“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it” (Am. 8:11-12).
“But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart” (2 Co. 3:14-15).
“Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house” (Eze. 12:2).
“His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs...” (Isa. 56:10).
Kabbalah is the esoteric or occultic (secret) teaching of ancient Jewish rabbis. It borrows heavily from pagan occultism, such as astrology and numerology.
It is supposed to be a third or “hidden” Torah (“Torat Ha-Nistar”) that was revealed to Moses, together with the Torah (Pentateuch) and the Mishnah (the supposed second or Oral Torah).
Kabbalah is based on an allegorical interpretation of Scripture that finds secret and “inner” meanings in the words and even letters of Scripture.
Kabbalah is founded especially on esoteric interpretations of the days and events of creation in Genesis 1 and the visions of God’s fiery chariot in Ezekiel 1.
The founder of Kabbalah was Shimon Bar Yochai.
“Rabbi Shimon was a Midrashic rabbi of the third century C.E. He is frequently quoted in the Talmud (commentaries of Jewish Law) as a revered expert who was highly regarded by the scholars of the day. Rabbi Shimon spoke out against the Roman rulers, and they decreed a death sentence against him. Together with his son, Elazar, Rabbi Bar Yochai fled to a cave in the town of Peki'in [near Meron in northern Israel], and there they hid for four years, nourished, legend tells, by a carob tree that grew at the entrance to the cave. While in hiding, Jews believe, Rabbi Shimon was visited by God’s Divine Inspiration, which taught him the secrets of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah. Kabbalah means ‘to receive’ and one who studies Kabbalah receives the wisdom of the secrets which are hidden in the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Understanding these secrets allows one, it is believed, to strengthen one’s relationship with God and with one’s fellow man. After the Romans reversed their death decree against him, Rabbi Shimon left his cave and traveled throughout the area, teaching the secrets of Jewish mysticism that he had learned while in hiding” (“Meron: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai,” www.safed.co.il).
Kabbalists believe that Shimon Bar Yochai wrote the Zohar, which means “the Shining,” and which is the basis of Kabbalah study. Zohar is translated “brightness” in Ezekiel 8:2 and “shine” in Daniel 12:3. The Zohar was first published in Spain in the 13th century by Moses de Leon, who ascribed it to Bar Yochai.
Following are other prominent Kabbalah teachers:
Isaac the Blind (1160-1235)
Moshe ben Nachman (Nahmanides or the Ramban) (1194-1270), Isaac’s disciple
Bahya ben Asher (the Rabbeinu Behaye) (d. 1340)
Isaac Luria Ashkenazi (1534-1572)
Yosef ben Ephraim Karo (1488-1575), author of Shulchan Arukh
Shlomo Alkabetz (1500-1580), author of Lekhah Dodi
Moses ben Jacob Cordovero (1522-1570), author of Pardes Rimonim
Eliyahu De Vidas (1518-1592), author of Reishit Chochma
Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1525-1609)
Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676)
Israel ben Eliezer Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) (“the Besht”), founder of Hasidic Judaism
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746)
Elijah of Vilna (1720-1797)
Shalom Sharabi (1720-1777)
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810)
Ben Ish Chai (1832-1909)
Yehuda Ashlag (1885-1954)
Other influential Kabbalah texts are Talmud Eser Sefirot and HaSulam (The Ladder) by Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, Etz Chayim (Tree of Life), Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation), Bahir or Sefer HaBahir (Book of the Bright), Sefer Raziel HaMalakah (Book of Raziel the Angel), Pri Ets Haim (The Fruit of the Tree of Life), and Nefesh HaChaim (Living Soul).
There is no one official or “right” Kabbalah teaching. It consists of a bewildering variety of doctrine and practice.
The very nature of Kabbalah as an esoteric or secret teaching and as a mystical path (with an emphasis on intuition and feeling rather than reason) means it is abstract and complex, with multiple possible interpretations.
This lack of absolute authority and the freedom to personalize one’s own Kabbalah has popularized it with American entertainers such as Madonna, Britney Spears, Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore, and Ashton Kutcher. The Kabbalah Centre International claimed 90,000 active members in 2003. This is an American pop form of Kabbalah that has been condemned by some rabbis.
A 2014 report in England said that “Kabbalah is fast becoming the preferred religion of the one percent” (“Soul business: why London’s wealthiest are turning to Kabbalah,” Evening Standard, April 4, 2014).
