings of love rekindled, the King allows her to enter his chambers by the "raising of the golden sceptre". He asks her what she desires ("up to half the kingdom and I will grant it to you"); all Esther requests is the company of the King and Haman at a special banquet she wants to hold. Accepting her invitation, they appear the next day at Esther's feast. Again, the King pleads to hear Esther's request. She invites them both to another banquet the following day. Haman is feeling particularly proud as a recipient of this honour by the queen, but, leaving the banquet, he sees Mordechai at the gate, stubbornly refusing to prostrate himself. With his family he resolves to set up a gallows in a tall tree and hang Mordechai even before the advent of Adar.

The king has a sleepless night, in which he asks for the royal chronicles to be brought to him. The chronicles remind him that nothing had done to award Mordechai for saving his life. At that point, Haman is waiting to see the King to request the hanging of Mordechai. The King summons him and asks him what should be done "to a man the King wishes to honour." Imagining that the King is referring to him, Haman suggests that the said beneficiary be donned in royal apparel and led through the streets of Shushan with a crier proclaiming his praises. The King then instructs Haman to heap those royal rewards on his archenemy Mordechai. In the wake of this humiliation, Haman relates this turn of events to his family. His wife warns him that if Mordechai is of Jewish descent, then "you will surely continue to fall". Then and there, Haman is whisked away to attend Esther's second banquet. When the King again asks to hear her request, she makes a dramatic plea for her own life and the life of her people. Achashverosh asks who could be such a cruel villain; she points to Haman. The King, in his anger, goes out to catch a breather in the garden, while Haman pleads for his own life to Esther. Unfortunately, he "falls on the couch" where Esther is reclining (he was pushed by an angel, according to the Midrash), just as the King re-enters from the garden. One of the King's servants then reveals that this same villain wanted to kill Mordechai, who had saved the King's life. A hood is placed over Haman's head, and he is taken away for a summary hanging on the tree he had prepared for Mordechai.

The King bestows all of the wealthy Haman's assets to Mordechai. The Jews are granted a new decree to rise up and fight their enemies on the 14th of Adar. They are later granted an extra day to fight their enemies in Shushan. Purim is declared an eternal holiday for feasting, the reading of the Megilah, giving of portions [of food] to one's friends and gifts to the poor.

That is the simple story. Of interest is that this is the only Biblical book in which the name of God never once appears. Also, of interest is the Talmudic dictum that in the times of the Messiah all of the Jewish holidays will be abandoned with the exception of Purim. Why is this so?

If we jump to the hermeneutical level and examine some of the inter-textual relationships we find that both Mordechai and Haman have an interesting karma behind their births. Haman is a descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek. Several hundred years earlier, King Saul was given the commandment to wipe out the cursed Amalekites, the first nation that attacked the Israelites in the desert. Although he ransacked the Amalekite kingdom, he disobeyed the commandment and kept Agag alive. God angrily informs the prophet Samuel of this defiance. Samuel proceeds to Saul's camp and to kill the Amalekite king by sword. He then announces that because of Saul's insubordination, he will lose the kingship. In the short interval that Agag was kept alive, he had enough time to impregnate his consort. It is from the circumstances of this union, and Saul's misplaced compassion, that Haman originates.

Fast forward about half-a-century and we find that Saul's replacement, King David, is faced with a rebellion by his son, Absalom. As David flees Jerusalem for his life, he is cursed by one Shima ben Gera, a religious leader who has sided with Absalom. David is urged by his aides to kill Shimi for lèse majesté, punishable by death. David refuses to do so. "Perhaps God will look after my affliction and requite me good for his cursing this day." Shimi lives a long life, and it is from his descendants, and ultimately from David's compassion, that Mordechai owes his existence.

There is another interesting relationship that hermeneutics reveal. According to the view of Rabbi Meir in the Talmud, Esther was more than just a blood relative to Mordechai: she was his wife. This is based upon the reading of the verse לקח אותה לבת ("he took her as a daughter") with לקח אותה לבית ("he took her as a wife"). Of course, in its inimitable fashion, the Talmud comes up with all sorts of interesting answers as to how Achashverosh failed to notice she was not a virgin, but we will not digress on that here. The main point is that Esther was committing adultery, an act punishable by death according to Torah law. The Talmud states that initially she was passive in the sexual act, which was therefore counted as rape rather than infidelity. Later, however, her entry into the royal chambers to plead for the life of her people constituted active seduction. At that point, she became halachically forbidden to Mordechai. From Esther's conscious sacrifice of her marital life to save her people, we learn of the significant Talmudic dictum: a sin committed for the sake of Heaven is preferable to a commandment performed with ulterior motives.

Climbing up the ladder to level of the exegetical, we find the reason for Achashverosh ordering a feast at the beginning of the story. Prior to Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Jerusalem, Jeremiah had predicted that in 70 years the Jews would return to their homeland and rebuild the fallen Temple (still extant at the time of his prophecy). It was Achasverosh who, upon assuming power decades later, ordered that the work on the Temple initiated by his predecessor Cyrus, be brought to a halt. In the third year of his reign, 70 years after the onset of the Babylonian exile, Achashverosh concluded that Jeremiah's dreaded prophecy of the Jews regaining their former glory was doomed to failure. He ordered a feast to celebrate the continued subservience of the Jews to Persia.

On this level we also learn that Haman wanted to entice the Jews at this feast of Achashverosh. He wanted them to drink and thus succumb to the many sensual desires that this feast offered its participants. In contrast, Mordechai was concerned that the Jews attending this feast conducted themselves within the parameters of Jewish law. The Midrash teaches that while some of the Jews followed Mordechai's directives, many others did not. They celebrated the temptations of the senses at a feast where the victorious Achashverosh shamelessly drank from the golden vessels of the sacred Temple. In the spiritual realm, then, this "sin" gave empowerment to Haman and his plot to annihilate the Jews.

