Boaz Huss

THE NEW AGE OF KABBALAH Contemporary Kabbalah, the New Age and postmodern spirituality
bhuss@bgu.ac.il Dr 0 2 BoazHuss 6000002007 2007 OriginalofFrancis 1472-5886 (print)/1472-5894 Journal&Article Ltd 10.1080/14725880701423014(online) CMJS_A_242185.sgm Taylor andModern Jewish Studies Francis

In recent years, a remarkable revival of interest in Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism has taken place in Israel, the United States and other, mostly Western, countries. This revival, which includes a resurgence of kabbalistic and hasidic doctrines and practices and an integration of kabbalistic themes in various cultural fields, coincides with the emergence of the New Age and other related spiritual and new religious movements in the Western world in the last decades of the twentieth century. New Age themes appear in various contemporary kabbalistic and Neo-hasidic movements, and there are significant similarities between these movements, the New Age and other recent spiritual and religious revival movements. This article will examine the contemporary revival of Kabbalah and investigate the relationship between contemporary Kabbalah and New Age phenomena. It will demonstrate that central characteristics of the new spiritual culture appear not only in contemporary Kabbalah and Neohasidic groups that explicitly use New Age themes, but also among kabbalistic and hasidic movements that are perceived as presenting more traditional forms of Jewish mysticism. The shared characteristic of contemporary Kabbalah and New Age, it will be argued, are not dependent only on the direct impact of the New Age movements on contemporary Kabbalah, but rather on the postmodern context and nature of both these phenomena. The emergence and constructions of contemporary Kabbalah, the New Age and other related new spiritual movements, which can be described as “postmodern spiritualities”, is dependent on the global economic and social changes in the late twentieth century. This article will claim that these new cultural formations reflect the cultural logic of late global capitalism and respond to the new social conditions in the postmodern era.

The emergence of contemporary forms of Kabbalah
Since the early thirteenth century various cultural formations—texts, oral traditions and ritual practices—were produced, transmitted and perceived as belonging to an ancient, sacred, body of theoretical and practical knowledge called “Kabbalah”. Kabbalah gained considerable symbolic power in Jewish communities, first in Spain, and later in other Jewish centres around the world, and became universally accepted as sacred and authoritative in the eighteenth century. Yet, since the late eighteenth century, Kabbalah and the traditional Jewish circles that adhered to it—mostly the East European hasidic movement that emerged at the same period—were vehemently criticised by some of the central figures of the Haskalah and its successors in the nineteenth century. Within the framework of building a modern, Western, Jewish identity, the
Journal of Modern Jewish Studies Vol 6, No. 2 July 2007, pp. 107–125 ISSN 1472-5886 print/ISSN 1472-5894 online © 2007 Taylor & Francis http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/14725880701423014

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maskilim rejected Kabbalah and Hasidism, portraying them as backward, irrational and Oriental traditions that impede the integration and acculturation of the Jews to modern European society. Under the impact of the “enlightened” perspective, which became more influential in Jewish cultures of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Kabbalah lost its predominant statues in many (mostly Westernised) Jewish communities (Huss, “‘Admiration’”, 205–212). In the same period in which Kabbalah lost its positive cultural value in Jewish enlightened circles (but retained it in traditional circles), its symbolic value increased among non-Jewish Romantic and Western esoteric circles, which, in the context of a Romantic and Orientalist fascination with mysticism and Eastern religions, discovered an interest in both Christian and Jewish Kabbalah. Following the growing interest in Kabbalah in non-Jewish European culture, and within the framework of emerging Jewish nationalism, some Jewish intellectuals in both Western and Eastern Europe (such as Martin Buber, Micha Yosef Berdyczewsky, Shmuel Aba Horodedsky and many others) expressed a renewed interest in Kabbalah and Hasidism. These scholars, who identified Kabbalah and Hasidism as Jewish forms of mysticism, affirmed their philosophical, literary and especially, historical value, but usually did not embrace kabbalistic practices and articles of faith. Presenting a typical modernist perspective, and an Orientalist ambivalence, they found significance and value in Kabbalah and Hasidism as historical phenomena, but showed no interest in them as living culture traditions. This stance was adopted by Gershom Scholem, who settled in Jerusalem in 1923 and established the study of Kabbalah as an academic field at the Hebrew University. Scholem, who affirmed the historical value of Jewish mysticism and regarded Kabbalah as the expression of Jewish national vitality in the diaspora, believed that traditional forms of Kabbalah lost their historical relevance in the modern period (Huss, “‘Admiration’”, 212–237). In the same period in which Scholem began his historical research into Kabbalah, it was still practised in traditional circles, especially in Jerusalem, which became a centre of kabbalistic activity (Meir 595–602). In the early twentieth century, some important kabbalists arrived there, including Yehuda Fataya from Bagdad, Shaul ha-Cohen Dweck from Haleb (Aleppo), Shlomo Eliashov from Lithuania and Yehuda Ashlag from Poland. Similarly, Abraham Yizchak Kook, who became the first chief Rabbi of Eretz Israel, integrated many mystical and kabbalistic themes in his writings. These kabbalists, as well as others who were active in this period, both in Jerusalem and elsewhere, engaged in Kabbalah according to the main systems developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—the Kabbalah of Shalom Shara‘bi, various hasidic trends and the Lithuanian Kabbalah. Apart from the study of canonical kabbalistic texts (mostly the Zohar and the Lurianic corpus) and the practice of meditative prayer (kavanot), some early twentiethcentury kabbalists developed innovative doctrines that combined kabbalistic themes and modernist principals. The most influential doctrines were created by Abraham Yitzhak Kook, who integrated kabbalistic ideas within a national Zionist ideology, and Yehuda Ashlag, who integrated communist principles in his interpretation of the Lurianic Kabbalah. Although various forms of Kabbalah were still practised, created and revered in traditional Jewish communities in the twentieth century, and notwithstanding the interest in Kabbalah and Hasidism in Jewish Zionist circles, Kabbalah occupied a peripheral place in modern Jewish and Israeli cultures during most of the twentieth century, especially after the Second World War and the foundation of the State of Israel. Israeli