The emphasis of Kabbalah is on cleaving to and being one with God, but the personal God of Scripture is replaced with EIN-SOF or AIN-SOF (a Hebrew term meaning that which is boundless), an impersonal omnipotent energy and infinite wisdom, “the divine infinity,” the unmanifested God. Ein-Sof is concealed and unknowable. “Ein-sof is both the fullness of being and absolute nothingness” (“Ein-sof,” newkabbalah.com).
As in gnosticism and Hinduism, this unknowable God of Kabbalah is only encountered through emanations, known as Partzufim (divine “faces”) and Ohr (the flow of spiritual light). Kabbalah emanations include angels and the names of God.
The panentheistic view of God is emphasized in Hasidic (Chassidic) Judaism, a prominent Kabbalah sect. Hasidic Judaism was founded in Poland by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer in the 18th century. He is called Baal Shem Tov, meaning “Master of the Good Name.” He is also called the Besht, which is an acronym of his name. He believed that “the whole universe, mind and matter, is a manifestation of God.” The universe is “suffused with God.” He taught that “whoever does not believe that God resides in all things, but separates God and them in his thoughts, has not the right conception of God” (“Baal Shem Tov,” Wikipedia).
For a sample of Kabbalah teaching on God, consider the following statement from the Zohar’s comments on Genesis 1:
“At the very beginning the King made engravings in the supernal purity. A spark of blackness emerged in the sealed within the sealed, from the mystery of the Ayn Sof, a mist within matter, implanted in a ring, no white, no black, no red, no yellow, no colour at all. When He measured with the standard of measure, He made colours to provide light. Within the spark, in the innermost part, emerged a source, from which the colours are painted below; it is sealed among the sealed things of the mystery of Ayn Sof. It penetrated, yet did not penetrate, its air. It was not known at all until, from the pressure of its penetration, a single point shone, sealed, supernal. Beyond this point nothing is known, so it is called reishit (beginning): the first word of all...” (Zohar I, 15a, English translation from Jewish Mysticism--An Anthology, Dan Cohn-Sherbok, pp. 120-121).
If you don’t understand this paragraph, you are not alone. There is no logical meaning. The words of Kabbalah can mean anything and nothing. The study of Kabbalah is the study of nonsense and an exercise in vanity.
The goal of Kabbalah is a mystical union with God or an “experience of personal awe of God.”
It is a vain attempt to know God apart from the atonement of Jesus the Christ, by which means alone the sinner can be reconciled with the holy Creator.
Kabbalah teaches that the human soul has three parts: nefesh, ruach, and neshamah. The nefesh exists from birth, but the other two must be developed through spiritual awakening by Kabbalah beliefs and practices. The neshamah is achieved when the soul is in union with God.
Kabbalah’s communion with God or Ein-Sof or the shekinah is accomplished through a wide variety of rituals and endeavors, including prayer rituals, asceticism, seclusion, meditation, moralism, washings, music, dancing, giving, communal living, keeping rabbinic tradition, and practicing happiness.
Prayer rituals include taking three steps forward at the beginning of the prayer (signifying approaching God) and three steps back at the end of the prayer (signifying returning to the profane world); bowing forward and backward; swaying (shucklen); violent side movements of the head; dancing and clapping; hitting one’s breast with a closed fist; and raising one’s little fingers in the air.
As for the swaying in prayer, the Zohar says, “When a Jew utters one word of Torah, the light is kindled [in the soul] ... and he sways to and fro like the flame of a candle” (Zohar to Numbers, 218b-219a, cited from “Physical Movement in Jewish Prayer,” Jewishlearning.com). The swaying is also said to be obedience to Psalm 35:10, “All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee...” “The verse being taken literally to mean that all the bones should be involved in prayer by a swaying motion of the body” (The Jewish Religion: A Companion, Oxford University Press).
Positive confession mantras are a part of Kabbalah. Nachman of Breslov, founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, promoted positive confession as a way to produce continual happiness and influence the world. In a secret writing, he allegedly taught a mantra based on his own name that will help bring the Messiah into the world. It is Na Nach Nachma Nachman MeUman (an incremental way to say Nachan of Uman). Earlier Kabbalah rabbis had stated that a song would be revealed that would restore true faith in God to the world by the Messiah, and this mantra is thought by many to be that song. It is based on the four Hebrew letters of the name Nachman, ending with a reference to the place of his burial in Uman, Ukraine. The mantra is thought to dispel spiritual darkness and bring every sort of blessing, including forgiveness of sin. It has been put to music in contemporary Jewish music and can be seen inscribed in many places in Israel today. Those who use the mantra are called the Na Nachs. They believe it is God’s will for them to be happy and that it is their duty to spread happiness through society by singing, dancing, playing, and laughing.
