Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Friday, 6 July 2012

Putting the Mystical Back In

I've never been a big fan of kabbalah or other parts of the mystical side of Judaism.  For one thing, I'm very much a rationalist and stuff that intrinsically doesn't make physical sense isn't something I latch on to easily.  For another, I've always been bothered by the Zohar.  Never mind the controversy surrounding its origins.  It's just that having struggled with the complexities of learning Talmud for so long, it bugs me that there's another "Talmud" out there, one infinitely more complex and that for many people it's the real thing while the Talmud I'm learning is just for us simpletons who haven't reached that exalted level yet.  These assertions make me wonder why the Chazal would go to the effort of making an incredible book like the Talmud when they knew that "real" halachic practice wasn't in accordance with it but with the Zohar.
Having said that, I do recognize the incredible importance and legitimacy of the mystical part of Judaism.  When explaining it to people, I analogize it to neurosurgery.  Kabbalah, I tell them, is the neurosurgery of medicine.  Most doctors aren't neurosurgeons, nor do they have the skills or aptitude to be, but that doesn't mean neurosurgery isn't really important and that neurosurgeons aren't top-flight doctors.  It's the same with Kabbalah.  Real kabbalah isn't for everyone although everyone is aware that it exists and to become a real practitioner of it requires training and respect for the material that not everyone has an aptitude for.
I think what's also hurt my impression of Kabbalah is the contradiction between the description I've just given and the way "popular Kabbalah" has spread throughout Jewish society.  It's annoying to be told something is forbidden, to reply "But the Shulchan Aruch says it's okay" and be told "Yes, but the Zohar says it isn't" or "The Arizal said it's not allowed".  Real kabbalists are not like this, of course, but kabbalah isn't restricted to them anymore.  It seems, for example, that it's a standard grade 9 course in every Chabad yeshivah.  That allows them to say stuff like "Well maybe that's what 'X' says but the Rebbe said only the sod matters".  And let's not bring up Madonna/Esther.  Please, let's not.
Having said all that, it occurs to me that one of the biggest difference between Chareidism and Modern Orthodoxy is the learning and utilizing of kabbalah in the Jewish life.  Both Misnagdim and Chasidim incorporate it into their studies and behaviours while MO's, perhaps because of the more rationalist bent of the movement, are aware and maybe have learned some kabbalah but in general it isn't as prevalent or influential.  And I think that should change.
No, I'm not implying that MO should develop chaburot where people sit in a circle in the lotus position and scan the universe for the mystical energy sent out from Shamayim by the holy neshama of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. (Yes, I once met someone who claimed it was an important ritual, more important than davening but he also seemed unaware of the existence of nail clippers)  However, understanding the role of Kabbalah in Jewish practice and promoting a greater awareness of its proper role in halachic decision making, appreciating the concepts of pshat, drash, remez and sod in Scriptural interpretation and encouring its study at the highest levels of MO institutions is a change the movement should make.
The reason for that I will bring in my next post.

9 comments:

ZP said...

I agree that "Most doctors aren't neurosurgeons, nor do they have the skills or aptitude to be, but that doesn't mean neurosurgery isn't really important and that neurosurgeons aren't top-flight doctors."

I also agree that in the MO world there is less of that. Truthfully, there is less spirituality as well (also in the yeshivish world). That is something that I do hope to change in the MO education system.

Anonymous said...

What exactly do you *mean* by "kabbalah"? Is it the study of the Zohar? Or the Ramban? Maharal? Tanya?

SJ said...

kabballah is nonsese.

anyways And as much as we like to call ourselves a modern society nowadays, folks in the 23rd century will be talkin about us as living on "old Earth". to speak to that we can't even imagine what new technologies the higgs boson will spawn similar to the discovery of the electron and electromagnetism.

Adam Zur said...

The Torah is very different from Ancient Near Eastern religions and Kabalah in which there's always a sexual principal at work in creation.
[I am not trying to belittle great people like Isaac Luria that used the language of spheres to express their ideas.
Also most of chasidut is mixed with Shabatian teachings.
Another problem is the problem with Chabad which contains all kinds of good reasons to abridge freedom. There is an absence of any moral foundation to rule out coercion or oppression.
After all if gentiles are evil, and even the good they do is only for selfish motives, then why not oppress them? If Reform and Conservative Jews don't believe in the 13 principles of faith or in the Rebbi then they are apikorsim heretics and so why not dispose of them?




They seem to be trying to show that chasidut itself implies a moral principle of tolerance. This does not follow. If their views are to make everyone agree with them, then there is no reason not to act on them-- At first by being nice and if that does not work then by being not nice.
These would seem to be basic problems even outside the fact that they believe the rebbi shilta "still runs the world."
This is opposed to the Torah in which it is understood that G-d runs the world.


In the ancient Jewish religion there the absence of a meta-Divine realm (a primordial holy realm). There is no sense that God is imminent in nature or tied to natural substances or phenomena. The created world is not divine, it is not the physical manifestation of God. The line of demarcation therefore between the Divine and the natural and human worlds is clear.
"God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light." He expressed his will that there be light, and there was light and that's very different from many Ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies and kabalah in which there's always a sexual principal at work in creation. Creation is always the result of procreation in some way, male and female principles combining. There's a very similar Egyptian creation story actually in which the god Ptah just wills "let this be." It reads very much like Genesis 1 and yet even so there's still a sexual act that follows the expression of those wills, so it is still different.
For people that supposedly hold from Maimonides this is hard to miss. the entire second volume of the Guide is devoted to this topic.

SJ said...

http://thoughtsofasj.blogspot.com/2012/07/jews-are-stupid-lololol.html

ahg said...

I'll take my MO Judaism without kabbalah, thank you.

While its increased popularity has led to the more widespread adoption of harmless minhagim like performing an upsherin, it's also the underlying driving force for many for the insistence of performing direct Metzisah B'Peh...

(On a personal note about the harmless upsherin practice: I found the gasps of shock at the idea that I was cutting my one year old boys hair from people who had no family tradition of upsherin, it both annoying and indicative of a lack of real halachic knowledge that was never taught to them but supplanted with "kabbalah" and mystical stories.)

Zeir sham said...

A personal question r mgl , how often to u go to the mikva?

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Once a week on Friday mornings and erev Yom Tov. Why?

eir sham said...

I found out a certain rationalist blogger doesn't go att all to the mikva ... You also being a logical being... I wondered... I have other thoughts on this... עוד חזון למועד
This fellow is a שקרן and close to apikoris and מגלה פנים...
This generation mikva is a must
Be well garnel...