Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I recently spoke to someone who said she was interested in learning Kabbala but could not find any classes. I mentioned to her she may want to try learning Tanya because there is a lot of Kabbala in it. She said "no, that would be too religious".

So what was she really wanting to learn exactly?

share|improve this question

It sounds to me that if she wants Kabbalah that is not too religious she is not interested in learning the inner dimensions of the Torah at all. She is just using "Kabbalah" as a code word for "something fuzzy that will make me feel good with myself just the way I am right now!"

share|improve this answer
+1 for "something fuzzy that will make me feel good with myself just the way I am right now!" – Avraham Jul 26 '11 at 12:25

She probably meant whatever Madonna et al. are into.

share|improve this answer

That would be Rabbi Berg's Kabbalah.

share|improve this answer
So am I correct that if someone wants to learn the "real" Kabbalah they should learn Tanya, or is there a better source? – Desert Star Feb 23 '11 at 5:16
@R'Desert, I have heard good things about Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's works, not that I've ever read any of them (or other kabala). – msh210 Feb 23 '11 at 5:53

Tanya lays out the main teachings of the Hasidic group, Chabad-Lubavitch. It is based on the Kabbalah of their founder, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. While it is a legitimately inspiring source, it is considered too advanced for the newcomer to Jewish thought. It is also by no means accepted by all Jews who study Kabbalah. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan is in my opinion one of the greatest Rabbis of the 20th century. His books on Kabbalah are often fairly technical, however, and I would hesitate to recommend his work to the completely fresh newcomer. Perhaps it would be best to begin a study of Kabbalah by learning the tales that are told about the great Hasidic masters. These are published in various places in books and the internet. Martin Buber has translated and published many tales in his books. He is a decent source for this kind of material. Though this is not a direct approach to the heart of the subject matter, we are discussing an immensely complex tradition of meditation on G-d, and it would behoove the seeker to become familiar with the personalities and feelings associated with the world they wish to engage with. Ultimately, there is no authentic Kabbalah, divorced from regular Jewish practice. This tradition of mysticism has developed in the context of the observance of Torah law and the rigorous study of Talmud. Without a firm grasp on these, there is no sense in approaching Kabbalah at all. Kabbalah is there to strengthen and exalt an already existing engagement with Torah.

share|improve this answer
It's true that (parts of) Tanya are pretty advanced. There are various study guides and the like to make it more accessible to the newcomer, though. – Alex Feb 23 '11 at 18:42
I agree with Alex, however with one caveat (with which he would probably agree) : A person must always be honest with him/her self as to what he/she is capable of grasping. – Yahu Feb 23 '11 at 23:26
To my knowledge, the Alter Rebbe was not mechadesh any new "Kabbalah" in Tanya. The Alter Rebbe worked specifically with already established opinions and source, to the extent that he referred to himself as a "compiler" rather than an "author", and the title of the Tanya is actually "Compilation of Sayings". That's not to say that the Kabbalistic opinions he used are accepted by everyone, mekubalim argued about them long before the Alter Rebbe came on the scene. That's my understanding of the matter, I could be wrong though. – HodofHod May 10 '12 at 4:33

A Kabbalah literally means a tradition, Kabbalah is a tradition passed from person to person based around the study of G-d and levels of G-dliness.

In kabbalah maasis (practical Kabbalah) there methods of binding Angels by oath, making Golems, going into spiritual realms, etc.

The Arizal said that nowerdays we cannot do the last (practical kabbalah) because we do not possess the red heifer and are impure.

Tanya mentions the first type of Kabbalah, which is based around understanding G-dliness. In reality, many of the early mussar seforim are replete with quotes and explanations of Kabbalistic ideas (Reishis Chochmah, Nefesh Hachayim).

share|improve this answer
Kabbalah literally means "receiving", not "tradition". – zaq Jul 26 '11 at 14:36
@zaq is "kabbalah" not a noun? Is "tradition" not the noun you would associate with "receiving" in this case? – HodofHod Nov 28 '11 at 6:03
@HodofHod I think he meant receiving as a gerund. – Double AA May 10 '12 at 3:34
@DoubleAA Possible, admittedly, but it would be a very uncommon use, and certain to be misunderstood often. – HodofHod May 10 '12 at 3:36
@HodofHod Then don't say literal. – Double AA May 10 '12 at 3:40

There are 4 types of "Kabbalah"

  1. The Zohar, Bahir, Sefer Yetzirah and related works. These can only be leanred in a Yeshivah properly in their original language with a close, 1 on 1 chavrutah with a 'Mekubal". This is what most Jews think of when they think of 'Learning Kabalah' (or it should be atleast :P )

  2. There is the Kabalah as found within Chasidic sources, which is mostly the same but also has a slightly different take on the subject. Sometimes it is more psychological or musar based.

  3. There are english translations of Kabalah, popularized by R. Aryeh Kaplan, but also Shroeder etc, becoming popular in the 1960s and recently with the Pritzer translation of the Zohar.

  4. There is "new age" Pop Kabalah also known as the "Kabalah Center" which is R. Berg's cult.

The person who asked you, likely wanted 3 or 4. Try to steer them away from 4 and point them towards 3.

share|improve this answer
I actually tried to point them to 2, but they weren't interested. – Desert Star Jul 27 '11 at 14:12

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.