An Inquiry in Cabballa or En Suf- Jewish Mysticism

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Naveed PicBy Naveed Tajammal

After the Fall & Destruction of the Jewish state-at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar [ 587BC]and their captivity-The Jew’s dispersed, however they did revolt thrice under the tyrannical rule of the Roman Emperors-all the revolts ,failed and ended with very heavy loss in utter disasters.  In the period between the captivity and till the first Jewish -Roman-revolt [66-73 AD]not many Learned men of this faith were left-The sole issue which raged in this period between the Jew’s was over the Oral Traditions, the number of these Traditions had increased to an extent that by the start of the First Century AD-the Jewish writers, had started referring them under distinct heads-With it came voluminous commentaries-The Confusion which arose from these numerous commentaries became the source of many schisms within Jewish faith-Rabbi Hillel [d-7 AD] spent a life time confirming the authority of each alleged Tradition- and it was Rabbi Jehuda [Born-135 AD] who spent 40 years making a new Digest of the Oral Law-so emerges the Misha or the First Talmud [200 AD].

The book ‘Misha’-covered or Comprehended all the laws, institutions & rules of life beside the ancient Hebrew scriptures. From the third century AD this book became a sacred book-however it too had defects and did not cover all ‘Ecclesiastical Laws [Synagogue [Jewish temple] & those covering the Jewish clergy] and need was felt on more commentaries-which were completed by Rabbi Jochanam ben Eliezer who wrote the ‘Gemara’ [350-400 AD] this book-or the Jerusalem Gemara-which differed from the later Babylonian Gamara-of Sixth Century AD-The Jewish Religious Schools ‘Yeshiva’ beside teaching the rites & rituals, also taught ecclesiastical precepts of Law-in these very Schools were also taught in the latter period a mystical traditional doctrine-called ‘Cabbala’-The Jews who followed these rites claimed that they had been passed down from Ezra[the scribe] /Musa/Ibrahim and Prophet Adam.

To give antiquity to their beliefs, under these ancient names books like ‘Sepher Happeliah’ ‘The Book of Wonders’ Sepher Hakkaneh,’The Book of Pen’ and Sepher Habbahir. ‘The book of light ‘were quoted-The book ‘s were attributed to Prophet Elias-having been told to Rabbi Elkanah. These books-opened to a true believer [cabbalist]many hidden doctrines- mystical commentaries on Divine Commands and more minute deeper sublime mysteries-

Two Individuals are alleged to have been conspicuous in explaining the Cabbalistic  philosophy-Rabbi Akibha [author of  the book,’Jezirah’] & Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai- [author of the book ”Sohar/Zohar’]-Rabbi Akibha had his  own Jewish religious school [Yeshiva] at Lydda or Diosopolis-The Jews of Palestine in those times said that ,’God had revealed to Akibha’,what he had concealed from Moses’’. So a sacred sanctity was given to him-it was in his times that a imposter arose-called ‘Bar Cochbas’ who claimed himself to be a ‘Messiah’ and promised the Jews that he would free them from the Roman Yoke-Rabbi Akibha espoused his cause-and Jews from all over flocked under the banner of Bar Cochbas’.After a few success the better organized Roman Army had the Jew’s on the run-finally they took refuge in the Fort of Bather-situated on a strategic valley ridge overlooking the Jerusalem-Bet Guerin Road-The Roman siege lasted  Three and Half Years-In the end all were taken prisoners and put to sword-However Rabbi Akibha and his son were flayed alive-

The alleged author of ‘Sohar or Zohar [Brightness] -Simeon ben jochai -was also a disciple of Rabbi Akibha however he fled before-to a cave and lived in it throughout these times-according to Jewish historians he received ‘revelations’ in the Cave and later Simeon, delivered the same verbatim to his Disciples-and so came the book-Zohar.

