A Brief History Of: Kabbalah

Menahem Kahana / AFP

A woman prays in a cave containing the tombs of rabbis in Safed, Israel, the capital of Jewish mysticism.

In the beginning, there was Madonna. At least that's how most see the modern history of Kabbalah--the New Agey revival of traditional Jewish mysticism recently linked in the tabloids to a love triangle involving the Material Girl and married New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez. Yet despite its high-profile Hollywood associations, the Kabbalah tradition--which involves the attempt to more directly understand God through contemplation and arcane textual study--stretches back centuries.

Kabbalah cohered and still revolves around its essential book, the Zohar--a gargantuan work penned in 13th century Spain by Moses de León--that explores divine mysteries under the guise of a commentary...

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