Monday, September 5, 2011

My Zohar Articles and My Renowned Critic

Recently, I posted a two part article on the Zohar, written from the perspective of a pagan outsider who hasn’t actually successfully read it. The point of this article was to show that the Zohar has an important place in the Jewish and even Christian Kabbalah, but it might not be very important to occultists with a pagan or wiccan background. Since the Zohar is mainly a Midrash on the Hebrew scriptures, such a deep and esoteric analysis might be considered irrelevant to one such as me. I have tried to read the Zohar, and I even recently bought a five volume English translated version of it, although it represents less than a third of the complete collection of these writings.

Looking over the first volume of the Soncino Press version of the Zohar, and attempting to read the prologue, I found it pretty difficult to be able to make sense out of the various dialogues that were presented between the main characters of Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai, his son, and eight companions. To really get into the core of these dialogues, I would need to check all of the biblical references that are made in this single chapter, and I would have to research, and perhaps even meditate for quite some time on the more obscure passages. All of that would be necessary to fully comprehend that first section, and we are only talking about the prologue, which consists of sixty pages. A more extensive study of the whole thing would take someone nearly a lifetime of work, study and meditation. Perhaps it might help if I had a renowned teacher to assist me to get over the hump and truly appreciate this work, but I suspect that such a teacher is not available to the likes of me, nor would such an endeavor really aid my overall spiritual and magickal progress.

As I have said in my previous writings on this topic, the Zohar was written in an artificial kind of Aramaic, and even today, as far as I know, the whole work has not been translated completely into English. So in order to truly master the Zohar, I would also have to master the language it was written in, and in fact, reading over the English translations (without any commentary), I can easily see that having the original text would be helpful, too.

Typically, I announce my new article postings in my Face Book account for my many contacts to read and examine if they so wish. I got a rather harsh critique for writing my two part article on the Zohar from someone who is on my list of friends, but to whom I had not paid a lot of attention. This man calls himself Yakov-Leib HaKohain, and as it turns out, he is actually quite a great man, at least in regards to his background, studies, writings and spiritual accomplishments. I have often read some of the comments he has made on his Face Book, and some of them are actually quite harsh, and even somewhat profane.

Yakob-Leib is a 77 year old man who seems to be both a bit of curmudgeon and a cranky opinionated sage. While I respect him, his comments were a bit dismaying and altogether over the top. Needless to say, it seemed that he didn’t get the gist of the article I wrote, and seemed to question whether I should even dare to write anything about a body of work that I hadn’t actually read. He does have a point, but I can report on what other scholars have said who have read the entire work in its stilted Aramaic and studied its many obscure references. I have already pointed out that I can function as a competent qabbalist without having to plumb the depths of the Zohar. Also, the Zohar, in my opinion, shouldn’t be considered as sacred writings on the same level as the Tenakh, although some qabbalists seem to have this opinion. It would appear that Yokov-Lieb is one of those individuals, or at least that’s what I am able to determine considering his comments.

Anyway, after announcing the first article in my Face Book page, I received a “like” from Yakov-Leib for the link I had posted to the article, and then the following comment, which I found rather odd. Why give a “like” thumbs up for something that you don’t like? I had stated in my article that I had not read the Zohar (and that I found it too difficult and not very relevant), but it would seem that what I wrote either didn’t appear to be understood, or that Yakov-Leib hadn’t bothered to read it. It could also be true that he was just playing with me. Here’s his comment: 

After reading your article, I found myself wondering: With whom did you study Zohar, how much of the entire Zohar and from which texts did you actually study it, and for how long did you study it with your teacher?”

To which I respectfully replied:

@Yakov-Leib - In my article I state quite plainly that I have not either read or studied the Zohar. I have read various discussions of topics that were pulled from the Zohar in other books. I am not an adherent of one of the Abrahamic faiths, so reading an occult or esoteric Midrash on the Tenakh would not be very meaningful for me. Also, as I will indicate in part 2, I have taken most of my information about the Zohar from Gershom Scholem, who might be seen as having an irreverent opinion about these writings. I welcome any and all comments, opinions, or corrections on what I have written. Regards - FB.”

