The religion of the ancient Hebrews, Judaism, is perhaps the earliest monotheistic religion. Early Jews lived in small tribes that inhabited what is now Israel and Jordan. Tradition holds that the first Jew was Abraham, who embraced the idea that one God created and rules the universe. Abraham's descendants, often called the children of Israel (named after Abraham's son Jacob, who changed his name to Israel), established kingdoms in the region, until they were exiled by the Babylonians and finally the Romans into scattered colonies throughout the world. This scattering is often called the Diaspora. Jewish religious life once centered around the Temple in Jerusalem, but it is currently based upon a rabbinical tradition, with various written interpretations of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and what Christians refer to as the Old Testament serving as guidelines for living and serving humanity.
The literary crystallization of all this ferment was acomplished in writings, such as the book of Enoch, of which Pharisaic (rabbinical) Judaism - which became the Jewish tradition after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple (70 A.D.) - retained almost nothing and even the last remnants of which it tended to obliterate in its own writings; the Talmud and the Midrash (rabbinical legal and interpretative literature) touched these themes only with great reserve, often unwillingly and more often in a spirit of negativity.
As early as the 1st century A.D., and probably even before the national disaster of 70 A.D., there were certainly sages or teachers recognized by the religious community for whom meditation on the Scriptures - especially the creation narrative, the public revalation of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Merkava vision of Ezekial, the Song of Solomon - and reflection on the end of time, resurrection, and the afterlife were not only a matter of exegesis and of attaching new ideas to texts recognized to be of divine origin but also a matter of inner experience. It was, however, probably in other circles that speculation on the invisible world was engaged in and where the search for the means of penetrating it was carried out. It is undeniable that there exists a certain continuity between the apocalyptic visions (i.e., of the cataclysmic advent of God's Kingdom) and documents of certain sects (Dead Sea Scrolls) and the writings, preserved in Hebrew, of the "explorers of the supernatural world" (psychic investigators). These psychic investigators are revealed in the ancient Jewish text Yorde Merkava, which is composed of ecstatic hymns, descriptions of the "dwellings" (hekhalot) located between the visable world and the ever-inaccessible divinity, whose transcendence. Also, a few documents have been preserved that describe the methods and practices having to do with the initiation of carefully choosen people who were made to undergo tests and ordeals in accordance with psychosomatic criteria borrowed from physiognomy (art of determining character from physical, especially facial, traits). Some type of religious power was said to be derived from such practices, and this use of physiognomy was also derived by contact with Egyptian, Hellenistic, or Mesopotamian magic. (Investigators are refered to curious document in this respect, rich in pagan material, is the Sefer ha-razim, the "Treatise on Mysteries", which was discovered in 1963.) In these matters that are beyond rational thought, there are many similarities between concepts reflected in these Jewish texts and the documents of occultism found in other traditions dealt with here in the Psychic Investigator. Obviously Jewish mysticism borrowed from other occult traditions; or maybe it was the other way around - it's difficult to tell the giver from the receiver. Two facts are certain however. On the one hand Gnosticism never ceases to exploit in its own way biblical themes (such as the tale of creation and speculation on angels and demons) that have passed through Judaism, whatever there original source may have been; on the other hand, though Jewish esoterism may borrow this or that motif from ancient gnosis or syncretism (fusion of various faiths) and may even raise to a very high rank in the hierarchy of being a supernatural entity such as the angel Metatron, also known as "little Adonai" (i.e. little Lord or God), it still remains inflexibly monotheistic and rejects the Gnostic concept of a bad or simply inferior demiurge who is responsible for the creation and governing of the visible world. Finally, it is noteworthy that during the centuries that separate the Talmudic period (2nd to 5th centuries A.D.) from the full resurgence of Jewish esoterism in the middle of the 12th century, the texts that have been preserved progressively lose their density and affective authenticity and become reduced to the level of literary exercises that are more grandiloquent than substantial.
Sefer yetzira. In the ancient esoteric literature of Judaism, a special place must be given to the Sefer yetzira ("Book of Creation"), which deals with cosmogony and cosmology (the origin and order of the universe). Creation, it affirms with a clearly anti-Gnostic insistence, is the work of the God of Israel and took place on two different levels: the ideal, immaterial level and the concrete level. This was done according to a complex process that brings the ten numbers (sefirot, singular sefira) of decimal notation and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The ten numbers are not to be taken merely as arithmatical symbols: they are cosmological factors, the first of which is the spirit of God - with all the ambiguities that this term ruah has in Hebrew - while the nine others seem to be the archetypes of the three elements (air, water, fire) and the spatial dimensions (up, down, and the four cardinal points). After having been manipulated either in their graphic representation or in combination, the letters of the alphabet, which are considered to be adequate transcriptions of the sounds of language, are in turn instruments of creation.
The basic idea of all this speculation is that speech is not only a means of communication but also an operational agent destined to produce being - it has a religious power. This religious power, however, does not extend to every form of language; it belongs to the Hebrew language alone.
In the present time, Kabbala centers are opening up throughout the United States, teaching a hybrid version of this Jewish mystical tradition with no restrictions on age, gender or religion. Orthodox Jews dismiss these psychic investigators, saying they are engaged in New Age fraud.
At these new Kabbala centers the mostly Christian psychic investigators celebrate Hanukah - lighting candles and saying Jewish prayers - in conjunction with their Christmas Eve service, which also incorporates meditation and faith healing.
"Mysticism transcends religion," New Agers say, "It says, 'Hey, whatever structure fits good for you, great, but let's look at the essence.'" The walls of these New Age centers are often covered with symbols of Hinduism and Buddism, as well as crucifixes and Jewish Stars of David.
These psychic investigators emphasize the universal appeal of Kabbala. They use the word, which means "to receive" and has dozens of accepted spellings, to honor the culture that preserved that understanding - the Jews. In the Kabbala New Agers find an incorporation of truth, Kabbala is the blueprint for everything in the universe.
But Orthodox Jews think the new centers miss the point: complete devotion to God.
"We're talking about an individual who has, in a sense, transformed," said Rabbi Chaim Dalfin, who belongs to the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch movement of Judaism based in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Food, materiality, sexuality, honor plays no role, makes no difference."
Dalfin, who has written several books on Kabbala and has this Web site that asks psychic investigators to "stump the Rabbi" with questions about Jewish mysticism, said that he is no Kabbalist.
"I like to have a good piece of chocolate cake," he said.
The largest of the new Kabbala groups is the Kabbala Learning Center, in Los Angeles, which claims 10,000 students in eight countries. They include Catholic schoolgirl-turned-pop diva Madonna, Jewish comedians Roseanne Barr and Sandra Bernhard, and Catholic actress Diane Ladd and her daughter Laura Dern.
Students are taught that carrying around books of the Kabbala's 24 volume primary text, the Zohar, brings good luck. Most of these psychic investigators can't read the Zohar, however, because it has never been translated into English.
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