Some Hasidic Na Nachs in New York City formed a punk band called Moshiach Oi. Of the Na Nach mantra, lead singer Yishai Romanoff says that “the more you repeat the phrase, the faster the Messiah will come” (“Punk Jews scream out to God,” The Times of Israel, Oct. 2, 2017). Romanoff was an atheist until he converted to Breslov Hasidicism.
Some Na Nachs drive around in vans blasting out music, and at red lights they jump out and dance. They believe that by this means they connect with God and spread spiritual light and blessing. An adherent says, “Hopefully people will be a little happy when we pass by, and they’ll get the light of Rabbi Nachman” (“Israel’s Orthodox Ravers Are on a Holy Mission,” National Public Radio, Mar. 14, 2014).
Meditation is a major part of Kabbalah. The term used by Kabbalists for meditation is kavan, meaning intention.
“Kabbalah books are filled with thousands of meditations and it is known that the great Kabbalists were practicing meditation daily and sometimes for hours. ... [It is a] way to communicate instantly with the upper worlds which allows us to ‘tune’ our thoughts, to direct spiritual energies and concentrate them in order to change our spiritual and material reality” (“Kavana: Meditation according to Kabbalah,” livekabbalah.org).
Abraham Abulafia (1240-91), one of the founders of Kabbala, taught meditation techniques using Hebrew letters and God’s names as mantras.
He described other “spirits” rising within him, and said he became “another man.” This is a loud warning of the danger of pagan meditation and contemplative practices.
Nachman of Breslov taught his followers to spend an hour a day in solitude engaging in such prayer. This is called hitbodedut (“to make oneself be in solitude”).
As with Hindu yoga, meditation in Kabbalah is an attempt to empty oneself of conscious thoughts with the goal of being united with God or Ein-Sof. It is achieved through silence and focusing one’s mind on something like Hebrew letters or a menorah. “Reaching that ‘Ain’ [the condition of ‘absolute emptiness] will be through total devotion to defeat the evil inclination, ego, inner noise and thoughts. The state of ‘Ain’ is a state which anything is possible and is a prior condition to achieve a state of miracles that are beyond reason and mental understanding” (“Kavana: Meditation according to Kabbalah,” livekabbalah.org).
Isaac Ashkenazi Luria, one of most influential of Kabbalist teachers (d. 1572), left his wife and children and became a recluse, living on the banks of the Nile for seven years and devoting himself to meditation. He visited his family only on the sabbath but did not speak to them. Luria then moved to Safed in northern Israel and taught his Kabbalist principles. His chief disciple was Hayyim Vital, whom Luria considered a pure soul “which had not been soiled by Adam’s sin” (“Isaac ben Solomon Ashkenazi Luria,” Jewish Encyclopedia).
Baal Shem Tov emphasized “living in the moment” by being aware of the presence of God at all times and in all activities. This is similar to Buddhism.
The “72-fold name of God,” derived from an allegorical, esoteric interpretation of Exodus 14, is used as an incantation and invocation. It is supposed to have been used by Moses to cross the Red Sea and can “control demons, heal the sick, prevent natural disasters, even kill enemies.”
The Kabbalah Centre sells a red string that is thought to promote well-being and bring protection and blessing, and bottled water that supposedly absorbs the Torah’s “holy energy” when it is read and imparts this power to the consumer.
The color blue is especially important in Kabbalah. The tombs of revered Kabbalah rabbis in and around Mt. Meron are marked with blue paint. This signifies various things such as mystical regions of heaven and levels of reincarnation.
Some aspects of Kabbalah are purely occultic. “Practical Kabbalah properly involved white-magical acts.” There are incantations, invocations, enchantments, amulets, and seals with secret names used to protect from evil influences (such as Lilith, the supposed first wife of Adam) and magic rituals (e.g., “making circles to circumscribe the spirits, gouging out cocks’ eyes, skinning lambs and throwing the blood around, incantations to bring up the ghosts of the departed”).