In these contexts. and various kabbalistic rituals and practices such as ritual Zohar readings. in Western culture in general. Several contemporary kabbalists (such as Benayahu Shmueli of Yeshivat nehar shalom. revived and re-invented. Yitzhak Ginsburgh. Although the academic study of Kabbalah established by Scholem was highly esteemed. because of his prognostic and healing powers. as well as the dominant Jewish movements in the United States. visitations of the tombs of saints and so on. While most contemporary kabbalists and kabbalistic movements operate in a Jewish framework. In contradistinction to earlier decades in the twentieth century in which Kabbalah was practised mostly in marginalised hasidic and mizrahi communities. it was limited to philological-historical research practised by a small circle of scholars. which strove to integrate in American Western culture. mostly to the Habad and Breslov movements that are active in the present kabbalistic and hasidic revival. a renewed interest in Kabbalah and Hasidism took place in Israeli society. During the 1970s and 1980s. who died recently. Other present-day forms of Kabbalah are related to North African kabbalistic and saint veneration traditions. one of the leading kabbalists in Israel. synagogues and study groups were established. aged over a hundred. exorcism. Many of the contemporary forms of Kabbalah emerged from. who resided in Netivot after his immigration. which aspired to establish a predominantly socialist. as well as in Jewish communities in the United States and. are performed. translated and interpreted. secular and Western society. earlier forms. Prominent (and competing) kabbalists of North African descent are the sons and relatives of Rabbi Israel Abu Haziera (Hababa sali). mostly in Israel and in the United States. in all the major Jewish denominations abroad and among various non-Jewish circles around the globe.THE NEW AGE OF KABBALAH 109 hegemonic culture. David Basri of Yeshivat hashalom and Yaakov Moshe Hillel of Yeshivat ahavat shalom) continue the traditions of the early twentieth-century yeshivot of Jerusalem in which Kabbalah was practiced mostly according to the system of the eighteenth century Yemenite kabbalist Shalom Sharabi (Hareshash). traditional kabbalistic yeshivot and hasidic movements became more active and new Kabbalah and Neo-hasidic institutes. The most famous contemporary kabbalist who belonged to these circles was Yitzhak Kaduri. some also cater to a non-Jewish public. or are related to. Beginning in the 1970s. and the upcoming young kabbalist Israel Yakov Ifargan. healing. or are related to hasidic traditions. . amulets. 147). “Ask No Questions”. canonical kabbalistic and hasidic texts are re-printed. did not find much interest in kabbalistic and hasidic traditions. to a certain degree. who was a marginal figure in the kabbalistic circles in Jerusalem during most of his life. meditations. and marginalised the traditional circles—haredi and mizrahi communities—in which Kabbalah was still revered and practised (Huss. and some (such as those related to the Order of the Golden Dawn) are manifestly not Jewish. who is know as “the X-ray” (Harentgen). from the late 1980s became a highly popular figure who exercised considerable political influence in Israel until his demise in 2006. nicknamed “the eldest kabbalist” (Zekan hamekubalim). hundreds of books about Kabbalah have been published and numerous Kabbalah-related webpages can be found on the Internet. producers and consumers of contemporary Kabbalah are found in all segments of Israeli Jewish society. In the last three decades. and especially from the 1990s onward. Kaduri. Many present-day kabbalistic movements emerged out of. thousands of people have been studying and practising various forms of Kabbalah. also from Netivot.

The hybrid and eclectic nature of contemporary kabbalistic movements is expressed not only in their heterogeneous social composition. come from non-religious backgrounds or from communities in which Kabbalah was not practised. as well as some of the prominent leaders of contemporary kabbalistic and hasidic movements. Other new Kabbalah formations are derived from the mystical doctrines of Abraham Yitzhak Kook. 191–192). that can be discerned in many contemporary kabbalistic groups (Garb. Apart from these various kabbalistic traditions. but also in their doctrines and practices. The Chosen. Most contemporary kabbalists incorporate themes that are derived from diverse kabbalistic and hasidic traditions. with interest in Kabbalah and Hasidism growing in recent years among his National Religious followers in Israel. who studied with Ashlag’s eldest son. popular culture and scientific sources (Huss. Many contemporary kabbalistic movements combine in their cultural productions themes and practices derived from other religious traditions. Although many contemporary groups are related to earlier kabbalistic and hasidic schools. a student of Ashlag’s principal disciple. Other contemporary kabbalistic movements are related to the school of Yehuda Ashlag. they also exercise some (direct or indirect) influence on movements that operate mostly in a Jewish context. The Chosen. While the influence of these traditions is prominent especially among non-Jewish contemporary kabbalistic movements. “All You Need”. and the two founding figures of the American Jewish Renewal movement. one of the major sources of contemporary Kabbalah is the modern academic discipline of Jewish mysticism. founded the largest contemporary kabbalistic movement. the Kabbalah Center. 148–149). particularly the Western esoteric and occult kabbalistic groups of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.110 JOURNAL OF MODERN JEWISH STUDIES is a habad hasid. Another rapidly growing movement based on Ashlagian Kabbalah is Bnei Baruch. ethnic. in the 1970s. Garb. 620. The reliance on themes and practices derived from the writings of the thirteenth century kabbalist Abraham Abulafia. Philip Berg. for instance. The impact of Kabbalah scholarship can also be discerned in many other contemporary kabbalistic movements. and include members from various ethnic. Many members. Most contemporary kabbalistic groups are hybrid in their social composition. Many other contemporary Kabbalah groups are related to Ashlag. Many contemporary kabbalists derive their knowledge of kabbalistic doctrines and practices from the work of scholars. social and economic backgrounds (Garb. which had been rejected by most traditional kabbalists until recently. Despite the eclectic and . Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Zvi Yehuda Brandwein. 218–219) is dependent to a large degree on the work of scholars who called attention to Abulafia’s Kabbalah. and emerged from the ethnic and ideological communities in which Kabbalah was practiced in earlier decades of the twentieth century. a communal kabbalist village in the upper Galilee. Other sources of contemporary Kabbalah are Christian kabbalistic traditions. social or ideological parameters. The Chosen. it is difficult to classify contemporary Kabbalah according to clear-cut national. some of whose activists are scholars of Kabbalah and Jewish studies. The reliance on academic scholarship is especially prominent in the American Jewish Renewal movements. as well as from the scholarly writings. which was founded in the 1990s by Michael Laitman. Rabbi Baruch. and they adopt some of the major perceptions about the history and significance of Kabbalah from the academia. including Mordechai Scheinberger (a student of Brandwein) and his followers in Or haganuz. were formerly habad emissaries.

