Monday, July 03, 2006

Is Kabbalah just a variation on the Christian belief in the Trinity?

This will be my last post in this series about Kabbalah as I want to revert to positive talk and present Rambam’s rational approach to creation. I expect that process to take a while.

Rabbi Yitzchak bar Sheshet (Ribash) (1326-1408) (see for details about him) was a pupil of Rabbeinu Nissim ben Reuven (RaN) and was considered the greatest Halachik authority of his days. He ended his long career as the Chief Rabbi of Algiers and environments. For a comprehensive discussion of his and his younger colleague Rabbi Shimon Ben Zemach Duran (Rashbatz) activities see Sinai Volume 134 page 92 onward. Being a pupil of RaN, who was a philosopher and from the school of the great Spanish Mekubal, Ramban, and also being a colleague of R. Hasdai Crescas author of Ohr Hashem, a philosophical work that tries to argue against Rambam thought and supports the more mystical approaches, Ribash was well aware and knew of the Kabbalah and its ways quite well. A reader of my blog brought Teshuvah 157 in the Shut Haribash to my attention. I had seen it a long time ago, in fact we went over it during one of our Shabbat learning groups but it slipped my mind as I was writing the earlier two Blogs. I will translate some pertinent segments.

“… I also told you that my teacher Rabbi Peretz Hacohen never spoke nor appreciated those Sefirot. I also heard from him that R. Shimshon of Chinon, who was the greatest Rabbi of his generation, (I remember him though I never saw him with my own eyes), used to say: “I pray according to the mind of this child.” (In other words – my prayer is uncomplicated). He meant to contradict the Mekubalim who at one time pray to one Sefira and at another to another, depending on the subject of the prayer… All this is very strange to someone who is not a Mekubal; it makes one think that this is a belief in “Shenyot” (a term that refers to God as being composed of more than one essence). I once heard a philosophically minded person denigrating the Mekubalim saying: The idolaters (Christians) believe in the Trinity (three essences) and the Mekubalim in Ten essences.”

He then goes on to tell about a friend of his, a great Talmudist, philosopher and Mekubal who explained that the prayer is to God. However just like when one petitions the king, depending on the issue that one needs help for, one avails oneself of different intermediaries so too at prayer. Different Sefirot represent different types of intermediaries as needed for the specific petition. Ribash grants that explanation a very curt “Tov Me’od” and proceeds to say:

But who needs all this? Isn’t it better to pray simply to God with the proper intentions and He will know how to satisfy the petition… that is what R. Shimshon from Chinon meant in my earlier quote. I also told you what my Rebbi Rabeinu Nissim told me that Ramban went out too much on a limb believing in that Kabbalah. That is why I do not stake a position myself in that Chochma (wisdom) being I did not receive it from a learned Mekubal.”

He then proceeds to list a number of books he has read in Kabbalah and philosophy with short opinions about each one. He then discusses a book written by a Mekubal (I am not sure if he refers to R. Yitzchak de Latif or someone else) of which he is quite critical commenting:

This is not at all the opinion of the Mekubalim and I think that he invented this on his own and from his own intellect without receiving it from anyone, as he mentions in the fifth chapter of his book. Who can bother to figure out the new ideas that he made up and that he is so secretive about that he conceals them. I therefore decided let them be his and no one else’s. (He is annoyed that the author has the audacity to present individually developed ideas in an esoteric and difficult to decipher language. He sees it as arrogance.)… I therefore say that one should not rely on anything unless taught by a reliable Mekubal, and even then who knows?”

Ribash criticizes the whole idea of praying with Sefirot in mind. He also questions the validity of inspired metaphysical ideas. He considers Kabbalah questionably authentic, only if transmitted by a reliable Mekubal ostensibly it then having a chance of being an ancient and authentic Mesora. Even in that case only does Ribash accept Kabbalah as authentic with great reservation. We are talking about a person who shows an extensive knowledge of the Kabbalah of his day. I wonder what he would have thought of the Arizal’s Kabbalah which was developed completely from personal inspiration, as described by his pupils R. Chaim Vital et al. as quoted in my earlier post.

I think this Teshuvah talks for itself and I rest my case.

If you email me I will be glad to send you the original Teshuvah in a Pdf. (I do not know how to place it on the post).