This book according to Cabbalist contains a summary of the Cabbalistic Philosophy-expressed in obscure hieroglyphics & allegories. What the best part is that-No Jewish writer has made any mention of this book prior to the 13th Century AD. This facet will be discussed later-however authenticity and date of compilation of ‘Zohar’ aside- but the doctrine & method explained in the book  bear a evident mark of antiquity that-too debatable as to how far back-but it is evident that it is in a way a revival of old Egyptian and Buddhist, rite and ritual based doctrine, which does ingress in the other two religions -Christianity and Islam in their later periods- One rationalistic reason why very little reference is found in the actual mainstream Jewish writings of this doctrine can be, that, as this was based on mysteries and sacred numbers- ‘Temurah’,like the  Islamic-‘Abjad’ . The Cabbalistic -Temurah comes in three different versions-[i] Atbash-replaces the first letter of Hebrew alphabet with the last and each letter has a numeric value-[ii] Argad-replaces each letter with the preceding letter-[iii] Albam-First letter is replaced by the 12th letter, and the second letter by the 13th and so on-  Other methods used like Temurah-are Gematria-and-Notarikun. The objective being to mystify and mislead the public at large.

Reverting back to the point discussed above as to why no reference is found in the Jewish texts earlier-on the subject of Cabala can be-that, as these mysteries and meanings differed from the doctrine of the Jewish religion preached from the ‘Pulpit’ and was confined to a selected entrusted few-who were initiated under a solemn oath of secrecy.

The result was only a few persons would venture to commit these things in writings because of the fear of being declared as heretics. And those few books written were concealed from public inspection, In any case they had been written in a cryptic code-only those who knew it could decipher it. The majority of Jews were always involved in their own internal wars over the Interpretation of Torah-or the Oral laws of  Prophet Moses-

It was only in the emergence of the Islamic rule that we see a revival of  the Jewish thought ,as the Muslim rulers became patrons of philosophy . In the 10th century AD, Jewish schools of teaching again started to flourish in Sora & Pumbeditha-[Iraq regions] Rabbi Saadias Gaon-a native of Egypt in 927 AD took over Sora-and wrote the book ‘The philosophers stone’-which is cabbalistic ,he also wrote-‘A compendium of Jewish Philosophy-likewise many other schools opened up under different Rabbi’s-Later they were found with passage of time polluting the Islamic thinking by providing various interpretations, in line with their own cabbalistic rite and rituals-so started their persecution -and they fled to Spain-where we find that by 12 century AD-Talmud being translated in Arabic-Cordoba in Andalusia next became their center. In crux two methods remained part of the teachings amongst the Jews-‘Exoteric, or that of Public and the other-‘Esoteric’ the hidden as in the cabbala- The exoteric was taught openly in all Jewish schools, and was part of all public debates-but, the esoteric which dealt with mysteries of divine nature [cabbala] was only taught or talked within a confined circle under strict rules in the manner of old Pythagorean or old Egyptian rites.

It were the ‘Maimonides’ [The followers of Moses ben Maimon [1131-1201 AD] of Cordoba Spain who reduced the articles of Jewish faith to 13 articles. Cabbala from the root word ‘ Cabbal’ means to receive-therefore is a term given to system of Theosophy [which means-those forms of philosophic & religious thought which claim special insight into divine nature and its constitute moments or processes-The histories of all great religions and philosophic movements show them as developments of an evolutionary process, arriving at their accepted dogma’s through long periods of contention between numerous tendencies & cross currents, resulting in some cases in a compromise, added with a little confusion-so is the story of theosophy as well-but, believer will believe in anything such is human faith-based on the human mind.

The Cardinal Doctrine of Cabbala embrace the nature of the Deity, the Divine emanations or Sephiroth; the cosmogony ,the creation of angles and man, their destiny and the import of the revealed law-According to this esoteric doctrine, God,who is boundless and above everything even above being and thinking, is called ‘En Suf’-He is the space of universe containing ,but, the universe is not his space-without getting in the doctrine of the Sephiroth-and its Ten-aspects. According to ‘Zohar’ the universe consists of four different worlds-each of which forms a separate Sephiric system of a decade of emanations.

