Friday, June 30, 2006

Kabbalah from whom? Sinai via teachers or individually from heaven (birds,trees, inanimate objects and the dead)?

I am reading Lawrence Fine’s Physician of The Soul, Healer of the Cosmos available at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0804748268/sr=8-1/qid=1151656176/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-9902088-9567918?ie=UTF8

It is a fascinating and easy to read study of the Arizal, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-72), the great Kabbalist of Tzfat and the main source for contemporary Kabbalah. Reading the book one gets a good feel for the sources of Kabbalah and for me, it confirmed my strong suspicions about its sources.

We have been fed a canard in the Yeshiva world that Kabbalah is an old tradition, a Mesora, going back to Sinai and anyone that doubts it is suspect. I was brought up in that type of an environment, and coming from a very Chassidish background, always felt guilty about my skepticism. During my early teenage years I discovered Rambam and started reading him without understanding much. In Yeshiva I was told that I was going on the wrong path, and told to read Nefesh Hachaim and Tanya, which of course led me back to Ramban, Recanati, Zohar, Maharal and forward to Sifrei Chassidus. I tried hard to understand and believe the stuff I was reading but I knew deep down it was wrong. I have great respect for Ramban and his rational way of thinking in general, so I always felt that I was a bad boy, hoping one day that I will become smarter. I was baffled by the Gaon of Vilna (1720-97), the great genius of the 18th century, who seemed to accept Kabbalah as a tradition. With time, as I was trying to understand more, I read Gershon Scholem and many of his colleagues and pupils, Y.Tishbi, Moshe Idel, and Professor Dan et al and came to realize that I was wasting my time and if I wanted to understand Judaism and what it stands for, I had to turn back to Rambam. There I found the Mesora that leads back to Sinai and explains, from a religious perspective, the existential issues we are confronted with daily. So for the last fifteen years or so, with the help of great Chaverim, Rambam has become my focus both Machshavah and Halacha - and what a great trip it is!

Now back to Fine. The book lays out in the first chapters the background of Tzfat into which Arizal landed. I want to focus however on one section that is an unbelievable revelation. First a quote from Recanati, Parshas Naso, where he describes the sources of Kabbalah.

For he [Elijah} revealed himself to Rabbi David, head of the rabbinical court [av bet din] and taught him the mysteries of the Kabbalah. He transmitted it, for his part, to his son, the Rabad [i.e. R. Abraham ben David – the Ba’al Hahasagot on Rambam] and he [Elijah] also revealed himself to him, and he transmitted to his son, Isaac the Blind, blind from birth, and to him too he revealed himself. The latter in turn transmitted these teachings to two disciples of his, R. Ezra [of Gerona] author of a commentary on the Song of Songs (see Chavel Kitvei Haramban part 2, Pirush Shir Hashirim Hameyuchas Laramban where he identifies R.Azriel as the author based on a different Recanati – more about this Pirush in a coming post), and R. Azriel [of Gerona] after which it was transmitted to the Ramban.”

Quite an interesting quote. Anyone that is familiar with Rambam and the Hasagot HaRa’avad knows that he mentions several times that Ruach Hakodesh visited his Bet Midrash. (E.g. Hil. Lulav 8:5). The rational explanation is that he wanted to emphasize the Chiddush in his idea and attributed it to inspiration. That in itself is not that outlandish and necessarily mystical or revelatory (Nevuah). I say that because it is a Halachik imperative that revelation has no influence in Halacha after Moshe.

There is no question that tradition allowed for a certain amount of mysticism, (more Platonic then mystical really) and there were legitimate schools that were inclined in that direction going back to Talmudic times. I believe however that they were very contained and did not deviate from the basic axioms about God laid out by the Rabbis. Rambam addresses some of these quotes from Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer and other Midrashim. I understand therefore these great Rishonim as claiming new insights in ancient texts and ideas and attributing them to Elijah or inspiration. They however inadvertently opened a Pandora’s Box. Here is a quote from R. Chaim Vital (1543-1620) the great pupil of Arizal and the major source for Arizal thought, in his Sha’ar Ruach Hakodesh p.19:

“Concerning his attainments, it is impossible for one to relate them [even] in general terms, much less in detail. However these are the wondrous and true things I witnessed with my own eyes: He knew how to make a future soul appear before him, as well as the soul of a living or deceased person, from among the early as well as later sages.”