  1. In Orot HaKodesh Rav Kook in several places defends Kabbalah against all atacks against its terminology. In one passage he writes (vol II, pg 403-404):

    "worldly allegories do not harm the pure unity of the Godhead ... the divine, in its attribute of unity, is above the common image of unity, and it truly transcends unity to the same extent that it trancends multiplicity."

    The main point he is trying to make is that it is disinginuous to accuse the mekubalim of multiplicity, c"v while at the same time using terms of description towards God such as Rachum, Chanun, Gibor, etc. The moment one starts to use language at any level in order to explain divinity at any level, the accusation of multiplicity can be leveled, but we allow for such language since it allows us greater understanding of that which is essentially incomprehensable.

    In comparing the methodology of kabbalah to other disciplines, Rav Kook writes (Orot HaKodesh, vol II, pg 348):

    "Just as psychology speaks of the nature of the soul from the point of view of inward observation of its depths in song and the poetic internal insight, and science speaks of the phenomena of revealed life, so divine emanation, as the soul of being, speaks of the poetic contemplation of divine inspiration, of the inner light; and in the case of divine science, in the phenomena of orders, actions and visions in the vessels. The essential spirit rises beyond the revealed laws of psychology and divine emanation is above creation."

    Rav Kook is saying that the inner divine life of man must find language which is above the laws of other disciplines. I wan't to say more, but I fear that it is improper to discuss these matters in a forum where they can cause more damage than good.

  2. David Guttmann,
    I have read some of your articles regarding Kaballa, and I must say you speak with a tremendous amount of Chutzpa and arrogance.
    You have made your self Judge, Witness and Prosecutor over some of the most holy individuals in Jewish history.
    Your ignorance is astounding ! You say in one of your posts that your background in Kaballa is sufficient to judge because you have read Gershom Shalom,Moshe Idel, and Tishbi, and attended one class on Lekuti Torah with R. Steinsaltz !
    You must be joking. With the exception of R. Steinsaltz, the other three "Kaballa Experts" are essentially non religious historians who have no ability to convey the true wisdom of the Kaballa and its holy intent. And as for your One class on Lekuti Torah with R. Steinsaltz, I will leave the arrogance of that statement to stand for itself. As Chazal say," if one tells you they have searched and have not found, do not believe them".
    I recommend that anyone reading this letter who wishes to see authentic answers to the questions raised in David Guttmanns blog of July 3rd may wish to start with "Mamar ha Vicuach" by the Ramcha"l (an expert by the way in the thought of the Rambam) which can be found in the sefer:"Sharey Ramchal" .
    David Guttmann, you are entitled to your opinion, as ill informed and ignorant as it may be. But the fact that you go to such lengths to spread your opinions about the Majority of the great Rabbis of the past 900 years, and to go so far as to suggest as you did in your previous post, that they should be likened to the Bal worshipers on har Carmel, makes you David Guttmann a Rasha,(in my opinion) who is actively slandering the pillars upon which the faith of Israel stands.

  3. david, do not be intimidated. that is the modus operendi.

  4. Zev thank you for the support. I do step on toes and I do not begrudge the attacks. It just confirms how deeply embedded these ideas are in the consciousness of religious Jews.

    Anonymous, I agree that I am arrogant in your eyes, but I have on whom to rely. I enjoyed your attempt at preparing my CV from the little you culled from my posts and comments. I wonder how you will explain the quote in my earlier post from RCV re the process Arizal used for his insights?

    As you see I refrain from dealing with the issues themselves.Tzimtzum as you know is a sensitive issue debated within the Kabbalist community for a long time without real resolution. Some understanding of it created a shabbetai Zevi, a lubavitcher Rebbe and some other such tragedies. i have read much beyond the authors you mention, both in Sifrei Chassidus and general Kabbalh, and everytime I tried to defend what I read objectively, I found it dismally indefensible. The reason I post about this is because many people feel the way I do without being vocal. they feel guilty and either close off their minds from certain thoughts or in despair doubt ikrei Emunah. They equate Ikrei Emunah with Kabbalah. I am trying to show that it is a misconception. It is an invented Chochma that is not binding and is not mainstream machshavah although the PR has tried to make it so.

    By the way I never wrote articles against Kabbalah. I have posted here against it for the reasons i explained. My articles are about my learning Machshevet Harambam which is my main interest in the last few years.

