[Avodah] Is Panentheism Heresy

Jonathan Baker jjbaker at panix.com
Wed Jan 16 13:02:52 PST 2013

(moved from Areivim per RMi's request)

On Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 10:57:40AM -0600, Lisa Liel wrote:
> On 1/16/2013 9:19 AM, Jonathan Baker wrote:
>> Lisa: surprising bit of ahistoricism from you.  How could the Anshei Knesset
>> Hagedolah have banned something (Kabbalistic concepts being taught in public)
>> that wouldn't be invented until 1500 years later?

> So you're conflating the Zohar and Kabbalah?  That's a mistake.  Chazal

So you don't conflate the Zohar and Kabbalah?  The Zohar is the primary
library of Kabbalah, which is pretty widely understood to be the 10 sefirot/
4 worlds structures.

> spoke about Maaseh Merkavah and Maaseh Bereishit.  Even if you believe

Which are not Kabbalah.

> that the Zohar was invented out of whole cloth by Moshe de Leon, which I
> think is untrue, there's plenty of Kabbalah other than that.

Only by remapping the term "Kabbalah" to mean mysticism in general, instead
of ten sefiros/four worlds and all their ramifications.  Kabbalah only began
in the 1100s, maybe 1200s, texts like Bahir and possibly Masechet Atzilut
being among the earliests texts.  Even the Rambam has a Neoplatonic mysticism
(inasmuch as the Aristotle he learned was adulterated with Neoplatonism), but
explicitly non-Kabbalistic, not related either to the mysticism of Hazal or
the Kabbalah.

Before the Middle Ages, Kabbalah meant tradition, not mysticism.  Sod might
have meant mysticism.

>> If you're talking about the Mishnah in Taanit 2:1, Ein Dorshin, the mysticism
>> of Hazal was very different from the mysticism of the Kabbalists, being about
>> chambers and chariots and meditative ascents to God, rather than about the
>> mechanisms of God's action in the world.

> That's a false dichotomy.

No, it's not. Read the scholarship, read the texts.  Sure, there's meditative
material in Chasidism which is drawn from the earlier ideas, and in other
kabbalistic texts, but Kabbalah itself was a new creation written (or revealed)
in the 1200s.  It did not form part of the old Merkabah mysticism in either

The primary meditative author's works were suppressed - Abulafia, whose
books are only now coming into print.  You can find them online, at Amnon
Gross' blog.  And as for dichotomy - the theosophical kabbalists suppressed
his writing, while his writing dismisses the sefirot-niks. So the dichotomy
is real and long-standing.
>> Be that as it may, I can't see panentheism as heretical, inasmuch as it's
>> the theology of parts of the Zohar, the Arizal, and even more so the
>> Hasidim.  Unless we want to reject the whole enterprise of Kabbalah and its
>> child Hasidism?

> If you believe that Kabbalah is a 13th century invention, why wouldn't
> you want to reject it?  I would.

Why should we reject a 13th-century innovation?  It was created and
ratified by the Rishonim.   Surely that's no less valid (if less
authoritative) than the Tannaim?

Mimah nafshach: either no revelation after Sinai is valid, so we should
reject the Kabbalah (which was invented/revealed either in the 2nd Century
or the 12th, in either case long after the end of prophecy) and Chasidism
etc., or revelations after Sinai (or after AKHG, the end of prophecy)
are valid, as long as they don't contradict established mitzvot. How one
can accept Kabbalah and reject other religions' revelations becomes a
problem for the reader.

Continuous revelation is widely supported in Judaism, although it has 
fallen out of style in contemporary non-Hasidic Ashkenaz, where the kabbalism
has been replaced by nothing or by philosophism. It wasn't invented by 
Tamar Ross to justify recent feminist innovations.

Meanwhile, none of this has any bearing on Panentheism.

        name: jon baker              web: http://www.panix.com/~jjbaker
     address: jjbaker at panix.com     blog: http://thanbook.blogspot.com

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