Origin and Spread of the Cabala (§ 1).
Doctrine of God (§ 2).
Creation and the Sefiroth (§ 3).
Names of the Sefiroth (§ 4).
Triads of Sefiroth (§ 5).
The Four Worlds (§ 6).
Origin of Evil (§ 7).
Doctrine of the Messiah (§ 8).
Doctrines of the Soul (§ 9).
Metempsychosis (§ 10).
Mystic Biblical Exegesis of the Cabala (§ 11).
Biblical Interpretation by Gematria (§ 12).
Magic Powers of the Tetragammaton (§ 13).
The Early Period of the Cabala (§ 14).
The Sefer Yetzirah (§ 15).
Crystallization of the Cabala (§ 16).
The Zohar (§ 17).
Closing Period of the Cabala (§ 18).
Influence of the Cabala on Judaism (§ 19).
Relation of the Cabala to Christianity (§ 20).
The term Cabala designates the esoteric doctrines of Judaism. Although it claims to be a product of the tannaitic period and to be the work of such sages as Ishmael ban Elisha, Simeon ben Yohai, and Nehunya ben ha-Kanah, modern investigation has proved that it is purely a product of the Middle Ages. Nor does the name kabbalah (from kibbel, "to receive") occur with this special connotation before the thirteenth century, the term kabbalah denoting in the Talmud the Hagiography and the Prophets in contradistinction to the Torah, or Pentateuch.
The Cabala originated at a period when a crassly anthropomorphic concept of God prevailed in Judaism. In Maimonides rationalism had reached its climax, the literal meaning alone being accepted, while all allegorical interpretation was rejected. The study of the Talmud had become purely legalistic, and worship had degenerated into formalism. Against this stereotyped faith born of Aristotelianism arose a reaction, the Cabala. This sought to give the soul the nourishment it craved by an esoteric interpretation of the Scriptures, vivid presentation, and dramatic narrative, even though, in its speculative fervor, it became involved only too often in hopeless haze, and evoked a dark superstition of the through its juggling with the names of God. Arising in Provence, the reaction against rationalism passed to Spain, the real home of the Cabala. Thence, with the expulsion of the Spanish Jews, it was carried to Palestine, whence it spread throughout Europe. The fundamental doctrines of the Cabala are derived from the Hellenistic Judaism, Neo-platonism, and Neo-Pythagoreanism, with occasional traces of Gnosticism. These elements are so interwoven, however, with the Bible and with a midrashic method of presentation, that the whole has been stamped with the seal of Judaism.
According to the Cabala, God is the eternal and boundless principle of all, and is therefore called En Sof ("The Infinite"). The attributes given him are general, rather than specific. He is absolutely perfect, and is free from all blemish; he is unity and immutability; he is boundless and naught exists beside him; and since he may be known neither by wisdom nor by understanding, no definition can be given of him, no concept be formed regarding him, and no question asked concerning him. To all beings he is the concealed of all concealed, the hidden of all hidden, the ancient of the ancient; the first of all first and the primal principle.
The cardinal cosmogonic doctrine of the Cabala is creation e nihilo. The reconciliation of the imperfect and transitory phenomenal world with the perfection and immutability of God, and the mutual relation of the two formed never-ending problems for the cabaliats. To explain the riddle they assumed the existence of a series of independent and spiritual primeval potentialities, which were intelligible substances or demiurges emanating from the deity. These demiurges (sefiroth) are mentioned as early as the Sefer Yezirah, where their number is given as ten. According to this work, the first emanation was the spirit of the living God, from which proceeded the entire phenomenal world. This same spirit, futhermore, caused ether, water, and fire to emanate from each other. From ether arises the intellectual world, from water the material (the tohu wa-bohu of Gen. i. 2), and from fire the spiritual (the angels and the throne of God). These four sefiroth are followed by the six bounds of apace, height, depth, east, west, north, and south. There is, however, no consistent view concerning the nature of the sefiroth, which are sometimes regarded as intermediaries between God and the visible world, and at other times as the manifestations of the powers and properties of God; and there is an equal divergence of opinion as to whether they are actual creations which form, in a sense, the basis of later creations, or emanations whereby God emerges from his concealment and assumes form. All attempts to reconcile these conflicting views by postulating the existence of God both in and above phenomena proved unsuccessful. The issuance of the sefiroth from God was regarded by the cabalists as imperiling the doctrine of his immutability and infinity. The first difficulty was obviated by the hypothesis that God's design to manifest himself had existed from all eternity. Since, however, God in his infinity filled the entire universe, no room was left for the sefiroth, until Moses ban Jacob Cordovero (1522-70) and Isaac Luria (7533-72) postulated two concentrations, one a contraction and the other a retraction. Many cabaliats, however, felt themselves unable to accept this theory of concentration, which was closely connected, moreover, with the Gnosticism of Valentinian and Basilides, and preferred to assume that the emergence of God from his retirement was to be understood in terms of concept rather than of space, and some regarded the entire process as metaphorical.
