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The basic information of Jewish mysticism is readily available online and in print today. Yet kabbalah continues to be treated as knowledge that is secret and is only appropriate for people to learn after they have reached a certain age and/or attained a certain level of learning. I'd like to understand what the reason is for the continued secrecy.

  • Why should the secrecy stop just because others aren't secretive with our information? – Double AA Jun 7 '15 at 5:07
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    @DoubleAA 1. to prevent misinformation (there is a lot of erroneous stuff out there) 2. because by treating it as secret you are essentially forcing anyone who is interested but not qualified to go find it themselves. 3. at least according to to the chassidic recounting of the Besht's encounter with Moshiach revealing it will hasten Moshiach's coming 4. IIRC the reason it was originally kept secret was because the average person used to be ignorant, that is no longer the case – rikitikitembo Jun 7 '15 at 5:12
  • 1) Who cares what 'they' think? 2) You aren't forcing them to go elsewhere. They should just not learn it, like nearly every single traditional Jew ever. 3) Good for them. 4) I've never heard that. – Double AA Jun 7 '15 at 5:13
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    @DoubleAA 1) I do, kol Yisrael areivim zeh la/ba zeh 2). I don't know if you have any experience in the world of chinuch but that's not how things work. 3) I'm not sure how that is a response 4) so are you conceding the point? – rikitikitembo Jun 8 '15 at 1:26
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    @DoubleAA 1+2) you cannot simply tell people who have a desire to be exposed to something not to do it. That approach simply doesn't work. You have to provide an understandable alternative. – rikitikitembo Jun 8 '15 at 3:07
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I heard Rabbi Akiva Tatz explain as follows - People think that "mysticism" is a secret means that you don't know it because no one will tell you. But once you qualify, you'll find an old rabbi in a back alley who will let you in on the secret. But that isn't what it means that "mysticism" is secret - it means that it is by nature not possible to tell. It is information which cannot be expressed directly from one person to another. It is only after you have enough of your own understanding that someone can lead you to figure it out on your own. But it simply isn't possible without the prerequisite training - the words are empty words, and are at best meaningless.

As the Mishna in Chagiga 11b says:

ולא במרכבה ביחיד אלא אם כן היה חכם ומבין מדעתו

We do not expound the maaseh merkava even to an individual, unless he is a wise man who understands it from his own awareness

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    that answer would seem to make sense except that the reality doesn't support it. Witness the entire discipline of the academic study of Jewish mysticism – rikitikitembo Jun 8 '15 at 1:24
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    @rikitikitembo empty words, at best meaningless. – Y     e     z Jun 8 '15 at 2:25
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    @rikitikitembo when I learned multivariable calculus, I knew exactly how to calculate a curl and divergence. I could plug them in to the equations where they fit and get the correct answer. But at the time I had no idea what a curl was. Just because I can use the words tzimtzum and binah doesn't mean I know what I am really saying. A person cannot really appreciate what they mean without having the underlying basic Torah knowledge. – Y     e     z Jun 8 '15 at 3:34
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    i'm not sure how you can blanketly make that statement unless you yourself know kabbalah well enough and have studied the academic works and can point to flaws in them. otherwise it is your word against dozens, if not hundreds, of scholars – rikitikitembo Jun 8 '15 at 3:47
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    A good example to express yEz's point is even you explain a relationship to a person devoid of feelings. He will understand and be able to map out the gamut of feelings, their causes and hire they relate to each other. But he still doesn't understand any part of it. However, someone who has week feelings can indeed grasp an understanding of a deeper feeling. Someone who is holy or at least has moments of holiness can relate to holiness. Otherwise, it is 'mumbo-jumbo'. See Chovos Talmidim for more. – HaLeiVi Dec 13 '15 at 2:25
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it is written in a special code (metaphorical) language so that only those with the necessary introductions and level of torah scholarship can understand it.

so even with all the literature out there, it remains incomprehensible.

see this audio by Rabbi Yaakov Hillel (regarded as one of the top kabalists today)

see: http://audio.ohr.edu/track/id=521

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  • What makes you believe it is incomprehensible? – ShamanSTK Dec 13 '15 at 5:36
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    @ShamanSTK I don't think Ray means that all of the published literature remains entirely incomprehensible on any level. I think he means that the hidden meanings generally cannot be understood without the requisite background. – Fred Dec 14 '15 at 6:43
  • @Fred he claimed that even if you read every book, you wouldn't be able to understand it. "All the literature" and "incomprehensible." That's a tall order outside my experience. That needs a cite. – ShamanSTK Dec 14 '15 at 12:54
  • @ShamanSTK the cite is in the audio by Rabbi Hillel. – ray Aug 31 '16 at 11:25
  • @ray you should cite it in the text of the answer. There's no reason to listen to an audio lecture for a cite on something you put in the text of your answer. – ShamanSTK Aug 31 '16 at 12:03
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The point of hiding it is that it shouldn't end up looking the way it does today. The Rambam in his introduction to Mishnayos explains that when those who aren't meant for deep stuff get hold of it they mock it. This is what we see today.