  5. David Guttmann,
    It is no wonder that the works of Kaballa that you have "read" (not learned) have left you cold.
    Allow me to quote from the introduction to the L'Shem's Hakdamot V'Sharim:
    "Sod Hashem l'yireav..." (the secret of Hashem is to those who fear Him), from here we learn that Hakadosh Baruch hu does not reveal His secrets except to one who fears Him. Even if a Jew has learned Mikra, Mishna, Talmud and Aggada and Toseftot (and I may add, Rambam) if he has no fear,
    Any one who has fear of heaven will run after these secrets, as they are the essence of wisdom (of the Torah)."
    It is clear to me David Guttmann, that you are lacking in Yirat Shemayim and show no Kavod for the great Torah sages .
    Therefore you have not merited to see the truth in our most holy tradition.
    If I may reveal my personal feelings for a moment; I am very much against the public teaching of Kaballa.
    Unlike you, in my learning of this subject I have found that when properly understood it reveals the whole essence of what it means to be a Jew, and what the Jewish people are doing in the world, why G-d gave us the Torah and where we are heading as a nation and how we can come to fulfill the pasuk "Da Elokey avicha v'avdehu".
    Therefore, it greatly upsets me to see how recently this knowledge has been plundered by ignoramuses.
    To me, you David Guttman are no different than Madonna, because both of you completely misunderstand the point of what the Kaballa is teaching and insist on propagating that misunderstanding in the world.
    How can you say that Kaballa is not "main stream" Jewish machshava?? That is a ridiculous statement that I don't need to defend as it is clearly false. In fact it is the Rambam, who's machshava is not mainstream and although the Tora world including Kabbalists agree with many of his statements and Ikrey imunah as well as his halachik pasak, in general no one of any significance spends too much time with his philosophical works which are very dated and very often irrelevant.
    RCV's description of the Ari z"l's occult like powers was meant to illustrate the type of unique and spiritually developed individual that he was. His ability to talk to spirits is not where he got his Kaballa from as you want to suggest. The Kaballa of the Ari is a direct continuation and development of the Zohar and although he added a new depth to it this was not due to his consultation with spirits.
    Secondly it is regarding Halacha that Chazall tell us "lo b'shamayim he". In regard to mystical insight there is no such admonition and on the contrary we see clearly that one of the greatest Chalachik poskim, the author of the Shulchan Aruch himself had a "magid" that he spoke to. The Ramchal had a magid, the Bal shemtov had a magid. This is Main Stream Judaism. It is YOU David Guttman that is beyond the pale.

  6. If you look clearly, you will see that Chazal and the Rishonim argued on each other very strongly and many times used strong terms when deriding another Rabbi's opinion on a matter. We are commanded to find the truth and if someone is espousing ideas which are harmful and anti-Torah, we must vehemently oppose these ideas especially if they are influencing the majority of Jews in the world, which it has and still continues to do so. David Guttman is doing the right thing and he should be thanked among others online and in the world in general for sincerely trying to correct these false beliefs that have infiltrated Judaism and these irrational hashkafos in general which have caused people to believe in fantasy.

  7. Anonymous,

    Don't uphold the Kabbalah by deligitimising or minimizing the contribution of the Rambam and the other rationalists.

    There is a great need in the world for rationalist Jewish hashkafa and this need can probably only be fulfilled by the mideval Jewish philosophers.

    In all my arguments with David, I never try to pull him away from his hashkafos, he is resting on broad sholdiers which should be respected regardless of the number of people who believe that way today. I only try to cause him to use the proper respect when discussing kabbalah.

  8. >His ability to talk to spirits is not where he got his Kaballa from as you want to suggest.

    Explain this:

    He could inquire of them (the spirits) whatever he wished concerning knowledge of the future and secret mysteries of Torah

    especially the last 4 words in the sentence.

  9. Thank you Chardal - I do try to stay respectful though my real opinions seep through.

    It is important for people to know, unlike the anonymopus that attacks me, that Kabbalah is not Me'akev. If one does not believe in it, never mind all the great who did, does not make him a Rasha, a Kofer, and lacking Yra'at Shamayim. In fact it makes him a better Jew because he accepts only what is proven as the Rashba says in his famous teshuvah on Ma'amad Har Sinai.