Finally, on the mystical level of sod, the Ari teaches that Haman was a reincarnation of the Primordial Serpent. This is because the first time the Hebrew letters of the name המן (Haman) appear in the Torah is in the verse המן העץ אשר צויתיך))
"Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you…?" (Genesis 3:11). According to the Ari, Haman's attempt to have the Jews eat at Achashverosh's feast was the same attempt of the Serpent to cause Adam and Eve to "sin" by bringing duality ('the knowledge of good and evil") into the oneness of Eden. The Zohar describes that sin as the separation of the Shechina from Ze'ir Anpin, the primordial breach in sefirotic unity, the rupture of Divine immanence and transcendence. It is also noteworthy that kabbalists describe Esther's separation from Mordechai, and her union with Achasverosh in the same terms. Esther is Malchut or Shechina, the "concealment" of the Divine in the physical world. Achashverosh translates into Hebrew as "pain in the head", a fairly good description of physical reality, especially one devoid of Spirit (i.e. where Shekihina and Tiferet are separated).

On the kabbalistic level the names of both Esther and Mordechai actually refer to fragrant herbs. Esther's Hebrew name is Hadassah, meaning myrtle; in Aramaic Mordechai translates to מר דכיא, meaning "pure frankincense". The sense of smell corresponds to the spiritual. It is the only sense that was not blemished in the original sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, in which all the other senses took part. It is for this reason we have the custom of smelling fragrant herbs upon the closing of the Shabbat; we try and retain some of the spiritual vibration sullied in the six-day workweek of material existence. According to Sefer Yetzirah, all of the months of the year correspond to a particular sense. The month of Adar corresponds to the sense of smell.

From this we can understand the origin of this holiday's name. When Adar came up in Haman's lottery, it was in fact the beginning of Israel's deliverance. The fact the incarnation of the Serpent, striving to re-enact the original sin of abandoning Divine oneness, chose the month corresponding to pure fragrance, was an assurance his scheme could not succeed. Although the name of God never appears explicitly in the Megillah, according to kabbalistic calligraphy, the scrolls are deliberately written with the word המלך, the King, at the top of every column. Though this ostensibly refers to Achashverosh, it refers as well to the transcendent God who is always already one with the immanent Goddess. This is why the Purim holiday will remain during the Messianic Era. At that time, Divine revelation will be ubiquitous. We will not need any holidays to remind us of such. What we will celebrate, however, is our ability to perceive that Divine Presence when it could not outwardly be seen. That is the "revelation of the concealed."

Lastly, we are taught that Esther and Achashvarosh had a child, who ascended the throne of Persia. His name was Darius, and one of his first acts was to grant the Jews permission to return to the land of Israel and rebuild the Temple. This took place exactly seventy years from the time of the first Temple's destruction.

I have only written a small morsel of what the Megillat Esther offers, but, as the kabbalists are wont to say: "Those who will understand, will understand."

