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Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Hardcover]

Joseph Dan
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

26 Jan 2006 Very Short Introductions
In Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, Joseph Dan, one of the world's leading authorities on Jewish mysticism, offers a concise and highly accurate look at the history and character of the various systems developed by the adherents of the Kabbalah. Dan sheds light on the many misconceptions about what Kabbalah is and isn't--including its connections to magic, astronomy, alchemy, and numerology--and he illuminates the relationship between Kabbalah and Christianity on the one hand and New Age religion on the other. The book provides fascinating historical background, ranging from the mystical groups that flourished in ancient Judaism in the East, and the medieval schools of Kabbalah in Northern Spain and Southern France, to the widening growth of Kabbalah through the school of Isaac Luria of Safed in the sixteenth century, to the most potent and influential modern Jewish religious movement, Hasidism, and its use of kabbalistic language in its preaching. The book examines the key ancient texts of this tradition, including the Sefer Yezira or "Book of Creation," The Book of Bahir, and the Zohar. Dan explains Midrash, the classical Jewish exegesis of scriptures, which assumes an infinity of meanings for every biblical verse, and he concludes with a brief survey of scholarship in the field and a list of books for further reading. Embraced by celebrities and integrated in many contemporary spiritual phenomena, Kabbalah has reaped a wealth of attention in the press. But many critics argue that the form of Kabbalah practiced in Hollywood is more New Age pabulum than authentic tradition. Can there be a positive role for the Kabbalah in the contemporary quest for spirituality? In Kabbalah, Joseph Dan debunks the myths surrounding modern Kabbalistic practice, offering an engaging and dependable account of this traditional Jewish religious phenomenon and its impact outside of Judaism.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (26 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195300343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195300345
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,370,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'lucid and informative' -- Jewish Chronicle, 14 July 2006

About the Author

is the Gershom Scholem Professor of Kabbalah in the Department of Jewish Thought, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His many books include --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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A visitor to the State of Israel is confronted by kabbalah several times every day. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read 10 Jan 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
These short introductions are decent , I have read over a dozen now . Written by leading academics in a nice flowing style in my opinion . Kabbalah is more complex than I had realised and I'm very pleased to have read about it's origins and evolution . I would think anyone who has an interest in belief systems and/or comparative religion would enjoy it . I always reread these Short introductions , usually about 6 months later . Very good value I think
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent; concise, yet covers a lot of ground. 16 Jan 2006
By Stephen Triesch - Published on Amazon.com
This is perhaps the best short introduction to the Kabbalah that I've seen. Unlike many popular introductions to the subject, this book does not pretend to make you a Kabbalist or teach you supposedly Kabbalistic techniques and practices. And, unlike many scholarly treatises, it gets right to the point and makes the subject accessible to the average reader.

But don't get me wrong - Joseph Dan - a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem - has impressive scholarly credentials, including his previous works "The Early Kabbalah" and "The Teachings of Hassidism."

Dan describes the competing theories of the origins of the Kabbalah, and traces its development through the Middle Ages and on into modern times. There are chapters on the Christian Kabbalah, the Safed school and Lurianic Kabbalism, and on the controversial "false Messiah," Shabbatai Zevi. Dan also explores the impact of the Kabbalah on Hasidism and the Habad movement, and recounts the often hostile attitude towards the Kabbalah within the rabbinical schools.

Finally, Dan explores the continuing impact of the Kabbalah in popular culture and the New Age movement.

Illustrated with black-and-white woodcuts and illuminations, this book is an excellent introduction to a topic notorious for its obscurity.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A short scholarly introduction to 'Kabbalah' 4 April 2006
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Joseph Dan is one of the world's great academic experts on 'Kabbalah'. As he explains in the opening of the book , the word 'Kabbalah' has many meanings in everyday life. It can mean ' the reception' of a hotel, or a 'receipt' for a bill paid. But its meaning in religious terms is 'the reception of religious teaching' of the Torah in its entirety, including the Oral Torah, the Mishna, Gemara and also subsequent mystical texts such as 'The Zohar' and 'The Bahir.'

Dan traces the changing meanings of 'Kabbalah' from the second century on down. He provides brief descriptions of its major teachers, from Shimon Bar Yohai to the Ari. He explains how the Lurianic Kabbalah which developed in Safed become a dynamic transformative element in Jewish history when it helped bring about that spiritual revolution in Jewish Life called 'Hasidism'. Dan also relates to contemporary misusings and cheapenings of the whole concept of Kabbalah in so - called 'New Age' teachings.

He above all shows how the teachings of Kabbalah have been a major element in Jewish spiritual development down the centuries.