without central authority or leadership or a set of common teachings (Arweck 266. other common themes are derived from. The Chosen. some of whom regard the New Age nature of contemporary Kabbalah in critical and disparaging terms (Dan 285). or related to. As Fredric Jameson (46–47) observed. Many of these themes. I will avoid analysing these relationships in judgmental (neither disparaging nor laudatory) terms. and even. Lyon 118). It should be emphasised that the New Age (as with contemporary Kabbalah) is not a unified movement. New Age characteristics of contemporary Kabbalah The connections and resemblance between New Age movements and some contemporary kabbalistic movements have been observed by the media (usually in condemnatory terms). the New Age is the most visible expression of a wider spiritual revolution that thrives both outside. New Age Religion. Dan 48.THE NEW AGE OF KABBALAH 111 hybrid nature of the New Kabbalah. Albanese (348–350) has demonstrated. as Catherine L. which is perceived as the dawning of a New Age. Scholars of the New Age and contemporary religious movements have enumerated several characteristic themes that recur in New Age movements. Instead of criticising the New Age characteristics of contemporary Kabbalah. as well as by scholars (Myers. the sanctity of the Zohar and so on) are dependent on the common sources of contemporary Kabbalah. contemporary New Age culture. in fundamentalist groups. but also among orthodox kabbalistic and hasidic groups who are regarded as presenting more traditional forms of Kabbalah. 331–361). “New Age Religion”. institutionalised religions in advanced industrial-commercial societies. some of the major characteristics of the New Age also appear in contemporary forms of institutionalised religion. As Paul Heelas (New Age Movement. Furthermore. As Gordon Melton observed: The New Age movement can be defined by its primal experience of transformation. as well as the belief in the compatibility of spirituality and science. Such themes appear not only among neo-hasidic and neo-kabbalistic groups and individuals who adopt explicitly New Age doctrines and practices. psychological renderings of religious notions and the sanctification of the self. 361) has suggested. I will attempt to analyse the historical underpinning and cultural significance of these characteristics. conceptualising historical phenomena in terms of moral or moralising judgments is a category mistake. Garb. as well as in some other contemporary religious and spiritual formations. recur in many contemporary kabbalistic and hasidic formations. 185–212). but rather a segmented network of groups. the use of meditative and healing techniques to achieve such a transformation. there are some themes that are common to many of its manifestations. such as the anticipation of a spiritual cosmic transformation. While accepting that there are significant similarities between contemporary Kabbalah and the New Age. New Agers have either experienced or are diligently seeking a profound personal . identified frequently as the “Age of Aquarius” (Hanegraaff. While some of these themes (such as the notion of the sefirot. as well as in many New Religious Movements (Arweck 265). as well as within. One of the major characteristics of the New Age movement is the expectation or experience of a profound transformation.

the founder of the Kabbalah Center. In his recent introduction to the Kabbalah Center’s English translation of the Zohar. Melinda Ribner. exciting future. where death has been terminated.112 JOURNAL OF MODERN JEWISH STUDIES transformation from an old. xiii) The expectation of a New Age of profound spiritual transformation and the dawning of a new form of consciousness recurs in many contemporary kabbalistic movements. where our youth is again upon us. where we will benefit from the Fountain of Youth. 21). This is based on the prevalent idea in New Age sources. offered a New Age interpretation of the kabbalistic ideas of Yehuda Ashlag (Myers. vol. the Lightforce is demanding to be revealed. The notion of a “paradigm shift” (a term borrowed from Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) to a new pantheistic age in which the Divine is discovered in the person. The notion that we are at the beginning of an age of radical transformation of consciousness is also central to the doctrines of Michael Laitman. unacceptable life to a new. is central to the neo-kabbalistic theology of Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. is the ultimate connection. Laitman. (Melton et al. Renewing the Covenant. and in these changed circumstances it behooves us to seek the new forms of Jewish observance that will enable a transformed Judaism to survive and flourish in the remaining two thousands years of the Aquarian Age” (Leet. the past and the future are here now. some of which identify the New Age with traditional Jewish and kabbalistic messianic ideas. 1. The Zohar. who. (Berg. The sense of transformation into a new era is prevalent in the American Jewish Renewal movement and affiliated groups who present. more than at any other time in history. a professor of English literature who became a practicing neo-kabbalist under the influence of Aryeh Kaplan. a form of “New Age Judaism”. a student of Shlomo Carlebach expresses similar notions in her New Age Judaism: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern World. which were described by Hanegraaff (New Age Religion. similar to Berg. From his very first writings in the 1970s. 1 Schachter-Shalomi (Paradigm Shift. quite consciously. 117) as representing the “new paradigm variety” of the New Age movement. he declares: Today. 341–344) described as the radical “Age of Light” perception of the “New Age”. This is the secret of the Age of Aquarius… The awesome power of the Lightforce to which we are connected by the Zohar. “New Age Religion”). the leader of Bnei Baruch. offers a New Age type of interpretation to the Kabbalah of Yehuda Ashlag. In terms that are typical of what Hanegraaff (New Age Religion. humankind can again connect with the Lightforce. Philip Berg. Through this connection we can achieve an altered state of consciousness in which we. Similarly. the father figure of Jewish Renewal (Magid 40). asserts: “[W]e are now in a new age of Judaism. Leonora Leet. During the Age of Aquarius. lxi–lxvii). Berg states that the spiritual transformation of the Age of Aquarius is related to the dissemination of the Zohar by the Kabbalah Center. we are witnessing the beginning of a new age of revelation. who does not use explicit New Age terms such as “the Age . Today. 22) calls for an integration of holistic New Age psychology in Judaism: “Beside the challenge of past history we also face the challenge of the present New Age… I maintain that Judaism without holistic Aquarian psychology will be farther from the divine intent than Aquarian psychology alone”.

