Monday, July 6, 2009

Chavez: The Story of a Bully Boy


Hugo Chavez has made a career of being rejected by authorities who then underestimated his ability to take sweet revenge. Chavez was rejected by his family, the military, the political elites of Venezuela and finally U.S. President George W. Bush, but survived to punish every one of them. Here is the sad story of the making of a bully boy.

Chavez experienced the bitterness of rejection early in life. Born in a dirt-poor village to a large family, his childish wild behavior was handled by locking him in a dark closet for days on end. His parents gave him to his grandmother to bring up -- he calls her Mama to this day. As a teenager he would cross the street to avoid even eye contact with his real mother.

While both his parents were teachers, at school Hugo was a dismal failure. He failed science in high school; he failed the test for university entrance; he faked his way into the military academy as a baseball player; and he finished last in his military class, blaming it on his teachers.

But Chavez was far from stupid. He was street smart, an endless talker and a show-off who harbored unbridled ambitions for power and fame. Seeing enemies everywhere, he trusted no one while ostensibly loving everyone.

In the mind of Chavez, everything bad about him was caused by someone else. After his presidency, when his psychiatrist published that Chavez was a narcissist with paranoid anti-social tendencies, he made writing about his mental life a federal crime. For Chavez, he is the only one who's allowed to be a rebel.

As a teenager he began planning a military coup and for twenty years he lived a double life of daily deception and betrayal, pretending to be a loyal soldier during the day and conspiring with communists, rebels and terrorists to take power by force at night. But as he got power, he turned against virtually everyone who helped him get there, including his longtime mistress.

In 1992, he launched a coup attempt where all his co-conspirators succeeded militarily, while Chavez failed absurdly at his task in Caracas when his cell phone battery went dead. When he surrendered, he made himself famous by going on TV, selfishly abandoning his co-conspirators who had militarily succeeded.

In jail for his coup, he divorced his wife and successfully secured aid from Fidel Castro and Colombia's narco-terrorist guerillas. Upon release from jail, he lived in the home of his aging communist political mentor, took his second wife for the 1998 presidential campaign, but soon after his election, abandoned both, calling them traitors.

Unprepared to manage a small shop no less one of the richest petro-states in the world, Chavez ignored governance in favor of the everyday pursuit of absolute power, which has continued for ten years now. He rewrote the Constitution, centralized legislative and judicial powers in his hands, put ignorant loyalists in charge of the national oil company, demolished the private sector and independent institutions, created a personal army outfitted with $4 billion of Russian arms, and silenced dissent with threats, prosecution, confiscation or payoffs.

A brain-dead opposition in Venezuela always assumed that Chavez would disappear in days or weeks because he was not one of them: white, educated, suave and moneyed. Ten years later, some in the opposition still believe Chavez can't last a day more, even as they take his money and orders just like the occupied Europeans did under Hitler's rule in World War II.

A megalomaniacal believer in his own charms, which are considerable if crude, Chavez has become the first all-TV-all-the-time ruler in the world, spending forty hours per week (imagine it: three times as much as Wolf Blitzer) for a decade exhorting Venezuelans to do as he says. And what Chavez was saying as he pocketed a trillion dollars from oil sales since 1999 is: the ultimate enemy is the “evil empire” of the United States and its “devil” George W. Bush.

While Chavez's opportunistic anti-Americanism is an expression of his childish rage against authority, the U.S. was particularly vulnerable to his attack because its relationship with Latin America is an historic atrocity. Starting with the Monroe Doctrine, the region has been treated as America's "back yard" -- a place to play or put junk.

That back yard was where the US launched military invasions and assassinations, cozying up to dictators and corporations that exploited the region's resources and people. When the United Fruit Company, which created the "banana republic" brand for the region, said jump, the US government said, how high?

The brief Camelot moments calling for an Alliance of the Americas by President John Kennedy were followed by the "Washington Consensus" -- rules for austerity and privatization that had to be followed or no money from the IMF, World Bank or USAID was paid. These rules, which were promoted mostly by Reagan zealots ideologically committed to minimalist government, backfired in Latin America, where the 200 million people living on $2 a day need an active government to survive.

Busy with Russia, China, and the Middle East, the US has long ignored its back yard under the assumption that it was simply not important. This is received in Latin American capitals as the height of humiliation and subordination and is resented everywhere.

Into this vacuum plopped Hugo Chavez, who easily turned half of Latin America against the US and invited or permitted Russia, Belarus, China, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda and the FARC narco-terrorists to put their weapons, drug trade, money-laundering and terrorist training camps in Venezuela and in Chavez's dependencies -- Cuba, Bolivia, Dominica, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Argentina.

Meanwhile, recognizing the limited attention span of Americans in the age of globalization, Chavez used his money to make friends with politicians like Jimmy Carter and Jack Kemp, and entertainment figures such as Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Sean Penn, Naomi Campbell and Oliver Stone, who would tout him as a liberal democrat fighting against war, poverty and corruption, when in fact Chavez was precisely the opposite.

With Bush gone, Chavez loses his major prop to maintain his charade, but he should never be underestimated. Soon enough, Barack Obama may find that he is a symbol of white racism, war, slavery, genocide, global warming and corporate greed. For someone as skilled at deception as Chavez, anything is possible.

Christians Demonizing Muslims? An Old Story



The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 spawned a spate of conservative Christian reflections on the essential characteristics of Islam. Figures from Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson to Colorado Springs pastor Ted Haggard pointed to the inherently violent nature of Islam. Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell said on 60 Minutes that “Muhammad was a terrorist,” a glib comment that set off riots among Asian Muslims, and earned him a fatwa from an Iranian cleric calling for Falwell’s assassination. As recently as 2006, even Pope Benedict XVI generated a major controversy by making disparaging comments about Islam’s violent history. One might think that these Christians’ views simply represent angry reactions to the horrific violence of 9/11 and ongoing jihadist terror. But a closer look reveals that American Christians have deep-rooted views of Islam as a violent, demonic religion.

Pastor Aaron Burr, Sr. (the president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton, and the father of the politician Aaron Burr who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel), expressed widespread Anglo-American Protestant sentiment in a 1756 sermon in which he discussed “the false prophet and grand impostor Mahomet.” According to the Burr, the early medieval period represented a dark night for the Christian church for two primary reasons: the rise of the Catholic papacy, and the spread of Islam. Muhammad brought Arabia under his control by violence, as he taught his followers that Islam should be “propagated by the sword, and that it is meritorious to die for it.” Misery, woe, and ignorance followed in Muhammad’s wake, and compounded the sufferings of God’s true church in the world.

Burr, like most prominent Anglo-American theologians of that time, believed that the advent of Islam had been predicted in the Bible, particularly in the book of Revelation. Most conservative American Christians now think that the prophecies of Revelation point to future events, but early Americans saw many of the prophecies as already fulfilled in history. Burr shared the common opinion that Revelation 9:2-3, which speaks of locusts coming out of a smoky abyss, was fulfilled with the coming of Muhammad. Like most colonial observers, Burr saw Muhammad as the worst kind of religious “impostor,” who pretended to have received revelations from God in order to gain power.

Since the colonial era, conservative American Christians have maintained a conflicted attitude toward Muslims. They have portrayed Islam as having malevolent origins, but they have also kept faith that Muslims would eventually convert to Christianity. Despite the overwhelming difficulties of Muslim evangelization, anecdotal accounts of Muslims becoming Christians were steady-sellers in colonial and antebellum America. Probably the most famous Muslim conversion narrative in the nineteenth century was the account of Abdallah and Sabat, told in a sermon by British pastor Claudius Buchanan. This compelling, tragic tale of the Arabian friends’ journey to faith in Christ was printed in various forms throughout Britain and America from the early nineteenth to the early twentieth century.

Conservative Christians have hardly lost their taste for Muslim conversion stories, as demonstrated by books like Bilquis Sheikh’s I Dared to Call Him Father (1978). In this autobiography, Sheikh, a Pakistani noblewoman, recounted her conversion to Christianity following a series of dreams and visions about Jesus. The book defined the ideal Muslim conversion for a generation of Christians. It has been translated into many different languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Finnish, and Amharic (a Semitic language spoken in Ethiopia), and it remains in print today.

Despite their hopes for Muslim conversions, American Christians have also anticipated that Islam would meet its demise in the end times, when Jesus would return to earth and establish his kingdom. In early America, many Protestants believed that Islam and Roman Catholicism would be destroyed simultaneously. Some even saw the two as the eastern and western Antichrists. The expectation of Roman Catholicism and Islam’s downfall, and the imminent return of Christ, led to bold date-setting in the early nineteenth century, capped by the forecasts of William Miller and his followers, who expected the end to come in 1843.

Jesus’s failure to appear at the appointed hour helped to transform standard Anglo-American interpretations of Bible prophecy, and by the early twentieth century “dispensational” theology had become dominant in conservative circles. Dispensationalists began to anticipate the re-establishment of the state of Israel, where the final battle between good and evil would transpire. The founding of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent struggle between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab states has become the frame for many conservative Christians’ interpretation of prophetic scenarios.

There remains a common expectation among American Christians of Islam’s coming downfall. Many now interpret the mysterious description of the attack by “Gog and Magog” against Israel in Ezekiel 38 and 39 as forecasting a time when Arab Muslims would unite with Russians to destroy Israel. Their attack would be miraculously foiled in a hail of fire and brimstone, and this event would set the stage for the rise of an atheistic Antichrist, who would launch a genocidal campaign against the Jews. This would lead to the final battle of Armageddon and the return of Christ to earth.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, inaugurated a sharply heightened interest in Islam among American Christians, and in time we may also see that it generated lasting departures in prophetic interpretation, as some conservatives have begun to put Islam squarely at the center of end-times theology. Some have even begun to argue that the messianic Mahdi expected in some Muslims’ beliefs actually represents the Antichrist.

Despite some post-9/11 novelties, the history of conservative American Christian thought regarding Islam is largely a story of continuity, not change. Although they have often seen Islam as an inherently violent, malevolent religion, traditional Christians have also maintained persistent hopes of mass Muslim conversions to Christianity. Those who did not convert would ultimately fall before a returning Christ in the last days. Although the details may have changed over time, their convictions about the end of days have helped assure many American Christians that their God, the father of Jesus, would triumph in the end.

After a Century of Overthrows, What’s Washington’s Role?


It is heartening to see the international community condemn the leaders of the coup against President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras. The United Nations welcomed him as an exiled hero and the Organization of American States has threatened to expel Honduras if the plotters do not reinstate Zelaya within days. President Obama and the State Department have also steadfastly defended the democratically-elected Zelaya. In such a context and with no evidence, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s intimations that the CIA was involved sound hollow.

But few in the media are seeing the historic shifts that have—and have not—occurred in this instance. While the surface role of the US government is appropriate, the United States is guilty of the deeper crime of having championed, over the last century, the absolute rule of property and the domination of rich over poor in Central America that led to the income inequality at the root of Zelaya’s ouster.

