The Cabala, by Bernhard Pick, , at sacred-texts.com
Judaism.--It must be acknowledged that the Cabala intended to oppose philosophy and to intensify religion. But by introducing heathenish ideas it grafted on Judaism a conception of the world which was foreign to it and produced the most pernicious results. In place of the monotheistic biblical idea of God, according to which God is the creator, preserver and ruler of the world, the confused, pantheistically colored heathenish doctrine of emanation was substituted. The belief in the unity of God was replaced by the decade of the ten Sephiroth which were considered as divine substances. By no longer addressing prayers directly to god, but to the Sephiroth, a real Sephiroth-cult originated. The legal discussions of the Talmud were of no account; the Cabalists despised the Talmud, yea, they considered it as a canker of Judaism, which must be cut out if Judaism were to recover. According
to the Zohar, I, 27b; III, 275a; 279b, the Talmud is only a bondmaid, but the Cabala a controlling mistress.
The Cabalists compared the Talmud to a hard, unfruitful rock, which when smitten yields only scanty drops that in the end become a cause of controversy; whereas the study of the Cabala is like a fresh gushing spring, which one needs only to address to cause it to pour out its refreshing contents. 1
And as the Cabalists treated the Talmud, they likewise treated philosophy, which defined religious ideas and vindicated religious precepts before the forum of reason. Most Cabalists opposed philosophy. She was the Hagar that must be driven from the house of Abraham, whereas the Cabala was the Sarah, the real mistress. At the time of the Messiah the mistress will rule over the bondmaid.
But the study of the Bible was also neglected, Scripture was no longer studied for its own sake, but for the sake of finding the so-called higher sense by means of mystical hermeneutical rules.
Even the rituals were variously changed and recast. The putting on of the phylacteries and
prayer-mantle (talîth) was accompanied by the recitation of cabalistic formulas and sentences; special prayers were also addressed to the Sephiroth. Connected with all this was an extravagant, intoxicating superstition. To enable the soul to connect itself with the realm of light and its spirits, or to be transplanted after death into its heavenly abode, one underwent all manner of austere ascetical exercises. With the mysterious name of God they believed themselves enabled to heal the sick, to deliver demoniacs and to extinguish conflagrations. By application of the right formulas of prayer, man was to have power and influence on both the kingdoms of light and darkness. When the Cabalist prays, God shakes his head, changes at once his decrees, and abolishes heavy judgments. The magical names of God can even deliver the condemned and free them from their torments in their place of punishment. In this respect we even meet with the doctrine of the Catholic mass for the souls. 2 The Book of Psalms with its songs and prayers was especially considered as a means of producing all manner of miracles and magic, as may be seen from the Sepher Shimmush Thehillim (literally,
[paragraph continues] "the Book of the Cabalistic Application of the Psalms"), a fragment of the practical Cabala, translated by Gottfried Selig, Berlin, 1788.
This sketch of Professor Wünsche is by no means exaggerated. 3 Mutatis mutandis we find the cabalistic notions among the Chasidim, a sect founded in 1740 by a certain Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer Baalshem, 4 also called Besht. Baal-Shem made his public appearance about 1740 in Tlusti, in the district of Czartkow, from whence he subsequently removed to Medziboze, in Podolia. The miraculous cures and prophecies attracted attention in large circles; his mode of life, consisting of contemplation, study of the Zohar and frequent washings in rivers, soon spread a halo around him. Added to this were the many miraculous reports circulated by his disciples; for instance, that his father had been visited by the prophet Elijah to predict his birth, and that his mother was a hundred years old when she was delivered of him; that, when a youth, he had victoriously struggled with evil spirits, etc.--all of
which may be found in the Book Shibche ha-Besht, published in 1815 by the grandson of Baal-Shem, Rabbi Bar Linz. Baal-Shem 5 and his successors received the name Tsaddik, "Saint," and his fame attracted multitudes of Jews from all parts of Poland, who submitted themselves to his guidance. As long as he lived, the sect formed one great whole, of which he was the head. After his death, which took place in 1780, it was divided into separate congregations, each of which had its own Rabbi or Tsaddik or Saint, unreserved devotion to whom is the most important of all the principles of the sect. In a word, before Pius IX was declared infallible, the Chasidim 6 already had their infallible popes, whose number is still very large in Poland, Wallachia, Moldavia, Galicia, and Palestine. Of these popes of the Chasidim, a modern Jewish writer, the late David Cassel (died 1893), says: "To the disgrace of Judaism and modern culture the Tsaddikim still go on with their disgraceful business, and are thus the most essential hindrances to the dissemination of literary progress in Galicia and Russia. There are still thousands who
behold in the Tsaddik the worker of miracles, the prophet, one who is in close communion with God and angels, and who present him with rich gifts and promulgate the wonders which they have seen. Covetousness on the one hand and spiritual narrowness on the other are the channels through which the evil is fed anew."
