What is Kabbalah?
Dr. Eduard Shyfrin, author and expert on Jewish mysticism, was recently interviewed by Robert Lawrence Kuhn, host of "Closer to Truth," as part of the Global Philosophy of Religion Project.
The Global Philosophy of Religion Project, hosted by the University of Birmingham, aims to make the philosophy of religion a truly global field by promoting the scholarly work of researchers from underrepresented regions and religious traditions.
In a wide-ranging, hour-long interview, Shyfrin and Kuhn discussed a number of key questions pertaining to the nature of Kabbalah, its place in Judaism, the attributes and actions of God in the world, good and evil, and other significant issues. Shyfrin also discussed the idea of the Kabbalah of Information – his understanding of Creation as a hierarchy of informational worlds with a continuous circulation of information.
In introducing the subject of Kabbalah and its importance, Shyfrin quoted the words of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the Second Century sage, who stated that “Kabbalah is the soul of the Holy Scriptures, the commandments (mitzvot) are the body, and the story is the garment.”
Shyfrin discussed the development of the Kabbalah, from the ancient Sefer Yetzirah, which is attributed to Abraham, to the 13th-century Kabbalists of Provence, the later Castilian Kabbalists, the mystics of Safed, and the 18th-century Hasidic masters of Poland and western Ukraine.
Shyfrin explained several basic concepts of Jewish mysticism, including Ein Sof, the unknowable essence of God, the sefirot, the emanations of His essence, and Tzimtzum, when God "contracts" and forms empty space in the world. He introduced the two concepts of Kabbalah – ‘theosophical Kabbalah,’ which deals with Creation, and "ecstatic Kabbalah," which delves into meditation and mystical experiences. Shyfrin presented his ideas and positions from the point of view of the Kabbalah of Information.
In response to Kuhn’s query as to how people can "know" and understand God, Shyfrin quoted Maimonides, who said that love of God means the desire to know Him: “We were given information by God – the Holy Scriptures – and that, together with prophecy, gives us the opportunity to know Him.”
Shyfrin and Kuhn discussed several other fundamental issues, including God’s intervention in human affairs and the definition of miracles, the concept of ‘continuous creation,’ Judaism’s position about other religions, and the immutable nature of God.