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gnosticism vs. kabbalah

To: alt.religion.gnostic,alt.magick,talk.religion.newage,alt.religion.christian,soc.culture.jewish
From: "rkaiser1" 
Subject: Re: gnosticism vs. kabbalah
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2000 21:25:21 -0500

   Many Jews throughout history have heavilly criticised Kabbalah.  It leads
away from monotheism as it tends to promote dualism (i.e. the belief that
there is a supernatural counterpart to God.)

(a) Some early mystics believed in a heavenly being called Metatron, a
lesser YHVH (the lesser Adonai), that worked in concert with YHVH (the
greater) Adonai.  While this essentially Gnostic belief was never a
mainstream trend within Jewish thought, some Kabbalists accepted it.

(b) Later Kabbalistic works, including the Zohar, more strongly affirmed
dualism, ascribing all evil to a supernatural force known as the Sitra Ahra
("the other side".)  "The dualistic tendency is, perhaps, most marked in the
Kabbalistic treatment of the problem of evil.  The profound sense of the
reality of evil brought many Kabbalists to posit a realm of the demonic, the
Sitra Ahra, a kind of negative mirror image of the "side of holiness" with
which it was locked in combat."  [Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 6,
"Dualism", p.244]

One can find apologetics for this dualism, claiming that it is ultimately
compatible with monotheism; some claim that this demonic realm originates
"somewhere in the sphere of divine emanation - whether in the sefirah
gevurah or (as in Lurianic kabbalism) in the more hidden aspects of the
godhead."  Therefore, it is claimed, it is essentially a monotheistic
belief.  However, this is little different from the dualism inherent in
Christianity; Christianity posits that there is both an independent good
force (God) and as independent evil force (known variously as Lucifer,
Satan, or the devil).  Like some Kabbalists, many Christians claim that this
dualism is compatible with monotheism, as the devil is only a creation of
God.  Similarly, recall that the classical Greek religion was polytheistic,
yet the ancient Greeks believed that Zeus was in fact the father of the gods
in the Greek Pantheon.

If we were to accept the argument of the Kabbalists who believed in the
Sitra Ahra as an independent force, then we would be forced to concede that
Christian dualism and Greek paganism are also monotheistic.  However, these
arguments stretch the bounds of the word "monotheism" beyond any
recognizable form.  The issue for monotheists is not where various god and
deities come from; the issue is whether or not one and only one God truly
exists.  Greek Paganism, Zoroastrianism, classical Christianity, and certain
adherents of Kabbalah posit two or more independent supernatural deities,
and hence are not monotheistic.  All streams of normative Judaism reject any
form of polytheism or deism in any guise.

(c) Even without either of the above two concerns, a major Kabbalistic
tenant in of itself has an inherently dualistic tension.  According to
Kabbalists no person can understand the true nature, unknown nature of God.
However, the Kabbalistic description of God as En Sof is far from the
description of God described by Jewish religious writings such as the Torah,
Tanakh (Bible), Mishna and Talmud.  The difference is so great that it can
effectively turn Kabbalah into Gnosticism, a belief system in which there is
one god that makes Himself known to man, and another hidden god far removed
from man's experience.

Prof. Gershom Scholem, one of the world's foremost authorities on Kabbalah,
discusses this issue:  "In the last resort, every cognition of God is based
on a form of relation between God and His creature, i.e. a manifestation of
God in something else, and not on a relation between Him and Himself.  It
has been argued that the difference between deus absconditus (God in
Himself) and God in His appearance is unknown to Kabbalism.  This seems to
me a wrong interpretation of the facts.  On the contrary, the dualism
embedded in these two aspects of the one God, both of which are,
theologically speaking, possible ways of aiming at the divinity, has deeply
preoccupied the Jewish mystics.  It has occasionally led them to use
formulas whose implied challenge to the religious consciousness of
monotheism was fully revealed only in the subsequent development of
Kabbalism.  As a rule, the Kabbalists were concerned to find a formula,
which should give as little offense as possible to the philosophers.  For
this reason the inherent contradiction between the two aspects of God is not
always brought out as clearly as in the famous doctrine of an anonymous
writer around 1300 CE, according to whom God in Himself, as an absolute
Being, and therefore by His very nature incapable of becoming the subject of
a revelation unto others, is not and cannot be meant in the documents of
Revelation, in the canonical writings of the Bible, and in the rabbinic

God is not the subject of these writings and therefore also has no
documented name, since every word of the sacred writings refers after all to
some aspect of His manifestation on the side of Creation.  It follows that
while the living God, the God of religion of whom these writings bear
witness, has innumerable names...the deus absconditus, the God who is hidden
in His own self, can only be named in a metaphorical sense and with the help
of words which, mystically speaking, are not real names at all.  The
favorite formulae of the early Spanish Kabbalists are speculative
paraphrases like "Root of all Roots," "Great Reality," "Indifferent Unity,"
and above all, En-Sof.  The latter designation reveals the impersonal
character of this aspect of the hidden God from the standpoint of man....It
signifies "the infinite" as such;  not, as has been frequently suggested,
"He who is infinite", but "That which is infinite".  Isaac the Blind calls
the deus absconditus "that which is not conceivable of thinking"

...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 En-Sof and the
personal Demiurge of Scripture." [Gershom Scholem "Major Trends in Jewish
Mysticism" Shocken Books p.11-12]


Robert Kaiser

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