Christianity.--As soon as the Cabala became better known, Christians betook themselves to its study and paid it the greatest attention because of the supposed agreement of its teachings with the dogmas of the Christian church. It was thought that the Cabala was the connecting link between Judaism and Christianity. The dogmas of the Trinity, of the Messiah as the Son of God and his atonement, were the salient points which especially attracted attention. The first to be drawn to the Cabala was Raymond Lully, the "Doctor Illuminatus" (1236-1315). He regarded the Cabala as a divine science and as a genuine revelation whose light is revealed to a rational soul.
The progress of Christianity towards the Cabala was greatly helped by the conversion of a large number of Jews to Christianity, "in which they recognized a closer relation to their gnostic views, and also by the Christians perceiving that gnosticism could become a powerful instrument for the conversion of the Jews." Among the
converted Jews we notice Paulus de Heredia of Aragon (about 1480), author of Iggeret ha-Sodot or Epistola Secretorum, treating of the divinity, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, which has been ascribed to a certain Nechunjah ben-ha-Kanah, who lived towards the end of the second Temple. Another convert was Paul Ricci, 7 of the sixteenth century, the friend of Erasmus, and physician to the Emperor Maximilian I; Julius Conrad Otto, author of the "Unveiled Secrets," consisting of extracts from the Talmud and the Zohar, to prove the validity of the Christian doctrine (Nuremberg, 1805); John Stephen Rittengel, grandson of the celebrated Isaac Abravanel, the translator of the Book Jezirah into Latin (Amsterdam, 1642). Among Christians we may mention Count John Pico di Mirandola (born in 1463), author of LXXII conclusiones cabbalisticae, Rome, 1486; more especially John Reuchlin (Capnio), 1455-1522. Reuchlin, the first German scholar who studied the Cabala, wrote two cabalistic treaties, entitled De Verbo Mirifico (Basel, 1494), and De Arte cabbalistica (Hagenau, 1516). 8
The first treatise is written in the form of a
dialogue between an Epicurean philosopher named Sidonius, a Jew named Baruch, and the author, who is introduced by the Greek name Capnio. Capnio would have it that the doctrine of the Trinity is to be found in the first verse of Genesis. He submits, if the Hebrew word bra (bara), which is translated "created," be examined, and if each of the three letters composing this word be taken as the initial of a separate word, we obtain the expression ben, ruach, ab, i.e., Son, Spirit, Father. Upon the same principle we find the two persons of the Trinity in the word abn (eben), "stone," occurring in Ps. cxviii. 22--"the stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner," by dividing the three letters composing the word abn into ab ben, i.e., Father, Son.
The second treatise is also in the form of a dialogue between a Mohammedan, a Pythagorean philosopher and a Jew. The dialogue is held at Frankfort where the Jew lives to whom the others come to be initiated into the mysteries of the Cabala. The whole is a more matured exposition and elaboration of the ideas hinted at in the first treatise.
How the truths of Christianity can be derived from the Talmud and the Cabala, the Franciscan Pietro Galatino endeavored to prove in his treatise De Arcanis Catholicae Veritatis contra obstinatissimam
[paragraph continues] Judaecorum nostrae tempestatis perfidiam (Ortona di Mare, 1518).
Much as Lully, Mirandola, Reuchlin, and others had already done to acquaint the Christian world with the secrets of the Cabala, none of these scholars had given translations of any portions of the Zohar. To this task Knorr Baron von Rosenroth betook himself by publishing the celebrated work Kabbala Denudata ("the Cabala Unveiled"), in two large volumes, the first of which was printed in Sulzbach, 1677-78, the second at Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1864, giving a Latin translation of the Introduction to and the following portion of the Sohar: the Book of Mysteries; the Great Assembly; the Small Assembly; 9 Joseph Gikatilla's Gate of Light (shaar orah); Vital's Doctrine of Metempsychosis (hagilgulim), and the Tree of Life (etz chayim); Cordovero's Garden of Pomegranates (pardes rim-monim); Abraham Herera's Gate of Heaven (sha-ar ha shamayim); Naphtali ben Jacob's Valley of the King (emeq ha bacha); Naphtali Cohen's Vision of the Priest (maré Kohen) etc., etc., with elaborate annotations, glossaries and indices. Knorr von Rosenroth has also collected all the passages of the New Testament which contain similar doctrines to those propounded by the Cabala. In spite of its many drawbacks 10 the
work has been made use of by later scholars, especially by Chr. Schöttgen in his Horae hebraicae et talmudicae (Dresden, 1733) and Theologia Judacorum de Messia (ibid., 1742.)
