Tuesday, March 22, 2005

What need does mysticism (like Kabbalah) fulfill?

mysticism = a direct and immediate communion of the soul with the divine

The Jewish scholars Gershom Scholem and Michael Fishbane developed theories about Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) developed.

Gershom Scholem: Monotheism destroyed the realm of the gods, and magic, but these things were for ancient man the way things were understood, the gods and religious experiences were in rocks and tress and all around, so monotheism pushes God into the upper spheres, and opens an abyss between God and man, there is created a gap between the finite world and the infinite world, and mysticism is an attempt to bridge the gap between the personal and the divine, “to taste and feel God”

The prophetic and rabbinic war against myth was successful because it reinforced monotheism, but too successfully because it left void, a need for the ancient kind of religiosity, an immediacy, and as mysticism became more entrenched in Judaism it started to lean toward a mythic understanding of the world (myth=stories of the lives of the gods)

Michael Fishbane: the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE created a yearning in the diaspora for a supernatural means to reverse what had happened, Jews wanted a feeling of control, they wanted access to the means of control in the world, and mysticism helps to gain such control

Jewish mysticism has a personal emphasis, a person’s own connection with the divine, an inner, internal experience, so this is a very different kind of religiosity compared to the rest of Judaism though Maimonides because it has a individualistic kind of thinking.

The relationship between mysticism & law is both strong and tense: the mystics have an ambiguous relation with tradition, sometimes they support it and sometimes they are antagonistic (because they see it as inadequate and legalistic and missing the boat), but sometimes they see hidden meanings within the law so they support it, so they are dissatisfied with mere religion but might support it because they see hidden meanings in it.

I have an idea about the psychological need for Kabalah and why it arose when it did:

Mysticism is everywhere in the Old Testament. David had an intense relationship with God. A mystical union with the divine is clear in the Psalms. But Judaism, after 70 CE, became nothing but tradition and legalisms. It had to become legalistic in order to be maintained in exile. It became soulless because the legalistic centre was destroyed (the Temple and sacrifices) and because the heart of the tradition was rejected (the Messiah). It went to one extreme, leaving a void that only Jesus Christ can fulfill – because God’s plan for the Jews and humanity is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, He destroyed the archaic temple and all its associated rituals 2000 years ago soon after Christ resurrected. Because most Jews have rejected Jesus, but have still had this inner need to know God personally (and not just carry on empty legalistic traditions), they have replaced a personal relationship with Jesus with pagan, occultic forms of mysticism. In many ways the Kabbalah barely resembles Judaism, with its reincarnation, astrology, etc.