This should be read in contrast with Rambam Hil. Avodah Zara 11:13: -
כללו של דבר: כל העושה מעשה כדי שיבוא המת ויודיעו--לוקה, שנאמר "לא יימצא בך . . . ודורש אל המתים" (דברים יח,י-יא)

That in itself is bad enough when used to learn the future. How much worse when used to teach supposedly God’s words. He continues:

He could inquire of them whatever he wished concerning knowledge of the future and secret mysteries of Torah. The prophet Elijah may his memory be a blessing, would also appear to him and teach him. He would also recognize the letters on the forehead and [was adept at] the science of physiognomy, as well as at [recognizing] the lights that are upon the skin and body of an individual. [He was also skilled at recognizing] the lights in the hair, the chirping of birds, and the language of trees and plants. [He understood] the speech even of inanimate things… [He knew] the language of the burning candle and the flaming coal. [!] He was able to see the angels who announce all the proclamations [from on high], as is well known, and to converse with them.”

What to me is the most intriguing is that RCV admits that the “secrets of the Torah” transmitted by his teacher the Arizal were a result of Revelation and inspiration, and had no direct connection to Sinai and Mesora. The magical tone to all this is to me very scary. Professor Fine quotes other pupils of Arizal who said similar things about how Arizal acquired his knowledge. I can live with inspiration but what about birds, trees, inanimate things and the dead past and future?!?

At best I can try to argue that Arizal used this inspiration (weird as it is) to explain old texts. That being the case why should that be considered more traditional then Rambam’s rational explanations of similar texts. To my mind the burden of proof that the Kabbalah is Mesora rests on the Mekubal im. Until they can show us that it is, I consider Kabbalah potentially dangerous theologically.

I will show in future posts how insidiously this superstition has penetrated our praxis. It would be a great service to Judaism if a Talmid Chacham would have the courage to uncover these infestations and expunge them allowing us to return to the pure worship of our pre Kabbalah forebears.

I would like to make one point though. We find that these concepts have survived a long time within Judaism and although the theology is erroneous, the followers have stayed within the fold generation after generation. Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz addressed this many times and argued that a Jew that is theologically misguided, as long as he keeps to Halacha meticulously, he will be accepted within the Jewish people. It is only if he deviates that he slowly falls by the wayside. I believe that he is right although this wrong headedness definitely pushes off the time of “Umale'ah Ha'aretz Dea'ah et Hashem”.

(This is interesting in light of the discussions about “Orthopraxy” that pop up every so often on the JBlogs).

Let us hope we see the light of truth soon. Good Shabbos.

19 comments:

  1. david
    you gotten this question a couple of times:
    HOw many people who arent anonymous can you point to that think like you?

    Basically, if you went to rav eliyashuv and told him, you doubt rav yosef karo learned with a malach, would he throw you out?

    I believe, and ive experienced this especially amongst chassidim, that most sane people dont believe in the rebbe stories of past. they know these stories are all bs.
    They ignore the rabbi's earnestness in retelling these bubbeh maasehs, becuase they believe this is the external face of judiasm, the one that needs to repeatededly express spirituaility, otherwise the people who do believe these stories will probably drop out. Those stories of miracles are their chizuk.

    Sane people take the moral of the story as chizuk.

    the same with kabbalah.
    sane people can learn some lessons but its the ones who believe kabbalah is magic that need it, because they need the magic in their lives.

    I would love to believe in magic.
    Just that, ever since Ive seen shows explaining the magic of magicians, and the amazing randi, i no longer do.

    Todays generation of our leadership need the magic to keep the yeshiva kollel, and charity machines functioning.
    Its clear if rabbis would come out strong against segulahs, the yeshiva and charities would suffer.
    People would feel there is nothing to gain, no quick fix.

    I doubt any rabbi is willing to be the cause of that.
    David, we may as well enjoy the kabalah practices, because they are here to stay.

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  2. Happy, I cannot disagree more. First there are non anonymous people who agree with me. I have a chabura that we learn together and although we have different levels of reaction we all pretty much agree with what i write. The readership of my blog alone says it all.

