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Is New-Wave Kabbalah Authentic?

Is New-Wave Kabbalah Authentic?

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Question:

I was watching a news report the other day about Madonna (now known as Esther). She was discussing how Kabbalah has changed her life, the new views she has and the insight she has gained from learning with her Rabbi. She apparently even keeps a kosher home. My question is - what are your thoughts on the masses learning Kabbalah? Is it a good thing? Or is it a fad?

Answer:

I'm not sure how authentic the "Kabbalah" being studied by Madonna is, but I would imagine there are much worse things she could be doing with her time. If it has indeed made her a better person - good for her.

The renewed interest in Kabbalah is a good thing. The Kabbalists always said that although in earlier generations Kabbalah was a restricted area of study, a time will come when these teachings will become available to everyone. Its blend of profound thought and down to earth spirituality is much needed today.

The question is not so much who can study Kabbalah, but who can teach it and how it is taught. Some modern exponents of the Kabbalah claim that it is a separate religion, distinct from Judaism. This claim is not only untrue, it is self-destructive, and one should beware of such teachers.

The Kabbalists call Jewish mysticism the Pardes, meaning "The Garden." If you see a beautiful flower in a garden, you may have the urge to pick it and take it home to enjoy its beauty. But a flower won't last long out of its natural habitat. Once it is disconnected from its life-force it will very quickly wither and die.

Taking Kabbalah out of its Jewish context and removing it from Jewish practice, is like picking a flower from a garden. It looks beautiful and smells nice for a while, but soon it starts to wither, rot and stink. Kabbalah is a living, breathing spirituality that is nourished by the rich soil of Jewish wisdom and practice. But those who are calling it a separate religion, for the obvious reason of gaining a wider audience, are turning something deep and holy into just another passing fad. It looks good, creates a stir, but won't last.

While one can taste the teachings of Kabbalah even without being particularly observant of Judaism, you can't detach it from its source. Kabbalah is the heart of Judaism. A body without a heart is lifeless. A heart without its body is useless. Judaism without its mystical side can become dry and unattractive. But Kabbalah without the grounding of practical Judaism is an uprooted flower.

We are a searching generation. We've tried empty materialism and it has failed to sustain us. We have experimented with spiritual escapism and it has left us floating towards nowhere. It is time to taste the fruits of The Garden, the deepest mystical insights grounded in the fertile soil of the Jewish tradition and observance. That's real Kabbalah.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Stacie Richardson Narellan August 14, 2014

Thanks for this, good read! Kabbalah changed my life! Reply

Pogin Bellingham WA. December 28, 2013

Thank You., --much appreciated. Reply

1 charecter remaining: YOU! Sydney August 20, 2013

I am Polish. My grandfather told me never to trust a Jew. He lived in his times, I live in mine... I spent some time translating the wisdom of Kabbalah into Polish language and I was profoundly affected by it. "don't do unto others what you don't want others to do unto you" and "love your neighbor as you love yourself" are the prevailing principles of everything I have heard. All this seams so obvious and so deeply rooted in Polish-Catholic upbringing, yet there is so much repulsion against it somehow... This exactly is our work: To challenge our own ego and to force ourselves into follow the right path of love, forgiveness and above all of truly caring about the others. And after that comes the importance of the very moment you live in, the importance of the goal and the faith above the reason. It is so very much a common sense. I wish with all my heart that we all eventually get it. However, going through this revelation is sometimes very painful. But there is no other way... God bless! Reply

Enrique Williams Panama city Panama. April 18, 2013

Thank you. Reply

Anonymous colombo, Sri Lanka April 5, 2012

being a Buddhist i was blown away by the answer , i met a Jewish friend who opened my eyes to so much more and the power of now, i was so interested on how he saw things the way he explained about kabbalah and that's what led me here , must say this site is amazing!! Reply

Eric Sean Tite Webber Hammock Dunes, FL/USA February 11, 2012

Awesome, thanks for the beautiful answer. Reply

Anonymous June 2, 2011

The question is excellent; the answer even better. Judaism without Kabbalah is like Eleazar without Akiva. Without either, Judaism would perish. The Talmud has considered that one reason for the destruction of the 2nd-Temple was the unfeeling adherence to the letter of the law without the life-force that the law expresses. We cannot let Judaism lapse into such a state again. The Jews are the life of the law and kabbalah is the life of the Jew.

This only an opinion from an outsider, born and reaised Christian, I am awaiting a date for the Bet Din that will erase the term outsider. But, I have read in Talmud that one who is not idolatrous is called a Jew.

