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The Elements Of Mysticism In Judaism

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Menorah is the holy candle in the Jewish tradition that has a history of being miraculously lit by god for 8 days. It is a candle with 7 stems. An interpretation of it is that, the 7 stems represented the 7 days of creation. Another interpretation is about the 7 attributes of a godly man given in Kabbalah that it symbolizes.

After leaving the tyrannical rule in Egypt, the Israelites started moving towards Jerusalem and god asked them to make the menorah for the new temple that they were about to build there and light it. But the oil available for lighting the candle was only sufficient for a day. However, they lit the lamps and to their wonder, the lamp continued to burn for 8 days. This is considered as one of the earliest miracles in the Jewish tradition. In the meanwhile, the people got enough time to make oil for keep the eternal flames burning.


It is used in various witchcrafts, black magical practises and even for protection against the evil. It is a star with 6 pointed ends and 7 compartments in it. There are various theories of its meanings. Some see it as a combination of 2 pyramids. The Chinese ying – yang and the Hindu Shiv – Shakti are assumed to be depicted through the opposing pyramids combining. The Hindu perspective also throws light on the possibility of it having the depiction of the trinity, or Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh on each angle. Some Hindu stories also provide and unreal connection between the star and the symbol of Murugan or the son of Shiva. Other assumptions include it to be the denotation of the number of the beast 666, as it has 6 triangles, 6 points, 6 side of the hexagram. There are also interpretations where experts say that the star does not have 6 but 12 sides, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Kabbalah also teaches us the 7 attributes of the person godly path which may be represented by the star as it has 7 spaces in it.

The most favourable story of its origin is the one that talks about it being present of the shield of King David, it being endowed with magical powers, protected the king. Thus, it is used as a symbol of protection and magical powers.


It is just another important symbol of Jewish mysticism. The seal of Solomon is believed to contain magical power. The story behind it talks about the King Solomon, who found out that one of his servant’s son is meek and thin even though he has given them enough to thrive on. When he asked his servant about it, he was told that there was a demon who was trying to torment and torture the servant every evening. So, the Solomon prayed to the lord for help. He was gifted with a ring with the Seal of Solomon as known in today’s time. He used that ring to control demons and thus, saved his people. Later, he even started using it to make the demons do his work. Thus, the seal of Solomon carried great magical powers and it still considered to be a mystical symbol in the Jewish tradition. The star of David has been derived from the seal itself.


Hamsa hand, also knows as the Hamesh hand, khamsa, chamsa, hand of Miriam, is a symbol of protection against the evil eye in Jewish mysticism. The symbol is usually a palm with two thumbs on the either side of it, three fingers in the middle, and an eye in the centre of the palm that denotes the evil eye from which protection is sought from the god. Some symbols also have the images of fish in it which tries to convey that just like the fish, covered in water is protected from the evil eye by it, so will the person who has faith in god. There are other images like the star of David, the prayers, the lotus and even certain colours like the blue and the red that are known to ward off the evil. Its origin is dated back to the time of Moses. It is called the hand of Miriam, the virtuous sister of Moses and Aron and her dignified life led her to become the symbol of protection from the evil. People hanged them outside houses, on jewellery, as wall hangings traditionally. But in the contemporary times, it is also used to as a fascinating element in art, used in keychains, candles, bedsheets, bookmarks, paintings, tattoos and various other places.


In the Jewish tradition, chai, meaning ‘life’ in Hebrew is of great numerical importance. It is made up of the 2 words, Chet with the numerical correspondence of 8 and Yud with the numerical correspondence of 10. They both add up to 18, which is considered to be a very auspicious number in the Jewish tradition. It is even believed that the gifts of charity must be given in chai or 18 number. However, there is not much of a history to it but just a belief of goodness and protection when people use this symbol in various ways.


The tree of Life constitutes the essence of Kabbalah and is one of its more popular symbols. The tree showcases all 10 emanations that are grouped into four realms, namely: Atziluth (the infinite), Beriah (the creative world), Yetzirah (creation/formation) and Assiah (the material world). Assiah is the only realm that represents physical existence: the other three are spiritual creation mysteries that can only be understood through vigorous study.


In the primary book of the Kabbalah- the Zohar- God protects the home of those Jews from harmful forces who attach a Mezuzah to their door. The word mezuzoth is a combination of the 2 words Maveth and Zaz which collectively mean ‘Death remove thyself’. This is cautionary symbol to the messengers of death that God is watching.


