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#3202 - Thursday, June 19, 2008 - Editor: Jerry Katz

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This is an informational issue featuring an excerpt from an article updating the literature of Kabbalah. The article is packed with references. I had to delete most of the article for copyright reasons, but what I deleted is as important as what was quoted.

The Kabbalah book I'm familiar with is Daniel Matt's "The Essential Kabbalah," from which I took selections (with permission of HarperSanFranciso) for my book, One: Essential Writings on Nonduality.


The following is excerpted from an article appearing in the June 19, 2008 issue of Jewish Daily Forward  

The author, Jay Michaelson, is the foremost writer on what he calls nondual Judaism for mainstream audiences.  

Kabbalah: Ten Years After Madonna
The Polymath

Thu. Jun 19, 2008   Excerpts:

Just a few years ago, I had very few options when people asked me for an accessible introduction to Kabbalah. Usually I referred them to Daniel Matt’s “The Essential Kabbalah” (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995) and left it at that. The anthology is still the best introduction for interested laypeople — though not for scholars, due to its selectivity and ahistoricism.

But since then, some big guns have gotten interested. In 2003, Arthur Green published “A Guide to the Zohar” (Stanford University Press), which is much more than its title suggests, and is in fact an excellent historical introduction to the development of Jewish mysticism. Arthur Goldwag’s “The BeliefNet Guide to Kabbalah” (Three Leaves, 2005) is a kind of whistle-stop tour to Kabbalah, straddling the fence between belief and skepticism. And 2006 saw the publication of “Kabbalah for Dummies” (For Dummies, 2006), which — contrary to my fears — was written by a knowledgeable and trustworthy author, Arthur Kurzweil, who does not disappoint readers: The book is an excellent, readable and reliable guide to Jewish mysticism.

If even those texts are too demanding on your time, there are now numerous new indexes of Kabbalah that provide at-your-fingertips definitions of key terms and concepts. One of the best in English is Gabriella Samuel’s “The Kabbalah Handbook: A Concise Encyclopedia of Terms and Concepts in Jewish Mysticism” (Penguin Group, 2007). Another is Geoffrey Dennis’s “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism” (Llewellyn, 2007). Dennis’s is the more useful and thorough book, providing sources and scholarly information. Samuel’s is a bit more popular in slant; it includes entries on mandala and mantra as well as messiah and Mishnah, and is clearly in the camp of the practitioners rather than of the scholars. Fair enough; there’s something here for everybody, and both of these indexes are convenient, insightful and easy to read.

A raft of other introductions has appeared, as well. Two of the best are Byron Sherman’s “Kabbalah: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006) and David Ariel’s “Kabbalah: The Mystic Quest in Judaism” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006). Sherman’s book is one of those rare finds: an accessible introductory work written by a distinguished scholar. The author’s command of the historical material is very capable, and he leavens the scholarship with personal perspectives and even meditation instructions. Ariel’s volume is similar. An updated version of his 1990 book, “The Mystic Quest,” it too unites scholarly rigor with a style intended for intelligent spiritual seekers.

[Equally important information deleted. For copyright reasons, the entire article can't be reproduced. Please read the entire article:]

Finally, the academic and popular trends are beginning to converge, often in surprising ways. First, more and more scholars are studying contemporary Kabbalah, with fruitful results. Jody Myers’s excellent debunking of The Kabbalah Centre, “Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America” (Praeger, 2007), for example, is marked by a scholarly rigor, objectivity and depth of analysis that is absent among the center’s usual promoters and detractors. It’s a must-read for those interested in the truth and hucksterism behind the red strings and expensive bottles of water. Other scholars find that they are as much participants and observers in the work they do. Chava Weissler, for example, embraces the “participant-observer” role in her studies of Jewish renewal. Avraham Elqayam, a professor at Bar-Ilan, has questioned the very basis of academic study of Kabbalah, charging that it is elitist and Eurocentric. Even this article, by someone who teaches Kabbalah both in universities and at retreat centers, and who is writing both a non-academic book on nondual Judaism and an academic dissertation on Jacob Frank, is in some respects an exercise in participant-observation and boundary-crossing.

Perhaps Kabbalah has not gone out of style so much as it has come of age. For some, Kabbalah answers an unmet need for myth, symbol and access to the trans-rational. For others, it is a flowering of Jewish poetic imagination, worthy of study and examination. And for others still, it’s a flash in the pan. As they say, all that glitters is not gold. But after 10 years, maybe some of it is.

Read the full article at

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