In crux cabbala has been condemned and nowhere more strongly than among the Jews themselves-Jewish Orthodoxy found itself attacked by the more revolutionary aspects of mysticism and its tendencies to alter established customs-The Jewish clergy denied the possibility of anything unattainable by reason, the spirit of cabbala held that the Deity could be realized, and it sought to bridge the Gulf.

The most amazing aspect of all was that.  Among best-known non-Jewish exponents of the cabbala was ,the Italian Count- Pico di Mirandola [1463-1494]-who had placarded nine hundred theses of Cabballa. In Rome, and had stated to defend each one of them in presence of all famous European scholars, and had agreed to pay for their travelling expenses-his maxim was ‘No Science yields greater proof of the divinity of Christ than magic and the ‘cabbala. ‘Count Mirandola had so convinced Pope Sixtus of the paramount importance of the Cabbalas an auxiliary to Christianity that his holiness exerted himself to have the cabbalistic writings translated into Latin for use of Divinity students. With equal zeal, did Johann Reuchlin [1455-1522] exercise a magical influence on Pope Leo x, and the early reformers too were captured by the charms of cabbala. Thus cabbala linked the old scholasticism-with the new independent  inquires in learning and philosophy after the Renaissance-

Now we come to the critique on Cabballa;

1] The ‘Sipher Yesirah’,or ‘book of creation ascribed to prophet Ibrahim and to the Rabbi Aqiba its essential elements maybe of 3rd or 4th century AD but not beyond 9th century AD.

2] The ‘Bahir’ or Brilliant’ ascribed to Nehunyah[ 1st century AD]  is now confirmed to have been written  by the teacher of Nahmanides  i.e Ezra or Azreil [1160-1238 AD].

3] The ‘Zohar’, ‘or ‘Shinning’ is a commentary on Pentateuch- [five books of Prophet Musa-]and divided in 52-lessons.It begins with, the exposition, ‘let there be light’ and includes 11 dissertations [1] Additions and supplements [2] Mansion & Abodes, giving minute details of structures in paradise and hell.[3] The Mysteries of Pentateuch-[4] The Hidden interpretations-‘deducing esoteric doctrine from the narratives in the pentateuch.[5] The faithful Shepherd-this book is ascribed to Prophet Ilyas and Rabbi-Simon ben Yohai.[6] The Secret of secrets’-which is  a detailed-treatise on human Physiognomy and Psychology.[7] The Aged-A discussion between Prophet Ilyas and Simon on the doctrine of transmigration.[8] The book of secrets ‘discourse on cosmogony and demonology-[9] The Great Assembly-of the disciples.[10] The young man-discourses by young men of superhuman origin and on mysteries of ablutions [11] The small assembly-a discourse by Simon to Six surviving disciples.


The book Zohar-is portrayed by the Cabbalist to have been written by Simon ben Yohai in the aftermath of the revolt of Bar Cochbha and flaying alive of Rabbi Akibha by the Romans- 137 AD and that it was discovered in a Cavern in Galilee where it had been hidden for a thousand years-but reality is different-it seems to be a compilation of 13th Century AD-on the following Grounds ;

[a] The ‘Zohar’ itself praises most fulsomely Rabbi-Simon, its reputed author and exalts him above prophet Moses.

[b] The book mystically explains the Hebrew vowel points which, it did not have till the Jewish grammarians did so-in 570 AD.

[c] The compiler borrows two verses from celebrated hymn called ‘The Royal Diadem’, written by Ibn Gabirol who was born in 1021AD.

[d] It mentions the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders and the re-taking of the holy city by the Muslims.

[e] It speaks of a comet which appeared at Rome on 15th July 1264.under Pontificate of Urban iv.

[f]  By a slip the Zohar’ assigns a reason why its contents were not revealed before-5060-5066 A.M i.e 1300-1306 AD.

[g] The doctrine of En Suf and Siphiroth was Not known before 13th century AD.

[h] The very existence of Zohar was unknown prior to 13th century.