Then he replied to my reply, and appeared to castigate me for my apparent ignorance and presumptuousness.

Yes. I can see that you have neither read nor studied the Zohar (except what you have picked up about it from hearsay), but that doesn't seem to stop you from expertizing about it as if you have. This calls to mind Job's final words to Yahweh: "I am the man who obscured your designs with my empty-headed words. I have been holding forth on matters I cannot understand, on marvels beyond me and my knowledge. I knew you then only by hearsay, but now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract all I have said, and in dust and ashes I repent." (Job 43:3-6)”

I was rather surprised by this exchange, and I didn’t want anyone to get the idea that I was pretending to be an expert on the topic of the Zohar. So I replied, still respectfully:

Yakov-Leib - All due respect - if my artless and mindless words offend thee, then don't read them. I have not put myself forth as any kind of expert on the Zohar whatsoever. I leave that role to others who are engaged with the Abrahamic faiths. So for me as a pagan, there is nothing to repent.”

To this he basically let me know that I had committed some kind of taboo with my presumptuous article, and that I had offended the Zohar itself. He also appeared to relegate me to that class of ass-hat writers who opine on something while knowing nothing about it. This was disturbing to me because my article was not about the meaning of the Zohar or what it contained, but it was about the Zohar’s function, it’s reputed book titles and how it was likely assembled. That’s like talking about the history of the bible and its canonical books without actually discussing what those books attempt to communicate. To my respectful denials to the contrary, Yakov-Leib basically put me down as just another self-appointed know-it-all who is merely an ignorant fool. I decided not to respond any further and let the matter rest. Even if I ever encountered someone who was vastly junior to me in regards to knowledge or experience and that person was attempting to write down their thoughts on various occult subjects, I would never treat them in such a manner as he treated me. I felt abused, but I let it go, since any further communication would be useless. Here’s what he said:

You haven't offended me at all. You've offended the Zohar. However, I don't expect that anyone who admits that he has "neither read nor studied the Zohar," but nevertheless feels qualified to write "two articles" about it, would get the point.”

One would assume from what Yakov-Leib said that the egregore of the Zohar, as a spiritual entity, was offended by my ignorance and presumption. Of course, that assumed that I considered the Zohar to be holy scripture and that I worshiped the same Godhead as he did. While I respect the Zohar, as well as the Sepher Yetzirah and the Sepher Bahir, I would never commit the error of considering them on the same level as the Tenakh, and I am sure that many Jews and Christians would agree with this sentiment. Some qabbalists might disagree with that perspective, perhaps even vehemently, but that is the nature of esotericism and occultism; its adherents seem to be eternally involved in endless discussions and even passionate arguments. There is nothing new in that revelation!

I was also quite curious about who this Yakov-Leib HaKohain is, and why would he waste time excoriating me? This question, of course, made me consult the web, and in no time at all, I found out quite a bit about this man. As I had thought, he was a great spiritual sage and old enough to be my father. This is what the Wikkipedia had to say about him, and you can find the article here.

Yakov Leib HaKohain (born Lawrence G. Corey, November 13, 1934) is a kabbalist, religious philosopher, poet and founder of Donmeh West, a ‘Virtual Community for the Study and Practice of Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah.’”

It appears that Yakov-Leib studied under James Kirsch, a member of C. G. Jung’s inner circle and the co-founder of the C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles. Yakov-Leib studied comparative religion and Jungian thought, and he also did three years of advanced, post-doctoral work under Kirsch's sponsorship. He was also initiated into Vendanta through the Ramakrishna Order of Southern California. He also founded Donmeh West, which was a revival of Sabbatian Kabbalah, named after the original organization founded by Sabbatai Zevi (in the 17th century). Yakov-Leib also converted to Catholicism, Islam and Hinduism. Based on that information, one could say that Yakov-Leib has his spiritual foundation based on four religions, but supercedes them through the artifice of his Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah. Somehow, I think that his co-religionists would have a problem with this kind of heterodoxic perspective, and that he might be considered an apostate by many who are just singularly Hindus, Muslims, Catholic Christians or Jews.