The powerful preponderance of the religious and ecclesiastical interests, as well as those of practical politics which became perceptible in the first quarter of the sixteenth century, giving to the mind a positive impulse, and to the studies a substantial foundation, arrested the further development of the Cabala; and thus it came about that in the course of time the zeal for cabalistic studies among Christians has cooled. It has become generally understood that the Cabala and Christianity are two different things. The idea of God according to the writings of the Old and New Testaments is entirely different. The same is the case with the notion of creation. When the first triad of the Sephiroth (Crown, Wisdom and Intelligence) is referred to the three persons of the Deity, their inner immanent relation is not thereby fully expressed, as Christianity teaches it. The three Sephiroth only represent three potencies of God or three forms of his emanation, the other Sephiroth are also such divine
powers and forms. One can therefore rightly say that the Cabala teaches not the Trinity, but the Ten-Unity of God. Also the other characteristics, when e.g. the Zohar ascribes to God three heads; or when it speaks of a God-Father (abba) of a God-Mother (imma) and of a God-Son; or when we are told (Zohar, III, 262a; comp. 67a) that "there are two, and one is connected with them, and they are three; but in being three, they are one," this does not coincide in the least with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. 11
In one codex of the Zohar we read on the words "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" (Is. vi. 3): "the first 'holy' refers to the Holy Father; the second to the Holy Son; and the third to the Holy Ghost"; but this passage is now omitted from the present recensions of the Zohar, and has been regarded by some Jewish writers as an interpolation. 12
As to the doctrine of Christ, the God incarnate--it cannot be paralleled with the confused doctrine of Adam Kadmon, the primordial man. According
to the Christian notion the reconciliation is effected only through Christ, the Son of God; according to the Cabala man can redeem himself by means of a strict observance of the law, by asceticism and other means whereby he influences God and the world of light in a mystical manner. For the benefit of the reader we give the following passages which speak of the atonement of the Messiah for the sins of people, passages which are given as the explanation of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. "When the righteous are visited with sufferings and afflictions to atone for the sins of the world, is that they might atone for all the sins of this generation. How is this proved? By all the members of the body. When all members suffer, one member is afflicted in order that all may recover. And which of them? The arm. The arm is beaten, the blood is taken from it, and then the recovery of all the members of the body is secured. So it is with the children of the world; they are members of one another. When the Holy One, blessed be he, wishes the recovery of the world, he afflicts one righteous from their midst, and for his sake all are healed. How is this shown? It is written--'He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. . . .and with his stripes we are healed' (Is. iii. 5)." Zohar, III, 218a.
To the same effect is the following passage:
[paragraph continues] "Those souls which tarry in the nether garden of Eden hover about the world, and when they see suffering or patient martyrs and those who suffer for the unity of God, they return and mention it to the Messiah. When they tell the Messiah of the afflictions of Israel in exile, and that the sinners among them do not reflect in order to know their Lord, he raises his voice and weeps because of those sinners, as it is written, 'he is wounded for our transgressions' (Is. liii. 5). Whereupon those souls return and take their place. In the garden of Eden there is one place which is called the palace of the sick. The Messiah goes into this palace and invokes all the sufferings, pain and afflictions of Israel to come upon him, and they all come upon him. Now if he did not remove them thus and take them upon himself, no man could endure the sufferings of Israel, due as punishment for transgressing the Law; as it is written--'Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,' etc. (Is. liii, 4 with Rom. xii. 3, 4) . When the children of Israel were in the Holy Land they removed all those sufferings and afflictions from the world by their prayers and sacrifices, but now the Messiah removes them from the world." (Zohar, II, 212b). With reference to these passages 13 which speak of the
atonement of the Messiah for the sins of the people, which are given in the Zohar as the explanation of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, Professor Dalman 14 remarks that the Jews reject and object to cabalistic statements as something foreign to genuine Judaism. The theosophic speculations of the Cabala are at least just as Jewish as the religious philosophical statements of Bachja or Maimonides; yes, it seems to us that the God of revelation and of scripture is more honestly retained in the former than in the latter, where he becomes a mathematical One without attribute and thereby may satisfy a superficial reason, but leaves the heart empty. That these Jewish thinkers, influenced by Aristotle, had no inclination to find in Is. liii an expiating mediator, is only too inexplicable. He, who by his own strength can soar into the sphere of "intelligences" and thus bring his soul to immortality, needs no mediator. But we are concerned here not with a philosophical or theosophical thought-complex, but the simple question whether the prophet speaks in Is. liii of a suffering mediator of salvation. The
answer of the Cabalists at any rate agrees with the testimony of many of them.
