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 Jewish "Kabbalah" and Christian "Cabalah"

Professor Bryan Griffith Dobbs, Richard Brzustowicz, Yakov Leib haKohain, and Professor Pinchas Giller,

posted on the Donmeh mail list
June 1999
note - these posts have here been integrated into one page

Professor Bryan Griffith Dobbs writes

The best current edition/translation of the SEFER YETZIRAH, edited by Aryeh Kaplan z"l uses the Gra emendation of the Ari text. The English translation made by William Wynn Westcott  in 1887 and reprinted in 1893, the version used by the Order of the Golden Dawn, its successors, Aleister Crowley and his successors, was based on the 1642 Latin translation by Johann Stefan Rittangel.  The Hebrew text included [though apparently not used by Westcott] is based on a corrupt manuscript and thus most of the astrological and alphabetic associations have little in common with the centuries of authentic kabbalistic commentary which preceded the Rittangel translation [which does reprint the Rabad commentary].  Indeed, no one in the so-called Western Mystery Tradition to this date [1999] has made use of the numerous and authoritative kabbalistic commentaries in Hebrew which have been in print for centuries.  Even the major non-kabbalistic philosophical commentary by Sa'adia Gaon, now one thousand years old, has been translated from Arabic into French [and thence to English].

Richard Brzustowicz comments

I'd expect simple "corruption" of a manuscript to lead to something like increased incoherence of any system embedded in the text -- as for example in mathematical or cryptographic texts, where copying tends to produce various errors, rather than the substitution of one system for another.

Have there been any studies of the provenance of the "corruption"?    Does it appear de novo, or does it have its own history?

Professor Bryan Griffith Dobbs writes

One of Kaplan's great services was to include in his edition tables of correspondences between the several manuscript families and subsequent editions.

Cabalists [followers of the Christian Cabala, largely a Renaissance phenomenon] and Qabbalists have largely ignored the traditions of the kabbalah.  Much in the qabbalistic tradition  gives the air of having been made up on the fly, primarily with the goal of mystification.  This [willful] neglect of authentic kabbalistic sources and commentaries is indicative of a general anti-Judaism and, more specifically, antisemitism found in qabbalistic circles.  Typical of this attitude is the totally indefensible remarks made by Aleister Crowley, and reprinted by both Israel Regardie and David Godwin, in the preface to the SEPHER SEPHIROT.

Richard Brzustowicz comments

I'm not too familiar with the latter remarks, though I seem to remember seeing some discussion of the question to whether or not to re-print them.  I gather that some editions suppressed them (because they were felt to be objectionable and odious), and more recent editions have not (out of a determination not to misprepresent the text).  As I remember (and my memory is vague, since it has been some time since I have looked at any of this material:  I was under the impression for example that Regardie's edition was one that had suppressed them) the remarks  in question were an affirmation of the blood libel.  Is this commonly affirmed in writings on Kabbalah by non-Jewish esotericists?

Professor Bryan Griffith Dobbs writes

For the Victorian and Edwardian imperialist esotericist, not only was God an Englishman, but any Englishman knew better than an Indian [I'm being polite] how to interpret the sacred texts of Hinduism and Buddhism, better than any Moslem how to interpret the sacred texts of Islam and better than an Jew how to interpret either the Hebrew Scriptures [pejoratively called the 'Old' Testament] or the entire corpus of Jewish religious writing, including in particular the kabbalah.  Mme. Blavatsky and the Theosophists were not immune from this disease.  It is appalling to see that it continues to flourish, particularly in groups having to do with channeled knowledge from the Descended Masters of the White Brotherhood.

Yakov Leib haKohain comments:

I share completely the scholarly opinions expressed herein by my friend and chaver, Prof. Dobbs. I have seen several "kabbalah" lists started on the internet by non-Jews who have a predetermined, highly Christianized, conception of what should constitute "Jewish" Kabbalah (even though they profess to know nothing about it) and who, when confronted with that Kabbalah's idiosyncratic Jewishness, recoil in disgust because it doesn't match their non-Jewish preconceptions -- because it's "too Jewish" and doesn't fit the non-Jewish mold into which they're attempting to cram it.

Like Prof. Dobbs, I've seen the same spiritual hatchet-job done by well-meaning "Gentiles" (and I mean that NOT in its perjorative, but only in its descriptive sense) on Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Native Americanism, etc. The attitude in these cases seems to be, "We understand your great religious traditions -- without needing to study them, incidently -- better than you do, and it is you who now need to learn them from us, rather than us needing to learn them from you."

Oddly enough, perhaps the one outstanding exception to this, at least as far as Judaism is concerned, is the Catholic Church. In its "Guidelines on Religious Relations with the Jews" enacted by Vatican Council II on 1 December 1974, she states, in part:

"Christians must therefore strive to aquire a better knowledge of the basic components of the religious tradition of Judaism; they must strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in light of their own religious experience." (Documents of Vatican II, Austin P. Flannery, Ed., page 744.)

Professor Bryan Griffith Dobbs writes

True spirituality has no place for racism.  Respect for the authentic spiritual tradition, as practiced and preserved by any given group, is the sine qua non for the study and practice of any form of spirituality.

Richard Brzustowicz comments

Would that it were so -- or rather, perhaps, that true spirituality could protect those who were drawn to it from all forms of bigotry.  Unfortunately, it seems (at least from the ordinary, biographical and historical, point of view) that people can angage in spiritual pursuits without losing the bigotries inherited from their traditions.  It would indeed be an excellent thing if the traditions of polemical misrepresentation and hostility could give way to a tradition of mutual resepect and understanding.

Yakov Leib haKohain writes

To my knowledge the Donmeh of the Internet is the only forum for Jewish Kabbalah in which non-Jewish practitioners of the "left-hand path" of Kabblah are not merely "tolerated," but invited, respected and valued.

Professor Pinchas Giller replies

It was not always so. See this marvelous article, on the collections between the famous Shabbatean Falk, the "Ba'al Shem of London" and Yeats, among others...

Richard Brzustowicz comments

This is one of the interesting things about the appearance of Kabbalah in the gentile world -- it seems to have been not simply an appropriation, but a transmission (or the result of several transmissions).

However, Rabbi Falk somewhat pre-dated Yeats.  His activities were claimed, by certain of Yeats' teachers, to have contributed to their own teachings -- but the Rabbi was already a historical figure when these claims were first made (in a seemingly pseudonymous Notes & Queries item).
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page uploaded 14 June 1999