Friday, December 14, 2007

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'[1]. 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[2].

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 [3].

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.

[1]. 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.
[2]. 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.

[3]. 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

Labels: , , , , ,


At Friday, December 14, 2007 10:42:00 AM, Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

IIRC Baal Shem of London had some sort of Sabbatean leanings.

There is, of course, the whole Christian kabbalistic school from the 15th century.

At Friday, December 14, 2007 12:39:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


At Saturday, December 15, 2007 7:55:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

"IIRC Baal Shem of London had some sort of Sabbatean leanings".

Adler seems to think that this is false being that no mention of Sabbatean holidays or rituals are to be found in his private writings. The accusation seems to to stem from Rabbi Yaakov Emden- who we know accused many of Sabbateanism on the flimsiest of evidence.

At Saturday, December 15, 2007 9:21:00 PM, Blogger Mottel said...

Very interesting . . .

At Tuesday, December 18, 2007 12:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In one of the letters of the Ramchal he relates that a gentile woman came to him to discuss questions in kabbalah. He found her to be a 'Chachama Gedolah' and she was versed in all the Sifrei R' Chaim Vital ba'al peh.

At Tuesday, December 18, 2007 2:05:00 AM, Blogger Joels W. said...

That is quite fascinating.

At Tuesday, December 25, 2007 8:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: אין מוסרין דברי תורה לעכו"ם

I think first you'd have to prove that what is being taught to Madonna, or that what was taught to Madame de Crona was in fact Torah... one rational mind in the 12th Century seems to have thought that Kabbalah no longer exists.

"Care having been taken, for the sake of obviating injurious influences, that the Oral Law should not be recorded in a form accessible to all, it was but natural that no portion of "the secrets of the Law" would be permitted to be written down or divulged for the use of all men. These secrets, as has been explained, were orally communicated by a few able men to others who were equally distinguished. Hence the principle applied by our teachers," The secrets of the Law can only be entrusted to him who is a councillor, a cunning artificer, etc." The natural effect of this practice was that OUR NATION LOST THE KNOWLEDGE OF THOSE IMPORTANT DISCIPLINES. Nothing but a few remarks and allusions are to be found in the Talmud and the Midrashim, like a few kernels enveloped in such a quantity of husk, that the reader is generally occupied with the husk, and forgets that it encloses a kernel."

If his premise is accepted, then what was taught was not Torah but some magical, mystical, (possibly idolatrous?) text.

At Tuesday, December 25, 2007 11:26:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

f his premise is accepted, then what was taught was not Torah but some magical, mystical, (possibly idolatrous?) text.

If it is indeed idolatry, it would perhaps make it all the more worse.

I am sure you know about the apocryphal legend that Rambam immersed himself in Kabballah in his later years.

At Wednesday, December 26, 2007 5:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some take it to an even more absurd end and claim that he had always been a Kabbalist...

At Friday, December 28, 2007 12:28:00 AM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Thanks for the link. I am going to have to open that file on a different computer since mine's been acting up lately.
Is it even worth my time looking through that?

At Monday, November 30, 2009 1:51:00 PM, Anonymous Talismans said...

On this site rabbi sell Kabbalah talismans

At Saturday, July 28, 2012 2:47:00 PM, Blogger Tootle said...

Hello. My husband is a direct descendant of Zevi Hirsch Kalish, the factorum of the Baal Schem of London and later Hazan of Bristol Synagogue. It has been suggested (by Irene Roth among others) that his wife was called Sarah and was the Baal Schem's daughter, although there is no documentation about this. I have found it written that his wife's father was Simcha Issac Levi, which suggests there is no basis for this belief. Anyway, Kalish changed his name to Collish, and his 3 sons were all called Collins, while the daughters still used Kalisch. I would be interested in any information about who Kalish was married to and if the Baal Schem (Falk) had a daughter or not! Kind regards, Carol Collins

At Saturday, July 28, 2012 2:56:00 PM, Blogger Tootle said...

Hello, I am one of those people on the web looking into an ancestry link with the Baal Schem of London (Falk). My husband is directly descended from Zevi Hirsch Kalisch (Isaac Collish/Collins). It has been claimed, by Irene Roth among others, that Kalisch was married to Falk's daughter Sarah. But there is no documentary evidence that he even had a daughter nor is there any of who exactly Kalisch's wife was, or even her name. The only reference to her I have found is that Kalisch's father-in-law was Simcha Issac Levi. The rest of the family has been well documented, including his son, Hyman Collins, picture dealer in Notting Hill. The line includes several well-known architects in London, notably Hyman Henry Collins. If anyone has information about the Falk/Kalisch connection, I would love to hear it!


Post a Comment

<< Home

free counters