This signifies that Divinity descends in order to enter our consciousness and that such a transformation of consciousness brings forth the correction of the world (tikkun ha’olam). in contradistinction to former times. according to Hanegraaff (New Age Religion. (Ginsburgh. We are the first generation obliged to begin the conscious process of correction. 203)2 This expectation of a new transformative age of is also central to the teaching of Yitzhak Ginsburgh. 1.THE NEW AGE OF KABBALAH 113 of Aquarius”. can induce an immediate change in reality. from above downwards. the Kabbalah Center and Bnei Baruch. “Interview”. (vol. The New Age perception of the expected cosmic transformation as entailing primarily a transformation of human consciousness is related to the idea. Since the end of the 20th century. 152) The sense that we live on the threshold of new spiritual era is also reflected in the notion that the teaching of Kabbalah and the Zohar are permissible today. This perception is central not only in the activities of Jewish Renewal. if used correctly. Muda‘ut tiv‘it. Berg declares in his introduction to The Zohar: Kabbalists have always engaged in what has come to be called the power of mind over matter. 201–236). xli) A similar idea is expressed by Michael Laitman. who are actively engaged in disseminating the Zohar. Mankind has been advancing unconsciously toward the goal of creation for thousands of years. headed by Benayahu Shmueli. (Laitman. Thus. The belief in the power of consciousness to shape reality is central to teaching of the Kabbalah Center. right-wing political ideology (Harari 167–174. the conscious ascent of the souls began—exactly as it was foretold in the book of the “Zohar” and in the writings of all the greatest kabbalists such as the Ari. but also in the activities of traditional orthodox kabbalistic groups such as the followers of the ultra-Orthodox kabbalist Daniel Frish and the kabbalists of Yeshivat nehar shalom. 229) is “one of the most central concerns of the New Age: the belief that we create our own reality”. utilizing the power of thought. man. can act as a determinator of both physical and metaphysical activity. the Gaon of Vilna and Ba’al hasulam. declares that a “conscious ascent of the souls” began at the end of the twentieth century: Have a look once more at the curve of the redemption. the leader of Bnei Baruch: We are chosen in that our souls have the powers of thought and desire which. which. They suggest that more than being a participator in the scheme of things. the messianism of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and an active. The collective power of our . who integrates traditional kabbalistic and hasidic themes. Ginsburgh’s emphasis on redemption as dependent on the transformation of human consciousness (Harari 228–230) reflects a common New Age perception: Thus far we have explained that diaspora (golah) is transformed into Redemption (ge’ulah) by the addition of the letter aleph.

Self-spirituality is central to many contemporary kabbalistic and neo-hasidic movements. Similarly. Magid 47).114 JOURNAL OF MODERN JEWISH STUDIES thought. (Laitman. The sacredness of the self is central not only to New Age movements. 19) as the defining characteristic of the New Age. which he aptly names “self-spirituality”. alternative . The Chosen. can be seen also as related to the New Age perception of the power of the mind to influence physical reality. 42). New Age expectations and experience of personal transformation. which will change to appreciate spirituality instead of corporeality. New Age offers a “psychologization of religion and sacralization of psychology”. in Wrapped in Holy Flame: Teaching and Tales of the Hasidic Master. the American neo-hasidic thinker Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and the English kabbalist Ze’v ben Shimon Halevi (Garb. transformation in New Age spirituality is primarily a personal transformation (Melton et al. As Wouter Hanegraaff (New Age Religion. Albanese (75) suggests that “the discourse and related action promoted by the New Age have emerged as a new healing religion”. which is centred in psychology. This feature is considered by Paul Heelas (“Spiritual Revolution”. 224) observed. in the form of ‘transpersonal psychology’ is spiritualised”. 72) A related idea is expressed by Schachter-Shalomi who. Chava Weissler noted in her lectures on Jewish Renewal that self-spirituality is central to the Jewish Renewal movement: “[T]he self/soul and spirituality are deeply intertwined in Renewal. the expected. 42–61). a psychologisation of Kabbalah. Similarly. 205–206. synagogues and temples”. What am I trying to do by interpretation? I am trying to modify reality… How we interpret something will make a difference in reality. or experienced. see also Hellerstein 69–72. It is almost as if to say that this interpretation that I am going to give determines how the world will come out. Harentgen and many others) who are believed to possess supernatural powers that enable them to predict the future. and the attempts to reconcile psychological theories with kabbalistic and hasidic doctrines by the Israeli scholars Micha Ankori and Mordechai Rotenberg. “Interview”. will change the entire reality in our favour. the perception of the mind’s control over body and the belief in psychic powers are all related to the spirituality of the New Age. Spiritual techniques. and its prevalent belief in psychic powers (Lewis 7). writes (through the voice of the Baal Shem Tov): I am the Baal Shem Tov and I am about to interpret Torah. and a “kabbalisation” of psychology has been expressed in many titles published by authors of different kabbalistic orientations in the last two decades.3 Self-spirituality. healing. 4 Wouter Hanegraaff described New Age as “the healing and personal growth movement” (New Age Religions. (40) The recent prominence of Israeli kabbalists (such as Rabbi Kaduri. As George Melton observed above. diagnose spiritual and health problems and offer potent blessings. According to Hanegraaff: “[T]he proliferation of what may loosely be called ‘alternative therapies’ undoubtedly represents one of the most visible aspects of the New Age Movement” (New Age Religions. for others. According to Wade Clark Roof (57): “[T]he turning inward in search of meaning and strength… is happening with people both inside and outside the churches. for some. but also to many other contemporary American and Western religious movements. spirituality is ‘psychologised’. psychology. Jonathan Garb observed the centrality of psychological discourse in twentieth-century Kabbalah and the New Age. xiii). Catherine L.