What are we to think of the Cabala? That there is a relationship between it and neo-Platonism is obvious. Erich Bischoff 15 thinks that the Cabala represents a peculiar monism, which in some degree has influenced modern philosophy. In ethical respects it contains many fruitful and sublime thoughts, often indeed in fanciful wording. But as magic it has been of great influence on all kinds of superstitions and even on occultistic tendencies. It offers a highly interesting object of study whose closer investigation is rendered more difficult on account of the abstruse manner of representation and the many magic and mystic accessories. But that which is valuable is sufficient to insure for it a lasting interest.
96:1 A collection of passages abusing the Talmud is given by Landauer in the Orient, 1845, pp. 571-574; see also Rubin, Heidenthum und Kabbala, Vienna, 1893, pp. 13 f.; also his Kabbala and Agada, ibid., 1895, p. S, where we read that according to Abulafia the Cabalists only were genuine men, and the Talmudists monkeys.
97:2 Wünsche, whom we have followed, evidently refers to the prayer called Kaddish, for which see my article s.v. in McClintock and Strong, vol. XII. A very interesting article on "Jüdische Seelenmesse and Totenanrufung" is given by Dalman in Saat auf Hoffnung (Leipsic, 1890), pp. 169-225.
98:3 Orelli in his article "Zauberei" in Realencyklopädie für protest. Theologie and Kirche, vol. XXI, 1908, p. 618, remarks: "The Jewish Cabala has promoted the magic degeneration of the religion; to a great extent it furnished profound expressions and formulas for the exercise of superstitious arts."
98:4 "Lord of the name" = θεοῦργος, a man who by words of conjuration and other formulas knows how to exercise a power over the visible and invisible world.
99:5 Compare Kahana, Rabbi Israel Baal Schem-Tob, sein Leben, kabbalistisches System and Wirken, Sitomir, 1900.
99:6 Compare Perl, Megalleh temirin, or Die enthüllten Geheimnisse der Chassidim, Lemberg, 1879; Ch. Bogratschoff, Entstehung, Entwicklung and Prinzipien des Chassidismus, Berlin, 1908.
101:7 See my article s.v. in McClintock and Strong.
101:8 These and some other treatises of the same kind are collected by Pistorius in a collection entitled Artis cabbalisticae scriptores, Basel, 1587.
103:9 These three parts are Englished by Mathers.
103:10 Buddeus in Introductio in Historiam Philosophiae p. 104 Hebraeorum (Halle 1702) calls Knorr von Rosenroth's work "confusum et obscurum opus, in quo necessaria cum non necessariis utilia cum inutilibus, confusa sunt, et in unam velut chaos conjecta." Knorr von Rosenroth has also written a number of hymns.
105:11 Compare also Bischoff, Die Kabbalah, p. 26.
105:12 Compare Joel, Die Religionsphilosophie des Sohar, Leipsic, 1849, pp. 240 ff.--The Zoharic passages referring to the Trinity are given in the original with a German translation in Auszüge aus dem Buche Sohar (by Tholuck; revised by Biesenthal), Berlin, 1857; 4th ed., 1876; also by Pauli, The Great Mystery; or How Can Three Be One, London, 1863.
107:13 A collection of the passages referring to the atoning work of the Messiah is given in Auszüge aus dem p. 108 Buche Sohar, pp. 35 f., more especially in Wünsche, Die Leiden des Messias, Leipsic, 1870, pp. 95-105; and by Dalman, "Das Kommen des Messias nach dem Sohar" (in Saat auf Hoffnung), Leipsic, 1888, pp. 148-160.
108:14 In his Jesaja 53, das Prophetenwort von Sühnleiden des Heilandes mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der synagogalen Literatur, Leipsic, 1890.
109:15 The author of Die Kabbalah. Einführung in die jüdische Mystik and Geheimwissenschaft, Leipsic, 1903.