Honduras’s trial brings to mind another Zelaya, overthrown one hundred years ago in adjacent Nicaragua in one of the first coups ever orchestrated by the United States anywhere in the world. That event is instructive for what it tells us about continuity and change in U.S. priorities.

Back in 1909 President José Santos Zelaya was an ally of Washington until he ran afoul of its capitalist expansion. Zelaya was, by today’s standards, a monstrous dictator: he jailed or killed political opponents, stole from the treasury, and even overthrew the president of—you guessed it—Honduras. But that was par for the course back then, and Washington did little to stop Zelaya. Why? Zelaya was a typical turn-of-the-century positivist, a believer in “progress and order,” a phrase that telegraphed opening up one’s economy to the export-import trade that U.S. agribusinesses soon dominated.

Zelaya’s real crime was to open up his economy to too many nations. The United States, building the Panama Canal, believed itself the hegemonic power in Central America. Concessions of land should be mostly to U.S. corporations and nothing should threaten the economic promise of the Canal. Zelaya had different ideas. He welcomed U.S. businesses and Protestant missionaries in Nicaragua, but he also took loans from the British and canvassed the Germans and Japanese on the building of a second canal, in Nicaragua this time.

The U.S. government quickly reacted. A U.S. mining interest, shares of which belonged to the family of Philander Knox, the secretary of state, funded an insurgent army against Zelaya. When Zelaya understandably executed two U.S. soldiers of fortune laying mines for the insurgency, Knox saw an opening. The secretary of state sent Zelaya a note that historian Michel Gobat called “the most hostile ever sent by the U.S. government to a Latin American country.” The note called Zelaya a “blot upon the history of Nicaragua” and demanded a $200,000 reparation. Knox followed up with a thousand marines to persuade Zelaya to resign.

The Nicaraguan fled to Mexico, where audiences welcomed his speeches with shouts of “Death to the Yankees!” For a generation following 1909, Zelaya’s Liberal Party blamed the United States for many of the country’s ills. In early 1911, the U.S. minister reported that “the natural sentiment of an overwhelming majority of Nicaraguans is antagonistic to the United States.” When Knox himself visited the country in 1912, he was almost killed by a conspiracy to blow up his train. Anti-U.S. demonstrators met him everywhere he spoke. The anger at the United States culminated in Augusto Sandino’s six-year war against the marines in the 1920s and 1930s.

Sandino’s own murder, by U.S. ally Anastazio Somoza, not only began over forty years of dictatorship followed by a decade of socialist revolution but it also accelerated the concentration of land and power in the hands of a few.

So while U.S. policy has slowly moved toward the encouragement of political democracy, it has rarely addressed the root cause of political instability—the lack of economic democracy.

More broadly in Central America, U.S. capital and its government allies long helped broaden the gap between rich and poor. In the early century, all-powerful fruit companies in Honduras and elsewhere concentrated lands in the hand of a few while forcing newly-landless farmers into cities and mountains.

The spread of cheap-labor maquiladoras throughout Central America has also helped propel a few native managers and owners to positions of great wealth and influence while keeping workers in perpetual poverty.

Even policies such as the 1960s Alliance for Progress, nominally designed to level the economic playing field, in reality increased Central America’s focus on exports, taking up more land from poor subsistence farmers and handing it to wealthy exporters of cattle and coffee.

And the anti-protectionist push of the last few decades, culminating in the Central American Free Trade Agreement now fully in effect in all the region’s countries, has done far more than lower tariffs and trade barriers. CAFTA signals a new anti-regulatory environment in Central America, forcing onto these societies new freedoms for the corporate elite to ally across borders while labor has no such opportunity. Privatizing trade deals notably reduce what the World Bank calls the “redistributive capacity of the state,” or the ability to regulate and tax business. Honduras has had the consistently highest index of income inequality in Central America in the last 20 years.

The true appeal of someone like Manuel Zelaya is that, like Chávez, he promises to reverse that inequality. His enemies in Honduras are wholly supported by the middle and upper classes, who make up the membership of the Congress and Supreme Court that backed his ouster. The military was just following orders. Chávez enraged all the same social groups as Zelaya but he was wily enough to transform the military early in his presidency so as to avoid such a threat. Zelaya was not so able.

Championing democracy and the return of Zelaya is laudable. But Obama also needs to address the economic sources of the Honduras coup plotters with a fresh look at export-driven policies and neoliberal structural adjustments that only make such coups likely.

What Clash of Civilizations?


Around the time of Turkey’s application for entry talks into the EU a couple of years ago, a campaign was started up in Austria against Turkey becoming a member. Part of this campaign involved the memory of the “Tuerkenjahr” of 1683, when the fearsome army of Islam threatened to swarm through the gates of Vienna and into all of Christendom. Let Turkey into Europe, ran the subtext, and the Siege of Vienna will happen all over again – only this time we will be inundated not with janissaries and pashas, but with immigrants and Islamists.

In reality, over half of this “Army of Islam” was Christian – not just the various Christian soldiers (Greeks/Serbs/Armenians) within the Ottoman army, but also the hundred thousand Hungarian Calvinists who were revolting against Catholic (Habsurg) oppression. Those Austrians (and others) who paint a picture of Islamic hordes storming the gates of a Christian Europe have swallowed a Disney version of history. The fact that such a ridiculous myth still circulates is due, more than anything else, to our abiding desire to be seen as the victims of outrage, not the perpetrators of it.

The history of Muslim Christian alliances in Europe, when looked at overall, is quite remarkable. Moments when Muslims and Christians banded together to fight a common foe have taken place repeatedly throughout the history of Europe, in every age, in every country, and (most interestingly) on both sides of the Crusades. Muslim soldiers were the bodyguard of Frederick II when he negotiated for Jerusalem in 1226, and the Aragonese helped the Arabs defend Tunis against Charles of Anjou in 1271. The factors were also various, and not always cynical: sometimes the reasons were Realpolitikal, of course, as well as having to do with mercenary and conscription. Sometimes, however, there was also a common culture or a genuine sense of friendship at work.

The Serbian prince, for example, who fought for the Turks at the Battle of Ankara (1402) and risked his life to save the Sultan’s son, seems to have acted beyond the duty of a vassal. The thousands of Arabs who, in the time of Dante, fought for a German Christian emperor outside the walls of Milan and Verona appear to have had an extremely un-Islamic loyalty to the Hohenstaufen cause. The fact that a Russian Field Marshall in the Crimean War could talk about the Tartar soldiers in his Russian army as “our Muslims” says a great deal about how closely Muslim soldiers interacted in Christian armies.

Muslim Christian alliances were no strange exceptions but rather a normal and widely-used standard procedure for most Mediterranean conflicts, from the Arab gunners who worked for the Spanish to the Greek sailors in the Ottoman navy who were eventually replaced by Armenian ones in the 19th century. Muslim-Christian military cooperation is inextricably woven into the fabric of European – particularly southern European – history. Airbrushed out by both sides, the presence of the infidel in the armies of a queen or a sultan was a regular occurrence. Neither Christian chronicler nor Muslim poet was too happy to record this (although, to his credit, the allegedly Islamophobic Gibbon dutifully recorded each Greek-Turkish alliance that took place, including the wedding of the Byzantine emperor’s daughter to the Turkish sultan Orhan).

The term ‘Clash of Civilizations” has been bandied about a great deal over the past ten years. Despite its refutations from several quarters, the phrase has achieved its purpose, even in its failure to convince: it has created a pseudo-debate of the most simplistic proportions, one which decides that there is something called the Muslim World and something called Christian Europe, and that a permanent tension must exist between these two. What any sober view of medieval history reveals, more than anything else, is the historical ignorance of Samuel Huntington’s phrase, how it assumes that cultures push one another out as oil displaces water, without any regard for the millennium of Christian/Jewish/Muslim co-existence around the shores of a Mediterranean where, as late as the 1970s, Greek could still be heard on the streets of Alexandria and Istanbul.

It has always seemed strange to me that, for all our conviction of the separateness of the West from Islam and the Arab world, each of us knows at least ten Arabic characters – ones which we use each day, so frequently and so familiarly, that we have forgotten they are actually Arabic. Our notion of a “Christian Europe,” in many ways, is a similar case of historical amnesia. What a recollection of the thousands of moments of Muslim-Christian military collaboration brings us closer to is a recognition, however politically inconvenient, that the history of Islam and the history of Europe belong together. They are two strands of the same rope. To think in this way is not to idealize or romanticize the very definite conflicts which have taken place, but to try and see why we, in Europe today, continue to emphasise those conflicts – and overlook an equally significant amount of shared cultural history. Instead of harping on the Crusades, why not talk about the bishops who knew Arabic and the imams whose only language was Spanish? Instead of endlessly invoking the image of the Terrible Turk, why not speak of the Greek monks who shared their Cappadocian caves with Sufis, or the Turcophone Greeks, Armenians and Jews who worked in the highest echelons of the Ottoman Empire? How did we forget that thousands of Arabs, in the time of Giotto and Aquinas, fought for the Hohenstaufen north of Milan, in the very heart of Europe, at the foot of the Alps ? Until we learn to deactivate and uninstall the version of a Christian Europe which we cling to today, such facts are never going to seem anything other than unlikely and surreal.

Why Iraq Might Be a Better Candidate for Democracy than You Think



THE RISE OF IRAQI CIVIL SOCIETY

Having studied Iraqi politics and society since first visiting Iraq in May 1980, I have been struck by the resilience of Iraqis and their unwillingness to submit to Ba'athist authoritarianism. Indeed, the Iraqi nationalist movement, which developed following the Ottoman collapse in World War I, exhibited an ecumenical tradition advocating cultural pluralism, political participation, and social justice. This Iraqi nationalist vision was most evident in the June-October 1920 Revolt against British rule in Iraq. Sunni and Shi'i Arabs joined forces, praying in each others' mosques and celebrating together their respective holidays while Iraqi Muslims went to the houses of Christians and Jews (who were the largest single ethnic group in Baghdad at the time of the uprising) and insisted that they join protest marches and demonstrations because they were Iraqi citizens like everyone else.

The Hashemite monarchy the British installed during a rigged national referendum in 1921 undermined the Iraqi nationalist vision as a "big tent" which, while recognizing Iraq's predominantly Arab character, would offer cultural and political space to all Iraq's ethnic groups. The Iraqi nationalists stood in opposition to a smaller, state- supported Pan-Arabist political tendency, which sought to make Iraq part of a larger Pan-Arab state. One of the goals of the Pan-Arabists was to change Iraq's Sunni Arabs' status as a minority in Iraq to a majority once Iraq was only a region (qutr) of a larger Pan-Arab state.