    The fact that most people don't agree does not make an iota of difference to me. The rabbis who are so cynical that they encourage this superstition for economic gains are no different then the "Komrei Avodah Zara" the priests of the idolaters.

    Avodah Zara is the bane of humanity not only Judaism and it must be fought all the time. Kabbalah especially the way it is understood nowadays is Abizrayhu DeAvodah Zara if not Avodah Zara itself. It lest it is Shenyot!

    We are forbidden to enjoy Kabbalah practices.

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  3. Kabbalah especially the way it is understood nowadays is Abizrayhu DeAvodah Zara if not Avodah Zara itself.

    Gee, thanks. Would you drink my wine??

    We are forbidden to enjoy Kabbalah practices.

    A little over the top, David.

    Seriously, are you really claiming that the chidushim of kabbalah lack authenticity but the chidushim of the Rambam in the Moreh are the messorah going back to Sinai????

    You know full well that the lack of Sianitic historiocity of a particular does not render it inauthentic. Otherwise you would not believe half the things you believe in today as well.

    Kabbalah is not going anywhere (although I would like to abolish the popular fetish with practical kabbalah). The mystical experience is an essential component of religious man and will not disapear. Kabbalah represents that esoteric world better than any other system.

    (and, BTW, there only issur in divining the future is if a person acts differently based on the knowledge he aquired.)

    The Ariz"l lived in tzfat with some of the greatest tzaddikim of all time. He has been accepted by the vast majority of klal Israel as a teacher and his teachings are within the realm of Torah (meaning that one who studies them fulfils the mitzva of talmud Torah). Please re-read the letter you once sent me by Rav Kook regarding the Rambam and substitute the Ari and Eitz Chaim for the Rambam and the Moreh.

    The disagreement between you and the mekubalim is one between two ideas WITHIN Torah. Not one between those who believe in Torah and those who believe in AZ.

    Let's leave this debate "within the family" and not accuse others of treading in foreign waters. I would never call the Moreh, a work of greek philosophy, please don't call the Ari's Kabbalah Avodah Zara.

    Shabbat Shalom

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  4. Superstition and experience are not the same thing. While, like you, I dismiss superstitious belief, I do think that it is equally "superstitious" to dismiss as "superstitious" someone else's mystical experience of gadlut consciousness merely because you yourself have not experienced it. It is not (a lack of) rationality which drives superstition, it is the lack of committment to discern truth. Rationalists, too, can make the very same mistake the superstitious make, only rationalists make it from the opposite end of the spectrum.

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  5. On the other hand, it is distressing to see legitimate tradition being used to drive religio-political aspirations of power-hungry rabbis and laypersons who have movements-viewpoints they want idolized and undisputed by the "ignorant masses".

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  6. jewishskeptic7/01/2006 6:56 PM

    I was brought up in that type of an environment, and coming from a very Chassidish background, always felt guilty about my skepticism."

    Surprise! I was sure you are of a misnagdish backround.

    to what you quote of R.C.vital,I could add what he wrote about himself .How in Damascus he went to a witch who told him his future & with what he should occupy himself,through oil(shemen)!
    All those multitudes (many of them religious),who go to coffee readers,tea readers etc.,have a role model!
    No wonder,that he & kabbalah are so popular with the New Age mov.
    They love his mumbo jumbo!
    From his writings & others,he seems to have been an unsavoury character,but the kabbalists made him into a saint & one of the greatest tsadikim...


    >"It would be a great service to Judaism if a Talmid Chacham would have the courage to uncover these infestations and expunge them allowing us to return to the pure worship of our pre Kabbalah forebears."

    Here I must disagree with you.
    1) you fighting a lost cause & a lost battle. The kabbalah has been around for many centuries & has had a major impact on Jewish history & literature.
    It's impossible to expunge it.It is with us to stay,for better or for worse.

    2)There was no *pure worship of our pre kabbalah forbears*.
    This is by itself a myth.

    It goes without saying,that the Talmud is full of magic & superstition, almost as much as in the Kab.