The growing interest in Practical Kabbalah. meditation is central to the practices of the Renewal movement: “Renewal Jews seek this experience of the divine chiefly through two time-honored paths. for instance. a time to absorb this teaching in an experiential way. Contemporary kabbalists adopt other New Age spiritual techniques and healing practices. reflexology. and the popularity of kabbalists with prognostic and healing powers in Israel. while others offer new techniques that integrate non-Jewish spiritual practices with Jewish and kabbalistic themes (Ophir 408–418). advises the readers of his Eheyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow: [T]o pause for a period of meditation. Kabbalistic meditation is discussed and prescribed in numerous books written by Jewish Renewal and neo-Kabbalah authors in the United States. Laying out the path of sefirot in sequence bears the danger of just imparting information. Meditation is probably the most widespread kabbalistic practice today. the proliferation of kabbalistic practices aimed at attaining personal wellbeing. a Kabbalah scholar and neo-hasidic theologian. such as. As Weissler observed in her lectures on Jewish Renewal. found among mystics of all traditions: contemplative meditation and ecstatic worship”. Kabbalah meditation is practiced in Or haganuz. Similarly. Let us try then. Many of the present forms of kabbalistic meditation. . The members of Or haganuz operate a college for alternative medicine. Elima. Arthur Green. following his audio instruction. Disease and Healing. Shiatsu. Fisdel (The Practice of Kabbalah) and Ribner (Everyday Kabbalah). Reiki and Tai Chi (Inner Dimension. to appreciate this language in the form of guided meditation. especially those practiced in the United States. Kabbalah and Meditation and Kabbalah and Meditation for the Nations. Movies).THE NEW AGE OF KABBALAH 115 therapies and meditation—the most prevalent contemporary spiritual technique—are also central in the various forms of contemporary Kabbalah. Soul: Kabbalah on Human Physiology. Responsa). Although the amulets of Yitzhak Kaduri or the Tikkun ceremonies of Yakov Ifargan (Harentgen) may seem distant from typical New Age practices. the communal village based on Ashlag’s teaching. some of their consumers recognise the similarities between them. in which they offer courses in Chinese medicine. Meditation). as well as in discussion of The Healing of Body and Soul on his website (Inner Dimension. are New kabbalistic equivalents of the interest in healing and personal growth in New Age movements. Chi Kong and Bach flower remedies (Elima). an Israeli journalist who recently published a hagiography of Ifargan. and guided video meditation can be found on their website (Or Haganuz. and that is precisely what the sefirot are not. Healing). (45) Meditation is also central to the teaching and practices of the Kabbalah Center (Berg Using the Wisdom. Mind. his interest in healing is highlighted in his Body. 211–225) and online meditation can be practised on their website (Kabbalah Center. Meditation). We are talking here about inner stages of the mind’s reality that should correspond to something within our own experience. on his website (Inner Dimension. Zvi Alush. meditation is prescribed by Yitzhak Ginsburgh in Living in Divine Space. and can be practised. are based on the influential books of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. Although Yitzhak Ginsburgh rejects New Age practices such as yoga. Some forms of meditation are based on earlier kabbalistic techniques (many of them drawn from the writings of the thirteenthcentury kabbalist Abraham Abulafia).