The Pan-Arabist tendency rejected pluralist notions of Iraqi political community and instead emphasized a chauvinist interpretation of Arabism, emphasizing Sunni Arab domination of Iraqi politics and society. Under the Hashemite monarchy, the Iraqi government attempted to inculcate a Pan- Arabist consciousness among Iraqi school children. The Hashemite monarchy, which carried the stigma of having been installed by the British, sought to use Pan-Arabism to bolster its legitimacy by stressing its ties to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, of which the Hashemites were the guardians, and its blood ties to the Quraysh, the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad.

In contrast to the Pan-Arab tendency, many of whose members developed during the 1930s proto-fascist organizations such as the al-Muthanna Club and its al-Futuwwa movement, and participated in an attack on Baghdad's Jewish community in June 1941, the Iraqi nationalist movement developed a broad political coalition encompassing members of all Iraq's ethnic groups, including Sunni and Shi'i Arabs, Kurds, Jews, Christians, Armenians and other minority groups. Political, parties, such as the National Party, Jami'at al-Ahali (the People's Organization), the National Democratic Party, the Iraqi Communist Party, student and professional associations, artisans organizations and labor unions, promoted political participation by all Iraqis and emphasized the need to develop an inclusive sense of political community. Iraqis from all the country's ethnic groups cooperated in opposing the British-imposed Constitution in 1924, organizing the 1931 General Strike against the British, maintaining solidarity during numerous labor strikes during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, which called for better working conditions. They also organized broad-based uprisings against the monarchy and the British in 1948 and 1953, known as the Wathba and Intifada, respectively.

In the 1920s, a flourishing Iraq civil society began with the formation of numerous professional associations, including a highly respected legal profession, a vibrant press, political parties, artist ateliers, writers associations, labor unions, and an extensive coffeehouse culture. This nascent civil society expanded greatly after the end of World War II. During the 1950s, large numbers of Iraqis participated in Iraqi politics through the many new political parties, such as the National Democratic and Independence parties formed after the war. In 1954, with the temporary relaxation of state control, a coalition of Iraqi nationalists and moderate Pan-Arabists competed in the June elections, running a highly professional campaign and scoring impressive victories in 13 of the country's most important electoral districts in 2 of Iraq's main cities, Baghdad and Mosul. Efforts by sectarian elements, during the electoral campaign, particularly those from the Ba'ath Party, first formed in Iraq in 1952, to separate Arab nationalists from Iraqi nationalists, were unsuccessful and the electoral coalition retained its cohesion.

During the 1950s, Iraqi poets developed the Free Verse Movement, one of the most important innovations in modern Arabic poetry. Similar developments occurred in other areas of literature, such as the short story, and in the plastic arts, particularly in sculpture. Poets such as Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri, Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati, Nazik al- Mala'ika, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, and Buland al-Haydari, short story writers such as 'Abd al-Malik Nuri, Mahdi al- Saqr, artists such as Jawad Salim and Isma'il al-Shaikhly, and historians such as 'Abd al-Razzak al-Hasani and Faysal al-Samir became famous throughout the Arab world.

Iraqi nationalism received a strong impetus from the regime of Staff Brigadier 'Abdal-Karim Qasim, which took power after the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy in July 1958. While sympathetic to Pan-Arab concerns, Qasim believed that Iraq needed to address its internal development problems first. Instead of a unitary state, he favored a federated entity, much along the lines of the European Union. Under Qasim, sectarianism disappeared as a key element in recruitment positions within the state bureaucracy, military and other official walks of life. Indeed, Qasim is the only ruler of modern Iraq who eschewed sectarian criteria in ruling the country. His refusal to exploit sectarian divisions for political ends, his focus on social justice, such as the need for land reform, and his own ascetic lifestyle made Qasim the only truly popular leader since the founding of the modern state. After he was overthrown and executed by the first Ba'athist regime in February 1963, it was discovered that he had no personal wealth, having donated his military pension and his two government salaries as prime minister and defense minister to the poor.

Qasim's fate offers many lessons for the current situation in Iraq. Immediately after the July 1958 Revolution, Qasim assembled a cabinet of distinguished opposition leaders from the monarchist era. These included Kamil al-Chadirji, head of the National Democratic Party; Muhammad Mahdi al-Kubba, head of the Independence Party; Siddiq Shanshal; Fai'q al- Samarai'I; Muhammad Hadid; and others. Unfortunately, after consolidating his power, Qasim felt he could dispense with the cabinet, thereby foregoing the opportunity to have institutionalized a moderate, non-sectarian government committed to political pluralism and social reform. While others have argued that Qasim feared that a democratic political system would allow either the Pan-Arabists, who had many followers with the Sunni Arab-dominated officer corps, or the powerful Iraqi Communist Party, the fact remains that power corrupts. No matter how well intentioned Qasim was in trying to bring about better living conditions for the Iraqi populace and eliminating sectarianism in politics, his authoritarian rule, however non-violent, gradually isolated him from the citizenry, facilitating his overthrow in 1963.

THE RISE OF THE BA'ATH AND THE END OF CIVIL SOCIETY

The Ba'athist regime that came to power in February 1963, and its brutal National Guard militia, foreshadowed the extensive human rights abuses that would characterize the Ba'athist regime that seized power in a July 1968 putsch. Counting petty criminals among its members, the new regime quickly tried to undue many of the social reforms enacted by Qasim, such as equal rights for women. Shocked by the excesses of its National Guard, a forerunner of Saddam Husayn's security apparatus, the regime was toppled by the military in November 1963. Iraq was ruled by a number of weak Pan-Arabist regimes until Saddam, Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr and Ba'athists drawn largely from the rural tribal areas around the town of Takrit in the so-called sunni Arab triangle of north-central Iraq seized power in 1968.

The second or Takriti Ba'thist regime that came to power in 1968 was very weak. In January 1969, it hung a group of Iraqi Jews in Liberation Square in downtown Baghdad in an effort, as British diplomatic correspondents reported at the time, to intimidate the populace. Internal schisms afflicted the Ba'athists until 1973, when the chief of the security apparatus, Nazim al-Kazzar, tried the last unsuccessful coup attempt. The regime felt so vulnerable that it invited the Iraqi Communist Party, its historical nemesis, to join a national front coalition and give the regime greater legitimacy as "revolutionary" and anti- imperialist." This front was short-lived as rising oil wealth during the 1970s allowed the regime to initiate an ambitious development plan and co-opt large numbers of middle class and educated Iraqis.

Just when the Takriti Ba'ath seemed to have consolidated power during the late 1970s, after having eliminated the communists through executing party members in 1978 who had become government ministers, Saddam Husayn ousted Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr and seized the presidency in 1979, and invaded Iran in September 1980 to seize territory from the new Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Khumayni. The war turned into a disaster. Iraq suffered huge human and material losses and probably would have lost the war had it not been for Saudi and Kuwaiti financial support and U.S intelligence and military assistance. When a truce was finally arranged in 1988, the Ba'athist regime faced massive domestic discontent as lower oil prices prevented it from sustaining the 1970s social welfare state. The seizure of Kuwait in August 1990, was a desperate attempt to buy the support of Ba'ath Party members and security forces operatives by allowing them to plunder Kuwaiti society. His "Project to Rewrite History" had seduced Saddam into believing his own rhetoric, namely his status as a semi-deity, his foreordained role as leader of a Pan-Arab state, and Iraq's military invincibility.

THE 1991 UPRISING

The 1991 Intifada almost led to the collapse of the Ba'athist regime. Suddenly the historical memory of the Iraqi nationalist movement reinserted itself into Iraqi political discourse. For the first time in modern Iraqi history, Iraqis openly discussed sectarianism. Opposition groups met to develop ways of promoting civil society in a post-Ba'athist Iraq. One of the results was Charter 91, produced at a conference in liberated Kurdistan in 1991 and which called for a federated, democratic, and culturally pluralistic Iraq. The huge exodus of Iraq's middle and upper middle classes, which has been estimated to comprise as much as 15 percent of the populace, one of the largest expatriate communities in the world, began producing some of the most important works on the need to confront sectarianism, to develop political institutions that would control would-be authoritarian rulers, and to be tolerant of cultural diversity. The rule of 'Abd al-Karim Qasim was reexamined because of its lack of corruption and anti- sectarianism. Still Qasim was criticized for not allowing free, democratic elections. Even Iraq's Jewish community was reexamined in monographs and articles that argued that the Iraqi Jewish community had contributed much to Iraqi society in all walks of life. While some Iraqi Jews had been sympathetic to Zionism, the vast majority considered themselves Iraqi citizens and fully integrated members of Iraqi society.

This effort had a powerful impact on Saddam and the Ba'ath. A long series of articles attributed to Saddam and published in the Ba'ath Party newspaper, al-Thawra, in April 1991, demonstrated the impact of the Intifada and the democratic opposition. For the first time, Saddam himself publicly discussed sectarian differences in Iraq and the role of the Shi'a in the 1991 uprising. While Saddam tried to tar the Shi'a, Kurds, and other oppositional forces, what was noteworthy was that he did not blame Western imperialism or Zionism for the Intifada but recognized that it represented an internally generated movement.

Increasingly insecure over his role, Saddam continued to narrow the social base of his regime. Executions, even of many Takritis, led him to rely increasingly on his immediate family and clan members, leading to what Falih 'Abd al- Jabbar has called, "the family party state" (dawlat hizb al- usra). As Saddam's two sons, 'Uday and Qusay, acquired greater power, the focus of the Project for the Rewriting of History all but disappeared with the regime increasingly appearing to Iraqis as a criminal syndicate rather than a functioning state. In an act of desperation, Saddam even revived the moribund system of tribalism in the countryside so that tribal shaykhs took control of the rural populace to replace the many Ba'thist leaders killed during the 1991 Intifada.

INKLINGS OF DEMOCRACY

At the same time, a democracy, albeit not perfect, developed in liberated Kurdestan in Iraq's northern provinces. Landlocked, having no economic resources to speak of and suffering from a blockade from the Ba'athist regime to the south, the Kurdish regional government established a parliament, held free elections, allowed radio and television stations and an ideologically diverse press to develop, and built new schools and hospitals. Infant mortality declined and educational levels rose while, in Ba'athist-controlled areas, the opposite trends were the case. The Kurdish experience clearly demonstrated that, once freed from Ba'athist repression, Iraqis were perfectly capable of ruling themselves.

An Arabic proverb states that, "The Egyptians write, the Lebanese publish, and the Iraqis read." Iraq has the capability to become one of the most advanced countries of the Middle East. It has a large and highly educated middle class, a tradition of a flourishing civil society (which can be documented in school history textbooks after Saddam and the Ba'ath are ousted), an agricultural sector whose potential is greatly underutilized, one of the world's great civilizational heritages (after all, history as we understand it began in ancient Mesopotamia), and a rich base of oil wealth, which can provide the resources for ambitious development projects. Once no longer at odds with its neighbors in the Gulf region, it will be able to cooperate with them to produce serious economic development. The demonstration effect of a functioning Iraqi democracy can have a salutary impact on neighboring authoritarian regimes.