Friday, 1 February 2008


I received several positive responses and expressions of gratitude after posting The Real Thing. Many of those messages were appreciative of my candour, while for others it was an eye-opener as to the true breadth of the Jewish mystical tradition. I am not in the habit of doing sequels, and it is not because of pandering to popularity that I am making an exception here. Rather, it is because there was a significant omission in the first article which I would like to rectify.
In the summer of 1989, when we were still living in the Old City of Tsfat, for a Shabbat weekend we hosted a young man who worked for an advertising firm in Los Angeles. I don’t remember exactly what got us on to the topic—and I know this must seem suspect here—but, somehow, over our Sunday morning coffee at the kitchen table, we entered into a conversation about phone sex. It seemed that Gerry (not his actual name) was into phone sex in a big way. Don’t forget this was still the eighties, when the cell phones were clunkers twice the size they are now and the phone sex phenomenon was at its inception.
What I found most unusual about Gerry was not only his predilection to phone sex but rather his dogged preference to it over the “real thing”. According to him, the practice offered a more titillating experience of pure fantasy superior to the mundane realities of human interaction. Furthermore, one was not bound by any commitments; it was pure pleasure void of any emotional attachment and the subsequent pain that, according to him, invariably followed.
Needless to say, his comments were startling to me, particularly at that time given the very insular and particular concerns of a Hasidic lifestyle in the Old City, in many ways a reflection of the shteitl culture centuries before. Of course, having come of age in the 60’s and 70’s I was no stranger to sexual experimentation, though admittedly quite tame and innocent compared to what goes on these days. While I did not consider myself a prude, however, I felt there was something distasteful and perverse in Gerry’s remarks.
I tried in vain to point out that his comparison of phone sex with sexual intercourse was an invalid premise at the onset. Whereas regular, old-fashioned sex involved some form of direct contact of two or more human bodies, what was referred to as “phone sex” was simply masturbation accompanied by audio stimulation from a voice on the other end of the telephone line. That female voice was only a remote, indirect participant in the act of sexual pleasure; she was no more real in the audio sense than the Playboy centrefold, also an icon of male sexual fantasy, was in the visual.
My reasoned arguments, however, fell on deaf ears. He claimed I was being judgemental and moralistic. If a woman’s voice over the phone wires could succeed in triggering greater pleasure than could be attained through direct sexual stimulation with an actual person, then that was entirely his prerogative to choose that option. I had to concede to him on that point. There is a modern, Hebrew saying “טאם וריח אי אפשר להתוכח על” (“Concerning tastes and odours, it is impossible to argue.”), which basically means you will have a hard time convincing a chocoholic on the virtues of vanilla. The awkward conversation became an awkward silence, as Gerry finished his breakfast and left to catch the morning bus to Jerusalem. We never heard from him again. It could very well be, given that there seemed to be some psychological barriers and fears obstructing his emotions, that he is now a middle-aged loner still making desperate phone calls to continually relive his self-absorbed, paradisaical fantasies. Alternatively, he could have met the right person who enabled him to overcome these mysterious personal issues. Probably we will never know.
The reason I mention this incident is that it came to mind during a visit the other day to Borders in Downtown Perth. My wife had gone to the adjacent Myers department store to take advantage of of the January sales. I was given an hour or so to browse in the bookstore. After looking for The Mirror of Simple Souls by Marguerite Porète, which was not in stock, I found myself standing in front of the paltry section devoted to books on kabbalah. I understand that I am living in Perth and not Jerusalem, Brooklyn or London, where the selection would certainly have been greater. Yet, it was disappointing to see that there was not one single classical text of kabbalah on the shelves. The most prominent book with the most copies was Yehuda Berg’s The Power of Kabbalah: Technology for the Soul. Having over an hour to kill, I began “scanning” it. (I have to admit that I cheated and read a fair bit, as well.)
When it was finally time to leave, I had browsed about three-quarters of the book. There was nothing at all there that was incorrect or offensive. In fact, as I have said before, there was much in it that would be of great benefit to those who had no notion of what kabbalah entailed. Yet, simultaneously, I found it a mystery how such a book had proven inspirational to so many. In terms of depth, profundity and wisdom, I felt it did not come close to the works of the late Aryeh Kaplan, to give but one example. Then I remembered something interesting from my prior conversation with a teacher from the LA Kabbalah Centre. In response to my suggestion that the pop-kabbalah presented by the Centre was an adulteration of Jewish mysticism’s original intent and function, he had replied that because most people were incapable of engaging directly with the original, it was necessary to “extract the consciousness” of kabbalah and present that indirect version as a palatable alternative.
It was there and then in Borders that I remembered my conversation with Gerry two decades before.
That notion of having to “extract the consciousness” did not sit well with me. After all, what remains of any entity once its consciousness is “extracted”?
Before leaving the bookstore, I turned to the back of the book to see if the author had given a proper bibliography of his sources. There I found a resource guide (I think it was referred to as a “products” listing) to further one’s spiritual journey into this extraction of kabbalistic consciousness. Of course, every single product listed there was a either a Berg family publication or DVD. It was then I decided to write this sequel and include a bibliography for English speakers that would truly assist those who would like to engage in direct contact with kabbalistic sources rather than a diluted extract poured down their throats.
When I began researching this bibliography, I was amazed at the sheer volume that is out there on the market nowadays. Lately, Providence University-- a fitting name in this enterprise-- has published a slew of kabbalah classics by Chaim Vital, Abraham Abulafia, Moshe Cordevero and others. I have delineated three categories: General Reading, Classic Texts and Critical Histories. Ideally, I believe a student of an integral kabbalah should be learning from each. I have deliberately limited each category to 18 books, eighteen being the gematria of חי, i.e. “life”. Three times eighteen is 54, which is the gematria of נד, meaning “movement”, which, from the time of Merkava mysticism onwards has been the aim of kabbalah: to awaken people from spiritual slumber and get them to move. Any book descriptions marked with an asterisk are from Amazon; the few brief one-liners are my own summations.
A story is told of a poor woman who earned her meagre living selling apples. Once she came to pour out her heart to the Divrei Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, the 19th century Hasidic master and mystic. Her apples were not selling; she was convinced they were of inferior quality. She complained bitterly to the Rebbe about her mounting debts and poverty. The next morning the Divrei Chaim arrived at the marketplace and finding the stall where the woman sold her apples, stepped inside and began proclaiming in a loud voice: “Delicious, crisp apples for sale! Delicious, crisp apples for sale!” In no time at all, the curious sight of the Divrei Chaim advertising apples attracted a crowd of eager shoppers. Three days later the woman again paid a visit to the Rebbe. With a smile across her face, she told him that she had paid back all of her debts and her apples were selling so well, she could hardly keep abreast with the demand. “You see,” he replied, “your apples were always good. Somebody just had to let the people know that.”
I am not so pretentious as to compare myself with the Divrei Chaim, but my intent in publishing this bibliography is similar to his in praising the poor woman’s apples. I just want people to know. Of course, there is far more out there than I have included in this listing, but at least this can be a start.
I need to add one word of caution here. For anyone who prefers the experience of direct engagement in kabbalistic texts, it is imperative to learn Hebrew to truly do so. Even the best English translations do not cut the ice when compared to the delivery and nuance of the original language. In the analogy I have given so far, these English translations might be analogised to sexual intercourse with a condom. It’s not 100% completely direct contact, but, for those whose preference lies in that direction, it beats phone sex hands down (no pun intended).
Finally, for those of you who might think I am being cheeky and provocative to use sexuality as a metaphor for something as sacred as Divine awareness, the following is a quote from the great Maimonides from the Mishneh Torah (1:10:5), the first major code of Jewish law, on the way in which a person must fulfil the commandment to love God: “What is the love of God that is befitting? It is to love God with a great and exceeding love, so strong that one’s soul should be knit up with the love of God such that it is continually enraptured by it, like love-sick individuals whose minds are at no time free from a passion for a particular woman, and enraptured by her at all times…even more intense should be the love of God in the hearts of those who love Him; they should be enraptured by this love at all times.”
Though I have yet to read the book-- it’s in my current Amazon order -- I have been told that in The Mirror of Simple Souls Marguerite Porète, from the viewpoint of a woman and Christian mystic, similarly expresses those sentiments and that same burning passion.


An outstanding overview of kabbalah, Ain Sof, the Sefirot and their relationship to the prophetic experience.
Publisher: Moznaim Pub Corp (June 1990)
ISBN-10: 0940118564
ISBN-13: 978-0940118560

Kaplan’s groundbreaking work examines the meditative traditions throughout the historical evolution of kabbalah.
Publisher: Weiser Books (May 1989)
ISBN-10: 0877286167
ISBN-13: 978-0877286165

Kaplan analyses the scriptural origins of meditative and mystical practice.
Publisher: Weiser Books; New Ed edition (June 1978)
ISBN-10: 0877286175
ISBN-13: 978-0877286172

