Rabbis teaching Kabbalah to non-Jews: not a new phenomenon
Madonna embraces Kabbalah, Hollywood celebrities flock to the Kabbalah center
Think this is something completely new? not exactly.
In Transaction By Jewish Historical Society of England, Rabbi Dr. Herman Adler, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire has a very interesting article about the enigmatic figure of Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Falk, known as the 'Baal Shem of London'. The paper seeks to dispel the hagiography which seems to have surrounded Falk -at least in England where he was apparently held in high esteem. R' Adler writes:
R' David Azulai (Chida) in his small book Maagal Tov (p.13) mentions that when in Paris in 1778, he met the Marquis de Toma and the Marchesa de Croua (in in his previously published unedited article Adler gives the name as de Crona-H), who had saved many Jews from falling into the clutches of the Inquisition. This high-born dame intimated to Rabbi Azulai that the Baal Shem of London had taught her practical Kabballah-a circumstance which greatly roused the ire of the worthy Rabbi.
Later R' Adler excerpts the relevant passage from Chida's travelogue מעגל טוב:
On Thursday, the Marquis de Toma came with the Marchesa de Croua. She sat with me and asked that I might pray for her. She afterwards said that she studied the scriptures, and that she had visions of angels and demons who spoke to her. She gave a louis as a charitable gift for Hebron, and mentioned the Baal Shem of London. She said that the Jew gave her a book on Kabbalah, and she told some other remarkable things. I answered her accordingly. Afterwards she said that she was a very highly placed princess, that she had saved many Jews from the Inquisition, that she was the daughter of a Marquis and other exaggerations. How much mischief did this so called Baal Shem work, who in his conceit and arrogance revealed practical kabbalah and conjuration to many prices and princesses to aggrandize himself! Many asked me about him .
Intrigued, I did a google search (what else..) on the aforementioned Madame de Crona (or Croua), which sadly turned up no results. But it's safe to assume that she was the equivalent of a modern day celebrity, a Parisian socialite, probably of royal blood.
Some wonder why it is that so many celebrities (Madonna being the most notorious among them) "get into" Kabbalah.
To me it seems quite simple. Eastern mysticism has always held an allure to westerners. It used to be Hinduism, Buddhism etc. now its Kabbalah.
It's interesting to note that in ancient Rome many of the aristocrats were likewise drawn to exotic eastern religions (with Judaism considered to be one of the most prominent) and many of the Roman nobility and upper class; the celebrities of Rome, practiced these faiths and followed its ritual either overtly or covertly. This later made it easier for Paul (or Shaul of Tarshish who some claim was a disciple of Rabban Gamaliel) to peddle his creed to the Greeks and the Romans, as they were already accustomed to many Judeo ideas and beliefs.
. It is interesting to note that the once widely circulated image of the Baal Shem Tov-the founder of the Chassidic movement-in in fact a portrait of Falk.
. On the issue of the prohibition against teaching gentiles Torah (אין מוסרין דברי תורה לעכו"ם see tractate Chagiga 13a), there were of course many cases of Rabbis who did teach gentiles (Eliyahu Bachur, Da Modena to name a few). However that was often defended by asserting that the issur only applies if it is done out of religious conviction but not if the motivation is purely 'love of knowledge'. Interestingly, Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg writes that the term מוסרין (transmitting) used by the Talmud (ibid) indicates that the prohibition is only against transmitting סתרי תורה literally 'the mysteries of the Torah' (see שרידי אש ח"ב נה-נו) which would make this whole phenomenon doubly problematic.
. Ironically, we may also discern from the writings of the master Lurianist Rabbi Hayyim Vital, a desire (probably never translated into action) to transmit such mystical secrets to Christians, particularly those in positions of great power. In one of his (Vital's) dreams committed to writing, he reported that he arrived in Rome only to be arrested by the officials of the "Roman Caesar". He is then brought to the "Caeser", and the latter orders the hall cleared. "We were left by ourselves. I said to him: 'on what grounds do you want to kill me? all of you are lost in your religions like blind men. For there is no truth but the Torah of Moses, and with it alone can exist no other truth'. He responded: 'I already know this and so I sent for you. I know that you are the wisest and skilled of men in the wisdom of truth. I want you to reveal me some of the secrets of the Torah and the name of your blessed lord, for I already recognized the truth'...then I told him a bit of wisdom [of the Kabballah] and I awoke." see Moshe Idel's article Italy in Safed, Safed in Italy, p. 249