Kabbalah & Mysticism 101
Much of all future kabbalah, including the important 16th century kabbalah of Isaac Luria--whose intricate theology of creation describes how God contracted to make room for the world--concerns itself with the sefirot. Abraham Abulafia was the most important of the medieval intensive mystics. He tried to achieve a state of prophecy through methods of experiential kabbalah. Hasidism, a religious movement that emerged in the 18th century, spread mystical thinking and living to the masses of European Jewry by teaching that all people could have an experiential connection with God.
Traditional mystical concepts permeate mainstream Jewish thought to this day (for example, the notions of tikkun ha-olam, or repair of the world, and of tzimtzum, God's self-limiting), and texts of mystical origin have penetrated Jewish liturgy (including Lekhah Dodi, the Friday night hymn welcoming the Sabbath, and other liturgical poetry). In addition, the academic study of Jewish mysticism has flourished in recent decades, due primarily to the work of a single scholar, Gershom Scholem. Scholem discovered and interpreted a wide range of mystical manuscripts and shed light on the origins and development of Jewish mysticism. With the emergence of New Age spirituality, Jewish mysticism has also experienced a popular renaissance. Jewish groups like the Renewal movement teach mysticism to spiritually inclined, nontraditional Jews, while controversial institutions such as the Kabbalah Centre offer a more universal and magical mysticism to Jews and non-Jews alike.
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