[j] Hence it is has been discovered that it was a Moses de Leon[died-1305 AD] who had first circulated the idea of Zohar and sold the book after its publication-

Sources of this article for any further study are;

-The History of Philosophy by Johann J.Brucker translation by William Enfield, London 1791   Vol. I & Vol. II.

-The Encyclopedia Britannica 9th edition Vol. xii [1875-1889]

-Chambers Encyclopedia Vol ii.1895.

-The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition Vol. xv.[1911]

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  • naveed tajammal  On May 2, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Thank you Yasmeen Aftab Ali-for the prompt Post.

  • Ghayur Ayub  On May 2, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Dear YAA
    Very interesting read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I am sure NT meant ‘Mishnah’ or ‘Mishna’ when he wrote ‘Misha’- a typographic error.
    In my upcoming book, ‘Knowing the unknown through; Science and Sufism’ in the chapter on Judaism I wrote:

    “In centuries that followed, we find Rabbi Akiva (also known as Akibhah) and the Sanhedrin Rabbi-Judah the Prince, wrote the oral traditions of Moses and called it the Mishna, meaning Repetition. [35] It consisted of six orders:

    Zera’im (“Seeds”), dealing with prayer and blessings, tithes and agricultural laws (11 tractates)

    Mo’ed (“Festival”), pertaining to the laws of the Sabbath and the Festivals (12 tractates)

    Nashim (“Women”), concerning marriage and divorce, some forms of oaths and the laws of the nazirite (7 tractates)

    Nazikin (“Damages”), dealing with civil and criminal law, the functioning of the courts and oaths (10 tractates)

    Kodashim (“Holy things”), regarding sacrificial rites, the temple, and the dietary (11 tractates) and

    Tehorot (“Purities”), pertaining to the laws of purity and impurity, including the impurity of the dead, the laws of food purity and bodily purity (12 tractates).

    Others wrote commentary on the Mishna, calling it Gemara, [36] meaning completion. They combined the Pentateuch, Mishna and Gemara, and produced the Talmud. [37]”

    In same chapter writing about Cabala I mentioned:
    “In 17th century an ascetic spiritualist Rabbi Judah Loew from Prague revived Cabala doctrine promoting the concept of Ensuf according to which one could reach asceticism and thus holiness by deciphering the truth through mystical practices. His notion was fairly close to the Sufi concept of godhead [44].

    According to Cabala spirituality god becomes ‘He’ in the first three Sephiroths and ‘I’ in the next six. Diagrammatically these Sephiroths are presented as an Inverted Tree. In this tree, Din is represented as a stern warning and it is depicted as the left hand of the godhead. Hesod is represented as mercy and depicted as the right hand. The balance between these two keeps a person in tranquility. If there is breakage in the left arm the person gets astray and becomes evil.”

    I found close relationship between Ensuf of Cabala and Sufism especially when they talk of symbolic tree.
    Thanks for sharing the piece.

  • naveed tajammal  On May 2, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Doctor sahib I have quoted the spellings verbatim from the reference book-‘History of Philosophy by Brucker-and translated by william [1791] -Dates too vary-interpolation is nothing new-I am glad you liked it-however I did not go in detail about Cabballa-doctrine as it would have become a long article-few read such long articles-but as rightly pointed En Suf-Mysticism-and Sufism are the same old themes under different disguises.

  • Ajmal  On May 3, 2014 at 2:23 am

    Bravo, Naveed. Another master piece on your Birthday. May you have many more. Let us all say, “Happy Birthday, Professor Naveed Tajammal Hussain Malik”.

  • Aslam  On May 4, 2014 at 12:00 am

    I was happy to see this article as the topic once I mentioned during one of the communication with you(NT),,The Jews in Damascus still claim Hitler’s attack for the Middle East was diverted through their power of Cabala as Damascus and Moscow’ s numerical values were the same to diversion of the German attack …Thank you for the efforts making this a valuable reading for your readers,,,

  • Habib  On July 2, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Excellent research. Gives credence to Islamic belief that Jewish tradition has undergone much distortion and corruption. It comes when I needed it most in connection with my own study of history and religions.Great job.

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