    Furthemore,it goes back even to the Tanach! Take e.g. the witch of Ein Dor,isn't that witchcraft &talking to the dead,against the Rambam which you quoted?
    Now I know the Radak (Sami,29:24) quotes the Gaon Shemuel ben Hofni:
    ואמר אף על פי שמשמעות דברי חז"ל בגמרא כי אמת היה שהחיתה האשה את שמואל לא יקובלוהדברים במקום שיש מכחישים להם מן השכל אבל רב סעדיה ורב האי הגאוניםז"ל אמרו אמת היא.

    You can see from the above that Chazal believed it literally & also the geonim R.Saadyah &R.Hai against what the Rambam says!!!
    Besides,What the Gaon Ben Hofni says wasn't really accepted & even considered apikorsus.just witness the current Slifkin controversy!...

    Of much greater significance & chumrah is what was read in today's parshah of the *nechash hanechushtan*.
    According to the Rambam this is avodah zarah.Pure & simple.
    I am sure you are more familiar with the Mishneh T.than I am ,so I wont bother to quote him.Its in hilchot a.z. Even for healing its forbidden,even not for 'horaat sha'ah'!
    I know that the Moreh says that the korbanot was a compromise,but this was mammesh a.z.
    Yes ,King Chizkiyyah did away with the nachash,but that was many c.later.
    I realize this has been asked by others,but the kashye still remains. I wonder how the Rambam would tackle it.
    In general,the Bnei Israel worshipped in the Temple in a very similar way to the pagans in their temples in Bavel.(see Kingsii where one of the kohanim went to get architect's to build the Alter.
    A purer form of worship only came after the destrustion of the 1st Temple. Still,polytheistic influences lingered on,as can be seen from the dragons on the Menorah in the Arch of Titus.
    In conclusion,What I am trying to say is: that there was no pure pre kabbalah worship,as you claimed.

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  7. Chardal, Shavua Tov.
    >The disagreement between you and the mekubalim is one between two ideas WITHIN Torah

    I disagree. The Kabbalah of the Rishonim like Ramban and Rashba was basically a philosophical development at the time. What I find a little disingenious is the claim that it is old knowledge passed down from way back when it was new inspiration. Rambam admits that he is explaining Pessukim and Chazal to fit with rational thought. They, on the other hand, are inventing non - rational mystical ideas claiming themas "kabbalah" implying authentic transmission.

    That is not so terrible and can be lived with. What RCV tells us about Arizal is unacceptable and cannot be considered Torah. The fact that so many great people followed in their path is tragic and does not make it less a mistake. I know you will get upset about that and say I am arrogant. I am sorry. It is how i feel.Shabatai Zevi,and lehavdil R. Nachman and the late Lubavitscher Rebbe would not have happened if not for Arizal. Look it does not minimize their greatness including Arizal in other areas and they stayed within the fold except for Shabtai Zevi, because they kept Halacha, but they were misguided in their hashkafot. I am intrigued by Rav kook though and am still waiting for the book you suggested - it is backordered by Amazon. I will also try to read some of his writings. I just don't get around to it as I have so many projects!

    >and, BTW, there only issur in divining the future is if a person acts differently based on the knowledge he aquired

    I did not know divining the future through Nevuah is prohibited and why not act? It is prohibited to inquire from the dead, do seances even if they are only fake "Achizat Einayim" and even if one ignores them.

    >I would never call the Moreh, a work of greek philosophy, please don't call the Ari's Kabbalah Avodah Zara.


    I am surprised that you take it personally. I am talking about Emet and Sheker. In my opinion most Kabbalah especially the one based on the later mekubalim is erroneous and Sheker. There is alot to write about that and I will.

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  8. >someone else's mystical experience of gadlut consciousness

    Liora, I have no idea what you are talking about. I do question "experiences" based on some kind of emotional, mystical, trigger. The experience of a prophet is described in Hil. Yesodeu Hatorah 7:1 and it involves a rational contemplation of the sciences which trigger an emotional awe filled reaction. Without the first part that experience is nothing more than an pointless and false event, probably purely biochemical.

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  9. JS Welcome back-

    >1) you fighting a lost cause & a lost battle. The kabbalah has been around for many centuries & has had a major impact on Jewish history & literature.
    It's impossible to expunge it.It is with us to stay,for better or for worse.