What would an Iraqi democracy look like? Because Iraq is a multi-ethnic society, it would undoubtedly have a "rough and tumble" quality. However, countries like Italy also have such democracies and have remained relatively stable over time. To the riposte that Italian governments are constantly changing, Italians often respond that this only means that many people have access to governing the country. After all, they point out, Italy has one of the world's most prosperous economies and a strong civil society. Numerous Iraqi political parties will also vie for power in a post- Saddam Iraq. However, a federated country in which Iraq's main ethnic groups, the Sunni and Shi'i Arabs and the Kurds, as well as other minorities, can feel that their traditions are respected and not subject to state repression, and in which economic development assures every citizen a decent standard of living will work to offset the strife that facilitated the rise of the Ba'ath Party. Taking democracy seriously in Iraq will go a long way toward winning the hearts of minds of Iraqis.

Cousin Of Last Iraqi King Says Monarchy Would Provide Stability


By Valentinas Mite


Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein believes the U.S.-led administration in Iraq is relying too much on the input of former emigrants who have little support in the country and that it is distorting political discourse by supporting sectarian parties and groups.

Al-Hussein is the first cousin of King Faisal II, who was deposed and killed in the bloody 1958 coup. He heads the Constitutional Monarchy Movement -- a member of the Iraqi National Congress -- and participated in the activities of the Iraqi opposition from London before the U.S.-led invasion of the country last March. He returned to Iraq last summer, several months after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The 47-year old al-Hussein fled Iraq with his family in 1958 and was raised in Lebanon and Britain. He worked as an investment banker in London while participating in the Constitutional Monarchy Movement and was a strong supporter of the U.S.-led invasion.

Al-Hussein says he would like to see the reestablishment of a constitutional monarchy in Iraq. He believes such a system would first and foremost bring stability.

Al-Hussein is critical of the performance of the U.S. administration in Iraq and believes the process was flawed from the beginning. He says the majority of the problems now taking place in Iraq can be traced to the unwillingness of the U.S. to transfer power to Iraqis. He says this was one of the reasons he himself declined an invitation to join the Iraqi Governing Council.

Though a former exile himself, al-Hussein believes the U.S. is relying too much on the input of Iraqi emigrants, who have no real authority in the country.

"I think the coalition has made the mistake of bringing in exile leaders, appointing them in positions [on the Governing Council] and then watching them fail," al-Hussein said. "Our position had always been [that] they need to use Iraqis that lived all their lives in Iraq, that are community leaders, that can effect the opinion in the street, that the public opinion respects them."

Even worse, he says, the U.S. administration in Iraq, while forming the governing bodies, has not removed sectarian differences but strengthened them, setting the stage for future conflicts. He says the U.S. -- pressured by the former Iraqi exiles -- is supporting political parties created on religious foundations and giving them a say on the Governing Council and in the future of Iraq.

"If choosing people on the basis of their religion or race is so fantastic, then it should be applied in the United States," al-Hussein said. "But, of course, it [isn't]. So why should it be applied in Iraq?"

Al-Hussein says that giving major roles to former emigrants and sectarian parties is distorting the political process in Iraq and that many people are left with no opportunities for their voices to be heard. He says the coalition should change its tactics if it wants to be successful.

"I think what the Americans are continuing to do is trying to interfere in Iraq's internal politics by directly funding political parties, by appointing them to positions of power, and this policy has failed. I think the Americans should allow the Iraqi people to choose," al-Hussein said.

Al-Hussein is convinced that if given a choice, Iraqis would choose to be ruled under a constitutional monarchy.

Indeed, many Iraqis say they would like to see a return to the "good old days of the monarchy." However, it remains unclear how many of them -- if actually given the chance -- would make that choice. Al-Hussein is a Sunni, and it is unknown how many Shi'a Arabs would vote for a Sunni king to be put back into power.

It also remains unclear how the monarchists would guarantee and balance the rights of Iraq's religious and national groups. Supporters of a constitutional monarchy in Iraq say the king would act as an arbiter and that his role would be to protect the constitution, to prevent persecution, to protect individual rights, and to ensure the country's unity. They say the king would act as a guardian for all groups within Iraqi society.

Asked if he thinks the U.S. would agree to the restoration of the monarchy in Iraq, al-Hussein avoids a direct answer, saying that, eventually, "the Americans will leave and the Iraqi people will be free to make their choice."

Al-Hussein says he welcomes the current U.S. plan to transfer authority to Iraqis by the end of June. But he says it might be too late now to elect provisional bodies because the security situation in the country is deteriorating.

"Unfortunately, it may well be too late in the short term because the policies of the failed Governing Council and the coalition have led to the deterioration in the security situation in Iraq, and it may not be possible to hold elections in the near term," al-Hussein said.

Al-Hussein says the overall situation for Iraqis has not significantly improved, eight months after their liberation from Hussein's rule. He says the standard of living is worse now than it was under Hussein and that the security situation is poor. In addition, he says, there hasn't been any progress made on the political front.

He says the coalition should take full responsibility for things getting worse after Hussein's ouster.

Al-Hussein says the increase in the activity of anticoalition insurgents is mainly due to the policies of the coalition. Those policies, he says, have been insensitive to the needs of Iraq's many different communities and have contributed to the marginalization and disenfranchisement of many people.

"The dissolution of government institutions has left millions of people out on the streets and is giving a core basis of support to those who have chosen the military route to fight the occupation," al-Hussein said. "This was entirely unnecessary."

What is Kabbalah?


Kabbalah (Hebrew: קַבָּלָה‎, lit. "receiving") is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the mystical aspect of Judaism. It is a set of esoteric teachings that is meant to explain the relationship between an infinite, eternal and essentially unknowable Creator with the finite and mortal universe of His creation. In solving this paradox, Kabbalah seeks to define the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature and purpose of existence, and various other ontological questions. It also presents methods to aid understanding of these concepts and to thereby attain spiritual realization. Kabbalah originally developed entirely within the milieu of Jewish thought and constantly uses classical Jewish sources to explain, demonstrate, or prove its esoteric teachings. These teachings are thus held by kabbalists to define the inner meaning of both the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and traditional rabbinic literature, as well as to explain the significance of Jewish religious observances.[1]

According to the Zohar, generally considered the foremost kabbalistic text, Torah study uses four levels (PaRDeS) of interpretation (exegesis) of its text:[2]

* Peshat (lit. "simple"): the direct meaning.
* Remez (lit. "hint[s]"): the allegoric meaning (through allusion).
* Derash (from Heb. darash: "inquire" or "seek"): midrashic (Rabbinic) or comparative meaning.
* Sod (lit. "secret" or "mystery"): the inner meaning—a foundation of the kabbalah.

Kabbalah is considered, by its followers, as a necessary part of the study of Torah – the study of Torah (the Law of God) being an inherent duty of observant Jews.[3] Kabbalah teaches doctrines that are accepted by some Jews as the true meaning of Judaism while other Jews have rejected these doctrines as heretical and antithetical to Judaism.

The origins of the actual term Kabbalah are unknown and disputed to belong either to Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021–1058) or else to the 13th century CE Spanish Kabbalist Bahya ben Asher. While other terms have been used in many religious documents from the 2nd century CE up to the present day, the term Kabbalah has become the main descriptive of Jewish esoteric knowledge and practices. The Kabbalistic literature, which served as the basis for most of the development of Kabbalistic thought, divides between early works such as Heichalot and Sefer Yetzirah (believed to be dated 1st or 2nd Century CE) and later works dated to the 13th century CE, of which the main book is the Zohar representing the main source for the Contemplative Kabbalah ("Kabbalah Iyunit").

According to Kabbalistic tradition, knowledge was transmitted orally by the Patriarchs, prophets, and sages (Hakhamim in Hebrew), eventually to be "interwoven" into Jewish religious writings and culture. According to this tradition, Kabbalah was, in around the 10th century BCE, an open knowledge practiced by over a million people in ancient Israel,[4] although there is little objective historical evidence to support this thesis.

Foreign conquests drove the Jewish spiritual leadership of the time (the Sanhedrin) to hide the knowledge and make it secret, fearing that it might be misused if it fell into the wrong hands.[5] The Sanhedrin leaders were also concerned that the practice of Kabbalah by Jews deported on conquest to other countries (the Diaspora), unsupervised and unguided by the masters, might lead them into wrong practice and forbidden ways. As a result, the Kabbalah became secretive, forbidden and esoteric to Judaism (“Torat Ha’Sod” Hebrew: תורת הסוד‎) for two and a half millennia.

It is hard to clarify with any degree of certainty the exact concepts within Kabbalah. There are several different schools of thought with very different outlooks; however, all are accepted as correct.[6] Modern Halakhic authorities have tried to narrow the scope and diversity within Kabbalah, by restricting study to certain texts, notably Zohar and the teachings of Isaac Luria as passed down through Chaim (Hayyim) Vital.[7] However even this qualification does little to limit the scope of understanding and expression, as included in those works are commentaries on Abulafian writings, Sepher Yetzirah, Albotonian writings, and Berit Menuhah.[8] It is therefore important to bear in mind when discussing things such as the Sephirot and their interactions that one is dealing with highly abstract concepts that at best can only be understood intuitively.[9]

[edit] Concepts

[edit] Kabbalistic understanding of God

In Kabbalah every idea grows from the foundation of God,[10] and the entire study is based on that central belief. The statement by Maimonides, from the Mishneh Torah is accepted by all traditional Kabbalists:
“ The foundation of all foundations, and the pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is God who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, and the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the truth of God's being. ”

Kabbalah teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. Rather God is the creator of both.

This question, "what is the nature of God?", prompted Kabbalists to envision two aspects of God, (a) God himself, who in the end is unknowable, and (b) the revealed aspect of God that created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind. Kabbalists speak of the first aspect of God as Ein Sof (אין סוף); this is translated as "the infinite", "endless", or "that which has no limits". In this view, nothing can be said about this aspect of God. This aspect of God is impersonal. The second aspect of divine emanations, however, is at least partially accessible to human thought. Kabbalists believe that these two aspects are not contradictory but, through the mechanism of progressive emanation, complement one another. See Divine simplicity; Tzimtzum. The structure of these emanations have been characterized in various ways: Four "worlds" (Azilut, Yitzirah, Beriyah, and Asiyah), Sefirot, or Partzufim ("faces"). Later systems harmonize these models.

Some Kabbalistic scholars, such as Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, believe that all things are linked to God through these emanations, making us all part of one great chain of being. Others, such as Schneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of Lubavitch [Chabad] Hasidism), hold that God is all that really exists; all else is completely undifferentiated from God's perspective.