*Kaplan, Orthodox rabbi and author of Meditation and the Bible (Weiser, 1978) and Meditation and Kabbalah (Weiser, 1981), shows that meditation is consistent with traditional Jewish thought and practice. He then presents a guide to a variety of meditative techniques: mantra meditation (with suggested phrases and Bible verses to use as mantras); contemplation; visualization; experiencing nothingness (which he does not recommend for beginners); conversing with God; and prayer. His instructions are clear and explicit, and his advice is informed and sound, advocating that a simple 20-minute-a-day program can indeed help make the practitioner a better person and a better Jew, and develop a closer relationship to God and things spiritual.
Publisher: Schocken (March 14, 1995)
ISBN-10: 0805210377
ISBN-13: 978-0805210378

*Kabbalah of Creation is a new translation of the early Kabbalah of Rabbi Isaac Luria, founder of the most influential Jewish mystical school of the last 400 years. Living in relative obscurity in Northern Galilee, Luria experienced a powerful epiphany that influenced his lyrical, influential text. Poetically and meditatively described, the range of subjects includes the revelation of the Godhead's light in the world and its relationship to every aspect of the human life cycle, including lovemaking, conception, gestation, birth, and maturation.
Publisher: North Atlantic Books (July 13, 2005)
ISBN-10: 1556435428
ISBN-13: 978-1556435423

This is fascinating collection of lectures presented to the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists.
Publisher: Ktav Publishing House (January 1993)
ISBN-10: 0881253456
ISBN-13: 978-0881253450

* ”The Thirteen Petalled Rose”, written by the world-renowned scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, is based on the structures and assumptions of kabbalah, the largely esoteric theological system that deals with the relationships between man, Torah, the Commandments, and God. As Rabbi Steinsaltz teaches, kabbalah is the official theology of the Jewish people. While The Thirteen Petalled Rose can be viewed as an introduction to the essence of Jewish existence and belief, its author does not attempt to justify Judaism according to external criteria. It is not meant to be a book about its subject, but rather a book that grows out of its own world, the world of kabbalah. While most primers deal with practical matters, this volume touches largely upon issues of the soul
Publisher: Jason Aronson (April 28, 1994)
ISBN-10: 0876684509
ISBN-13: 978-0876684504

*The book of the Ramchal [R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto]"The Essentials of the Tree of Life" is a summary of the master work of the Ari Z'al; "The Etz Hayim" (The Tree of Life). It describes the evolution of the worlds, the Sephirot and the Partsufim, in a clear and concise language, which only retains the essential. Divided into ten chapters, it starts with the first manifestation of the creation, the superior worlds, the Sephirot, until explaining to us the systems of reincarnation of the souls.
Publisher: Kabbalah Editions; 1 edition (November 2004)
ISBN-10: 2923241010
ISBN-13: 978-2923241012

*After years of careful study, David Aaron helps us find the answers to life's questions as revealed in the Kabbalah, the mystical tradition of Judaism. Unlike other works on the Kabbalah, which are often academic, abstract, and unrelated to our everyday challenges and concerns, Endless Light is a thought-provoking, practical guide that illuminates our path in life. Rich in personal stories and anecdotes, Endless Light offers a deeper awareness of ourselves, our inner conflicts, and the way we understand and receive life's bounteous gifts. Drawing upon the profound, timeless teachings of the ancients as well as on his own contemporary insights, David Aaron helps truth-seekers of all faiths to enrich their lives, strengthen their faith, and enjoy more meaningful relationships.
Publisher: Berkley Trade; Berkley Trade Pbk. Ed edition (November 1, 1998)
ISBN-10: 0425166295
ISBN-13: 978-0425166291

* “Seeing God” by Rabbi David Aaron presents as its subtitle promises "Ten Life-Changing Lessons of the Kabbalah." Aaron, whose founding of the Isralight Institute in Jerusalem helped establish him as one of today's most popular spirituality gurus, writes in a crisp, clear style that offers eminently practical advice for those who wish to see God in their daily lives. The book's first chapter, "Getting Rid of God," does away with "the male, Zeus-like avenger floating about in heaven," which Aaron calls "a childish and counterproductive" concept. In place of "God," Aaron offers Hashem, a Hebrew term that means "the name," which stands for "Ultimate Reality Who embraces everything and fills everything"--a theological and lexical shift that emphasizes divine immanence in the world. Seeing God then elaborates 10 qualities of Hashem, derived from the Kabbalah, the ancient Jewish mystical text. Readers are encouraged to acknowledge and emulate these qualities, which range from Gevurah (kindness) to Malhut (communal consciousness). Each chapter concludes with "Seeing Exercises" and questions for contemplation ("Can you think of three things that you have done to bring justice into the world?"), whose purpose is to demonstrate that "Hashem is right here, right now, waiting to be seen, wanting to be known." --Michael Joseph Gross
Publisher: Tarcher (January 8, 2001)
ISBN-10: 1585420808
ISBN-13: 978-1585420803

11) KABBALAH: THE WAY OF THE JEWISH MYSTIC (Shambhala Classics) by Perle Epstein
*This pioneering, popular introduction to Jewish mysticism was the first survey written for a general audience, and it's now available in Shambhala Classics. Epstein presents the methods, schools, and legendary practitioners of Kabbalah, unraveling the web of ancient traditions hidden in such texts as the Sefer Yetzirah and the Zohar. The words of the great Kabbalists appear throughout the book, giving instructions on practices such as contemplation of the Bible's secret teachings, ecstatic prayer, and intensive meditation.
Publisher: Shambhala (February 13, 2001)
ISBN-10: 1570627673
ISBN-13: 978-1570627675

* The first section, "Spirit Moves" explores the tradition of Kabbalah, tracing its roots to the Bible and comparing many of its traditions to Eastern religions, suggesting they originated in the same beliefs. The second section, "Flows of Mind and Emotion," devotes a chapter to each of the sefirot--three of which relate to the mind, the other seven to emotion--to show how you can use these tenets to improve your life. For instance, Tiferet relates to a wise heart, and its chapter concentrates on ideas such as "inner balance for wellness," truth and beauty, and compassion using the teachings of Maimonides and the Bible, a Hasidic tale, an exercise, a meditation, and even some thoughts on Deepak Chopra.
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (June 15, 1999)
ISBN-10: 0609803786
ISBN-13: 978-0609803783