    Lo aleicha Hamelacha ligmor.

    Re your issues about Tanach and witchcraft here is a little quote from Iggeret Techyat Hametim:
    והיו בני אדם כולם בזמן ההוא מכת הצאב"א, אומרים בקדמות העולם שהם היו מאמינים שהשם רוח הגלגל, כמו שבארנו ב"מורה הנבוכים" ומכזיבים הגיע הנבואה מאת השם לבני אדם. וכן יתחייב להם לפי אמונתם הכזבת המופתים, וייחסו אותו לכישוף ולתחבולה. הלא תראה אותם משתדלים לחלוק על מופת משה רבינו ע"ה בלהטיהם וישליכו איש מטהו. והלא תראה איך אמרו, מתמיהים, "היום הזה ראינו כי ידבר אלהים את האדם וחי". הורה שהייתה הנבואה אצלם מכת הנמנע. ואיך יסופר למי שלא התבארה אצלו הנבואה בדבר שאין ראוי עליו אלא האמנת הנביא,

    He is talking about why only Daniel at the time of Galut Bavel. introduced the idea of Techyat Hametim, not earlier. He explains that it took that long - almost 900 years from Matan Torah, for the Jewish concept of Nevuah and Miracles to sink in. (I will discuss Techyat Hametim later in a post - see my Hakirah paper on miracles)

    Re the Nechash Hanechoshet - Rambam does address it in his Pirush Hanishna - I could not find it right now but I am sure I will soon and let give you the reference.

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  10. What I find a little disingenious is the claim that it is old knowledge passed down from way back when it was new inspiration

    Very few claim that the Ari's Kabbalah goes back to Sinai. In one of the letter the Alter Rebbe writes, he actualy frames the disagreement between the Gra and Chassidus as pivoting around whether one sees torat haAri as comming from a Gilui Eliyahu or not. Both agreed it was a new mystical system.

    Also, I have never seen the Gra claim that the kabbalah originated at Sinai. I believe he felt it was authentic for other reasons.

    Shabatai Zevi

    Actually, Scholem claims that SZ himself never studies the Ari but only earlier works. But you are right that Natan based hislef heavily on the Ari (even though he grossly corrupted the teachings and the more orthodox Lurian kabbalists opposed him)

    All that is irrelevant. The fact that an idea is corrupted or has potential harm does not speak to its authenticity. In fact, the mekubalim themselves say these teaching are dangerous to the immature mind.


    I did not know divining the future through Nevuah is prohibited and why not act?

    I was talking about acting on an act of necromancy.

    I am surprised that you take it personally.

    Well, I believe that the torat haAri is one of the most beautiful cosmologies in existance and you call it AZ.

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  11. >All that is irrelevant. The fact that an idea is corrupted or has potential harm does not speak to its authenticity. In fact, the mekubalim themselves say these teaching are dangerous to the immature mind.

    The problem is that we are dealing with "Mah Lefanim" whch clearly cannot be verified without Nevuah aliba dekulei alma. Nevuah does not exist nowadays as per Yrmyahu in Eicha "Nevieha lo...." That is why Rambam stops at one point and says we cannot know beyond. Arizal did go beyond and therefore is inauthentic. Gra and Tanyah based on science of their time thought he was within the present and did not deal with "mah Lefanim". Thgey are proven wrong and this whole Torah is therefore no longer legitimate.


    >Well, I believe that the torat haAri is one of the most beautiful cosmologies in existance and you call it AZ.

    You mean cosmogony. AZ was beautiful too. Joseph Campbell hates Judaism because it destroyed the beautiful myths he so much loves.

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  12. first of all mazal tov again. i'm sure that the chatuna was beautiful and enjoyed by all.

    i'm back in yerushalayim am wonder if hakira is available here. please let me know.

    i started reading fine's book last year (was refered to it by rabbi l) and got as far as page 221 before i stopped. it is sad to realize that so much of what passes as yiddishket is avoda zara, pure and simple. if anyone were to describe contemporary individuals to us the same way that the ari or chaim vital or any of that group of mekubalim were described we would be justified in treating them sympathetically as deranged.

    al zeh haya daveh libainu.

    zev

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  13. >Joseph Campbell hates Judaism because it destroyed the beautiful myths he so much loves.