The following numbers are considered to have some sacred, mystical importance in Judaism:

  • Number 1: This is thought to be very divine in as it exemplifies god, initiations, completions and wholeness. It is the foundational number and any number that adds up to 1 is auspicious.
  • Number 3: This is thought to be holy because of the 3 festivals Pilgrimage namely the Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot of the Jewish tradition and the 3 Patriarch Kings of Judaism namely, Abraham, Issac and Jacob.
  • Number 4: It has mythological importance in Judaism. The 4 sages who entered paradise, 4 angels who surround the throne of Glory, 4 matriarchs and the 4 kingdoms of eschaton. Even during the Pesach, there are 4 questions, sons and cups of wine.
  • Number 5: There are 5 fingers in the Hamesh hand and thus, it symbolizes protection. There are 5 books of Moses.
  • Number 7: It is of great importance as it symbolizes the 7 days of creation. The 7 attributes of Kabbalah of a godly man. The 7 spaces in the star of David. A Hebrew word for luck equalizes 7 in Kabbalah numerology. The menorah has 7 stems and there are 7 angels. It is highly used in magical spells and amulets.
  • Number 8: The Tabernacle was given in a 8 day ceremony, circumcisions are done on the 8th day.
  • Number 10: It is the number of good luck and power and has mystical importance
  • Number 12: It represents totality like the 12 tribes of Israel, 12 months of the year etc.
  • Number 18: It Is the considered to be the luckiest number in Judaism, the Hebrew word chai adds up to 18 and is considered very auspicious. There are also 18 names given to god in the special verses.
  • Number 40: 40 was the number where radical changes occurred. Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai with God.
  • Number 70: It represents the whole world. According to Jewish tradition, there are 70 countries, 70 languages, 70 princely angels etc.

Odd and Even numbers: Odd numbers are thought to be fortunate and auspicious whereas Even numbers, especially the ones in pairs are said to be unlucky.


  • Blue: It is of utmost importance in Jewish mysticism. It was used to a great extent on the clothing of the high priestess and the Mishkan. This colour is used to depict the protection from the evil eye and it is also used on tomb stones. It is associated with the element air, Angel Uriel, and with Jacob.
  • White: It represents purity and sanctity in Judaism. It also stands for the element water, Angel Michael and Abraham. It symbolizes death and life.
  • Red: It stands for sin and blood. It is considered to be the colours of the devil. It represents the element fire, angel Gabriel and Isaac.



Gershom Scholem, a German- Israeli philosopher and historian, was born on 5th December 1897. He is one of the most important people in the academic study of Kabbalah. In fact, he was the first professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The way Scholem thought was a combination of being Jewish and deeply German.

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Scholem narrated the story of his previous researches when he was directed to a prominent rabbi who was an expert at Kabbalah. When he noticed that many books of rabbi’s subject were similar, Scholem asked about them, and he made a questionable rude statement ‘This trash? Why would I waste my time reading nonsense like this?’ The analysis of Judaism that was carried out by Wissenschaft school was having certain flaws. In accordance to opinion of Scholem:

  • It studies Judaism as a dead segment rather than as a living organism
  • It doesn’t consider proper foundations of Judaism, the non-rational force that, in Scholem’s knowledge makes the religion a living thing.

According to Scholem, the mythical and mystical components were equally important as the rational ones. He thought that rather than the minutiae of Halakha, were the truly living cores of Judaism. He later was against what he considered to be Martin Buber’s personalization of Kabbalistic concepts as well as whatever he argued was an incorrect approach of Jewish history, Hebrew language, and the land of Israel. Scholem’s Weltanschauung, research about Jewish mysticism couldn’t be separated from the historical context, beginning from something similar to the Gegengeschichte of Friedrich Nietzsche he finally ended up including less normative aspects of Judaism in the public history.

Scholem divides Jewish history into three periods:

  • a) Biblical period – The monotheism battles myth, without completely defeating it.
  • b) Talmudic period- Few institutions like, the notion of the magical power of accomplishment of the Sacraments were removed in favour of the purer concepts of the divine transcendence.
  • c) Medieval period – The impossibilities related to reconciling the abstract concepts in relation God of Greek philosophy with personal God of the Bible, led the Jewish thinkers like Maimonides, tried to eliminate the remaining myths and indulge into the process of modification of figures of living god.

Later mysticism became more widespread, an effort to find the essence of the God of their fathers, again Scholem decided to put forward some controversial arguments with the interactions between rational and irrational. Scholem also thought that the 17th century messianic movement to be known as Sabbatianism, was developed from Lurianic Kabbalah.