If only the secrets would have remained secrets it would have still been admired by those who don't relate to it. In a way, it is considered understanding when you at least comprehend how far it is from you. Even if you can't climb the mountain if you see how high it is and you realize how far you are from getting there you are more on target than someone who imagines he is there already.

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    Was the Rambam referring to Kabbalah there? Seems unlikely. Or are you just citing that as a general principle? – Double AA Dec 13 '15 at 23:24
  • @DoubleAA No. Not about Kabbalah, but about any esoteric knowledge. – HaLeiVi Dec 14 '15 at 3:22
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My teacher, HaRav Aryeh Kaplan (of most Blessed Memory) , used to tell me that when I would be ready for him, my Maggid would appear and lead me further.

It was further explained in great detail to me that only truly pious and wise men would ever reach even the most bottom rung of Kabbalah.

In fact Kabbalah requires 24/7 study and devotion to Torah. It can never be achieved by the non-Jew, and not even then unless one is worthy of it.

For those brave enough to try, I suggest Rav Kaplan's "Meditation and Kabbalah" wherein, amongst other things, he discusses the The Talmudic Mystics, Schools, Safed and the Ari, and the Hasidim.

and/or his "Sefer Yetzirah" translation, of the GRA version, wherein he discusses in great detail "The Creation".

A better than average knowledge of the Hebrew Language is ESSENTIAL.

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Up-front warning. This is not going to be a popular answer. This is a halakhicaly acceptable opinion, but it is not the dominant hashkafah, and doubting kabbalah raises many hackles. Having said that:

The real answer is that it was never secretive. The source books were published and widely spread in the same decade as when they were written. The Bahir, Zohar, and Es Hayyim were very rapidly disseminated. Mystical schools were present in every city kabbalah had any major presence, and it was taught on such an individual level that prayer books were altered to accommodate kabbalistic teachings. Kabbalah presents itself as secretive for at least three reasons. The first is because it borrows imagery heavily from the gnostic tradition, which in turn, has its sources in Greek mystery traditions. Kabbalah also needed to present itself as secretive to explain why it sprang up so rapidly after not having any apparent mesorah and in contradiction to earlier rabbinic teachings. By saying it was secretive, the early mekabbulim could say that its absence of mesorah is only apparent, and the kadmonim were unaware of the core truths of Judaism or purposefully taught falsehoods to avoid teaching the kabbalah (H"V). The third major reason kabbalah presents itself as secretive is that it purports to be the maaseh bereshith and maaseh merkqavah mentioned in the talmud as being forbidden to widely teach.

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    This doesn't answer the question, which was why there is continued secrecy. Whatever your opinions on its original secrecy doesn't relate to that. – jim Dec 13 '15 at 4:25
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    I disagree with your assertions for instance even if we assume the works you mention are of later origin even academic scholars agree that works like the sefer yetzirah and the heichalot traditions are earlier. your contention that the purveyors of kabbalah basically lied seems unfounded and would cast aspersions on the likes of Ramban and lastly while some of kabbalah may relate to maaseh bereshis/merkava certainly not all of it does. but the reason I downvoted is because you do not cite any sources to corroborate anything you assert – rikitikitembo Dec 13 '15 at 5:47
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    @rikitikitembo sefer yesirah and hekhaloth literature aren't kabbalistic, though mekabulim would cite to them. The kabbalah assumes a metaphysics that are simply not present in those earlier texts. And what are you looking for cites for. I'm happy to provide them, but I didn't think any of it required cites. Everybody knows kabbalah purports to be the hidden teachings mentioned in the Talmud, and everyone knows that this is the supposed reason nobody knew about kabbalah before. – ShamanSTK Dec 13 '15 at 6:03
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    The Ramban, Rashba, Raavad, Ri Sagi Nahor, Rokeach were all Mekubalim without the Zohar and were indeed secretive. The Ramban does quote the Bahir. – HaLeiVi Dec 13 '15 at 6:17
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    i agree with the information you have presented, and would love to upvote, but you are lacking sources. i realize you might not find sources that say "it was widely disseminated and had to say it was secretive..." but perhaps you can make a mention of how quickly it was published in Spain, and put sources of those who think it was a forgery. Then i can upvote your answer – Aaron Dec 13 '15 at 7:06

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