The Kabbalah: from an ancient tradition to contemporary religiosity

In front of an electronic support one is attempted to adopt a dry and detached tone, fitting at first sight to the impassible networks without soul, by which stunning quantities of informations of all nature are forwarded. I wondered a long time if I have to be in accordance with this mute invitation of the machines so as to present the first issue of a magazine whose the readers will not encounter the smooth caress of the paper and the black luminous ink. The matter that carries the writing of men is not an indifferent mass that they model according to their taste. It hosts invisible forms, drills without thickness, that constitute the white lines that words come to inhabit. While giving to the screens, to the automatic rules, to the personal tastes of the reader a part of the make-up of texts, that will be displayed in an unpredictable format that can be only partially determined by the redactor and the editor, we feel a somewhat upsetting sensation to jump a new step in the history of edition, and to yield to readers what was the unique prerogative of the authors and of their editors. But do we not renew therefore from our unawareness with the so strange conception of the medieval Kabbalists according to which the reader is the co-creator of the text that he reads, according to the beautiful expression of Moshe Idel (1) ? While using a computer to compose, to give a form, and now to publish directly the results of our cogitations and of our investigations in the maquis of this immense literature that is the Kabbalah, do we not relate ourselves to these mystics that expected to create a Golem, by inscribing, in humid clay, letters, sounds, and breath ? Do we escape in some manners from the traditions that we examine with an expert eye when we want to be ourselves modern and freed ? We desire to insert the mark of the word "truth" on our works and they are themselves that, getting the upper hand, oblige us to return towards ourselves and to become aware of our limits. If the kabbalists attempted "to remake" the world according to their will, filling the rifts of the Creation and repairing its breachs, the researcher always is attempted to re-write the history through the vision that its discoveries have given to him. The first thing that he discovers and will never stop to astonish him, is that all what the books say is not yet the truth, that what one knows is nothing in front of what one is unaware of, and that all remains always to do, to understand, to re-catch.

The tool is itself teaching and a source of lessons. The universal communication of a writing, its almost immediate accessibility everywhere the reader is located, free of charge, its total availability to alterations, to improvements, to additions, to all repentances, confer a new sense and a new reach to the act of writing, to the art of communicating. The readers becoming co-creators, not only of the form but being able without fetter to bring their knowledge to the authors, delivered from the burden that the final inscription on the prison of paper was weighing down on their audacity and on their trial and error, undertake together an adventure that the quest of truth animates and that the passion for knowing vivifies. The support is not neuter: we must work to receive the better, and let us disdain the illusory eases than it can also carry.

The Kabbalah as a study field is particularly well fitted to electronic publication and to international exchanges. As a form of thought and social phenomenon, it has been disseminated everywhere, in space, in time, in different cultural activity types, and of course in various religions. Without never having being a mass phenomenon, it challenged the history and introduced itself in the most unexpected places. It is yet living today, more multiform than ever, giving rise once again to attraction and revulsion, stimulating the literary, artistic and musical creation, inspiring religious emotions and nourishing intellectual works. To such a point that it is natural to wonder if there is indeed a unique object of study called "Kabbalah", or rather if it would be better to past to this term the marks of plural. Such religious Brazilian group that includes, in a vast patchwork of beliefs, elements drawn from Kabbalah, does it give it a so different form than its "classical" model, that it becomes necessary to stop calling "Kabbalah" what is no more than its distant shadow? This question, that does nothing else but to put anew, on a contemporary level, the more general and more abstract question that is lying behind all study about this field, that is: "What is Kabbalah", let us openly put it and let us do of it a constant interrogation, the outlook of all the contributions to this review. Not in the hope to find an intangible essence, a rock that would constitute the hidden kernel of Kabbalah in regard of which all manifestation that would claim from originating in it would be judged and evaluated, but because this question sends back to a basic interrogation touching the intimate nature of the religious facts. The paradox of the contemporary dissemination of Kabbalah and of its historical perenniality is in the image of the contemporary religiosity. His explosion hides a tenacious continuity, its thousand transformations conceal a stubborn tradition. How to pierce the enigma of this ambiguous position and what theoretical tools have to be used in order to deliver the upheavals of the new modes of believing from their external chaos? Kabbalah is an excellent model of research in this matter. Numerous groups are organizing themselves, they constitute themselves time and again, taking the Kabbalah for their "tradition" of reference, while being widely opened to other forms of thought and belief. The study of this nomadism of believing, that, far to be a hazardous wandering, as it would seem at first sight, follows already opened ways in the previous centuries, and constitutes a promising domain that we would like to develop in this magazine. As the object "Kabbalah" (that should be redefined into the cultural and religious constellation of today) is constituted not only of a "classical" literature with its celebrate or obscure authors, its masters whose the works have authority, its theosophical, mystical and theurgical doctrines, its schools and its trends, but for being also a compact aggregate of beliefs of all origins, a source of artistic creativity, of magic recipe, that are connected and play their game in a human society whose borders are in process of deleting, its study must appeal to all the specialties able to light up each of its aspects. To the opening and to the polymorphism of the object must reply the interdisciplinarity of the approaches. By closing oneself in an unique branch, in one of the various aspects of the Kabbalah, one risks to lose the phenomenon in becoming and to hold for finished a history in constant mutation. The almost total absence of studies in the history and literature of Kabbalah since the second half of the XIXe century, up to our days, witnesses a lacking that must be also well understood. Since a century and half did the Kabbalists only repeat their predecessors, without nothing to add or to transform, were they so totally indifferent to the events and to their environment ? What place to grant to the cohorts of authors and of small groups that claimed themselves to be rooted in Kabbalah tradition, writing in all languages and reinventing very often a "Kabbalah" according their own way. The distinction between a "true Kabbalah" and a "false one", an original Kabbalah and a secondary Kabbalah, always appeared to us as somewhat fallacious. It is not that we would want to be unaware of the very great cultural distance that separates a Kabbalist of Bagdad carrying a turban and writing in a rabbinical Hebrew forged in the Middle Ages and a great Parisian bourgeois politically very influential, between R. Yehoudah Ben Moshe Fetayah and Gérard Encausse (Papus), but both shared veneration for the same texts, talked with spirits that they called with the same names, and especially referred themselves, each in his manner and for totally distinct goals, to the same tradition. The reluctance of the important schools of Israeli or American scholars where Kabbalah is taught, towards modern and contemporary forms of Kabbalah could be only a reverberation, in the very core of the academic and secularized universe, of the reluctance of the orthodox Jewish milieu towards these forms of Kabbalah, considered as impure and pernicious.

We would like to encourage in this review the blossoming of a wide discussion concerning the body of issues that we raised. It is no question to sacrifice present to the past or past to the present. Poetic works to biblical exegeses, medieval thought to studies on contemporary society, philosophical conceptions to ecstatic practices - or vice versa. As there are hardly spiritual works or cultural and religious institutions that were not visited by Kabbalah, as Kabbalah haunted all the possibilities of believing and transformed itself each time while remaining the referential tradition, research must explain these religious facts and avoid to neglect any aspect. This is therefore under the sign of interdisciplinarity that we placed this electronic Journal, the first one of that kind in this field. There is without doubts no better vector for fulfilling our wish to see all the branches of the research connected with one another than an international network of electronic communication that becomes each day more dense and more visited.

Mopsik Charles
Paris, March 10, 1997.

1. See Kabbalah, New Perspectives, New Haven and London, 1988, chap. 9, § I, 2. #appel1

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