Some of Yakov-Leib’s opinions can be found in the following quotes written up on the website, but I am certain that his spiritual perspectives are much deeper, fluidic and constantly changing over time (just like any other reputable occultist).

My simple-minded intention is to help others know and be known by God in the same simple-minded way Sabbatai Zevi, Jesus Christ, Sri Ramakrisna, C.G. Jung and others Knew and were Known by It -- not to dazzle anyone with the brilliance of my intellect or the complexity of my 'Grand Design.' In fact, like my predecessor, Jacob Frank, I'm illiterate in Hebrew, know nothing of 'Torah Law and Ordinance,' and am counted as a fool by many.”

So one could conclude from this quote that Yakob-Leib doesn’t know Hebrew or Aramaic, and proudly so. That might make plumbing the depths of the Zohar even more difficult for him than it would for me. I, at least, can say that I had three of years of Classical Hebew in college, so some of the dialogues of the Zohar aren’t completely beyond my comprehension. I might also be able to pick up Aramaic if I really felt it was important, since I possess an Aramaic grammar and dictionary. Even so, I would never consider calling this man a fool, since his achievements are not small.

Then there is this interesting quote:

Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah has virtually nothing to do with the Jewish religion, or any other religion for that matter. In fact, we seek to destroy religion, not follow it. Religions -- all religions (and most especially the so-called ‘Abrahamic’ religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) -- are the Kellipot (shells) surrounding and entrapping the Glory of God. Jews worship Judaism; Christians worship Christianity; Muslims worship Islam—we Neo-Sabbatians worship God, not as a supernatural being but as an infinite, boundless, undefinabable Mind possessing no corporeality or substance, yet having self-awareness, intelligence, emotion, will, and intention.”

You can read over the whole article in the Wikkipedia web page at your leisure, since there’s so much more to read, and it’s actually quite interesting. Yakob-Leib is truly a great sage and an amazing spiritual teacher. His mixing of Jungian psychology with the Jewish Kabbalah (and at least three other religious philosophies) has created quite a synthesis, but his purpose and the scope of his writings represent an aspect of occultism that is quite different than my own. As I have said, the Qabbalah is many things to many people, and in fact, one could even say that there are many different Qabbalahs out there in the world.

Yet here I am, still puzzling over what transpired between us, and I find it quite odd that a man who seeks “to destroy religion” would take umbrage at me for writing a measly two part article about the contents and the evolution of the Zohar. In that article, I never quoted that work or attempted to comment on or analyze any its text. I did this overall analysis by consulting Gershom Scholem’s masterwork “Kabbalah,” and wrote it to show that not all aspects of the Qabbalah are either relevant or important to me. So I could hardly expect that anyone would broadside me for my rather harmless article. Who knows what goes on in the mind of great sages, especially ones who are known to be harsh and at times, even obnoxious, to others? Thankfully, that isn’t my style.

Frater Barrabbas

Update: Yakov-Leib HaKohain left me a link as a response to my second part of the Zohar article. This link, when I resolved it, was a quote from another Face Book member named Anthony Lombardo. I will quote the link text for you to read:

“The Zohar and the Gita are Spiritual Writings which require a high level of Spiritual development for their understanding. Equally they also require a higher level of consicouness as well. They rank in the high 900's in the level of concousness (sic) scale of Dr David R. Hawkins. The Zohar is a rather large work in which the current complete form is 25 volumes and its concise form of 5 volumes. Anyone who thinks that they can undertake reading the Zohar without any prior Spiritual development will ultimately fail unless their level of consciouness is equally as high as the Zohar.”