in theory. Proponents of the New Age tend to use modern scientific vocabulary and integrate scientific themes in their teaching (Heelas. Hanegraaff (New Age Religions. The desire to reconcile kabbalistic and scientific worldviews is central to the teaching of the Kabbalah Center and Bnei Baruch.116 JOURNAL OF MODERN JEWISH STUDIES described his supernatural powers as “alternative medicine” (Alush 156). I demonstrated that New Age characteristics can be found in most contemporary forms of Kabbalah and neo-hasidism. Scientific themes are especially prominent in the writings of the leader of Bnei Baruch. 62) observes that “one of the notable characteristics of New Age thinking is its high regard for modern science”. The Chosen. As Jody Myers (“Concepts”) has observed: “Kabbalah Center literature. Michael Laitman. A central motif of the New Age is the belief in the compatibility of modern science and spirituality. The couple asked him to bless their new home and expel from it the “evil eye”—which is known today in Feng Shui as “negative energies”. and lectures are interspersed with references to the history of science and scientific metaphors”. for instance. (Inner Dimension. Science and the Meaning of Life contains a section entitled “Quantum Physics meets Kabbalah” (15–83). the New Age characteristics enumerated above should not be seen only as part of an outreach . Interest in modern science and the claim of its compatibility with Kabbalah also appear in other contemporary Kabbalah formations. String Theory) Postmodern spirituality In the previous section. The compatibility of science and Kabbalah. 5). “Kabbalah and String Theory”. audio tapes. by stating: One of the most recent theories in physics—able. which was declared by kabbalists in the early twentieth century. (12) The last shared characteristic of New Age and Contemporary Kabbalah I wish to examine before turning to investigate the postmodern context and nature of these cultural constructs is the interest in science and the claim that spirituality and modern science are compatible (a claim that is derivative of the New Age holistic belief in the monism of mind and matter). Its basic concepts and images bring to mind most evident correlations to the teachings of traditional Jewish Kabbalah. to unify the four known forces of nature (and thereby achieve a “unified field theory”) but as of yet unable to be validated by experiment—is “string theory”. “New Age”. the Rabbi [Ifargan] visited the house of a well know attorney and his wife in the South [the Negev]. and “a desire to reconcile religious and scientific worldviews in a higher synthesis that enhances the human condition both spiritually and materially” (Lucas 192). 196). Although New Age terminology is instrumental in recruiting followers and attracting consumers. especially in the writings of Yehuda Ashlag. is a prevalent theme in contemporary Kabbalah (Garb. 5 Thus. Yitzhak Ginsburgh begins his article. who follow Ashlag. and compared a house-cleansing ritual he performed to Feng Shui: One day. It was as if he ‘gathered’ negative energies from the walls and cleansed the house from them”. whose Kabbalah. The women related: “The Rabbi walked over the rooms and scanned them closely.

Frederic Jameson. major economic.THE NEW AGE OF KABBALAH 117 strategy. as we have seen. Shaul Magid (60) considers Jewish Renewal as a reinvention of Judaism. Paul Heelas (“Limits of Consumption”. including the grand narrative of modern Western . social and technological changes of the late twentieth century. The use of the term “postmodern spirituality” rather than “postmodern religion” emphasises the distinction between the New Age and contemporary Kabbalah and “religion” as perceived and constructed in the modern era. which were defined by Jean-Francois Lyotard. The restructuring of late. In a previous study (Huss. cultural formations. described by David Harvey (147) as a shift to a regime of “flexible accumulation”. 620). Indeed. New Age themes appear not only in groups that consciously and explicitly embrace New Age spirituality. The use of the term “postmodern” in reference to contemporary Kabbalah and the New Age highlights their connection to other contemporary cultural formations. 249–250) observed that New Age is “a manifestation par excellence of postmodern consumer society. recycle. Following these scholars. post-Fordist capitalism. David Harvey and others as “postmodern”. “All You Need”. the adoption of new technologies and the emergence of an increasingly integrated global economy. “All You Need”. stimulated and shaped a new logic of cultural production. 258. considerable explanatory power. 105) claimed that New Age “is the religion of what has been described as the post-modern consumer culture” and Wouter Hanegraaff (“New Age Religion”. the New Age. The emergence and evolution of New Age culture and the various forms of contemporary Kabbalah in the final decades of the twentieth century should be understood in the context of the restructuring of post-Fordist capitalism. “using courageous interpretative schemes in the syncretistic spirit of postmodern spirituality”. 620). combine and adapt exiting religious ideas and practices as they see fit”. I suggested that the practices of the Kabbalah Center express several of the major characteristics of postmodern culture. which can be best described as “postmodern spirituality” (see also Hanegraaff. misused) in contemporary discourse. The postmodern nature of the New Age was observed by David Lyon (117) who suggested that the “New Age has strong affinities with emergent features contemporary societies discussed under the rubric of ‘postmodernity’”. “New Age Religion”. and anchors them to the economic. to my mind. and the emergence of a new social structure described by Manuel Castells as the “network society”. are part of a global network of new postmodern. Similarly. In the last three decades of the twentieth century. I would like to argue that contemporary Kabbalah. new intellectual discourses and new forms of knowledge. technological. but rather as essential features of contemporary Kabbalah. Following the weakening of the major social institutions of modernity and the decline of its fundamental narratives. Scholars have also observed the postmodern nature of some of contemporary New kabbalistic phenomena. as well as other new religious and spiritual movements that emerged in the last decades of the twentieth century. but also among kabbalists who avoid using New Age terminology and reject New Age culture. the emergence of a network global society and the postmodern mode of cultural production. the members of which use. Huss. the notion of “postmodern spirituality” has. political and social transformations took place around the globe that involved changes in modes of production. Although both terms—“postmodernity” and “spirituality”—are overused (and many times. Yoram Bilu (55) has recently described Yakov Ifargan as “a resourceful postmodern saint”.

