25 Questions
& Answers about

9. Does the Kabbalah change and develop? Is there a modern-day Kabbalah? What about Pop Kabbalah?

Science is constantly changing and developing as new discoveries cause once-accepted theories to be revised or rejected. However, the Kabbalah does not change and develop in the same way, because Kabbalistic teachings are not man-made theories but true knowledge revealed by God to chosen prophets and sages.

Thus the fundamentals of the Kabbalistic system are embedded in the Bible and are unchanging. What changed in successive generations were the methods used by outstanding teachers to explain and draw from Kabbalistic teachings according to the needs of their times, taking account of people's levels of knowledge and their ability to incorporate spirituality in their lives.

Advanced scholarship is necessary to grasp the complexities of the Kabbalistic system of the ARI, while his ascetic devotional pathway demands exceptional discipline and stamina. These were achieved by a handful of later giants, such as the Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzatto, Ramchal, and Rabbi Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna but they were hard for many others to attain.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (c. 1698-1760), founder of the Chassidic Movement, introduced new ways of opening up levels of mystical experience and understanding to those lacking in scholarship and ascetic ability through communal Sabbath and festival meals and discourses, stories and parables, melodies, devotional prayer, song and dance... These ways were practiced by the great Chassidic leaders of later generations, such as Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813) founder of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) founder of the Breslov movement, and other Chassidic leaders who followed in the path of the Baal Shem Tov.

Genuine contemporary kabbalists consider themselves to be students of the Kabbalistic giants of the past. The contribution of outstanding modern teachers, such as Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (1886-1955), author of Ha-Sulam, The Ladder, a commentary on the Zohar, and other important works has been to offer a systematic, analytic explanations of the worldview and teachings of the Kabbalah.

The Kabbalah and its mysteries, holding out the promise of spiritual insight and power, have a compelling fascination for many people, including those unable to access the original, authentic sources. This has created a ready market for popular works. Within the past thirty years, growing numbers of reliable translations and introductory works have become available, notable among them the writings of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1935-83).

In the same period there has also been an explosion of "Pop Kabbalah" works that purport to explain Kabbalistic teachings and their contemporary relevance, yet often oversimplify and distort them. The student may believe he has attained superior insight by incorporating a number of striking ideas into his worldview. In actuality, his spiritual advance may be inhibited if he is not informed that true progress depends on observing the Torah, which is the foundation of the Kabbalah.


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