Such views can be defined as monistic panentheism. According to this philosophy, God's existence is higher than anything that this world can express, yet he includes all things of this world down to the finest detail in such a perfect unity that his creation of the world effected no change in him whatsoever. This paradox is dealt with at length in Chabad Chassidic texts.[11]
Kabbalistic tree of the ten Sefirot


Ein Sof (in-finite) and the emanation of angelic hierarchies (Universes or olamot עולמות)

[edit] Sefirot

The Sefirot (סְפִירוֹת)—singular, Sefirah (סְפִירָה="enumeration")—are the ten emanations of God with which He creates the universe. The word "sefirah" literally means "counting", but early Kabbalists presented a number of other etymological possibilities including: sefer (text), sippur (recounting), sappir (sapphire, brilliance, luminary), separ (boundary), and safra (scribe). The term sefirah thus has complex connotations within Kabbalah.[12]

[edit] Ten Sephirot as process of Creation

According to Lurianic cosmology, the Sephirot correspond to various levels of creation (ten sephirot in each of the four worlds, and four worlds within each of the larger four worlds, each containing ten sephirot, which themselves contain ten sephirot, to an infinite number of possibilities,[13]) and are emanated from the Creator for the purpose of creating the universe. The Sephirot are considered revelations of the Creator's will (ratzon),[14] and they should not be understood as ten different "gods" but as ten different ways the one God reveals his will through the Emanations. It is not God who changes but the ability to perceive God that changes.

The names of the ten Sephirot are:

* Keter (will)
* Chochmah (wisdom)
* Binah (understanding)
* Chesed (sometimes referred to as Gedolah or Gedulah) (mercy or loving kindness)
* Gevurah (sometimes referred to as Din (justice) or Pachad (fear)) (severity or strength)
* Tiferet (harmony or beauty)
* Netzach (victory)
* Hod (glory or splendour)
* Yesod (power or foundation)
* Malkuth (kingdom)

[edit] Ten Sephirot as process of ethics

Divine creation by means of the Ten Sefirot is an ethical process. Each side of the graph is associated with a different aspect of divine emanation; the right column being positive, masculine, the left being negative, feminine, and the central being a mediator between the two. Examples: The Sefirah of "Compassion" or "Mercy" (Chesed) being part of the Right Column corresponds to how God reveals more blessings when humans use previous blessings compassionately, whereas the Sephirah of "Judgement" or "Restriction"(Geburah) being part of the Left Column corresponds to how God hides these blessings when humans abuse them selfishly without compassion. Thus human behavior determines if God seems present or absent.

"Righteous" humans (Tzadikim) ascend these ethical qualities of the Ten Sefirot by doing righteous actions. If there were no "Righteous" humans, the blessings of God would become completely hidden, and creation would cease to exist. While real human actions are the "Foundation" (Yesod) of this universe (Malchut), these actions must accompany the conscious intention of compassion. Compassionate actions are often impossible without "Faith" (Emunah), meaning to trust that God always supports compassionate actions even when God seems hidden. Ultimately, it is necessary to show compassion toward oneself too in order to share compassion toward others. This "selfish" enjoyment of God's blessings but only if in order to empower oneself to assist others, is an important aspect of "Restriction", and is considered a kind of golden mean in Kabbalah, corresponding to the Sefirah of "Adornment" (Tiferet) being part of the "Middle Column".

Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, wrote a book, Tomer Devorah (Palm Tree of Deborah), in which he presents an ethical teaching of Judaism in the kabbalistic context of the Ten Sefirot. Tomer Devorah, as a consequence, has become also a foundational text of Mussar [15].

[edit] Human soul in Kabbalah

The Kabbalah posits that the human soul has three elements, the nefesh, ru'ach, and neshamah. The nefesh is found in all humans, and enters the physical body at birth. It is the source of one's physical and psychological nature. The next two parts of the soul are not implanted at birth, but can be developed over time; their development depends on the actions and beliefs of the individual. They are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually. A common way of explaining the three parts of the soul is as follows:

* Nefesh (נפש): the lower part, or "animal part", of the soul. It is linked to instincts and bodily cravings.
* Ruach (רוח): the middle soul, the "spirit". It contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil.
* Neshamah (נשמה): the higher soul, or "super-soul". This separates man from all other life-forms. It is related to the intellect, and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. This part of the soul is provided at birth and allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of God.

The Raaya Meheimna, a section of related teachings spread throughout the Zohar, discusses fourth and fifth parts of the human soul, the chayyah and yehidah (first mentioned in the Midrash Rabbah). Gershom Scholem writes that these "were considered to represent the sublimest levels of intuitive cognition, and to be within the grasp of only a few chosen individuals". The Chayyah and the Yechidah do not enter into the body like the other three—thus they received less attention in other sections of the Zohar.

* Chayyah (חיה): The part of the soul that allows one to have an awareness of the divine life force itself.
* Yehidah (יחידה): the highest plane of the soul, in which one can achieve as full a union with God as is possible.

Both rabbinic and kabbalistic works posit that there are a few additional, non-permanent states of the soul that people can develop on certain occasions. These extra souls, or extra states of the soul, play no part in any afterlife scheme, but are mentioned for completeness:

* Ruach HaKodesh (רוח הקודש) ("spirit of holiness"): a state of the soul that makes prophecy possible. Since the age of classical prophecy passed, no one (outside of Israel) receives the soul of prophesy any longer. See the teachings of Abraham Abulafia for differing views of this matter.
* Neshamah Yeseira: The "supplemental soul" that a Jew can experience on Shabbat. It makes possible an enhanced spiritual enjoyment of the day. This exists only when one is observing Shabbat; it can be lost and gained depending on one's observance.
* Neshamah Kedosha: Provided to Jews at the age of maturity (13 for boys, 12 for girls), and is related to the study and fulfillment of the Torah commandments. It exists only when one studies and follows Torah; it can be lost and gained depending on one's study and observance.

[edit] Tzimtzum
Main articles: Tzimtzum and Four worlds (Kabbalah)

The act whereby God "contracted" his infinite light, leaving a "void" into which the light of existence was poured. The primal emanation became Azilut, the World of Light, from which the three lower worlds, Beriah, Yetzirah and Assiyah, descended.

[edit] Number-Word mysticism
Main articles: Gematria, Notaricon, and Temurah

Kabbalah teaches that every Hebrew letter, word, number, even the accent on words of the Hebrew Bible contains a hidden sense; and it teaches the methods of interpretation for ascertaining these meanings. One such method is as follows:

As early as the 1st Century BCE Jews believed that the Torah (first five books of the Hebrew Bible) contained encoded messages and hidden meanings. Gematria is one method for discovering its hidden meanings. Each letter in Hebrew also represents a number; Hebrew, unlike many other languages, never developed a separate numerical alphabet. By converting letters to numbers, Kabbalists were able to find a hidden meaning in each word. This method of interpretation was used extensively by various schools.

There is no one fixed way to "do" gematria. Some say there are up to 70 different methods. One simple procedure is as follows: each syllable and/or letter forming a word has a characteristic numeric value. The sum of these numeric tags is the word's "key", and that word may be replaced in the text by any other word having the same key. Through the application of many such procedures, alternative or hidden meanings of scripture may be derived. Similar procedures are used by Islamic mystics, as described by Idries Shah in his book, "The Sufi".

[edit] Primary texts
Main article: Kabbalah: Primary Texts
Title page of first edition of the Zohar, Mantua, 1558.

Like the rest of the Rabbinic literature, the texts of Kabbalah were once part of an ongoing oral tradition, though, over the centuries, much of the oral tradition has been written down.

Jewish forms of esotericism existed over 2,000 years ago. Ben Sira warns against it, saying: "You shall have no business with secret things".[16] Nonetheless, mystical studies were undertaken and resulted in mystical literature, the first being the Apocalyptic literature of the second and first pre-Christian centuries and which contained elements that carried over to later Kabbalah.

Throughout the centuries since, many texts have been produced, among them the Heichalot literature, Sefer Yetzirah, Bahir, Sefer Raziel HaMalakh and the Zohar.

[edit] Scholarship

Because it is by definition esoteric, no popular account (including an encyclopedia) can provide a complete, precise, and accurate explanation of the Kabbalah. However, a number of scholars from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, including Gershom Scholem, Joseph Dan, Yehuda Liebes, Rachel Elior, and Moshe Idel[17], as well as some from other locations, such as Arthur Green and Daniel Matt[18], have made Kabbalist texts objects of modern scholarly scrutiny. Some scholars, notably Gershom Scholem and Martin Buber, have argued that modern Hassidic Judaism represents a popularization of the Kabbalah.[19] According to its adherents, intimate understanding and mastery of the Kabbalah brings one spiritually closer to God and enriches one's experience of Jewish sacred texts and law.

[edit] Claims for authority

Historians have noted that most claims for the authority of Kabbalah involve an argument of the antiquity of authority (see, e.g., Joseph Dan's discussion in his Circle of the Unique Cherub). As a result, virtually all works pseudepigraphically claim, or are ascribed, ancient authorship. For example, Sefer Raziel HaMalach, an astro-magical text partly based on a magical manual of late antiquity, Sefer ha-Razim, was, according to the kabbalists, transmitted to Adam by the angel Raziel after he was evicted from Eden.

Another famous work, the Sefer Yetzirah, supposedly dates back to the patriarch Abraham. This tendency toward pseudepigraphy has its roots in Apocalyptic literature, which claims that esoteric knowledge such as magic, divination and astrology was transmitted to humans in the mythic past by the two angels, Aza and Azaz'el (in other places, Azaz'el and Uzaz'el) who 'fell' from heaven (see Genesis 6:4). In Islam, the angels 'Harut' and 'Marut' were sent to teach magic only as a test to mankind (see Qur'an, Ch. 2: 102).

[edit] Critique

[edit] Dualism

Although Kabbalah propounds the Unity of God, one of the most serious and sustained criticisms is that it may lead away from monotheism, and instead promote dualism, the belief that there is a supernatural counterpart to God. The dualistic system holds that there is a good power versus an evil power. There are two primary models of Gnostic-dualistic cosmology: the first, which goes back to Zoroastrianism, believes creation is ontologically divided between good and evil forces; the second, found largely in Greco-Roman ideologies like Neo-Platonism, believes the universe knew a primordial harmony, but that a cosmic disruption yielded a second, evil, dimension to reality. This second model influenced the cosmology of the Kabbalah.

According to Kabbalistic cosmology, the Ten Sefirot correspond to ten levels of creation. These levels of creation must not be understood as ten different "gods" but as ten different ways of revealing God, one per level. It is not God who changes but the ability to perceive God that changes.

While God may seem to exhibit dual natures (masculine-feminine, compassionate-judgmental, creator-creation), all adherents of Kabbalah have consistently stressed the ultimate unity of God. For example, in all discussions of Male and Female, the hidden nature of God exists above it all without limit, being called the Infinite or the "No End" (Ein Sof)—neither one nor the other, transcending any definition. The ability of God to become hidden from perception is called "Restriction" (Tzimtzum). Hiddenness makes creation possible because God can become "revealed" in a diversity of limited ways, which then form the building blocks of creation.