  10. Ok, this will be my last post.
    First in my opinion the understanding of "could inquire of spirits...concerning the secret mysteries of the Torah" is not to say that the main body of the Ari's Kaballa is from these "spirits" as you suggested. The main body of the Ari's Kaballa is clearly from the Zohar and he follows very closely in the tradition of his older mentor the Ramak. He may have consulted with spirits (as did the others that I mentioned in my previous letter) but if you look into the halacha you will see that this was not in a way that violated the issur of consulting the dead.
    And as I said "lo b'shamayim" is in regards to halacha and not mystical knowledge. That is how a pre-eminent hahachik authority like Yosef Kairo could also consult with spirits.
    Secondly, in regards to Chardal's comment about the need for rationalist hashkafa, in fact I agree and my comments were not meant to pull D.G. away from his love of the Rambam. But he can not claim that the Rambam is more "main stream" than the hundreds of gedoley Torah that believed the Kaballa to be an authentic Jewish tradition.

  11. and one more clarification, I said you are a rasha because of the disrespectful way you express your self towards the great Rabbis of Jewish history, and not because you don't believe in the Kaballa.
    I hope you will learn to express yourself differently in the future.

  12. >I said you are a rasha because of the disrespectful way you express your self towards the great Rabbis of Jewish history

    If the mere fact that I think they were wrong makes me disrespectful so be it. Making a mistake does not reduce my respect for their accomplishments. I do not buy into the brainless adulation common in our community.

  13. If one does not believe in it, never mind all the great who did, does not make him a Rasha, a Kofer, and lacking Yra'at Shamayim

    Now if you could only come to terms with the fact that believing in kabbala does not make someone "a Rasha, a Kofer, and lacking Yra'at Shamayim". :)

    The main body of the Ari's Kaballa is clearly from the Zohar and he follows very closely in the tradition of his older mentor the Ramak

    On this you are very wrong. The Ari was a clear break from the teaching of the Remak to the extent that some of the gurei haAri forbade people to mix the shitot together.

    If the mere fact that I think they were wrong makes me disrespectful so be it.

    I think most people get affected when terms like AZ come into play. It suggests to them that some of the greatest gedolim were either ovdei AZ or tinokot sheNishbu. Both are very difficult ideas to accept. If you just stick to contrasting the ideas of the philosophers with those of the mekubalim, showing where you think they differ and why you think the philosophers are correct, then I think you will get less vehement comments.

    (BTW, why didn't you comment on my first comment?)

  14. >Now if you could only come to terms with the fact that believing in kabbala does not make someone "a Rasha, a Kofer, and lacking Yra'at Shamayim". :)

    LOL - CV I only consider them misguided.

    regarding the rest you are correct about Remak and Arizal.

    Re AZ - It may be a strong term. I am trying to make a point and it is very important. The fact that so many great people believed in Kabbalah is daunting to anyone that cannot accept it. It makes one feel as a Kofer if you cannot accept it. It is like the thinker depicted in Rambam's intro to the Moreh. If you read the comments on the blogs you will see that many of the skeptics their problems begun when confronted by this. It is why I feel it is important to point out that they, the Greats, may have been wrong and those who do not believe it are doing the right thing. The rest of Torah is not implicated in fact it is Kabbalah that needs to prove itself and not the other way round.

  15. Ok, one last, last note of clarification.
    I agree that the Kaballa of the Ari was a break in many ways from the Ramak.
    What I meant was that, compared for example to schools of Kaballa like Abulafia, the Kaballa of the Ari follows the format of the Ramak in its dedication to the teachings of the Zohar.

  16. "If you read the comments on the blogs you will see that many of the skeptics their problems begun when confronted by this."

    I see very little of this (make that none). Where are these folks on blogs? They talk about kabala, but who's confusing it with ikarei emunah? NOT the MO skeptics! CAn you point to a single person who said that his doubts began with doubting kabala?

  17. >CAn you point to a single person who said that his doubts began with doubting kabala?

    I will when I see it. I am not good at remebering the individual comments but i daveloped that impression. I can also tell you that it was a major problem for me and it was only when it was pointed out to me that Kabbalah is questionable and I started reading Rambam that the problems for me disappeared. Probably because I lost my Yra'at Shamayim!