    And like you in regard to the Torah, he does not take myth literally

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  14. >Gra and Tanyah based on science of their time thought he was within the present and did not deal with "mah Lefanim". Thgey are proven wrong and this whole Torah is therefore no longer legitimate.


    You think Gra thought kabbalah is science and a physical description of the world? That's hard to believe.

    what do you mean by they were proven wrong?

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  15. Gra and Tanyah based on science of their time thought he was within the present

    ??? Giluy Eliyahu was science ???

    You have to come to terms with the fact that there is a whole stream of Torah that believes that lower gradations of nevua are still possible in the present. In fact you see this in chazal all the time with Eliyahu, a Bat Kol, Sod Hashem Liyereav, etc.

    In any case, this is all highly irrelevant since none of the parties involved considered the idea of tzimtzum or tehiru to be "before creation." You are putting up a straw man to knock it down.

    They are proven wrong and this whole Torah is therefore no longer legitimate.

    Who in the world "proved" them wrong??? Their approach is completly compatible with science, especialy since they make no particular claim about time or order of creation. In fact, R' Aryeh Kaplan Zt"l relied heavily on kabbalah to RESOLVE the science/torah conflict that the rationlists got us into.

    AZ was beautiful too.

    Give me a break. I did not mean that I accept it only because of its aestetic quality and you know it! You have to fact up to the fact that your choice at this point is to either become more tollerant towards different hashkafas within Torah or to give every Jew an inquisition before you drink their wine. It is much more likely that they believe in AZ according to your defintion of it than they don't.

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  16. >??? Giluy Eliyahu was science ???

    You have to come to terms with the fact that there is a whole stream of Torah that believes that lower gradations of nevua are still possible in the present. In fact you see this in chazal all the time with Eliyahu, a Bat Kol, Sod Hashem Liyereav, etc.

    That is my point. Giluy Elyahu is a metaphor for inspired insight in hallacha such as the pesak like Beit Hilel. Had it been real revelation it would have fallen under the rubric of tanur shel Achnai. Metaphysical issues cannot be explained through Giluy Elyahu.
    Just explain what kind of revelation is the Neshamot of future and past people mentioned in the Vital quote?

    Tzimtzum and Tehiru are explanations for how before physicality and time existed, God made place to let Physical existence come into being. It implies something physical, an Or Nivra, that existed everywhere before time and therefore eternally. So there never was Briah Yesh meayin. That is fine as I will post about it Bekarov how the Beit Midrash of Ramban, at least his Chaver R. Azriel did not believe in Yesh meayin. They accepted Ratzon though.

    The basis of Kabbalah is an understanding that the world is controlled by the stars. Vide Ramban on Asher Chalak Hashem Elokecha lechol Ha'amim. It is the basis for astrology and so on. That is based on an understanding that astrology is a science though forbidden. Gra in SA YD attacks Rambam for denying Kishuf. That shows he believed that there are occult forces around. They needed that to explain misunderstood scientific phenomena. Once these phenomena are explained scientifically their whole edifice crumbles. That is what happened and people are just blind and in awe of their greatness in other areas that they cannot accept they were wrong. Chrdal I promise I will post and explain all this at length.

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  17. Zev, thank you for your wishes and sorry I could not get in touch with you during my stay in Yerushalayim - I was quite Tarud. You can subscribe to Hakirah on line at Hakirah.org and you will receive a mailed copy.

    BS - Be careful Torah is not myth. Halacha is definitely not and the rest is maybe metaphor in some places but certainly not myth. Myth tries to explain natural phenomena, Torah teaches you how to look at them and find their Creator. That is very different. I have let GH get away with that because sometimes you need to let things run their course before intervening!

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  18. Giluy Elyahu is a metaphor for inspired insight in halacha such as the pesak like Beit Hilel. Had it been real revelation it would have fallen under the rubric of tanur shel Achnai.

    Wrong. The tosephot explain that a bas kol CAN be used as an halachic force for times when the weight of the different halchic components is not clear (beis shamai is more charif while beit hillel is more numerous, which one wins? The bas kol decides)

    Metaphysical issues cannot be explained through Giluy Elyahu.