Later Kabbalistic works, including the Zohar, appear to more strongly affirm dualism, as they ascribe all evil to a supernatural force known as the Sitra Achra[20] ("the other side") that emanates from God. The "left side" of divine emanation is a negative mirror image of the "side of holiness" with which it was locked in combat. [Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 6, "Dualism", p.244]. While this evil aspect exists within the divine structure of the Sefirot, the Zohar indicates that the Sitra Ahra has no power over Ein Sof, and only exists as a necessary aspect of the creation of God to give man free choice, and that evil is the consequence of this choice. It is not a supernatural force opposed to God, but a reflection of the inner moral combat within mankind between the dictates of morality and the surrender to one's basic instincts.

Rabbi Dr. David Gottlieb notes that many Kabbalists hold that the concepts of, e.g., a Heavenly Court or the Sitra Ahra are only given to humanity by God as a working model to understand His ways within our own epistemological limits. They reject the notion that a Satan or angels actually exist. Others hold that non-divine spiritual entities were indeed created by God as a means for exacting his will.

According to Kabbalists, humans cannot yet understand the infinity of God. Rather, there is God as revealed to humans (corresponding to Zeir Anpin), and the rest of the infinity of God as remaining hidden from human experience (corresponding to Arich Anpin[21]). One reading of this theology is monotheistic, similar to panentheism; another a reading of the same theology is that it is dualistic. Gershom Scholem writes:
“ It is clear that with this postulate of an impersonal basic reality in God, which becomes a person—or appears as a person—only in the process of Creation and Revelation, Kabbalism abandons the personalistic basis of the Biblical conception of God....It will not surprise us to find that speculation has run the whole gamut—from attempts to re-transform the impersonal En-Sof into the personal God of the Bible to the downright heretical doctrine of a genuine dualism between the hidden Ein Sof and the personal Demiurge of Scripture.
— Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism Shocken Books (p.11–12) ”

[edit] Perception of non-Jews

Theologically framed hostility may be a response to the demonization of Jews which developed in Western and Christian society and thought, starting with the Patristic writings.[22] According to Isaac Luria and other commentators on the Zohar, righteous Gentiles don't have this demonic aspect and are in many ways similar to Jewish souls. A number of prominent Kabbalists, e.g. Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu of Vilna, the author of Sefer ha-Brit, held that only some marginal elements in the humanity represent these demonic forces. On the other hand, the souls of Jewish heretics have much more satanic energy, than the worst of idol worshippers; this view is popular in some Hasidic circles, especially Satmar Hasidim.

Later Kabbalistic works build and elaborate on these ideas. The Hasidic work Tanya stresses the uniqueness of the Jewish soul,[citation needed] in order to argue that Jews have an additional level of soul that other humans do not possess. While a non-Jew, according to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, can achieve a high level of spiritually, similar to an angel, his soul is still fundamentally different from a Jewish one.[23] A similar view is found in Yehuda Halevi's medieval philosophical book Kuzari.

However, many prominent Kabbalists rejected this idea and believed in essential equality of all human souls. Menahem Azariah da Fano, in his book Reincarnations of souls, provides many examples of non-Jewish Biblical figures being reincarnated into Jews, and visa versa; the contemporary Habad Rabbi and mystic Dov Ber Pinson teaches that seemingly discriminatory statements in the Tanya and other Kabbalistic works are not to be understood literally.[24]

Another prominent Habad Rabbi, Abraham Yehudah Khein, believed that spiritually elevated Gentiles have essentially Jewish souls, "who just lack the formal conversion to Judaism", and that unspiritual Jews are "Jewish merely by their birth documents".[25] The great 20th century Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag viewed the terms "Jews" and "Gentile" as different levels of perception, available to every human soul.

David Halperin[26] theorizes that the collapse of Kabbalah's influence among Western European Jews over the course of the 17th and 18th Century was a result of the cognitive dissonance they experienced between Kabbalah's very negative perception of gentiles and their own dealings with non-Jews, which were rapidly expanding and improving during this period due to the influence of the Enlightenment.

For a different perspective, see Wolfson.[27] He provides extensive documentation to illustrate the prevalence of the distinction between the souls of Jews and non-Jews in kabbalistic literature. He provides numerous examples from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, which would challenge the view of Halperin cited above as well as the notion that "modern Judaism" has rejected or dismissed this "outdated aspect" of the kabbalah. There are still kabbalists today, and many influenced by them, who harbor this view. It is accurate to say that many Jews do and would find this distinction offensive, but it is inaccurate to say that the idea has been totally rejected. As Wolfson has argued, it is an ethical demand on the part of scholars to be vigilant with regard to this matter and in this way the tradition can be refined from within.

However, as explained above, many well known Kabbalists rejected the literal interpretation of these seemingly discriminatory views, added a chain of intermediary states between Jews and idolworshipers, or spiritualized the very definition of "Jews" and "non-Jews", thus solving the gap between traditional Kabbalistic literature and modern egalitarian worldview.

[edit] Orthodox Judaism

The idea that there are ten divine sefirot could evolve over time into the idea that "God is One being, yet in that One being there are Ten" which opens up a debate about what the "correct beliefs" in God should be, according to Judaism.

Rabbi Saadia Gaon teaches in his book Emunot v'Deot that Jews who believe in reincarnation have adopted a non-Jewish belief.

Nachmanides (12th Century) provides background to many Kabbalistic ideas. His works, especially those in the Five books of Moses (Pentateuch) offer in-depth of various concepts.

Maimonides (12th Century) rejected many of the texts of the Hekalot, particularly Shi'ur Qomah whose starkly anthropomorphic vision of God he considered heretical.

Rabbi Abraham ben Moses ben Maimon, in the spirit of his father Maimonides, Rabbi Saadiah Gaon, and other predecessors, explains at length in his book Milhhamot HaShem that the Almighty is in no way literally within time or space nor physically outside time or space, since time and space simply do not apply to His Being whatsoever. This is in contrast to certain popular understandings of modern Kabbalah which teach a form of panentheism, that His 'essence' is within everything.

Around the 1230s, Rabbi Meir ben Simon of Narbonne wrote an epistle (included in his Milhhemet Mitzvah) against his contemporaries, the early Kabbalists, characterizing them as blasphemers who even approach heresy. He particularly singled out the Sefer Bahir, rejecting the attribution of its authorship to the tanna R. Nehhunya ben ha-Kanah and describing some of its content as truly heretical.

Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet Perfet, (The Rivash), 1326–1408. Although as is evident from his responsa on the topic (157) the Rivash was skeptical of certain interpretations of Kabbalah popular in his time, it is equally evident that overall he did accept Kabbalah as received Jewish wisdom, and attempted to defend it from attackers. To this end he cited and rejected a certain philosopher who claimed that Kabbalah was "worse than Christianity", as it made God into 10, not just into three. Most followers of Kabbalah have never followed this interpretation of Kabbalah, on the grounds that the concept of the Christian Trinity posits that there are three persons existing within the Godhead, one of whom became a human being.[citation needed] In contrast, the mainstream understanding of the Kabbalistic Sefirot holds that they have no mind or intelligence; further, they are not addressed in prayer and they cannot become a human being. They are conduits for interaction, not persons or beings. Nonetheless, many important poskim, such as Maimonidies in his work Mishneh Torah, prohibit any use of mediators between oneself and the Creator as a form of idolatry.

Rabbi Leone di Modena, a 17th century Venetian critic of Kabbalah, wrote that if we were to accept the Kabbalah, then the Christian trinity would indeed be compatible with Judaism, as the Trinity closely resembles the Kabbalistic doctrine of the Sefirot. This critique was in response to the knowledge that some European Jews of the period addressed individual Sefirot in some of their prayers, although the practise was apparently uncommon. Apologists explain that Jews may have been praying for and not necessarily to the aspects of Godliness represented by the Sefirot.

Rabbi Yaakov Emden, 1697–1776, wrote the book Mitpahhath Sfarim (Veil of the Books), a detailed critique of the Zohar in which he concludes that certain parts of the Zohar contain heretical teaching and therefore could not have been written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Opponents of his work claim[citation needed] that he wrote the book in a drunken stupor. Emden's rationalistic approach to this work, however, makes neither intoxication nor stupor seem plausible.

Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh, an early 20th century Yemenite Jewish leader and grandfather of Rabbi Yosef Qafih, also wrote a book entitled Milhhamoth HaShem, (Wars of the L-RD) against what he perceived as the false teachings of the Zohar and the false Kabbalah of Isaac Luria. He is credited with spearheading the Dor Daim who continue in R. Yihhyah Qafahh's view of Kabbalah into modern times.

Yeshayahu Leibowitz 1903–1994, brother of Nechama Leibowitz, though Modern Orthodox in his world view, publicly shared the views expressed in R. Yihhyah Qafahh's book Milhhamoth HaShem and elaborated upon these views in his many writings.

There is dispute among modern Haredim as to the status of Isaac Luria's, the Arizal's kabbalistic teachings. While a portion of Modern Orthodox Rabbis, Dor Daim and many students of the Rambam, completely reject Arizal's Kabbalistic teachings, as well as deny that the Zohar is authoritative, or from Shimon bar Yohai, all three of these groups completely accept the existence and validity of Ma'aseh Merkavah and Ma'aseh B'resheet mysticism. Their only disagreement concerns whether the Kabbalistic teachings promulgated today are accurate representations of those esoteric teachings to which the Talmud refers. Within the Haredi Jewish community one can find both rabbis who sympathize with such a view,[citation needed] while not necessarily agreeing with it, as well as rabbis who consider such a view absolute heresy.

[edit] Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism

Since all forms of reform or liberal Judaism are rooted in the Enlightenment and tied to the assumptions of European modernity, Kabbalah tended to be rejected by most Jews in the Conservative and Reform movements, though its influences were not completely eliminated. While it was generally not studied as a discipline, the Kabbalistic Kabbalat Shabbat service remained part of liberal liturgy, as did the Yedid Nefesh prayer. Nevertheless, in the 1960s, Rabbi Saul Lieberman of the Jewish Theological Seminary, is reputed to have introduced a lecture by Scholem on Kabbalah with a statement that Kabbalah itself was "nonsense", but the academic study of Kabbalah was "scholarship". This view became popular among many Jews, who viewed the subject as worthy of study, but who did not accept Kabbalah as teaching literal truths.

