[Avodah] Is Panentheism Heresy

Jonathan Baker jjbaker at panix.com
Wed Jan 16 17:40:11 PST 2013

Terminology debate: Lisa says Kabbalah is equal to Jewish mysticism of all
schools, I say (following the academics, who actually care about history,
where practitioners don't particularly) that it's the subject matter of
the Zohar, the Bahir, etc.  texts from the 1100s onwards.  We disagree,
I think we should just leave it.

> >> spoke about Maaseh Merkavah and Maaseh Bereishit.  Even if you believe
> > Which are not Kabbalah.

> According to you.  With all due respect, I'm going to go with R' Kaplan 
> on this.

Let's just note that we have different views, but that R' Kaplan is
clearly aware of the different schools of Jewish mysticism, and that
the Zohar material is its own thing, separate from the mysticism of
Hazal.  See, e.g., Sefer Yetzirah intro pp. xxiv-xv, and the Commentaries
section of the bibliography - none of the commentaries before the 1100s
is described as "kabbalistic" or "mystical".

> >> 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,
> If it helps you to cast it as me remapping a term, when there are 
> scholars who use the term my way, feel free.  But I can't be expected to 
> respond to a context I reject.

The context of R' Kaplan?  I don't think you know his real context, as a
rabbi in the Midwest in the 1960s.  More on that later.

> >>> 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.

> If by scholarship, you mean Gershom Scholem, I have better things to do 
> with my time.  As I said, I'll go with a rav who is part of the living 
> tradition.

Well, you'll have to look beyond R' Kaplan, then.  I have it on good authority
that like Scholem, Kaplan learned his Kabbalah from texts, sitting in a library
studying from books & mss. for a long time. He has to have been absolutely 
brilliant to do that.  Also, he learned Ladino in 3 months so he could translate
the Meam Loez.  I have nothing but respect for him, and awe at his intellect
and writing ability - so much clear, detailed, footnoted material put out 
at 5pp (printed, probably 10pp typed) a day for years.

He learned Breslov from R' Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld, but the Kabbalah he had
to learn on his own.  There weren't a lot of people out there teaching
it, much less to Americans, in the 1960s.  He got the basics from Scholem,
and also absorbed a number of occult and Buddhist works in translation.
I've talked to people who have studied various systems, there is a surprising
amount of commonality between Kabbalah and Buddhism.  Or maybe not that
surprising - they're both Eastern religious systems.

The fact that he seems to have gotten it right, lends credence to Scholem
having gotten it right also learning from texts.

BTW, you want to know how R' Kaplan defines the words?  Mysticism == 
devekut, direct experience of the Divine.  Kabbalah == {theoretical (sefiros
etc.), meditative (prophetic), magical (little is known of this)}.  The
Kabbalah was known in antiquity and hidden away after the Tannaim to be
revealed in the 12th-13th centuries.  IOW, for R' Kaplan himself, the 
Kabbalah's subject matter is the Divine pleroma, the material revealed 
in the Zohar and Bahir and such texts.  This from a TV interview you can
find at Judaism.com http://www.judaism.com/bio.asp?author=Aryeh%20Kaplan

You want authentic contemporary kabbalah?  How about the Beit El community
in Israel?  Learning and meditating in a continuous line since R Shalom
Sharabi in the 1700s. They spend hours every day meditating on the "yichudim"
diagrams in their siddurim, which have no meaning - they are only doing it
lishmah.  Which is a very high level, but kinda dry and tasteless to an 
outsider looking for meaning in life.  See, e.g., Pinchas Giller's recent
book on the community.

> >> 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?

> Absolutely, it is.  Because it claims to be otherwise.

Claims are not proof.  Pseudepigraphy was a common style of writing for 
a very long time, down to the present day. It doesn't mean that something
is a fraud.  R' Yudel Rosenberg wrote some respected stuff, such as his 
translation of the Zohar, alongside the more controversial fictions, 
such as the story of the Golem of Prague.
> > 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)

> Wrong.  We were given both Nistar (Kabbalah/Sod/Merkavah/etc) and Niglah 
> (Torah she'bichtav and b'al peh) at Sinai.  If it was invented or 

Based on what pre-12th-century source?  We were given Torah sheb'al peh
at Sinai, as evidenced by the lack of certain necessary details in the
text, and by the universality of certain basic halachic ideas. And even
that is just a belief, not a proven fact.

But nothing in the Torah hints at an authentic esoteric interpretation
necessarily linked to the subject matter of the Zohar.

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

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