Hasidic Judaism, which is Kabbalistic, focuses on a strong leader known as the Tzaddiq (“the righteous one”), Admor (“master or teacher”), and Rebbe or Rab (same as rabbi).
It is divided into sects known as “courts,” each headed by a hereditary leader to whom submission is owed. “Reverence and submission to the rebbe are key tenets, as he is considered a spiritual authority with whom the follower must bond to gain closeness to God” (“Hasidic Judaism,” Wikipedia).
“[A] Hasid consults his rebbe on every issue from business plans to family worries and match-making” (“Family Feud: Will the Real Satmar Please Stand Up?” NYU LiveWire).
On the sabbath, many of the Hasidic courts have a feast for the male disciples during which they sing, dance, eat, and hear a sermon by the rebbe. A chozer (“repeater”), who is selected for his good memory, writes down the text of the sermon at the end of the sabbath, such actions are forbidden on the sabbath itself by Hasidic tradition.
There have been violent disputes between the various Hasidic courts. For example, after Yissachar Dov Rokeach II broke with the Orthodox Council of Jerusalem in 1980, he had to travel in a bulletproof car for protection. And the 2006 dispute between brothers Aaron and Zalman Teitelbaum over control of the Satmar Hasidic dynasty resulted in mass riots, complete with fistfights and beard pulling.
Hasidic Jewish men wear long beards and locks of hair hanging down from their temples. The custom of keeping long sidelocks is called payot, the Hebrew word translated “corners” in Leviticus 19:27. “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.” But the context of this commandment is separation from idolatrous practices. See verses 26-28. The Israelites were tempted to follow the practice of the Egyptians and Canaanites and other pagans who wore hair styles reflecting various idolatrous beliefs. “It seems probable that this fashion had been learned by the Israelites in Egypt, for the ancient Egyptians had their dark locks cropped short or shaved with great nicety, so that what remained on the crown appeared in the form of a circle surrounding the head, while the beard was dressed into a square form. This kind of coiffure had a highly idolatrous meaning; and it was adopted, with some slight variations, by almost all idolaters in ancient times. Frequently a lock or tuft of hair was left on the hinder part of the head, the rest being cut round in the form of a ring, as the Turks, Chinese, and Hindus do at the present day” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown).
In Hasidic, Haredi, and Yemenite Judaism, following Kabbalistic tradition, the prohibition against adopting pagan hair styles has lost its biblical meaning and has devolved into a vain tradition and a distinctive hair style in itself. The rounding off of the corners of the head is interpreted as the hair between the front of the ears to the temples (the sideburns), and this area of hair is grown out, but there are different styles of payot in different sects. Some have short payot. Some never cut them. Some curl them. Some wrap the payot around their ears. Talmudic Rabbi Samson Hirsch taught that the payot signify separation between the front part of the brain, the intellectual, from the rear part of the brain, the sensual. Under this tradition, the wearer of peyot thus makes a statement that he is keeping these things separate and in their right place.
Hasidic married women wear headscarves, hats, or wigs to hide their hair in public. They dress modestly, but not in a proscribed uniform like the Amish. The modesty emphasizes long skirts with stockings, long sleeves past the elbow, covered necklines, and loose clothing rather than tight.
On the sabbath and Jewish holidays, Hasidic Jews wear large fur hats called shtreimel. Different sects wear different styles. In some sects only married men wear the shtreimel, while in others males after the age of Bar Mitzvah wear them. The shtreimel is worn over a kippah or yarmulke, and the double head covering is thought to multiply spiritual merit. The schtreimel is typically made from the tips of the tails of sable, marten, or grey fox. There is a Kabbalistic mystical meaning to the number of tails used in its manufacture. For example, 13 furs is supposed to correspond to the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, and 42 is supposed to correspond to the 42 letters of a mystical way of counting the letters in God’s name. It is supposedly formed from the first letters of the first words of the Torah as well as from the name of God in Exodus 3:14, Hayah Hayah (“I am that I am”). By a Kabbalistic formula, the numerical value of the four letters of the Hebrew word hayah is 21, and hayah repeated twice equals 42. All of these things are thought to have spiritual power.
Male Hasidic Jews wear a bekishe or kapoteh on sabbath and Jewish holidays. This is a long coat, usually black, made of silk, wool, or polyester. The kapoteh has four buttons in the front (instead of six for the bekishe) and has a slit in the back.