13) BASIC CONCEPTS IN KABBALAH by Rav Michael Laitman PhD
* By reading in this book, one develops internal observations and approaches that did not previously exist within. This book is intended for contemplation of spiritual terms. To the extent that we are integrated with these terms, we begin to unveil the spiritual structure that surrounds us, almost as if a mist had been lifted.
Publisher: Bnei Baruch/Laitman Kabbalah (June 15, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0973826886
ISBN-13: 978-0973826883

“This is a beautiful translation of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's treatise, "Garden of the Souls," which he wrote after the death of his young son. The Garden of Souls is the mystical Garden of Eden, where souls come from and return to after death. The book explores the question of suffering and the death of the innocent, in a beautiful, poetic prose that will inspire anyone -- Jewish or not -- who is recovering from grief, or who is thinking deeply about why "bad things happen to good people." An excellent intro to Breslov Hasidic thought, too!”—R. Yonassan Gershom
Publisher: Breslov Research Institute (April 1990)
ISBN-10: 0930213394
ISBN-13: 978-0930213398

*This book is an exploration of the Jewish healing tradition as taught in the Bible, Talmud, Midrash and Kabbalah, and especially in the writings of the outstanding Chassidic luminary, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810).
Publisher: Moznaim Pub Corp (January 1, 1995)
ISBN-10: 9659012047
ISBN-13: 978-9659012046

by Rabbi Yehudah Lev Ashlag( Mark Cohen PhD and Yedidah Cohan, translators)
This authentic translation into English of two Kabbalah texts written in Hebrew asks deeply personal questions about the essence of an individual and the existence of a soul. Discussing the experience of an individual and the role of humans in creation, it offers an understanding of the places of evil, suffering, compassion, and joy in the full experience of divine love. The Kabbalah is presented here not as an esoteric study limited to the divinely inspired, but as a universal pathway of the spirit. Coming from the West rather than the East, this book fills a long-awaited gap as it teaches an essential spirituality within the conceptual framework of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Publisher: Nehora Press (April 1, 2003)
ISBN-10: 9657222087
ISBN-13: 978-9657222089

17) ECSTATIC KABBALAH by David A. Cooper
* Kabbalah—the secret is out! From Madonna’s controversial conversion to the Dalai Lama’s acknowledgment and support, this mystical tradition is gaining unprecedented recognition. But how do we put this powerful and esoteric worldview into practice? With The Ecstatic Kabbalah, Rabbi David Cooper— author of God Is a Verb (100,000 copies sold), and a renowned leader of the Jewish meditation movement—provides practical exercises on the path toward "mending the soul," the fundamental Jewish experience that brings union with the Divine. With meditation techniques for both beginning and advanced practitioners, The Ecstatic Kabbalah guides listeners into awareness of the "presence of light" with experiential practices for touching the four worlds of mystical Judaism: • Physical—breath work and mind-body harmonization • Emotional—tone the divine names as an expression of devotion • Mental—learn the histories of these techniques • Spiritual—stabilize your connection with divine presence Finally, the long-sequestered doors of Kabbalah are open to all listeners, as they are invited to dwell in the embrace of the Divine with The Ecstatic Kabbalah’s practices of daily renewal.
Publisher: Sounds True; Har/Com edition (September 2005)
ISBN-10: 1591793440
ISBN-13: 978-1591793441

18) GOD IS A VERB by David Cooper
* Embraced by celebrities from Madonna to Jeff Goldblum to Elizabeth Taylor, covered extensively in the pages of Time and Entertainment Weekly, Kabbalah--a Jewish mystical tradition dating back centuries--has taken its place alongside Buddhism as a spiritual practice for modern Western seekers. This book--written by the rabbi who authored the bestselling audiotape series The Mystical Kabbalah--is the first to bring Kabbalah to a wide audience. Earning great praise from critics, God Is a Verb promises to do for Judaism what The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying did for Buddhism, infusing an ancient tradition with new life and popularizing its ideas among an entirely new generation.
Publisher: Riverhead Books, 1997.
ISBN-10: 1573226947


Book Description
*As Moshe Idel demonstrated, this book is incorrectly attributed to Rabbi Shem Tov Sefardi de Leon. Its apparently true author is a direct disciple of Avraham Abulafia, Natan ben Saadyah Harar. He describes instructions he received from his teacher, believed to be Aubulafia himself, along with his ecstatic experiences. This gives the book unparalleled importance, as auto-biographical works in Kabbalah are extremely rare. Additionally, he explains in detail many kabbalistic techniques, the very ones he employed to reach his prophetical states. The full text is a reconstruction based upon the four original known manuscripts, which in general have some notable differences or omissions.
Publisher: Providence University (February 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1897352077
ISBN-13: 978-1897352076

Book Description
*Gematria, the process of calculating the numerical value of letters, words, and phrases, has for centuries been an integral component of kabbalistic studies. The Tseruf, a species of Gematria, is a complex system of combining and rearranging Hebrew letters to discover new and profound meaning in the significations of words and phrases. In Sulam Aliyah, Rabbi Yehuda Albotini, who served as a Rabbi in Jerusalem during the years of 1500-1520, explains these principles of combinations, or Tserufim, with both pious humility and mathematical precision. Subsequently, a meditation upon the various, new arrangements results in an influx of insight or Divine Inspiration from the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit), a species of revelation through which the Prophets attained an ecstatic vision of God.
Publisher: Providence University (March 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1897352085
ISBN-13: 978-1897352083

3) NER ELOHIM – CANDLE OF GOD by Avraham Abulafia
*In "Ner Elohim" Abulafia lays down the foundations of his entire system of prophetic Kabbalah. It begins with an interpretation of the Blessing of the Priests, where Abulafia explains that the effect of the blessing depends on the knowledge of holy names, their composition, and their function. This leads him to describe the basic principles behind the workings of holy names and letter combinations, as outlined in the fundamental kabbalistic text of Sefer Yetzira, since "formation cannot exist without the combination of letters".
Publisher: Providence University (March 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1897352093
ISBN-13: 978-1897352090

