Kabbalah and Other Spiritual Traditions

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Email inquiries with my response are subject to editing. I will not post your comments if you do not want me to, so if you are not willing to have your inquiry or comments posted please let me know. 

For those interested in an in-depth look at the connection between Kabbalah, Indian Philosophy, Platonism, Gnosticism, Hegelianism, Freud and Jung, see Kabbalistic Metaphors, as well as the section on Kabbalah and Other Traditions (and the various links provided there) on this website’s page on the Lurianic Kabbalah.

2/03 If everything is in the Torah, how can other traditions be bearers of truth?

With regard to the question of whether everything is in the Torah I think that there is both a narrow and a broad way in which we can take this idea. On the narrow interpretation, we should insulate ourselves from all non-Jewish forms of knowledge and wisdom because everything that is of importance is in our Torah and all else—secular knowledge, other cultures and belief systems—should thereby be excluded. In the broader interpretation, the Torah, the Jewish way of life and inquiry, is large and strong enough to be open to and ultimately encompass all knowledge and wisdom. The choice that one makes between these points of view is a critical one. I have opted for the latter, but I acknowledge that my view is not without its dangers, including the dilution of Jewish practice, cohesiveness and identity. These are high prices to pay, but for me the other option, an effort to narrow one’s focus to only those things that are “authentic Yiddishkeit” does justice neither to our G-d given faculties of reason, the divine intention in creating a multi-cultural world, nor, ultimately, to Judaism itself. Further, I believe that the idea that one has the corner on an “authentic truth” can and does lead to bigotry and the reactionary tendency to stamp out everything that is a threat to one’s own culture and point of view (witness certain elements within the Muslim community). I am in accord with the Chabad thinker R. Aaron who states: “...the essence of His intention is that… all realities and their levels be revealed in actuality, each detail in itself, and that they nevertheless be unified and joined in their value, that is, that they be revealed as separated essences, and that they nevertheless be unified and joined in their value.” I interpret this to mean that each of the world’s particular manifestations (and cultures) are important in and of themselves, but they must be understood as part of an ultimately infinite totality in G-d.

2/03 Aren't other religions, e,g. Hinduism avodah zara (idol worship)?

I don’t believe that Hinduism, for example, is necessarily Avodah Zarah, but my view of Avodah Zarah may be somewhat unconventional; I see it is an idolatrous worship of the finite, and by this I mean a close-minded commitment to one interpretation, one point of view and hence one specific understanding of G-d and the world to the exclusion of all others. Thus on my understanding, we Jews can be as guilty of Avodah Zarah as anyone else, though we have within our faith, and, particularly within our mysticism, a way of thinking and believing that is continually open to the new and the infinite, and which provides us with the impetus to emend and restore our own fragmented and necessarily partial conceptions. This is one reason why I place such a strong emphasis on the Shevirah and Tikkun in my philosophy and theology. The Shevirah, suggests that the Ein-sof continually overflows and shatters any narrow conception that we may have of G-d and religion, and thus shatters avadah zarah wherever it attempts to rear its head in the belief that “I know.” To the extent that the mystical traditions of other faiths tend to be open to the unknown in this way (and I believe they are) I regard them as portals to G-d. I do not believe anyone (particularly anyone outside these traditions) has the capacity to pronounce them authentic or inauthentic.

2/03 Are all mysticisms the same?

While I certainly believe that there is something of value in all mysticism, I am not sure that all mysticisms are the same. For example, I believe there is a historical dimension to Jewish mysticism that appears to be absent or at least less prominent in the mysticism of the east (I discuss this in Kabbalistic Metaphors in the Chapter on Indian philosophy). As for why we should follow Jewish mysticism, I don’t think we should follow any creed, but rather that for us as Jews, the Kabbalah is our unique portal to a universal G-d, whose nature we can never fully know or circumscribe. As to why “Jewish mysticism” rather than “Christian Mysticism,” etc. you may as well ask me why I should love my parents rather than those of my friend. It is because they are my parents and I turn to Jewish Mysticism is because I am a Jew. I may learn to love my friend’s parents as well as my own, but it would be very hard to love my friend’s parents in the way that I can love my own. There is one further reason why Jewish mysticism recommends itself to me: As I understand (or interpret) it, the Kabbalah is continually criticizing its own foundations and re-inventing itself, and is thus precisely the opposite of Avadah Zarah. It is a system of thought and experience that is continually open to the divine, rather than one that closes itself off to G-d by circumscribing the divine in an act of human hubris. The Kabbalah thus serves as a beautiful dialectical complement to the definite prescriptions of G-d of normative Judaism. These are themes that I will more fully explicate in a book I am writing on Jewish mysticism and postmodernism.

 The Lurianic Kabbalah is treated in detail in Sanford Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors .

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All material on New Kabbalah website (c) Sanford L. Drob, 2001-4.


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