Kabbalah Secrecy, scandal and the soul

Harry Freedman, 1950 July-

Book - 2019

Tells the story of the mystical Jewish system known as Kabbalah, from its earliest origins until the present day.

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London : Bloomsbury Continuum 2019.
Physical Description
xiii, 278 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [261]-268) and index.
Main Author
Harry Freedman, 1950 July- (author)
Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this accessible, eminently readable survey, Aramaic scholar Freedman (The Murderous History of Bible Translations) provides a balanced look at a religious tradition whose reach has extended far beyond its original Jewish roots. Freedman explains that kabbalah, what was once the province only of "deeply mystical, otherworldly Jews, studying in closed, secretive groups in twelfth-century Provence," has become part of the mainstream—with many celebrities now donning red string bracelets intended to ward off the evil eye. Freedman attributes its broad appeal to being "a rare example of a spiritual philosophy open to people of all creeds, yet one that does not detract from their faith." Freedman begins with kabbalah's origins in the first centuries CE, as ancient Jews sought to learn more about the nature of heaven, then explores how kabbalah study found a foothold in Europe in the Middle Ages, and ends in the present, when Jews and non-Jews alike make use of kabbalistic "meditations, incantations and body contortions" to experience the sublime. Freedman doesn't shy from troubling developments around the faith, such as the fraud and sex scandals that plagued the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles over the past decade. In tracking kabbalah's evolution and transformation through the centuries, this comprehensive guide to an important religious tradition will appeal to both readers of Jewish history and general readers of spirituality. (June) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Harry Freedman, author of The Talmud: A Biography and The Murderous History of Bible Translations, explores the mysterious tradition of Kabbalah.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Harry Freedman, author of The Talmud: A Biography and The Murderous History of Bible Translations, explores the mysterious Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah.

Kabbalah is popularly known as a fashionable system for personal and spiritual insight, a Jewish mystical tradition popularized by devoted celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore, and Britney Spears. But behind the hype and simplicity of "pop-Kabbalah" lies an ancient, complex and very profound system that can take a lifetime to master. Kabbalah: Secrecy, Scandal and the Soul is a short introduction that untangles the complex history and spiritual tradition behind the phenomenon.

Kabbalah is difficult to define. The very phrase "story of Kabbalah" is as opaque and mysterious as the topic itself. This of course is its appeal. The word itself means "received." For over half a millennium, individuals and movements with no attachment to Judaism have incorporated Kabbalah into their own spiritual traditions. Kabbalah flourished in the Renaissance and its method was adopted in varying measures by Hermeticists, Rosicrucians, Freemasons and tarot card readers. Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibnitz, Carl Jung and Harold Bloom have all admitted to the influence of Kabbalah. But it all goes back to the Hebrew Bible where the prophet Ezekiel described in detail his vision of the heavenly throne, perceived as a chariot.

Kabbalah became fashionable in the late 1960s in the wake of the hippy counter-culture and with the approach of the new age, and enjoyed its share of fame, scandal, and disrepute as the twenty first century approached.

This concise, readable, and thoughtful history of Kabbalah tells its story as it has never been told before. It demands no knowledge of Kabbalah, just an interest in asking the questions "why?" and "how?"