4) SEFER HA-OT—THE BOOK OF THE SIGN by Avraham Abulafia
*This is one of the rare autobiographic books in Kabbalah. Abulafia relates his experiences and visions, some of which are really frightening. Most notable are his encounters with angels.
Publisher: Providence University (March 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1897352050
ISBN-13: 978-1897352052

Translation and commentary by R. Aryeh Kaplan
The oldest kabbalistic text with non-dual Gnostic overtones attributed to the Tannah (Mishnaic sage) Nehuniya ben Ha-kanah.
Publisher: Weiser Books (April 1989)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0877286183
ISBN-13: 978-0877286189

Translation and commentary by R. Aryeh Kaplan
The second oldest kabbalistic text, attributed by some to the patriarch Abraham, it explains the origin of the 32 Paths of Wisdom (10 sefirot and 22 Hebrew letters)
Publisher: Weiser Books; Rev Sub edition (May 1997)
ISBN-10: 0877288550
ISBN-13: 978-0877288558

*The long-awaited first English translation from ancient Hebrew of the rare and complete 1701 Amsterdam edition, of this famous magical text. According to Hebrew legend, the Sepher Rezial was given to Adam in the Garden of Eden, by the hand of God. The myth suggests that this diverse compendium of ancient Hebrew lore was the first book ever written. Includes an explanatory text on the holy names of God, the divisions of Heaven and Hell, and the names and hierarchy of the angels and spirits.
Publisher: Weiser Books (December 2000)
ISBN-10: 1578631688
ISBN-13: 978-1578631681

8) PALM TREE OF DEVORAH by Moshe Cordovero
* A classic work of Jewish philosophy and Mussar by the famed Safed Kabbalist. Hebrew text with facing, new, annotated translation.
Publisher: Targum (1994)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1568710275
ISBN-13: 978-1568710273

9) THE ZOHAR: PRITZKER EDITION, Vol. 1-4 by Daniel C. Matt
*The first two [4] volumes of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, translated with commentary by Daniel C. Matt, cover more than half of the Zohar’s commentary on the Book of Genesis (through Genesis 32:3). This is the first translation ever made from a critical Aramaic text of the Zohar, which has been established by Professor Matt based on a wide range of original manuscripts. The extensive commentary, appearing at the bottom of each page, clarifies the kabbalistic symbolism and terminology, and cites sources and parallels from biblical, rabbinic, and kabbalistic texts. The translator’s introduction is accompanied by a second introduction written by Arthur Green, discussing the origin and significance of the Zohar. Please see the Zohar Home Page for ancillary materials, including the publication schedule, press release, Aramaic text, questions, and answers.
Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (October 29, 2003)
ISBN-10: 0804747474
ISBN-13: 978-0804747479

10) DAAT TEVNOTH: THE KNOWING HEART by R. Moses Chaim Luzzato
A poetic dialogue between the Soul and the Intellect on the mysteries of existence.
Publisher: Feldheim Pub (June 1982)
ISBN-10: 0873063457
ISBN-13: 978-0873063456

11) WAY OF G-D: DERECH HASHEM by R. Moshe Chayim Luzzatto
* Explores Divine regulation of the world. With Rabbi Yosef Begun's marginal notes.
Publisher: Feldheim; 5 edition (January 1, 1984)
ISBN-10: 0873063449
ISBN-13: 978-0873063449

*Ktavim Chadashim contains many unpublished works by Chaim Vital, the foremost disciple of the Ari (Isaac Luria). Here, for the first time, we publish two main sections in English, which are the commentary on Brit Menucha (Covenant of Rest), and the secret fourth part of Shaarei Kedusha (Gates of Holiness). The commentary on Brit Menucha deals with Kabbalah Ma'asit (Practical Kabbalah). It is much more than a simple commentary, because it contains names of angels that are not found in the original Brit Menucha, along with precise instructions concerning their usage. The fourth part of Shaarei Kedusha deals with the practical ways to force Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Divine Inspiration) to descend upon us, thus allowing us to reach prophecy and the world to come. Vital even explains the 72 Names of God, with their angels.
Publisher: Providence University (March 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1897352069
ISBN-13: 978-1897352069

*This book of prophetic Kabbalah teaches how to create the "external" and "internal" environment for successfully receiving the "Spirit of Propechy". It presents a clear, precise and revolutionary method for the one who feels the call but has gotten lost along the way and failed to reach the state of enlightenment.
Publisher: Providence University (March 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1897352042
ISBN-13: 978-1897352045

* In times of need, the authorities of Israel consulted an Oracle (Goral) to learn the will of Ha-Shem (the Lord) and to receive answers to their questions. Conceived by Ahitophel, special adviser of King David, the Goraloth elicit the intercession of 117 Angels in order to receive an answer directly from God concerning matters which we take at heart.
Publisher: Providence University (March 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1897352166
ISBN-13: 978-1897352168

15) BRIT MENUCHA - COVENANT OF REST by Avraham ben Yitzchak of Granada
*Known only in restricted circles and closely guarded from unworthy hands, this is one of the most secret books of Kabbalah. It carefully describes the upper worlds in a very ethereal and symbolical language. It uses practical methods and pronunciations of the Divine Names that were employed by the High Priest in the Temple. It describes the names of Angels and Demons, and also explains how to summon them. This text is written for advanced readers who are at the conclusion of their kabbalistic formation.
Publisher: Providence University (March 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1897352018
ISBN-13: 978-1897352014

16) SECRETS OF THE FUTURE TEMPLE - MISHKNEY ELYON ("DWELLINGS OF THE SUPREME") by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, R. Avraham Greenbaum (Editor)
*Clear English translation of this kabbalistic classic + diagrams of the Temple, Altar, with extensive overview tracing the Temple vision.
Publisher: Moznaim Pub Corp (January 1, 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9659012012
ISBN-13: 978-9659012015