    While there is a shita that this is true for halacha, this is just not true for hashkafa (metaphysical issues). Everyone from Rav Yosef Karo to the Ramchal to the Gra had sub-nevua mystical experiences which they based their esoteric systems on (the Gra is somewhat an exception to this rule in that he ignored the angelic revelation and limited himself to a systematic analysis of the early kabbalistic texts - he does NOT however doubt the authenticity of the mystical revelations of others nor does he consider them to be some sort of code for science as you do.

    Tzimtzum and Tehiru are explanations for how before physicality and time existed

    Actually, they are a description of the coming into existence of time and matter from a theological perspective. They specifically avoid the issue of what "existed before" this process started.

    And I have no idea why you are including the Spanish mekubalim in this discussion. Tzimtzum is an primarily Lurianic concept and to whatever extent the Spanish mekubalim accepted the existence of a primordial matter, it does not much affect Lurianic doctrines.

    The basis of Kabbalah is an understanding that the world is controlled by the stars

    Not at all, the basis of Kabbalah (to the extant that you can make such a global claim about Jewish mystical doctrine) is that there is a permeating Devine Will that affects all of existence without intermediary. That all of existence is Subject to that Will EXCEPT for those creations (mankind) which are miraculously given autonomous will which they are then entrusted to align with the Devine Will.

    The finer points of these doctrines are not for a blog thread but it is a little disturbing that you so flippantly brush off the thought of so many of our thinker without giving them proper treatment. Do you really think that the Gra felt that the Rambam erred on kishuf because he needed kishuf to explain physical phenomena which the science of his time could not explain?!?!? That is almost verifiably false! The Gra felt there were real spiritual forces in the world (a-la the Kuzari) and that at certain times in history, man has the capability to harness some of these forces.

    He also felt that philosophy (and particularly Greek philosophy) was pretty much a waste of time AND that it is intrinsically incapable of creating a model which will explain whole areas of life. His famous phrase is: "Kabbalah begins where philosophy ends"

    As I said before, your attempts to find a rationalist "hechsher" for Jewish thinkers who held of Kabbalah is as unfair as me trying to find a mystical "hechsher" for the rationalist thinkers.

    IMHO, The constant tension between these two great schools is necessary in every individual in order to live a fully committed religious life and I would never completely give up one for the sake of the other.

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  19. >and to whatever extent the Spanish mekubalim accepted the existence of a primordial matter, it does not much affect Lurianic doctrines

    Tzimtzum accepts that there was something that took up space that needed shrinking. It is an extension of the Spanish mekubalim's ideas.

    >The Gra felt there were real spiritual forces in the world (a-la the Kuzari) and that at certain times in history, man has the capability to harness some of these forces.

    You are making my point. There is rationally no "spiritual" powers whether a la Kuzari or Gra. These are imaginary constructs that have no real basis in reality.

    >that there is a permeating Devine Will that affects all of existence without intermediary

    That is what it claims, it is a very maimonidean statement , but in reality does not believe it. There are Sefirot and other such things which are intermediaries although they deny them all the time by saying Mashal etc...

    I will post a Teshuvat Rivash that I am sure you know that argues that.

    I do not buy into any Kabbalah at all. I am content with the Derech Rambam has set out for us and believe that Anavah that is required for Yediat Hashem is exactly that - to know the limits of human knowledge. Anyone that steps over it is defective in that Middah and falls prey to the koach Hamedameh. I wish I was younger I would make it my life work to expunge all the kabbalistic stuff that infiltrated our praxis. Accomplishing that would to me be real Avodat Hashem and a service to klal Ysrael.

    I know I am going up against enormous resistance because there is a lot of supposed "mesorah" that is against it and like you say, great thinkers but until shown differently I will stay with this position.

    Chardal, I will drink your wine unless you profess that HKBH is physical.;-) so when we meet we will drink a le'chayim to each other!

    >As I said before, your attempts to find a rationalist "hechsher" for Jewish thinkers who held of Kabbalah is as unfair as me trying to find a mystical "hechsher" for the rationalist thinkers.

    Rationalists don't need hechsherim and that is my point. Kabbalah needs a hechsher and so far I don't see it. But as you say who says I am right?

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