According to Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (Dean of the Conservative Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in the American Jewish University)
“ Many western Jews insisted that their future and their freedom required shedding what they perceived as parochial orientalism. They fashioned a Judaism that was decorous and strictly rational (according to 19th-century European standards), denigrating Kabbalah as backward, superstitious, and marginal.[28] ”

However, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries there has been a revival in interest in Kabbalah in all branches of liberal Judaism. The Kabbalistic 12th century prayer Anim Zemirot was restored to the new Conservative Sim Shalom siddur, as was the B'rikh Shmeh passage from the Zohar, and the mystical Ushpizin service welcoming to the Sukkah the spirits of Jewish forbearers. Anim Zemirot and the 16th Century mystical poem Lekhah Dodi reappeared in the Reform Siddur Gates of Prayer in 1975. All Rabbinical seminaries now teach several courses in Kabbalah—in Conservative Judaism, both the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles have fulltime instructors in Kabbalah and Hasidut, Eitan Fishbane and Pinchas Geller, respectively. In the Reform movement Sharon Koren teaches at the Hebrew Union College. Reform Rabbis like Herbert Weiner and Lawrence Kushner have renewed interest in Kabbalah among Reform Jews. At the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the only accredited seminary that has curricular requirements in kabbalah, Joel Hecker is the fulltime instructor teaching courses in kabbalah and hasidut.

According to Artson:
“ Ours is an age hungry for meaning, for a sense of belonging, for holiness. In that search, we have returned to the very Kabbalah our predecessors scorned. The stone that the builders rejected has become the head cornerstone (Psalm 118:22)... Kabbalah was the last universal theology adopted by the entire Jewish people, hence faithfulness to our commitment to positive-historical Judaism mandates a reverent receptivity to Kabbalah.[29] ”

The Reconstructionist movement, under the leadership of Arthur Green in the 1980s and 1990's, and with the influence of Zalman Schachter Shalomi brought a strong openness to kabbalah and hasidic elements that then came to play prominent roles in the Kol ha-Neshamah siddur series.

[edit] History

[edit] Origins of Judaic mysticism

According to the traditional understanding, Kabbalah dates from Eden.[30] It came down from a remote past as a revelation to elect Tzadikim (righteous people), and, for the most part, was preserved only by a privileged few. Talmudic Judaism records its view of the proper protocol for teaching this wisdom, as well as many of its concepts, in the Talmud, Tractate Hagigah, Ch.2.

Contemporary scholarship suggests that various schools of Jewish esotericism arose at different periods of Jewish history, each reflecting not only prior forms of mysticism, but also the intellectual and cultural milieu of that historical period. Answers to questions of transmission, lineage, influence, and innovation vary greatly and cannot be easily summarized.

[edit] Origins of terms

Originally, Kabbalistic knowledge was believed to be an integral part of the Judaism's oral law (see also, Aggadah), given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai around 13th century BCE, though there is a view that Kabbalah began with Adam.

When the Israelites arrived at their destination and settled in Canaan, for a few centuries the esoteric knowledge was referred to by its aspect practice—meditation Hitbonenut (Hebrew: התבוננות‎),[31] Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's Hitbodedut (Hebrew: התבודדות‎), translated as “being alone” or “isolating oneself”, or by a different term describing the actual, desired goal of the practice—prophecy (“NeVu’a” Hebrew: נבואה‎).

During the 5th century BCE, when the works of the Tanakh were edited and canonized and the secret knowledge encrypted within the various writings and scrolls (“Megilot”), the knowledge was referred to as Ma'aseh Merkavah (Hebrew: מעשה מרכבה‎)[32] and Ma'aseh B'reshit (Hebrew: מעשה בראשית‎),[33] respectively "the act of the Chariot" and "the act of Creation". Merkavah mysticism alluded to the encrypted knowledge within the book of the prophet Ezekiel describing his vision of the "Divine Chariot". B'reshit mysticism referred to the first chapter of Genesis (Hebrew: בראשית‎) in the Torah that is believed to contain secrets of the creation of the universe and forces of nature. These terms are also mentioned in the second chapter of the Talmudic tractate Haggigah.

[edit] Mystic elements of the Torah

According to adherents of Kabbalah, its origin begins with secrets that God revealed to Adam. According to a rabbinic midrash[citation needed] God created the universe through the ten sefirot. When read by later generations of Kabbalists, the Torah's description of the creation in the Book of Genesis reveals mysteries about the godhead itself, the true nature of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, as well as the interaction of these supernal entities with the Serpent which leads to disaster when they eat the forbidden fruit, as recorded in Genesis 2.[29]

The Bible provides ample additional material for mythic and mystical speculation. The prophet Ezekiel's visions in particular attracted much mystical speculation, as did Isaiah's Temple vision—Isaiah, Ch.6. Jacob's vision of the ladder to heaven provided another example of esoteric experience. Moses' encounters with the Burning bush and God on Mount Sinai are evidence of mystical events in the Tanakh that form the origin of Jewish mystical beliefs.

The 72 letter name of God which is used in Jewish mysticism for meditation purposes is derived from the Hebrew verbal utterance Moses spoke in the presence of an angel, while the Sea of Reeds parted, allowing the Hebrews to escape their approaching attackers. The miracle of the Exodus, which led to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and the Jewish Orthodox view of the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, preceded the creation of the first Jewish nation approximately three hundred years before King Saul.

[edit] Mystical doctrines in the Talmudic era

In early rabbinic Judaism (the early centuries of the first millennium CE), the terms Ma'aseh Bereshit ("Works of Creation") and Ma'aseh Merkabah ("Works of the Divine Throne/Chariot") clearly indicate the Midrashic nature of these speculations; they are really based upon Genesis 1 and Book of Ezekiel 1:4–28; while the names Sitrei Torah (Hidden aspects of the Torah) (Talmud Hag. 13a) and Razei Torah (Torah secrets) (Ab. vi. 1) indicate their character as secret lore. An additional term also expanded Jewish esoteric knowledge, namely Chochmah Nistara (Hidden wisdom).

Talmudic doctrine forbade the public teaching of esoteric doctrines and warned of their dangers. In the Mishnah (Hagigah 2:1), rabbis were warned to teach the mystical creation doctrines only to one student at a time.[34] To highlight the danger, in one Jewish aggadic ("legendary") anecdote, four prominent rabbis of the Mishnaic period (first century CE) are said to have visited the Orchard (that is, Paradise, pardes, Hebrew: פרדס lit., orchard):
“ Four men entered pardes—Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher (Elisha ben Abuyah),[35] and Akiba. Ben Azzai looked and died; Ben Zoma looked and went mad; Acher destroyed the plants; Akiba entered in peace and departed in peace.[36] ”

In notable readings of this legend, only Rabbi Akiba was fit to handle the study of mystical doctrines. The Tosafot, medieval commentaries on the Talmud, say that the four sages "did not go up literally, but it appeared to them as if they went up."[37] On the other hand, Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, writes in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1906) that the journey to paradise "is to be taken literally and not allegorically".[38] For further analysis, see The Four Who Entered Paradise.

[edit] Middle Ages
The tree of life.

From the 8th–11th Century Sefer Yetzirah and Hekalot texts made their way into European Jewish circles. Modern scholars have identified several mystical brotherhoods that functioned in Europe starting in the 12th Century. Some, such as the "Iyyun Circle" and the "Unique Cherub Circle", were truly esoteric, remaining largely anonymous.

One well-known group was the "Hasidei Ashkenaz", (חסידי אשכנז) or German Pietists. This 13th Century movement arose mostly among a single scholarly family, the Kalonymus family of the French and German Rhineland.

There were certain rishonim ("Elder Sages") of exoteric Judaism who are known to have been experts in Kabbalah. One of the best known is Nahmanides (the Ramban) (1194–1270) whose commentary on the Torah is considered to be based on Kabbalistic knowledge. Bahya ben Asher (the Rabbeinu Behaye) (d. 1340) also combined Torah commentary and Kabbalah. Another was Isaac the Blind (1160–1235), the teacher of Nahmanides, who is widely argued to have written the first work of classic Kabbalah, the Bahir.

Sefer Bahir and another work, the "Treatise of the Left Emanation", probably composed in Spain by Isaac ben Isaac ha-Kohen, laid the groundwork for the composition of Sefer Zohar, written by Moses de Leon and his mystical circle at the end of the 13th Century, but credited to the Talmudic sage Shimon bar Yochai, cf. Zohar. The Zohar proved to be the first truly "popular" work of Kabbalah, and the most influential. From the thirteenth century onward, Kabbalah began to be widely disseminated and it branched out into an extensive literature. Historians in the nineteenth century, for example, Heinrich Graetz, argued that the emergence into public view of Jewish esotericism at this time coincides with, and represents a response to, the rising influence of the rationalist philosophy of Maimonides and his followers. Gershom Scholem sought to undermine this view as part of his resistance to seeing kabbalah as merely a response to medieval Jewish rationalism. Arguing for a gnostic influence has to be seen as part of this strategy. More recently, Moshe Idel and Elliot Wolfson have independently argued that the impact of Maimonides can be seen in the change from orality to writing in the thirteenth century. That is, kabbalists committed to writing many of their oral traditions in part as a response to the attempt of Maimonides to explain the older esoteric subjects philosophically.

Most Orthodox Jews reject the idea that Kabbalah underwent significant historical development or change such as has been proposed above. After the composition known as the Zohar was presented to the public in the 13th century, the term "Kabbalah" began to refer more specifically to teachings derived from, or related, to the Zohar. At an even later time, the term began to generally be applied to Zoharic teachings as elaborated upon by Isaac Luria Arizal. Historians generally date the start of Kabbalah as a major influence in Jewish thought and practice with the publication of the Zohar and climaxing with the spread of the Arizal's teachings. The majority of Haredi Jews accept the Zohar as the representative of the Ma'aseh Merkavah and Ma'aseh B'reshit that are referred to in Talmudic texts.[39]

[edit] Early Modern era: Lurianic Kabbalah
Main article: Isaac Luria

Following the upheavals and dislocations in the Jewish world as a result of the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and the trauma of Anti-Semitism during the Middle Ages, Jews began to search for signs of when the long-awaited Jewish Messiah would come to comfort them in their painful exiles. Moses Cordovero and his immediate circle popularized the teachings of the Zohar which had until then been only a modestly influential work. The author of the Shulkhan Arukh (the Jewish "Code of Law"), Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488–1575), was also a great scholar of Kabbalah and spread its teachings during this era.

As part of that "search for meaning" in their lives, Kabbalah received its biggest boost in the Jewish world with the explication of the Kabbalistic teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–1572) by his disciples Rabbi Hayim Vital and Rabbi Israel Sarug, both of whom published Luria's teachings (in variant forms) gaining them widespread popularity. Luria's teachings came to rival the influence of the Zohar and Luria stands, alongside Moses de Leon, as the most influential mystic in Jewish history.