This is an excellent summary, and a very good place to study and begin to learn what 'Kabbalah' is truly about.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short, Precise, Informative 23 Aug 2010
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Kabbalah has been in the news quite a bit lately, primarily due to the influence of several celebrities who claim to have embraced it as their religious practice. However, the fascination with Kabbalah has a very long history, and the term has come to be associated with mystical, secretive and even sinister practices. In the English language for instance the word "cabal" denotes a secretive collusion. With all these ideas floating around, it is very hard to discern what the "true" Kabbalah is all about, and sort out fact from fiction. The aim of this very short introduction is to set the record straight as much as possible, and this book largely succeeds in that regard.

The very term Kabbalah seems to have many different meanings, and it has come to be associated with various practices throughout the centuries. Kabbalah is purported to originate in the ancient Jewish mysticism, but the actual transmission of these ancient practices is at best vague. In fact, the author questions the very appropriateness of the term "mysticism" in a Jewish context, arguing rather that it's a projection of other religions and their attempt to draw parallels between their and Jewish practices. This line of argument feels a bit like hair-splitting, and may have more to do with academic definitions of "mysticism" than with the common understanding of the term. After reading this book I am still fairly comfortable thinking of Kabbalah as a mystic practice.

Kabbalah as we know it today had its origins in the middle ages. This is when (according to most scholars) Zohar, the main work of Kabbalistic literature, was composed. Kabbalah has evolved throughout the ensuing centuries, and one of its developments was the advent of Christian Kabbalah. In modern times among traditional Judaism, Kabbalah is mostly practiced amongst Hasidic sects. Outside of mainstream Judaism many New Age groups have claimed various aspects of Kabbalah, and this book takes a look at some of them.

Overall, this is a very well written and informative book that tries to make clear what Kabbalah is and what it's not. In his attempt to bring some clarity to this subject, the author can at times be a bit pedantic, but this is necessary in order to avoid confusion and write as accurate of an introduction to Kabbalah as possible.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book for rational minds interested in Kabbalah 10 Mar 2007
By Miha Ahronovitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I agree with another reviewer who stated that this is the best introductory Kabbalah book I have ever read. My first book of Kabbalah I read 27 years ago: The Wisdom of the Kabbalah by Alexandre Safran, who was the Chief Rabbi of Romania before the 1947 and later become the Chief Rabbi in Geneva, Switzerland. That book was incomprehensible, but was one of the first ever published in modern times outside an University campus.

By contrast, Joseph Dan is the quintessential academic. He has the skill of an extremely talented teacher. The book has precision to inform the un-initiated, the absolute beginners, what really Kabbalah is. He apeals to every day concepts people know, to get images.

For example, in section Kabbalah and Spiritualization, he explains how Jewish believers - who had to fulfill 613 commandements - were told that G-d is absolutely perfect, infinite and incomprehensible to human mind. If He is infinite and incomprehensible, why fulfill the commandements? We are doing material things (even prayer is not complete if we don't move our lips) to satisfy a perfection with whom we had no communication

Judaism was in the thirteen century practically removed from spirituality. What Kabbalists did, was to transform the rather dry commandments (mitzvot) in a "powerful concept of interdependence between man and G-d, in which the commandments were the instruments used by man in order to influence the processes of he divine world"

As Joseph Dan elucidates, there is divine emanation called "shefa", which each time flows in abundance, the good power are stronger.

I described merely two pages from the book, which is very dense. I need to re-read a few pages, but there was a daylight clarity in every word. There are no fluff. Every phrase and paragraph has clear meanings. One feels as following a theorem in mathematics, where if a line is missed, the proof eludes.

This is not a mystical book - Dan proves the term "mystical" is purely Christian in origin and has no equivalent in the Jewish and Islamic religions. It is not a prayer or a meditation book. It is a scholarly manual, yet with all references and academic reasoning are hidden for the reader. The book has no promises, other than clarity. It invites precise questions. It makes comfortable anyone who graduated from high school or an University has rational and literary questions , rather then "mystical".

Yet the meaning of "mysticism" is defined by Joseph Dan. It is a need for using rituals and metaphors for unique inward feelings and visions and we have no vocabulary to transmit the experience. The book does not cover the un-explained, the from-beyond, other than describe how it may happen in some followers of Kabbalah. The religious high some people expect to live in Kabbalah is not part of this book and will make Joseph Dan smile, if anyone expects it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction 21 Nov 2006
By Dr. James Gardner - Published on Amazon.com
Joseph Dan provides a short, concise introduction to the Kabbalah. People unfamiliar with Kabbalah can pick up this book and get a good idea of what Kabbalah means, where it comes from, and how it developed. The book is well written, although I would have preferred more documentation.
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