Practical Kabbalah

Practical Kabbalah

Practical Kabbalah (Heb. "Kabbalah Ma'asit") is a branch of Kabbalah which concerns the use of magic. Its teachings include the use of Divine and angelic names for amulets and incantations.Elber, Mark. "The Everything Kabbalah Book: Explore This Mystical Tradition--From Ancient Rituals to Modern Day Practices", p. 137. Adams Media, 2006. ISBN 1593375468] "Kabbalah Ma'asit" is mentioned in historical texts, but religious Kabbalists teach that the use of it is forbidden. [Rabbi Chaim Vital. [ Keys to True Prophecy: Practical Kabbala Today] ( Retrieved October 3, 2008.]

According to Gershom Scholem, many of the teachings of practical Kabbalah predate and are independent of the theoretical Kabbalah which is usually associated with the term:


Within Judaism, Halacha (Jewish law) forbids divination and other forms of soothsaying, and the Talmud lists many persistent yet condemned divining practices. [W. Gunther Plaut, David E. Stein. "The Torah: A Modern Commentary". Union for Reform Judaism, 2004. ISBN 0807408832] The very frequency with which divination is taken as an indication that it was widely practiced in the folk religion of ancient Israel, and a limited number of forms of divination were generally accepted within all of Israelite society, the most common being oneiromancy or divination by dreams.Aune, David E. "Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World", p. 82. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1992. ISBN 080280635X] Other magical practices of Judaic folk religion which became part of practical Kabbalah date from Talmudic times and include the making of amulets and and other folk remedies using the esoteric names of angels.

In the 13th century, one problem which intrigued the Chassidei Ashkenaz (literally "the Pious of Germany") was the possibility of the creation of life through magical means. They used the word "golem" (literally, shapeless or lifeless matter) to refer to an hypothetical homunculus given life by mean of the magical invocation of Divine names. This interest inspired an entire cycle of legend revolving around the "golem" which continued into the 18th century.Trachtenberg, Joshua. "Jewish Magic and Superstition", pp. 84-86. New York: Behrman's Jewish Book House, 1939. Available online at [] ] (See the article "Golem" for details.)

The separation of the mystical and magical elements of Kabbalah, dividing it into speculative Kabbalah ("Kabbalah Iyyunit") and practical Kabbalah ("Kabbalah Ma'asit") had occurred by the beginning of the 14th century. [Josephy, Marcia Reines. "Magic & Superstition in the Jewish Tradition: An Exhibition Organized by the Maurice Spertus Museum of Judaica". Spertus College of Judaica Press, 1975] Many traditional speculative Kabbalists disapproved of practical Kabbalah, including Abraham Abulafia, who strongly condemned it.

One important tradition of practical Kabbalah thrived in Spain during the second half of the 15th century, before the Alhambra Decree. The main text of the tradition was called "Sepher ha-Mashiv". The practitioners of this tradition were described by Moshe Idel as "interested in demonology and the use of coercive incantations to summon demons, angels, and even God" [Idel, Moshe. "Kabbalah: New Perspectives". New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988, p. 269 (as quoted in Girón-Negrón, 2001)] in order to hasten the Messianic Age. [Girón-Negrón, Luis M. "Alfonso de la Torre's Visión Deleytable: Philosophical Rationalism and the Religious Imagination in 15th Century Spain". BRILL, 2001. ISBN 9004119574]

In the 16th century Isaac Luria, who opposed "Kabbalah Ma'asit" and forbade his students from writing amulets and using other techniques of practical Kabbalah, evolved a form of exorcism which effectively transferred techniques from practical to speculative Kabbalah. While this led to the displacement of magical formulas and rites by contemplative exercises, the old forms of practical Kabbalah continued to exert broad appeal. [Chajes, Jeffrey Howard. "Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism", pp. 84–85. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. ISBN 0812237242]


Despite the prohibition against divination of the future, there is no prohibition against understanding the past nor coming to a greater understanding of present and future situations through inspiration gained by the Kabbalah (a subtle distinction and one often hard to delineate). The appeal to occult power outside the monotheist deity for divination purpose is unacceptable in Judaism, but at the same time it is held that the righteous have access to occult knowledge. Such knowledge can come through dreams and incubation (inducing clairvoyant dreams), metoscopy (reading faces, lines on the face, or auras emanating from the face), "ibburim" and "maggidim" (spirit possession), and/or various methods of scrying. [see Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg, "Sefer Chasidim" page number, and Rabbi Hayyim Vital, "Sefer ha-Hezyonot" (translated as "Book of Visions" in Faierstein, 1999 page number). ]

The Midrash and Talmud are replete with the use of names of God and incantations that are claimed to effect supernatural or theurgic results. Most post-Talmudic rabbinical literature seeks to curb the use of any or most of these formulae, termed "Kabbalah Ma'asit" ("practical Kabbalah"). There are various arguments for this; one stated by the Medieval Rabbi Yaakov ben Moshe Levi Moelin is that the person using it may lack the required grounding, and the ritual would be ineffective.

Yet the interest in these rituals of power continued largely unabated until recently. The Talmud mentions the use of charms for healing, and a wide range of magical cures were sanctioned by rabbis. It was ruled that any practice actually producing a cure was not to be considered superstitious and and there has been the widespread practice of medicinal amulets, and folk remedies "(segullot)" in Jewish societies across time and geography. [Person, Hara E. "The Mitzvah of Healing: An Anthology of Jewish Texts, Meditations, Essays, Personal Stories, and Rituals", p.4-6. Union for Reform Judaism, 2003. ISBN 0807408565]



*Faierstein, Morris M. (ed., trans.). "Jewish Mystical Autobiographies: Book of Visions and Book of Secrets". Paulist Press, 1999. ISBN 080913876X
*Finkel, Avraham Yaakov. "Sefer Chasidim: The Book of the Pious". Jason Aronson, 1997. ISBN 1568219202

Further reading

* Dan, Joseph. "Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction". Oxford University Press US, 2006. ISBN 0195300343
* Mirecki, Paul & Meyer, Marvin W. (eds.). " Magic and Ritual in the Ancient World". Brill, 1995. ISBN 9004104062
* Sherwin, Byron L. "The Golem

* Trachtenberg, Joshua. "The Folk Element in Judaism" in "The Journal of Religion", Vol. 22, No. 2 (Apr., 1942), pp. 173-186. The University of Chicago Press.

External links

* [ Practical Kabbalah]
* [ What is Practical Kabbalah?]
* [ Learn Qabalah | Practical Qabalah]

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