[edit] Ban against studying Kabbalah

The ban against studying Kabbalah was lifted by the efforts of the sixteenth century Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Azulai (1570–1643).
“ I have found it written that all that has been decreed Above forbidding open involvement in the Wisdom of Truth [Kabbalah] was [only meant for] the limited time period until the year 5,250 (1490 C.E.). From then on after is called the "Last Generation", and what was forbidden is [now] allowed. And permission is granted to occupy ourselves in the [study of] Zohar. And from the year 5,300 (1540 C.E.) it is most desirable that the masses both those great and small [in Torah], should occupy themselves [in the study of Kabbalah], as it says in the Raya M'hemna [a section of the Zohar]. And because in this merit King Mashiach will come in the future—and not in any other merit—it is not proper to be discouraged [from the study of Kabbalah]. (Rabbi Avraham Azulai)[40] ”

The question however is whether the ban ever existed in the first place. Concerning the above quote by Avraham Azulai, it has found many versions in English, another is this
“ From the year 1540 and onward, the basic levels of Kabbalah must be taught publicly to everyone, young and old. Only through Kabbalah will we forever eliminate war, destruction, and man's inhumanity to his fellow man.[41] ”

The lines concerning 1490 are also missing from the Hebrew edition of Hesed L'Avraham, the source work that both of these quote from. Furthermore by Azulai's view the ban was lifted thirty years before his birth. A time that would have corresponded with Rabbi Haim Vital's publication of the teaching of Isaac Luria. Furthermore Rabbi Moshe Isserles only understood there to be a minor restriction, in his words "One's belly must be full of meat and wine, discerning between the prohibited and the permitted."[42] He is supported by the Bier Hetiv, the Pithei Teshuva as well as the Vilna Gaon. The Vilna Gaon says,
“ There was never any ban or enactment restricting the study of the wisdom of Kabbalah. Any who says there is has never studied Kabblah, has never seen PaRDeS, and speaks as an ignoramous.[43] ”

Thus leaving the existence of a ban to be highly debated.

[edit] Sefardi and Mizrahi

The Kabbalah of the Sefardi (Portuguese or Spanish) and Mizrahi (African/Asian) Torah scholars has a long history. Kabbalah in various forms was widely studied, commented upon, and expanded by North African, Turkish, Yemenite, and Asian scholars from the 16th Century onward. It flourished among Sefardic Jews in Tzfat (Safed), Israel even before the arrival of Isaac Luria, its most famous resident. The great Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Arukh was part of the Tzfat school of Kabbalah. Shlomo Alkabetz, author of the famous hymn Lekhah Dodi, taught there.

His disciple Moses ben Jacob Cordovero authored Sefer Pardes Rimonim, an organized, exhaustive compilation of kabbalistic teachings on a variety of subjects up to that point. Rabbi Cordovero headed the Academy of Tzfat until his death, when Isaac Luria, also known as the Ari, rose to prominence. Rabbi Moshe's disciple Eliyahu De Vidas authored the classic work, Reishit Chochma, combining kabbalistic and mussar (moral) teachings. Chaim Vital also studied under Rabbi Cordovero, but with the arrival of Rabbi Luria became his main disciple. Vital claimed to be the only one authorized to transmit the Ari's teachings, though other disciples also published books presenting Luria's teachings.

[edit] Maharal

One of the most important teachers of Kabbalah recognized as an authority by all serious scholars up until the present time, was Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1525–1609) known as the Maharal of Prague. Many of his written works survive and are studied for their deep Kabbalistic insights. The Maharal is, perhaps, most famous outside of Jewish mysticism for the legends of the golem of Prague, which he reportedly created. During the twentieth century, Rabbi Isaac Hutner (1906–1980) continued to spread the Maharal's teachings indirectly through his own teachings and scholarly publications within the modern yeshiva world.

[edit] Failure of Sabbatian Mysticism

The spiritual and mystical yearnings of many Jews remained frustrated after the death of Rabbi Isaac Luria and his disciples and colleagues. No hope was in sight for many following the devastation and mass killings of the pogroms that followed in the wake the Chmielnicki Uprising (1648–1654), and it was at this time that a controversial scholar of the Kabbalah by the name of Sabbatai Zevi (1626–1676) captured the hearts and minds of the Jewish masses of that time with the promise of a newly-minted "Messianic" Millennialism in the form of his own personage.

His charisma, mystical teachings that included repeated pronunciations of the holy Tetragrammaton in public, tied to an unstable personality, and with the help of his own "prophet" Nathan of Gaza, convinced the Jewish masses that the "Jewish Messiah" had finally come. It seemed that the esoteric teachings of Kabbalah had found their "champion" and had triumphed, but this era of Jewish history unravelled when Zevi became an apostate to Judaism by converting to Islam after he was arrested by the Ottoman Sultan and threatened with execution for attempting a plan to conquer the world and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

Many of his followers, known as Sabbateans, continued to worship him in secret, explaining his conversion not as an effort to save his life but to recover the sparks of the holy in each religion, and most leading rabbis were always on guard to root them out. The Donmeh movement in modern Turkey is a surviving remnant of the Sabbatian schism.

Due to the chaos caused in the Jewish world, the Rabbinic prohibition against studying Kabbalah was well intact again, and established itself firmly within the Jewish religion. One of the conditions allowing a man to study and engage himself in the Kabbalah, was to be of age forty. This age requirement came about during this period and is not Talmudic in origin. Many Jews are familiar with this ruling, but are not aware of its origins. Moreover, the prohibition is not halakhic in nature. According to Moses Cordovero, halakhically, one must be of age twenty to engage in the Kabbalah. Many famous Kabbalists, including the ARI, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, were younger than twenty when they began.

[edit] Frankists
Main article: Jacob Frank

The Sabbatian movement was followed by that of the "Frankists" who were disciples of another pseudo-mystic Jacob Frank (1726–1791) who eventually became an apostate to Judaism by apparently converting to Catholicism. This era of disappointment did not stem the Jewish masses' yearnings for "mystical" leadership.

[edit] 1700s

The eighteenth century saw an explosion of new efforts in the writing and spread of Kabbalah by four well known rabbis working in different areas of Europe:

* Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760) in the area of Ukraine spread teachings based on Rabbi Isaac Luria's foundations, simplifying the Kabbalah for the common man. From him sprang the vast ongoing schools of Hasidic Judaism, with each successive rebbe viewed by his "Hasidim" as continuing the role of dispenser of mystical divine blessings and guidance.
* Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772–1810), the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, revitalized and further expanded the latter's teachings, amassing a following of thousands in Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland. In a unique amalgam of Hasidic and Mitnagid approaches, Rebbe Nachman emphasized study of both Kabbalah and serious Torah scholarship to his disciples. His teachings also differed from the way other Hasidic groups were developing, as he rejected the idea of hereditary Hasidic dynasties and taught that each Hasid must "search for the tzaddik ('saintly/righteous person')" for himself—and within himself.
* Rabbi Elijah of Vilna (Vilna Gaon) (1720–1797), based in Lithuania, had his teachings encoded and publicized by his disciples such as by Rabbi Chaim Volozhin who published the mystical-ethical work Nefesh HaChaim. However, he was staunchly opposed to the new Hasidic movement and warned against their public displays of religious fervour inspired by the mystical teachings of their rabbis. Although the Vilna Gaon was not in favor of the Hasidic movement, he did not prohibit the study and engagement in the Kabbalah. This is evident from his writings in the Even Shlema. "He that is able to understand secrets of the Torah and does not try to understand them will be judged harshly, may God have mercy". (The Vilna Gaon, Even Shlema, 8:24). "The Redemption will only come about through learning Torah, and the essence of the Redemption depends upon learning Kabbalah" (The Vilna Gaon, Even Shlema, 11:3).
* Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707–1746), based in Italy, was a precocious Talmudic scholar who arrived at the startling conclusion that there was a need for the public teaching and study of Kabbalah. He established a yeshiva for Kabbalah study and actively recruited outstanding students and, in addition, wrote copious manuscripts in an appealing clear Hebrew style, all of which gained the attention of both admirers and rabbinical critics who feared another "Zevi (false messiah) in the making".He was forced to close his school by his rabbinical opponents, hand over and destroy many of his most precious unpublished kabbalistic writings, and go into exile in the Netherlands. He eventually moved to the Land of Israel. Some of his most important works such as Derekh Hashem survive and are used as a gateway to the world of Jewish mysticism.

[edit] Modern era

One of the most influential sources spreading Kabbalistic teachings have come from the massive growth and spread of Hasidic Judaism, a movement begun by Yisroel ben Eliezer (The Baal Shem Tov), but continued in many branches and streams until today. These groups differ greatly in size, but all emphasize the study of mystical Hasidic texts, which now consists of a vast literature devoted to elaborating upon the long chain of Kabbalistic thought and methodology. No group emphasizes in-depth kabbalistic study, though, to the extent of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, whose Rebbes delivered tens of thousands of discourses, and whose students study these texts for three hours daily.

Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch urged the study of kabbala as prerequisite for one's humanity:
“ A person who is capable of comprehending the Seder hishtalshelus (kabbalistic secrets concerning the higher spiritual spheres)—and fails to do so—cannot be considered a human being. At every moment and time one must know where his soul stands. It is a mitzvah (commandment) and an obligation to know the seder hishtalshelus.[44] ”

The writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1864–1935) also stress Kabbalistic themes:
“ Due to the alienation from the "secret of God" [i.e. Kabbalah], the higher qualities of the depths of Godly life are reduced to trivia that do not penetrate the depth of the soul. When this happens, the most mighty force is missing from the soul of nation and individual, and Exile finds favor essentially... We should not negate any conception based on rectitude and awe of Heaven of any form—only the aspect of such an approach that desires to negate the mysteries and their great influence on the spirit of the nation. This is a tragedy that we must combat with counsel and understanding, with holiness and courage.
— Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (Orot 2) ”

[edit] Bnei Baruch

Bnei Baruch is a group of Kabbalists, based in Israel. Study materials are available in over 25 languages [45].

Michael Laitman, established Bnei Baruch in 1991, following the passing of his teacher, Baruch Ashlag. Laitman named his group Bnei Baruch (sons of Baruch) to commemorate the memory of his mentor. Baruch Ashlag was the oldest son and successor of the famous Kabbalist, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, who was author of a comprehensive commentary on The Book of Zohar called The Sulam Commentary (The Ladder Commentary).

[edit] Kabbalah Centre
Main article: Kabbalah Centre

The Kabbalah Centre was founded in the United States in 1965 as The National Research Institute of Kabbalah by Philip Berg (born Feivel Gruberger) and Rav Yehuda Tzvi Brandwein. After Brandwein's death, and after several years in Israel, Philip Berg and his wife Karen Berg, re-established the U.S. Kabbalah Centre in New York.

[edit] Personalities in Kabbalah
See also: Category:Kabbalists

Historical

* Nathan Adler
* Abraham Abulafia
* Baruch Ashlag
* Yehuda Ashlag
* Abraham Azulai
* Moses ben Jacob Cordovero



* Israel ben Eliezer
* Solomon ibn Gabirol
* Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla
* Meir ben Ezekiel ibn Gabbai
* Yitzchak Kaduri
* Yosef Karo
* Moses de Leon
* Isaac Luria



* Elijah ben Solomon
* Baba Sali
* Chaim Vital
* Simeon bar Yohai

Contemporary

* Samuel Ben-Or Avital
* Aryeh Kaplan
* Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
* Adin Steinsaltz