Rabbi Nachman's tales were originally told in Yiddish. They were recorded by his outstanding pupil, Rabbi Nathan, who translated them into Hebrew and published them after Rabbi Nachman's death. While these tales are structurally similar to folk or fairy tales, they include highly compressed and clearly defined Torah teachings expressed in literary and poetic form. Rabbi Nachman's stories are a medium for conveying hidden aspects of Torah, yet in such a veiled way that the content is not outwardly apparent. These complex allegories, intended by their author to have several dimensions, are presented here by Rabbi Steinsaltz with his own commentary, pointing the way for the modern reader to begin to grasp Rabbi Nachman's profound tales.
Publisher: Jason Aronson (April 28, 1994)
ISBN-10: 0876681836
ISBN-13: 978-0876681831

*Written by the great Hasidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in the late eighteenth century, the Tanya is considered to be one of the most extraordinary books of moral teachings ever written. A seminal document in the study of Kabbalah, the Tanya explores and solves the dilemmas of the human soul by arriving at the root causes of its struggles. Though it is a classic Jewish spiritual text, the Tanya and its present commentary take a broad and comprehensive approach that is not specific to Judaism nor tied to a particular personality type or time or point of view. Opening the Tanya is a groundbreaking book that offers a definitive introduction, explanation, and commentary upon the Tanya. As relevant today as it was when it was first written more than two hundred years ago, the Tanya helps us to see the many thousands of complexities, doubts, and drives within us as expressions of a single basic problem, the struggle between our Godly Soul and our Animal Soul.
Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (August 20, 2003)
ISBN-10: 078796798X
ISBN-13: 978-0787967987


*A collection of lectures on the features of the movement of mysticism that began in antiquity and continues in Hasidism today.
Publisher: Schocken (May 2, 1995)
ISBN-10: 0805210423
ISBN-13: 978-0805210422

2) ORIGINS OF THE KABBALAH by Gershom Gerhard Scholem
* This book has been a classic in its field since it was first issued in 1950, and it still stands as uniquely authoritative and intriguingly instructive. . . . [It is] a monument of revelation and insight bridging anthropology, religion, sociology, and history.
Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 1, 1991)
ISBN-10: 0691020477
ISBN-13: 978-0691020471

3) KABBALAH by Gershon Scholem
As always, Scholem is unsurpassed in his encompassing perspective on the history of Jewish mysticism.
Publisher: Plume (April 1, 1978)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0452010071
ISBN-13: 978-0452010079

* “Scholem, who died in 1982, has long been recognized as the leading scholar of Jewish mysticism. These six Eranos Society lectures, published in 1962, complement those included in his On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (1965) and treat some of the most basic concepts in the Kabbalah: the mystical shape of the godhead ( shi'ur komah ), good and evil ( sitra ahra ), the righteous one ( tsaddik ), the feminine element in divinity ( shekhinah ), the transmigration of souls ( gilgul ), and the concept of the astral body ( tselem ). As ever, Scholem's treatment is complex and stylistically brilliant as he systematically analyzes the history and intellectual background of these critical ideas. Highly recommended for academic libraries and where there is interest in the Kabbalah.” - Marcia G. Fuchs, Guilford Free Lib., Ct.
Publisher: Schocken; New Ed edition (February 25, 1997)
ISBN-10: 0805210814
ISBN-13: 978-0805210811

This is an authoritative history on the development of the Messianic concept in Jewish history and spirituality.
Publisher: Schocken (May 10, 1995)
ISBN-10: 0805210431
ISBN-13: 978-0805210439

I am not familiar with this one, but the author is a professor of world renown at Hebrew U. and it appears to be a fascinating topic.
Judith Nave, and Arthur B. Millman
Publisher: Littman Library of Jewish (May 31, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1874774676
ISBN-13: 978-1874774679

Publisher: Littman Library of Jewish; New Ed edition (August 30, 2005)
ISBN-10: 1904113338
ISBN-13: 978-1904113331

* In the late twelfth century, at the height of the Middle Ages that saw the flowering of the mystical element in Christendom, the Rabbinic Judaism of southern Europe was transformed by the eruption of new, Gnostic attitudes and symbolism. This new movement, known as Kabbalah (literally the 'Tradition'), was characterized by the symbol of the ten sefirot. By means of the sefirotic imagery, virtually the whole of everyday life was linked to the cosmic dimension in a novel and highly original fashion that stressed the dynamic, evolutionary element of the Godhead and the synergistic relationship between the human will and the action of God on earth. During a century of creativity, a detailed system of symbols and concepts was created by the author of the Sefer ha-Bahir, the Kabbalists of Provence, the Iyyun circle, and the mystics of Provence and Castile that set the stage for the great Kabbalists of the Zohar generation.
Publisher: Paulist Press (June 1986)
ISBN-10: 0809127695
ISBN-13: 978-0809127696

* “Professor Dan is one of the leading scholars of Jewish mysticism in the world today. He combines deep erudition with methodological sophistication and clarity of exposition. He is the ideal person to write a short introduction to the study of the Kabbalah."--Shaye J. D. Cohen, Harvard University
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (May 4, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0195327055
ISBN-13: 978-0195327052

* “Dan is the Gershom Scholem Professor of Kabbalah at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, winner of the Israel Prize in 1997, a leading authority on Jewish mysticism, and the author of more than 50 books. With such credentials, he makes a fitting editor of a collection intended as an introduction to Kabbalah, an esoteric tradition in Judaism concerning the divine that was given to Moses on Mount Sinai and transmitted secretly through the generations. After an excellent introduction that discusses Jewish mysticism as a whole and then contrasts it with Christian mysticism, Dan presents 25 meaningful excerpts, some from classic texts like the Palm Tree of Devorah, the Zohar, and the mystical prayer of Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov, others from contemporary poetry. .. Dan's writing is lucid and engaging, bringing an expert's view to a subject that has, unfortunately, been subsumed into popular culture. Highly recommended for large public libraries or where there is an interest in spirituality.” --Idelle Rudman, Touro Coll. Lib., NY
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (September 10, 2003)
ISBN-10: 0195139798
ISBN-13: 978-0195139792

