Written by Tomer Persico. Tomer, a first-time Jewrotica writer, is a scholar in the field of contemporary spirituality, specializing in Jewish meditation techniques, past and present. He teaches at Tel Aviv University and the Secular Yeshiva in Jerusalem, writes freelance for different Israeli newspapers and blogs at tomerpersico.com.
This piece has been translated by Ben Greenfield. Ben Greenfield is an alumnus of the Tikvah Fellowship and a writer living in rural Connecticut.
Several years ago, I realized that Kabbalah is one of the most damaging aspects of Judaism. You might find this shocking. This is, after all, our most “secret” esoteric text! Developed in the 13th century (a full century after Maimonides and sixteen hundred years after the Buddha), Kabbalah was supposed to direct people to self-knowledge, to awareness of the divine reality within them. Kabbalah spins a sprawling metaphysical web full of divine entities that are supposedly “out there” and which somehow “bring down” God into our world. The problem isn’t the myth itself… The problem is when the myth is taken literally – and indeed, that is precisely as it has been understood by the majority of Kabbalists. [There are theories that before the Arizal most Kabbalists understood the system figuratively, as a symbolic literature meant to awaken within man the spiritual life.] But that is certainly not so in the present day.
Kabbalah was “internalized” via Hasidism in the aftermath of the tragedy that was Sabbatianism (a tragedy that was truly inevitable if you really understand the Kabbalistic approach – indeed, it is the natural culmination thereof!). And grand theosophic entities were interpreted as personal, psychological elements, resulting in the current Kabbalistic conception that much wisdom can be gleaned from its layers of symbolic meaning.
Of course, this is broad topic, but I’d like to zero in on one part, a relatively small part of the Kabbalistic story which makes for a nice example both of the Kabbalistic worldview and the tragic consequences such a view brings.
A new study by Shilo Pechter on the prohibition against masturbation (lit. “spilling seed in vain”) shows how only with the influence of Kabbalah did this sin become invested with such exaggerated significance. It’s my intent to present some of Pechter’s source-texts, with the goal of summarizing in very broad terms the development of this sin as it passed through the gears of the Kabbalah.
Pechter shows how, in the Kabbalistic writings, semen became a human parallel to the “Divine overflow” – such that “destruction of seed” was tantamount to damaging the life-force that emanates from God. For this “human” overflow doesn’t drain away; it joins up with “forces of Impurity,” such as sheidim (demons) and other dark spirits. The Arizal’s Kabbalah describes not just the sins of man, but the Divine dynamic behind them, and thus we find hints of the idea that Creation itself is nothing but the autoerotic emission of the Godhead.