A couple times now on forums and shiurim I have heard the speaker or rabbi address a question or comment with kabbalistic undertone with 'that is a kabbalistic idea. I don't discuss kabbalah in public'.

So is speaking of kabbalistic ideas (such as gilgulim and etc.) in public halachically inappropriate? Is there a matter of wisdom using such restraint? Is public defined on intention of captive audience?

*Questioned updated to include 'kabbalistic ideas' as OP has learned of such not in havruta as encouraged here.


The Mishna (Chagigah 2:1 or 11b) indeed writes

One may not expound the laws of forbidden sexual relations before three people, nor the account of Creation before two, nor the Divine Chariot before one, unless he is wise and understanding from his own knowledge.

The Rambam writes that one should not study Kabbala before one has a very strong knowledge of Torah, Mishna and Gemara (MT Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 4:13)

I maintain that it is not proper for a person to stroll in the Pardes unless he has filled his belly with bread and meat. "Bread and meat" refer to the knowledge of what is permitted and what is forbidden, and similar matters concerning other mitzvot. Even though the Sages referred to these as "a small matter" - for our Sages said: "'A great matter,’ this refers to Ma'aseh Merkavah. `A small matter,’ this refers to the debates of Abbaye and Ravva" - nevertheless, it is fitting for them to be given precedence, because they settle a person's mind.

R Gil Student quotes R Ovadia Yosef (from Yechaveh Da’as 4:47 and Yabi’a Omer 10:YD 23)

The Gemara (Chagigah 13a, 14a) states that one may only share the “secrets” of the Torah with a great Torah scholar. Kabbalists, like Rav Chaim Vital (introduction to Eitz Chaim 1d) and the Shelah (vol. 1 29b), explicitly say that only great scholars should learn Kabbalah. Halakhists, like Rav Moshe Isserles (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 246:4 and Toras Ha-Olah 3:4) and the Vilna Ga’on (Yoreh De’ah, ad loc. and Prov. 21:17) agree.

But see here, here and here why some incl. Chabad think we need Kabala more than before.

  • 1
    speek kabbalisticly and teach Kabbala is not the same. Nowedays, many drashot are inspired from kabbalistic ideas but do not teach Kabala. – kouty Apr 16 '16 at 21:24
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    The Rambam is not discussing Kabbala. He understands maaseh bereishis and merkava differently, as laid out in ch. 2 of yesodei hatorah and the intro to moreh nevochim. See here for more on that general topic. – Y     e     z Apr 17 '16 at 3:50
  • @mbloch Your references to Massechet Chagiga presuppose that the teacher knows &/understand perfectly the topic. He needs awareness to verify that his transmission to students is in a secure way. But if the teacher/darshan do not, what is the specific problem of publicity. If he know and decide to teach public, he obviously treat an other kind of topic. The "kabbala" tag is a pure illusion. – kouty Apr 17 '16 at 19:06
  • a dilettante can say what he wants to whom he wished, where he would like. No problem!!! – kouty Apr 17 '16 at 19:32

Kabbalists believe that kabbalah is maaseh merkavah, which per an injunction in Hagigah 2:1, should not be expounded in the presence of more than one person. This is anachronistic as kabbalah did not appear until many centuries later, and the Rambam previously defined maaseh merkavah as metaphysics in his Introduction to the Guide for the Perplexed where he states

Some general principles bearing upon this point have been fully discussed in our works on the Talmud, and we have there called the attention of the reader to many themes of this kind. We also stated (Mishneh torah, I. ii. 12, and iv. 10) that the expression Ma'ase Bereshit (Account of the Creation) signified" Natural Science," and Ma'aseh Mercabah (" Description of the Chariot" ) Metaphysics, and we explained the force of the Rabbinical dictum," The Ma'aseh Mercabak must not be fully expounded even in the presence of a single student, unless he be wise and able to reason for himself, and even then you should merely acquaint him with the heads of the different sections of the subject.

Here is a post explaining the history of kabbalah, as I was asked to provide a source for its non-antique credentials.

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