The first sefirah was Kether ("Crown"), the
primal source of all existence. The second was
Hokmah (" Wisdom"), which, though enveloped
in God, generated the ideas. The third was
Binah ("Intelligence "), which carries out the ideas of
As early as the eleventh century Hai Gaon (998-1038) classified the ten primal potentialities into two groups, the first including three which produced the spiritual world, and the second comprising two triads which were united by a seventh, and these formed the source of the material world. The main outlines of this classification were retained by later cabalists. Azriel (1160-1238) distinguished three groups-intellectual, spiritual, and material, a classification evidently due to Neoplatonic influence. Each group forms a triad, and its members stand in the mutual relation of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The first two members, moreover, sustain a polar relation to each other, and are united by the third. Thus, in the first triad, which consists of "Crown," "Wisdom," and "Intelligence," "Intelligence" forms the connecting link. In the second triad, which consists of "Love," "Law," and "Beauty," "Beauty" (or "Mercy") forms the bond of union, while in the third triad of "Firmness," "Splendor," and "Foundation," the last reconciles the first two. All three triads are subject to the tenth sefirah, "Kingdom," which binds them into a harmonious whole. The first triad, moreover, contained the "authors of the plan of the world," the second the "arrangers," and the third the "creators." Although the sefiroth are by no means comparable with God and do not condition his independence, they partake of his infinity and transmit his streams of blessings to the various worlds. For this purpose, on which their existence and activity depend, they are united with God by invisible canals (zinnoroth) which proceed from the throne of the divine majesty.
In so far as the sefiroth are the earliest manifestations of God, they form an ideal world which bears no relation to the material world, and in this aspect they are termed either "primeval man" (adham kadhmon) or "superman " (adham 'ilai), who is sometimes considered to be the sefiroth collectively, and sometimes regarded as the first manifestation whereby God revealed himself as the creator and ruler of the world. In this aspect he seems to be a revelation interposed between God and the universe, and thus a second god, as it were, or the Logos.
According to a later view, various grades of emanation produced four worlds, in each of which the ten sefiroth were repeated. The first of these was the 'Olam ha-Azilah ("World of Radiation"), which contains the powers of the divine plan of the worlds. These powers have the same nature as the world of the sefiroth or the Adham kadhmon, while, according to the Zohar, it also contains the throne of the Shekinah and God's mantle of light. From the 'Olam ha-Azilah emanated the 'Olam ha-Beriah ("World of Creation"), the home of the organizing powers and potencies. There were the treasuries of blessing and life, and there was the throne of the glory of God, as well as the halls of all spiritual and moral perfection, where the souls of the righteous dwelt. In its turn, the 'Olam ha-Beriah produced the 'Olam ha-Yezirah ("World of Creation") with the angels and Metatron as their chief. To him are subject the evil spirits (kelifoth, "husks"), who dwell in the planets and other heavenly bodies, or in the ether. The fourth world is the present material and phenomenal 'Olam ha-'Assiyah ("World of Action"), which is subject to constant change and delusion. Like the sefiroth, the four worlds are closely connected with God as the primal principle, and receive continual streams of divine blessing. This cosmology of four worlds is based on the theophany of Ezek. i. and seems to be first mentioned in the Massekheth Aziluth, a small treatise of the first half of the thirteenth century. The anthropomorphic tendencies of the cabalists led them to make distinctions of sex among the sefiroth. The masculine principle, which is white in color, appears chiefly in "Love," although it underlies both the other two sefiroth of the right side ("Wisdom" and "Firmness"); while the passive red female principle, which owes its existence to the male, dwells chiefly in "Law," yet also forms the basis of the other sefiroth of the left side ("Intelligence" and "Splendor").