Thank you Chabad for your help in my two years of study. An especial thanks to Aaron Moss for his excellent article that brought the two concepts into such an harmonious whole. Reply

Rochel Chana RIven Toronto, Canada June 1, 2011

What a clear and positive explanation that offends no one and includes everyone. Yashar koach! Reply

levi rapoport syracuse , NY June 1, 2011

what do you think moses studied for 40 days on mt sinai in the spiritual realm? Reply

rhl June 1, 2011

Your essay seems to contain a contradiction, correct me if I am wrong.

You state kabbalah can make one a better person and that the earlier Rabbis said Kabbalah teachings with in time be avaliable to EVERYONE. Spirituality for all.

Then at the end of your article you state Kaballah without Judaism is a rotting flower. That it will just be a passing fad, a nice sugary rush.

You have it seems contradicted with this your earlier statements of the good Kaballah can bring to mankind regardless of wether they are jewish or not.

Please could you clarify this! Reply

J.R. Frankfurt am Main, Germany May 31, 2011

While one can taste the teachings of Kabbalah even without being particularly observant of Judaism, you can't detach it from its source. Kabbalah is the heart of Judaism. A body without a heart is lifeless.

Please, excuse me. Isn't Judaism the heart of Kabbala? Reply

Anonymous Hville December 19, 2010

I have my concerns about Kabbalah ...
Torah doesn't say that Abraham, Moses, etc. the patriarchs and matriarchs practiced Kabbalah. Reply

Shimon Lomita, California USA via jccmb.com April 13, 2009

The true essence of what was to become Kabbalistic wisdom actually did come before the religion Judaism. The earliest mystical writings or "inner " spiritual knowledge came from and go all the way back to Adam, then from Abraham, and then again after Sinai from Moshe.
As you all should know, Abraham was not a Jew, there weren't any yet, but he was the first man who was ever circumcised. And again, Moshes wife was also not a Jew, she came from the tribe of Ishmael.
Lets just all continue to study the Torah and Zohar and try to make this a better world for all. Lets put our differences aside and try to become more like the "Light" essence of G-d ourselves!
Blessings to all! Reply

Anonymous April 13, 2009

Can you have a Jewish soul and not be a jew in this life? Reply

Bill Novato/Rohnert Park, CA/USA August 12, 2008

This is why I came here, just to look around. Am not Jewish, but many close to me are Jewish and have profoundly affected my life. After seriously practicing Buddhism for a short time, and one of my Jewish friends saying if he had not met a specific Lama, he would be a practicing Kabbalist full time, it planted a seed. There is no new age, there is only now. Am just peering respectively into your beautiful garden. Reply

Anonymous montreal, quebec canada July 1, 2008

I suspect that some people advocating a distinct kabbalah might be missing (deliberately or not) an important point. A Lubavitch rabbi told me that studying Kabbalah is ok for b'nai noach because the noahnites are still obligated to beleive in the same god and are prohibited from idolatry, both G-d and idolatry being expounded by kabbalah. i would add that noahnites are supposed to beoeive in the soul and the world to come. So, to some point, yes, some people would be studying kabbalah without ever becoming jews nor ever study some part of Torah prohibited to noahnides. But, if done properly, it still is WITHIN Judaism for it is Judaism that prescribe two legal system, one for Jews and one for noahnites. Add to this that Bereishit is obviously by its matter of relevance to everyone. So, you can have a kabbalah fad outside Judaism but you can also have kabbalah for non-jews according to Judaism. Reply

Qaisar London, UK May 14, 2008

Hey all, I've always been a little suspicious of the Kabbalah Centre. Perhaps in the same way that some elements of the Hindu tradition have been pilfered, simplified, and packeted as a cheap route to enlightenment by people with only money on their mind (Yoga classes, anyone?), the same may be said for the KC. Frankly, I see the connection between the Kabbalist texts and the Torah, Abraham, and Judaism, utterly vital, and even though I'm not a Jew myself, I prefer to study Kabbalah with the full knowledge that it is essentially a Jewish practise.

As a Muslim, as well, I have to admit I would be horrified if our rich Sufi tradition was capitalised and turned into a Hollywood fad.

Peace y'all :) Reply

Roberta Penang, Malaysia March 13, 2008

great article
The Rabbi makes alot of sense.
Thank you. I have been reading more about kabbalah and it has made me more appreciative of being a jew. Reply

Chuck Mahopac, NY via chabadbedford.com October 26, 2007

I too agree.

This analyzation/interpretation of the current Kabbalah fad going on by Rabbi Moss is probably the most articulated and accurate that I've heard.

I was a member of "the Kabbalah Centre" for about a year. But no more.

I think however, that there should be more such Jewish teachings of Kabbalah available. I'm hoping I will find what I am looking for at this Chabad house. Reply

P.wanjohi nairobi, kenya October 22, 2007

The best test for the 'material girl' - turned kabballah student, as the Rabbi correctly implies, is if it leads her to Judaism, if she's not already Jewish, just as classical judaism leads to kabballah. Reply