For neutralizing, Sabbatianism, Hasidism had an emergence as Hegelian synthesis. Many people who joined the Hasidic movement because they saw in it an Orthodox congregation and considered it to be scandalous as their community should be associated to the heretical movement.

Scholem ‘s historiographical approach also involves a linguistic theory. In relation to contrast with Buber, Scholem also used to believe in the power of the language to generate supernatural phenomena. Completely disagreeing to Walter Benjamin, he also decided to put the Hebrew language in a privileged position with respect to other languages, which could be the only language capable enough to reveal the divine truth. He considered the Kabbalists as interpreters of a pre-existent linguistic revelation. Scholem died on 21st of February 1982 after changing perceptions about the research.


The book “Kabbalah: New Perspectives” by Moshe Idel gives new interpretation of Jewish mysticism and he emphasizes the need for a comparative and phenomenological approach to Kabbalah and also its position in the history of religion. Idel provides fresh insights into the origins of Jewish mysticism and the relation between mystical and historical experience while stating the impact of Jewish mysticism on the western civilization.

He came up with the revised version of Scholem’s “Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism”. Idel’s book is a revised version of that of Scholem’s. The main benefit in his work is that he studies the experiential dimension of Kabbalah too. He tries to distinguish himself from Scholem methodologically by opting for a phenomenological approach as opposed to a historical-philological approach in Scholem’s. He presents Kabbalah as comprising of two distinct streams: the mystical-ecstatic, in which the devotee practices techniques for attaining a personal experience of unity with the divinity and the theosophical-theurgical, which focuses upon the actively intentional adherence to the Torah as a means of effecting positive within the divine structure and ultimately the maintenance of the universe.

In terms of historical transmission, Idel refutes Scholem’s attribution of certain Kabbalistic concepts to the influence of Gnosticism. He demonstrates the epistemological underpinnings of Kabbalah were already present in the earliest Rabbinic texts of late antiquity. He also presents a carefully researched and explained overview, with a commentary on kabbalistic hermeneutics.


Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was born in New York City. He earned a reputation as one of the most effective, persuasive, scholarly, and renowned exponents of Judaism in the English language. His book “Meditation and Kabbalah” is a presentation of meditative methods, mantras, mandalas and various other devices used, as well as a penetrating interpretation of their significance in the light of contemporary meditative research. It also includes the Meditative methods of the East that might have been derived from the mystical techniques of the prophets. Kaplan produced works on topics as varied as prayer, Jewish marriage and meditation. His writing was remarkably unique and he incorporated ideas from across the spectrum of Rabbinic Literature including Kabbalah without ignoring science. His introductory and background material contains much of a scholarly and original research. In researching his books, Kaplan once said: ‘I use my physics background to analyze and systematize data, very much as a physicist would deal with physical reality.’

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan succeeds perfectly in the attempt to introduce the meditative traditions of Kabbalah in brief yet in a sufficient manner. His books contain rare transcriptions of Merkavah and Hekalot literature which makes it perfect for understanding mysticism and kabbalah including good introductions to different traditions.


Jacob Immanuel Schochet in his book “Mystical Concepts in Chassidism: An Introduction to Kabbalistic Concepts and Doctrines” gives an excellent guide to the intricate concepts of Jewish mysticism found in Chabad Chasidic philosophy. It traces the history of Jewish mysticism from its earliest beginnings through its expansion in the sixteenth century and also the new era of its promulgation through the Chasidic movement. It also gives special attention to the teachings of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who first elucidated Kabbalistic concepts in a systematic manner and made them accessible to the average people. Jewish mysticism has long fascinated and intrigued scholars and truth-seekers of every kind. Kabbalah, the esoteric wisdom of Judaism, and Chasidism, its more accessible modern counterpart, have been the subject of endless study and research. An authentic and scholarly English text that draws upon the full spectrum of traditional Jewish sources is a most valuable addition to this study. Rabbi Schochet presents a sweeping survey of the major themes and concepts found in Kabbalah and Chasidism and shows how the exoteric and esoteric aspects of Torah complement each other in a manner analogous to the body and soul of one entity. It gives an overview of the general nature of Jewish mysticism and its place within Judaism including the unique aspects that distinguish it from non-Jewish mysticism, and with the significance of its dissemination in modern times. He gives an overview of the general nature of Jewish mysticism and also states its place within Judaism. He talks about the unique aspects that distinguish it from non-Jewish mysticism and gives the significance of its dissemination in modern times.

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