Hasidic Jews take the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” seriously, with the average Hasidic family having eight children.
Hasidic Judaism has been a hotbed of Messianic aspirations. Some of the Rebbes, such as Shabbethai Tzvi and Nachman of Breslov, have been considered Messiahs.
Kabbalism is said to have appeared in the Middle Ages, particularly in southern Spain in the 12th to 13th centuries, but evidence of pagan influence upon Judaism appeared in the early centuries after Christ and can be seen in the ruins of ancient synagogues.
The Greek sun god riding his four-horse chariot in the center of a pagan zodiac was found in mosaics in ancient synagogues at Tiberias, Zippori, and Bet Alfa.
Some of the synagogues had images of the Medusa, a monster from Greek mythology who had serpents for hair and could turn people to stone. Medusa images were used as good luck talismans. The Medusa image from the synagogue at Yafia near Nazareth is in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, and the one from the synagogue of Chorizin can still be seen in the ruins of the city.
Even the Talmud itself warns of the spiritual danger of Kabbalah. Hagigah 2:1 instructs rabbis to teach these doctrines to one student at a time. Hagigah 14b of the Babylonian Talmud contains the following legend by way of warning:
“Four men entered pardes [paradise]--Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher [Elisha ben Abuyah], 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.”
The geographic focus of Kabbalah is Mt. Meron in northern Israel, where Hillel the Elder, Shammai, Shimon Bar Yochai and other influential rabbis are buried.
Hillel (c. 110 BC - AD 10) was one of the founders of the Pharisees. He was the grandfather of Gamaliel (died AD c. 52), the most prominent Pharisee of Jesus’ day (Acts 5:34) and the Pharisee who trained the apostle Paul (Acts 22:3).
Shammai (50 BC - AD 30) was another prominent rabbi among the Pharisees. Hillel and Shammai led two different parties, with Shammai being the stricter of the two.
Shimon Bar Yochai, as we have seen, was the founder of Kabbalah and the alleged author of the Zohar.
Sephardic Jews settled in the area of Mt. Meron after being expelled from Spain in 1492 and built the town of Tzfat, which is called “the City of Kabbalah.”
Mt. Meron is a major Jewish pilgrimage site where practitioners go in search of “blessing” and “good fortune.”
“Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to visit the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon yearly. They come to pray, to beseech his spirit’s intervention in the heavens for good health, to make a living, for a good marriage, peace in the home, and a variety of other requests that believers hope can be achieved by asking for the Tzaddik’s, Righteous One’s, intervention” (“Meron: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai,” www.safed.co.il).
This teaching that some rabbis are righteous is heretical and blasphemous. The Scriptures teach that there is none righteous but one, which is God and His Christ (Job 15:14; Psalm 14:3; 53:3; Mark 10:18).
On the anniversary of Shimon’s death, the day on which he was supposed to have revealed the deepest secrets of Kabbalah, the day called Lag BaOmer, an estimated 250,000 people visit Mt. Meron seeking blessing and mystical enlightenment.
They believe that the burial place of the “holy rabbis” is steeped in shekinah power, and the deceased rabbi is considered by many to be a heavenly intercessor who can answer prayers.
Since the 16th century, it has been customary among Hasidic Jews to bring three-year-old boys to Mt. Meron for their first haircut. It is called upsherin (opsherin or upsherinish, Yiddish for “shear off”). (Skverrer Hasidim cut the boy’s hair on the second birthday.)
“In the Hasidic community, the custom marks the male child’s entry into the formal educational system and the commencement of Torah study. A yarmulke and tzitzis [tassles on the tallit or prayer shawl] will now be worn, and the child will be taught to pray and read the Hebrew alphabet. So that Torah should be ‘sweet on the tongue,’ the Hebrew letters are covered with honey, and the children lick them as they read” (“Upsherin,” Wikipedia).
The Psalmist said the Word of God is “sweeter also than honey” (Psa. 19:10), but this only becomes true in redemption when the sinner is born again and his eyes are open to the perfection and beauty of God’s Word.
The hair cutting custom is based on a mystical Kabbalah interpretation of Leviticus 19:23, which forbids the eating of fruit from a tree in its first three years.
We witnessed one of these ceremonies in March 2017. The father and grandfathers laid hands on the boy’s head and pronounced blessing on him before his hair was cut.
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