What is Kabbalah?

Malcolm Tatum

A set of beliefs and practices found within the religion of Judaism, Kabbalah is an approach to the Jewish faith that is believed to have originated at some point between the 11th and 13th centuries. While the exact origins of the discipline are disputed, there is no doubt that Kabbalah has exerted a great deal of influence on the Orthodox expression of the faith, with many understanding Kabbalah as being of particular significance to married Talmud scholars. Within the Orthodox tradition, Kabbalah is understood to be associated with the mystical understanding of the Torah, a level that is generally referred to as Sod.

Kabbalah is associated with a mystical understanding of the Torah.
Kabbalah is associated with a mystical understanding of the Torah.

As a faith that has always exhibited elements of both practicality and mysticism, Judaism provided the ideal framework for the emergence of the core understandings that make Kabbalah appealing to so many people. Over the centuries, various strains of Kabbalah have emerged from both the Christian and various Jewish traditions, although some have thrived for only a short time before disappearing. Lurianic Kabbalah is one example of a form of this esoteric belief system that has persisted into the 21st century.

While Kabbalah does not accept any sacred text other than those writings that form the basis for all branches of Judaism, Kabbalah does claim to be able to unlock the deeper meanings that are found within those writings. Legend has it that the knowledge contained in those sacred writings has been available to humankind since the days of Eden, and in fact were well established among the House of Israel right up until the 10th century before the Common Era. It is understood that the influx of outside cultures and peoples led the Sanhedrin to take steps to protect this higher knowledge from those who would seek to abuse it. As a result, Kabbalah went underground and only emerged from time to time among the most devout and revered of Jewish traditions.

The truth of Kabbalah is understood to be revealed only through Jewish prophets and patriarchs, and must be properly interpreted by serious students of the Torah. This process limits the number of recognized authorities on the practice and actual teachings of this discipline of mystic Judaism. However, interest in studying Kabbalah has increased a great deal since the beginning of the 21st century, and includes several prominent celebrities and other public figures among the modern day adherents.

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