Side by side with the heavenly sefiroth exist the sefiroth
of evil, and Adham kadhmon, in like manner, has his counterpart in
Adham Beliyya'al. The realms are related to each other as the right and
the left wing. In the kingdom of evil, as in the
realm of good, there are ten grades. Under the
leadership of Samael and his queen, the great
adulteress, the dark sefiroth toil unceasingly for
the destruction of the world. Since, however, the
sefiroth of darkness, like the
sefiroth of light, were
regarded as emanations, there was danger that the
Infinite might be considered the author of evil.
To obviate this, the older cabalists advanced the
hypothesis that the origin of evil was to be sought in
the distances of the emanations from
their divine author, since the further
they went from God into the material
world, the more degenerate they be
came. The younger cabalists like Lucia, on the
other hand, held that the vessels of the
sefiroth were unable to contain and conduct the fulness of
the divine blessing and burst, thus giving rise to
evil. Penance, self-mortification, prayer, and
rigid observance of the prescribed ceremonies,
however, would gradually reconcile the upper and
lower realms and restore the original harmony of
the universe. It is noteworthy that this doctrine
of the opposition of the two kingdoms is a late
The Messianic teachings of the Cabala are closely connected with the doctrine of the realm of the evil sefiroth. When through their piety and virtue mankind shall steadily have diminished the kingdom of the kelifoth, the Messiah will appear and restore all things to their original condition. Under his rule all will turn to the divine light, and idolatry will cease. In its account of the nature and task of the Messiah the Cabala diverges a little from the views advanced by the Talmud and the Midrash.
In its anthropology the Cabala generally adopts the tenets of Talmudic and Gaonic mysticism, so that its new developments may be summarized briefly. Earthly man is a type of the prototype Adham kadhmon, and thus comprises within himself all that the ideal creation contains. He is, therefore, a microcosm. The Cabala also teaches the dual nature of man, who consists of body and soul. Every member has its symbolic meaning, while the body, as the garment of the soul, typifies the merkabah (the heavenly Throne-Chariot of Ezek. i., x.). The soul, however, is far superior to the body, since it is derived from the divine all-soul, and through the "canals" (zinnoroth) can influence the intellectual world and draw down its blessings to the lower world. It appears under the three designations of nefesh, ruah, and neshamah. The first is blind impulse, the second is the seat both of good and evil impulses, and the third is able to unite with God sad the kingdom of light.
Aristotelian scholasticism gave rise in Judaism to a system of exegesis which resulted in a view of religion as a matter of the head, rather than the heart. Yet at this very time the increasing persecution of the Jews evoked a need for spiritual strength and revivification, and these requirements were met by the cabalistic opposition to the purely intellectual interpretation of the Bible and by the substitution of a new method of hermeneutics, which sounded the depths of the Scriptures and thus strengthened the sinews of religion. As early as the Talmudic and Mishnaic period the feeling had prevailed in certain quarters that in addition to the literal meaning of the Bible (peshat) there was an allegorical meaning (derush). The cabalists went still further, and regarded the letters, words, and names of the Bible as possessed of deeply hidden divine mysteries, while such accounts as those of Hagar, Esau, and Balak contained far more than mere history. They therefore laid little stress on the literal sense of the Bible, though not a letter might be added to it or taken from it. In their endeavor to unlock the divine mysteries they employed various systems of exegesis.
A second exegetical system was the notarikon, the acrostic use of the letters in such a way that each letter of a word formed the initial letter of a new word. The third method was ziruf, the combination of letters, and the fourth was temurah, the creation of new words by the permutation and interchange of letters. The names of God were special subjects of cabalistic jugglery, since they were no longer the means whereby God had emerged from his concealment and become manifest to the understanding, but were now agencies to work upon the intelligible powers and to perform miracles of all kinds. The most marvelous powers were ascribed to the divine tetragrammaton YHWH. Whosoever possessed the true pronunciation of this name might come into relation with the upper world and receive revelations from the All-Soul. Each letter of the name was portentous. The yodh represented the Father as creator, and the double he the upper and lower Mother, while the waw typified the creation. Through permutation of the letters of the tetragrammaton was obtained a wealth of divine names, to which, in like manner, were ascribed miraculous powers. In the "practical" Cabala these new names played an important part, being used in formulas, amulets, and conjurations, their correct enunciation and the gestures with which they were spoken being leading factors in all these operations. In like manner, the twelve-lettered, twenty-two lettered, twenty-four-lettered, and seventy-two lettered name contained great mysteries, influenced the Supreme Being and averted threatening doom, while the names of the angels were subjected to similar manipulation. The net result was the total loss of any comprehension of the actual mean ing of the text of the Bible.