* A wide-ranging exploration of the Hekhalot and Merkavah literature, a mystical Jewish tradition from late antiquity, including a discussion of the possible cultural context of this material's creators.
Publisher: State University of New York Press (October 2003)
ISBN-10: 0791457249
ISBN-13: 978-0791457245

12) KABBALAH AND EROS by Moshe Idel
In this book, the world’s foremost scholar of Kabbalah explores the understanding of erotic love in Jewish mystical thought. Encompassing Jewish mystical literatures from those of late antiquity to works of Polish Hasidism, Moshe Idel highlights the diversity of Kabbalistic views on eros and distinguishes between the major forms of eroticism. The author traces the main developments of a religious formula that reflects the union between a masculine divine attribute and a feminine divine attribute, and he asks why such an “erotic formula” was incorporated into the Jewish prayer book. Idel shows how Kabbalistic literature was influenced not only by rabbinic literature but also by Greek thought that helped introduce a wider understanding of eros. Addressing topics ranging from cosmic eros and androgyneity to the affinity between C. J. Jung and Kabbalah to feminist thought, Idel’s deeply learned study will be of consuming interest to scholars of religion, Judaism, and feminism.
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (August 22, 2005)
ISBN-10: 030010832X
ISBN-13: 978-0300108323

* “This major reinterpretation of Jewish Kabbalah and mysticism offers new perspectives on its origin, development, and relationship to general mystical writing from antiquity to the modern era. Idel, author of more than 25 works on this subject, analyses in detail two major streams, ecstatic or anthropocentric Kabbalah and theosophical-theurgical or theocentric Kabbalah, also showing how they have intertwined. Using manuscripts and esoteric medieval and early modern works, he examines mystical experience through such factors as total union with God and such techniques of mysticism as the visualization of colors and prayer. The technical nature of this important work and the absence of a glossary of Hebrew terms restrict its use to subject collections.” Maurice Tuchman, Hebrew Coll. Lib., Brookline, Mass.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Publisher: Yale University Press (September 10, 1990)
ISBN-10: 0300046995
ISBN-13: 978-0300046991

* The Zohar is the great medieval compendium of Jewish esoteric and mystical teaching, and the basis of the kabbalistic faith. It is, however, a notoriously difficult text, full of hidden codes, concealed meanings, obscure symbols, and ecstatic expression. This illuminating study, based upon the last several decades of modern Zohar scholarship, unravels the historical and intellectual origins of this rich text and provides an excellent introduction to its themes, complex symbolism, narrative structure, and language. A Guide to the Zohar is thus an invaluable companion to the Zohar itself, as well as a useful resource for scholars and students interested in mystical literature, particularly that of the west, from the Middle Ages to the present.
Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (December 18, 2003)
ISBN-10: 0804749086
ISBN-13: 978-0804749084

15) KETER by Arthur Green
Keter is a close reading of fifty relatively brief Jewish texts, tracing the motif of divine coronation from Jewish esoteric writings of late antiquity to the Zohar, written in thirteenth-century Spain. In the course of this investigation Arthur Green draws a wide arc including Talmudic, Midrashic, liturgical, Merkavah, German Hasidic, and Kabbalistic works, showing through this single theme the spectrum of devotional, mystical, and magical views held by various circles of Jews over the course of a millennium or more.. …As a whole, Keter takes the reader on an exciting tour of the interior landscapes of the Jewish imagination, offering some remarkable insights into the nature of mystical and symbolic thinking in the Jewish tradition.
Publisher: Princeton University Press (July 7, 1997)
ISBN-10: 0691043728
ISBN-13: 978-0691043722

* Prof. Pinchas Giller offers a wide-ranging overview of the most influential school of kabbalah in modernity, the Jerusalem kabbalists of the Beit El Yeshivah. The school is associated with the writings and personality of a charismatic Yemenite rabbi, Shalom Shar'abi. Shar'abi's activity overwhelmed the Jerusalem Kabbalah of the eighteenth century, and his acolytes are the most active mystics in contemporary Middle Eastern Jewry to this day. Today, this meditative tradition is rising in popularity in Jerusalem, New York, and Los Angeles, both among traditional Beit El kabbalists and members of the notorious Kabbalah Learning Centers. After providing the historical setting, Giller examines the characteristic mystical practices of the Beit El School. … The first book in the English language to address the character and spread of Jewish mysticism through the Middle East in early modernity, it will be a guidepost for further study of this vast topic.
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (January 22, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0195328809
ISBN-13: 978-0195328806

*Kabbalah is the deeply spiritual study of the soul and internal mysteries of Jewish philosophy clothed in allegory and requiring extensive knowledge of the Torah and Talmud. Publisher: HarperOne; 1st edition (June 14, 1996)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062511637
ISBN-13: 978-0062511638

18) SAFED SPIRITUALITY: RULES OF MYSTICAL PIETY, THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM (Classics of Western Spirituality) by Lawrence Fine , Louis Jacobs
*Collected here are the Hanhagot of Moses Cordovero, Abraham Galante, Abraham be Eliezer ha-Levi Berukhim, Joseph Karo, and Isaac Luria, plus the mystical-ethical treatise, Reshit Hokhmah (The Beginning of Wisdom) by Elijah de Vidas. In these writings the unique blend of kabbalistic tradition and messianic enthusiasm, which is characteristic of Safed spirituality, comes alive. The importance of the Safed tradition for today is perhaps best summed up by Louis Jacobs' description of the Safed mystics as "mighty God seekers; at times perhaps, over-credulous and superstitious from the contemporary point of view, but daring stormers of the heavens." Their intense devotional piety, their efforts to imbue even the most mundane event with religious meaning and their insistence on the cosmic significance of all human action make their thought a relevant, stimulating source of spiritual insight for our age.
Publisher: Paulist Press; New Ed edition (January 1, 1984)
ISBN-10: 0809126125
ISBN-13: 978-080912612