from a variety of sources such as Eastern spirituality. the aesthetics of the diaspora. the occult traditions. in film. valorised and revived in postmodern spiritual movements. in painting. and practices are easily “disembedded” that is. both the social composition. Theosophy and New Age. montage. which was characterised by Jan Nederveen Pieterse (45) as “hybridisation”. in the modern arts anywhere. sefirot and chakras. the ecology movement. the aesthetics of the New Age and of contemporary Kabbalah can be described as “the aesthetics of the hybrid. teachings. As noted above. feminism. lifted from out of one cultural setting and “re-embedded” into another. Paganism. the human potential movement. science. Collage. all the great world religious traditions. and of course. Paraphrasing Stuart Hall’s observation concerning contemporary popular music. Native American teachings extracted from their indigenous context pop up in other settings. healing practices. but are usually combined with other cultural signifiers. psychotherapy. which are the primary forms of postmodern aesthetics. various cultural traditions that were marginalised and suppressed in the modern period re-emerged (and necessarily. bricolage and pastiche. religion and popular culture. all of which may be borrowed eclectically. A global world offers an expanded religious menu: images. rituals. The eclectic nature of postmodern spirituality involves a blurring of distinction between science. . revives and reinvents a wide range of traditions and practices derived from Western esoteric. in social life generally”. the aesthetics of creolisation” (Hall 39). The New Age movement valorises. kabbalistic and hasidic traditions that were marginalised by both hegemonic Zionist culture in Israel and the dominant Jewish denominations in the United States are now revived and reinvented in contemporary postmodern Israeli and Jewish American cultures. in politics. Native American and pagan cultures. modernist distinctions between religion and magic. Similarly. as well as the cultural productions of contemporary kabbalistic movements. are also typical of postmodern spirituality. Oriental. symbols. The evolution of New Age culture. Yet the marginalised cultural themes. As Stuart Hall (34) observed: “[T]he most profound cultural revolution has come about as a consequence of the margins coming into representation—in art. Witchcraft. New Age and contemporary Kabbalah combine diverse themes such as Tarot cards and quarks. in the literature. nature religions. Meditation techniques imported from India and repackaged in the United States. reconstructed) in the postmodern public sphere. are highly diversified and eclectic—a feature that is also characteristic of other contemporary religious and spiritual movements. are not represented in their traditional forms and contexts.118 JOURNAL OF MODERN JEWISH STUDIES secularism. pop culture celebrities and Nobel laureates. religious ritual and show business. As Wade Clark Roof (73) observed: Religious symbols. as well as of contemporary Kabbalah. Both New Age and contemporary kabbalistic movements blur and challenge the accepted. the aesthetics of the crossover. expresses the increasing cultural power of such marginalised narratives and cultural themes. in music. theology and science. creating a mélange of syncretistic cultural productions. meditation techniques. Hybrid social identities and eclectic cultural formations are typical products of the accelerated globalisation of late capitalism.

proper nutrition and healing. the result being thin layers of cultural and religious meaning”. spiritual and physical exercises. God is a Verb. According to Frederic Jameson (9): “The emergence of a new kind of flatness or depthlessness. concentrates mainly on practices such as meditation. a commonly observed (and condemned) characteristic of New Age culture and contemporary Kabbalah is their tendency to present ideas (sometimes derived from highly complex and esoteric traditions) in a simplified and exoteric way (Garb. which was the central literary genre in previous forms of Kabbalah. Jameson demonstrates that postmodernism rejects the major models of modernity that distinguish between. The legitimacy and value of practices in postmodern spirituality. The Kabbalah of the Soul and so on.). Lurianic Kabbalah. The Chosen. 219–220). Cooper. such as Kaplan’s Jewish Meditation. According to Lyotard (51). Contemporary kabbalists often declare that their mission is to reveal and publish the secrets of Kabbalah to the wider public in a modern. and the cover of Michael Laitman’s The Kabbalah Experience reads: “Never has the language of Kabbalah been as clear and accessible as it is here. which was highlighted by Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Practice of Kabbalah. 219). Indeed. This postmodern characteristic explains also the decline of interpretive practices in contemporary Kabbalah. depth over surface. Thus. and is related to the weakening of the major social institutions of modernity. is dependent on their perception as efficient rather than on their belonging to a compelling and authoritative religious or ideological system. Fisdel. The collapse of grand narratives in postmodern culture enhances the eclectic and hybrid nature of many of the New Age and New Kabbalah groups. The emphasis on practice rather than doctrine in contemporary Kabbalah becomes obvious in the revival of Practical Kabbalah in Israel (Garb. as well as in the prevalence of the term “practice” in recent kabbalistic literature. including the New Age and contemporary Kabbalah. is the collapse of the modernist belief in grand narratives.THE NEW AGE OF KABBALAH 119 A major feature of postmodernity. Aricha. essence over appearance. Zohar. for instance. is almost absent from contemporary Kabbalah. postmodern spirituality primarily consists of practical knowledge. Clark Wade Roof (73) adds to his discussion of the eclectic nature of the contemporary American “spiritual marketplace” that “depth to any tradition is often lost. as in postmodern culture in general. Contemporary Kabbalah. informative collection”. and give positive value to. Lyotard’s observations about the acquisition of knowledge in the institutions of higher education apply equally to postmodern spiritual movements. the question asked today in the context of acquisition of knowledge is no longer: “Is it true?” but rather: “What use is it?”—a question that is equivalent to “Is it saleable?” and “Is it efficient?”. myths or grand narratives. like other postmodern spiritual movements. The Chosen. comprehensible and easily digested way. (is) perhaps the supreme formal feature of all the postmodernisms”. etc. Leet. The decline of interpretation is related not only to a different mode of authority construction (which is today less . Philip Berg entitled one of his first books Kabbalah for the Layman. The simplicity with which (most) contemporary Kabbalah and New Age movements present their doctrines is related to the characteristic “depthlessness” of postmodern culture. Commentary (to the bible. Practical Kabbalah. It offers its consumers techniques and spiritual experience rather than articles of faith. in this compelling. In contrast to the centrality of “belief” in modern religious movements. a new kind of superficiality in the most literal sense. authenticity over inauthenticity (Jameson 12).