The history of the Cabala comprises a period of a thousand years, since its beginnings may be traced to the seventh century, while its last adherents belonged to the eighteenth. This lapse of time may be divided into two periods, the first from the seventh to the thirteenth century, and the second from the fourteenth to the eighteenth. From the seventh to the ninth century flourished the mysticism of the Merkabah, devoted to descriptions of "the great and small halls," and describing the throne of God and his court of angels according to Byzantine models. God the Infinite, the sefiroth, and transmigration are still unlmown, and the authority cited on all occasions is the Tanna Ishmael ben Elisha, who flourished in the first and second centuries A.D. The juggling with the alphabet is represented by the "Alphabet of Rabbi Akiba," which treats of the letters according to name and form, and connects them with all manner of moral and religious teachings.
In the thirteenth century the crystallization of
the Cabala began and the doctrine of the
sefiroth was fully developed. To the same period probably
belongs the composition of the "Luminous Book,"
also called the "Midrash of Nehunya ben ha-Kanah," which teaches the main outlines of metempsychosis, while the ten divine emanations, which are not yet called sefiroth, but
ma'amarim ("commands "), appear as categories possessed of creative force and connected
with the attributes of God. A tendency toward visionary prophecy
was impressed upon the Cabala by
Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (d. about 1304),
who laid special stress on a knowledge of the divine
name as determined by the exegetical methods of
gematria, notarikon, ziruf, and temurah,
while his pupil Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla devoted himself to the mysteries of the alphabet, which he
brought into close association with the doctrine of the sefiroth.
The cabalistic speculation begun by Isaac the Blind reached its climax in the
Zohar, apparently written by Moses ben Shem-Tob of
Leon (d. 1305). If the Sefer Yezirah be called the
Mishnah of the Cabala, the Zohar is its Talmud.
Ostensibly it is a midrashic commentary on the
pericopes of the Pentateuch, but practically it is
With the exile of the Jews from Spain the Cabala was carried into all lands, and Safed in Palestine became its new center. There, in the sixteenth century, Moses ben Jacob Cordovero and Isaac Lucia systematized the Cabala and filled many a gap which had existed in the Zohar, the former emphasizing the metaphysical and speculative, and the latter the ascetic and ethical side. Through them the Zohar was well-nigh deified, and in a like spirit many cabalists of the seventeenth century, such as Shabbathai Zebi and Jacob Frank, proclaimed themselves prophets or asserted that the Shekinah or the soul of the Messiah had become incarnate in them. From this time on, however, the Cabala has steadily declined, and the names of its representatives are too unimportant to require mention here.
Though the Cabala was devoted to a spiritualization of religion, the pagan elements which it adopted brought to Judaism a view of the universe which was entirely foreign to it, and worked it grave injury. The Biblical concept of a monotheistic God was superseded by a vague Gentile theory of emanation with a pantheistic tendency, and the doctrine of the unity of God was thrust into the background by the ten sefiroth, who were regarded as divine in essence. Since prayer was no longer addressed immediately to God but to the sefiroth, a genuine sefiroth-cult was evolved. The Talmud and philosophy were disdained by the cabalists, and even the study of the Bible was neglected, since it was no longer read for its own sake, but solely with the aid of cabalistic methods of hermeneutics. Nor did the ritual escape change and mutilation, and the phylacteries and the prayer-mantles were now put on to the accompaniment of various Cabala on cabalistic formulas, especially prominent being the prayers to the sefiroth. Worst of all was the growth of superstition. That the soul might attain to the realm of light after death, the severest mortification of the flesh was practised, while the mysterious names of God were believed to heal the sick and quench the flames, and God altered his divine will at the prayer of the cabalist. The very kingdom of dankness was subject to the proper formulas of prayer, and the damned were freed from their torments by use of the magic names of God.
During the period of the Reformation the Cabala
attracted wide attention because of the alleged
kinship and agreement of its doctrines with the
dogmas of the Christian Church. The opinion
accordingly prevailed that it formed the means by
which Judaism and Christianity might easily be
united, especially as it was believed to contain the
doctrines of the Trinity, the Messiah as the Son
of God, and his work of atonement. In his missionary zeal for the Saracens in the
thirteenth century Raymond Lully
(q.v.) considered the Cabala a divine
revelation, and after the converted Jew
Paulus de Heredia (about 1480) had
shown in his "Letter of Secrets"
that all the chief truths of Christianity were contained in the Cabala, Christian scholars became
rivals in their eagerness to study esoteric Judaism.
In 1486 Pico de Mirandola published at Rome his
Septuaginta-duce conclusiones cabballisticae,
and invited all scholars to Rome to attend a disputation
to convince themselves of the kinship between the
Cabala and Christianity. The first German to
investigate this subject was Reuchlin, who devoted
to it his De verbo mirifico (Basel, 1494) and his
De arte cabbalistica (Hagenau, 1517). Latin translations of various portions of cabalistic works were
made by Baruch of Benevento at the request of
Cardinal Aegidius of Viterbo and by the convert
Paul Riccio, physician in ordinary to the emperor
Maximilian I., but the most important work which
sought the truths of Christianity in the Cabala
and gave translations from it was the
of Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (4 vols., Sulzbach and Frankfort, 1877-84), the source
for all subsequent scholars.
It is now recognized that the concepts of God and the creation are entirely divergent in the Cabala and Christianity; the first triad of the sefiroth does not actually correspond to the Trinity, nor does the Christian doctrine of Christ as the Son of God find an analogue in the Adham kadhmon of the Cabala. According to Christianity, redemption is possible only through Christ, while the Cabala postulates that man can save himself by his mystic influence on God and the world of light through rigid observance of the law, asceticism, and similar agencies. (AUGUST W(U-UMLAUT)NSCHE.)
BIBLIOGRAPHY: The literature up to about 1880 is arranged in J. F(u-umlaut)rat, Bibliotheca judaica, iii.329-335. Leipsic, 1863. The best book in Eng. is C. D. Ginsburg, The Kabbalah, its Doctrines, Development, and Literature, London, 1885. A most valuable work is A. Franck, La Kabbale, ou la philosophie religieuse des H(e-fwd. grave)breux, 3d ed., Paris, 1892 (Germ. trnsl., Leipsic, 1844). Of older literature the following may be mentioned: J. F. Buddeus, lntroductio ad historiam philosophiae Hebraeorum, Halle, 1721; J. Basnage, Histoire de la religion des Juifs, vol. iii., Rotterdam, 1707-11; J. F. Kleuker, Ueber die Natur und den Ursprung der Emanationslehre bei den Kabbalisten, Riga, 1786; F. A. Tholuck, De ortu Cabbalae, vol. i., Hamburg, 1837. Of later literature the following are suggested as worthy of study: A. Jellinek, Beitr(a-umlaut)ga zur Geschichte der Kabbala, 2 vols., Leipsic, 1852 (of great value) idem, Auswahl kabbalistischer Mystik, ib. 1853; J. W. Etheridge, Jerusalem and Tiberias, Sora and Cordova, London, 1856; S. Munk, M(e-fwd. grave)langes de philosophie juive et arabe, pp. 481-511, Paris, 1857; G. des Moueseaux, Le Juif, pp. 509 sqq., ib. 1869; C. Siegfried, Philo... als Ausleger des Allen Testaments, Jena, 1872; F. Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, i. 417, New York, 1876; F. Weber, System der altsynagogalen pal(a-umlaut)stiniachen Theologie, Leipsic, 1880; L. Wogue, Historie de l'(e-fwd. grave)x(e-bk. grave)gese biblique, Paris, 1881; Die Kabbala, Ihre Hauptlehre, Innsbruck, 1885; Simeon ben Yochai, Kabbala denudata. Kabbalah Unveiled, London, 1887; I. Meyer, Qabbalah; Philosophical Writings of Solomon... Gebirol or Avicebron and their Connection with the Hebrew Qabbalah, Philadelphia, 1888; P. Bloeh, Geschichte der Entwickelung der Kabbala, Trier, 1894; J. Hamburger, Real-Encyklop(a-umlaut)die f(u-umlaut)r Bibel und Talmud, Leipsic, 1896-1901; The Canon; an Exposition of the Pagan Mystery Perpetuated in the Cabala, London, 1897; M. Mielsiner, Introduction to the Talmud, Cincinnati, 1897; J. H. Weldon, The Cabbala of the Bible, 1897-1900; C. A. Briggs, Study of Holy Scripture, chap. xviii., New York, 1899; W. Begley, Biblia cabalistica, London, 1903; E. Bischoff, De Kabbala Inleiding tot de joodsche mystick, Amsterdam, 1906; S. A. Binion, The Kabbalah, in World's Best Literature, ed. C. D. Warner, pp. 8425-42; JE, iii. 456-479, where other literature is mentioned. At the head of the article in Hauck-Herzog, RE is a very full list of works, including periodical literature.