The impact of capitalist market economy on the domain of contemporary spirituality was observed by many scholars including Wade Clark Roof. literary and artistic life”. 206–208).120 JOURNAL OF MODERN JEWISH STUDIES dependent on the authority of canonical texts). As I noted above. for instance. According to Wouter Hanegraaff (“New Age Religion”. but also in the structure of many kabbalistic and New Age groups and “outlets” that have emerged and operate as private enterprises competing for cultural power and economic profit in the contemporary spiritual marketplace. both contemporary Kabbalah and the New Age are not unified movements. Many postmodern spiritual movements. who describes contemporary American religious culture as a “spiritual marketplace”. but rather a segmented network of groups. and use . Self-spirituality. the writings of Yehuda Ashlag. while Jeremy Carrette and Richard King refer to New Age movements as “capitalistic spirituality”. including kabbalistic ones. in the practice of the Kabbalah Center of scanning the Zohar. 258–259): [T]he New Age movement has taken the shape of a spiritual supermarket where religious consumers pick and choose the spiritual commodities they fancy. 30–34). that were hegemonic at the 1950s and 1960s. The entrepreneurial nature of postmodern spirituality is reflected not only in its emphasis on individualism and sanctification of the self. making the most of the advertising and marketing possibilities of late capitalist technology and communication systems. and it has even reached into the nether corners of academic. but also to the location of significance and value on the surface rather than in the depth of canonical texts. which was defined by Manuel Castells as the “network society”. As Castells (500) observed. “Entrepreneurialism”. mentioned above. the social logic of the network penetrates and modifies contemporary forms of life: “Networks. which was described by scholars as the privatisation of spirituality (Carrette & King 15–17. New Age and contemporary Kabbalah entrepreneurialism are expressions of the integration of postmodern spiritualities in the economic systems of the late twentieth century. integrated into the global commodity production of late capitalism (Garb. which was described by David Harvey (171) as “a general shift from the collective norms and values. even without understanding. is part of the late twentieth century cultural shift towards individualisation.” This network logic is expressed in the social structure and cultural productions of New Age and New Kabbalah movements. Both the eclecticism and depthlessness of these movements. toward a much more competitive individualism as the central value in an entrepreneurial culture that has penetrated many walks of life”. The Chosen. This network structure is a common feature of contemporary society. according to Harvey (171) “now characterizes not only business action. research and development. power. Garb. the growth of informal sector production. This feature is noted. are part of the rhizome-like network morphology of postmodernity. Both the New Age and contemporary Kabbalah can be added to the list of realms of life governed by entrepreneurialism. “Privatization”. but realms of life as diverse as urban governance. and culture. experience. The spiritual practices and productions of these are marketable commodities. are successful global business enterprises that market their spiritual services and products for a considerable price. as well as in the emphasis Bnei Baruch places on the importance of studying. constitute the new social morphology of our societies and the diffusion of networking logic substantially modifies the operation and outcomes in processes of production.

social and technological changes of the late twentieth century. the chairman of Israel’s largest private business enterprise or the cooperation between Ohad Ezrahi and Israel’s richest woman. Shari Arison). The phenomenon of a spiritual marketplace is not limited to the New Age movement only. for example.THE NEW AGE OF KABBALAH 121 them to create their own spiritual syntheses fine-tuned to their strictly personal needs. respond to the new forms of life created by the radical economic. yet unimaginable. like other postmodern cultural formations. the gift shops at the Renewal Movement retreats and the online shops that can be found on the websites of almost all contemporary Kabbalah movements. New Age. etc. . perhaps ultimately impossible. in the “Kabbalah and Business” course offered by the Kabbalah Center. “Postmodernism. The integration of contemporary Kabbalah into late capitalism. defies this division and does not see a contradiction between economic and spiritual value. I would like to conclude by suggesting that New Age and New Kabbalah. responds to this challenge by offering spiritual ideologies and a variety of meditative and healing practices that aspire to expand our minds and bodies to new dimensions in face of the complexities of life in the postmodern era. the postmodern hyperspace we live in transcends our perceptual and cognitive capacities to locate ourselves in the changing external world and to map the global de-centered communicational network in which we are caught.). which is expressed in postmodern spirituality. healing and spiritual consultations. Yet this negative attitude is dependent on a modernist perspective that aspires to separate the “religious” and the “spiritual” from the economic and political spheres. writes Jameson (39). to expand our sensorium and our body to some new. “stands as something like an imperative to grow new organs. spirituality and Kabbalah are part of the postmodern commodification of culture. The commodification of Kabbalah can be seen in the stores of the Kabbalah Center. This commodification and marketing of spirituality and Kabbalah is criticised. This new hyperspace. As Fredric Jameson (4) argued. ridiculed and censured by the opponents of New Age and contemporary Kabbalah. are emphasised by the close contacts some Israeli kabbalists have with business figures (such as. the production of culture “has become integrated into commodity production generally”. the relationship between Yakov Ifargan and Nochi Dankner. The evolution of the contemporary spiritual marketplace and the commodification of religion. David Lyon (121) observed that “both postmodernity and New Age are all about a new era”. The Dynamic Corporation. contemporary Kabbalah and other forms of postmodern spirituality are included in this range. as well as in books such as Brazilian Conservative Rabbi Nilton Bonder’s The Kabbalah of Money or Yitzhak Ginsburgh’s. jewellery. dimensions”. but is a general characteristic of religion in (post)modern Western democracies. As Fredric Jameson (44) commented. The cultural logic of late capitalism. and the affirmation of the values of capitalism. “signals nothing more than a logical extension of the power of the market over the whole range of cultural production”. various movements and private entrepreneurs charge fees (or expect donations) for kabbalistic services such as teaching. The notion of the “New Age” expresses a similar reflective sense of change as the idea of the “postmodern”. meditation cards. Apart from books and various kabbalistic objects (such as amulets. Postmodern spirituality. including contemporary Kabbalah.” affirmed David Harvey (62).

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