What Mr. Lombardo is doing in the above statement is equating the Zohar with sacred scripture, which is what the Bhagavad Gita (or "Gita" in the text) is considered. Although the Gita is usually a stand-alone text, it is actually part of the Mahabharata, one of two of the most important texts in the Hindu religion (the other is the Ramayana). Essentially, that would be like saying that the Zohar is on the same level as the Tenakh, a point which I believe that many pious Jews would reject. As I have pointed out in my article, the Zohar is not to be mistaken for holy scripture, since it is in essence an analysis and exegesis of such holy writings.

Also, while I find the Zohar to be obscure and difficult to scan, it's because I would have to spend an inordinate amount of time reading over passages of the Tenakh in order to understand what is being discussed between Simeon ben Yochai and his companions. I am just not that inspired or motivated to read the Old Testament of the bible when I am engaging in a religion that does not require one to study any book in order to directly experience the immanence of the Godhead. While I believe that the author of the Zohar was quite brilliant, and perhaps even enlightened, that simple fact is not important to me. I have found that it is much easier for me to read and appreciate the Gita or the Tao Te Ching because I am a pagan, but I find the Bible a lot less inspiring or relevant to my own spiritual process. I honor others who have found great wisdom in these writings, but for me, the true nature of the Deity is to be found in the paranormal apprehension of nature itself. This is why witches and modern pagans are not considered “people of the Book.”

I do appreciate Yakob-Leib’s link to Anthony Lombardo’s quotation, and it is a sign that he wants to give me a small part of his wisdom. (That fact actually warms my heart!) But I think that I am definitely walking on a very different path than he is, even though we are likely more brothers of the greater Spirit than sectarian and philosophic disagreements would indicate.


  1. I have annoyed some people by insisting that Golden Dawn kabbalah is not a Jewish kabbalah, and that the literal word of the Zohar does not apply to the practices of Golden Dawn. It never occurred to me to wonder what the spirit of the Zohar thought of this.

  2. Thanks for your post Morgan - I have always found your wit and insights to be quite refreshing and entertaining.

    I know that the Qabbalah that I follow is one that is steeped in Greek philosophy but only lightly wedded to the Hebrew Bible.

    Since Mathers published the translation of the "Kabbalah Revealed," which consisted of three books of the Zohar, I suspect that he and his immediate associates were quite attached to the Jewish Kabbalah. That didn't seem to work well with the combination of Enochian, neopagan and traditional Yahwist Kabbalah, which some have called a confusing mishmash.

    I have also made pagan variations of the various qabbalistic Godhead Names, which I am certain has annoyed others. However, there are many perspectives on the Qabbalah, and very likely, there are many Qabbalahs, too. This, of course, is very annoying to folks whenever I happen to say it. I suspect that monotheists feel that there could only be one Kabbalah, along with one God.

    I have a theory, if you are really annoying some folks, then you are probably doing a great job of writing truth to dogma, and as such, dogma always loses.


  3. "It never occurred to me to wonder what the spirit of the Zohar thought of this."

    To wit: "Damn kids, get off my Kabbalah!"

  4. Hello Fr. Barrabbas.

    I've been following your blog for a while now,
    since I found out that it is, for me, one of the few blogs on the occult that actually delivers instead of going on a tangent. I'm beginning to read your posts on the Qabalah, and so far, I find them quite enlightening, especially because it's from a pagan perspective. I'm barely out of my qabalistic diapers, so I'm soaking up every pov. That meant going to the monotheist side too. So I'm gonna be Keanu, ok (you provide the stunning redhead)?
    What I could grasp from Yakob-Leib's attitude in general is what I get from all fundamentalists who never took a stroll down "Heathen Av.": even the jokes about rabis and horses are holy writ. I'll confess, back in the day, I was a Christian, hardcore. But growing apart from that, and feeling a pang of longing for this unitive principle gives another perspective which clearly Y-L didn't have. Yes, the Zohar is ancient as the last time I got laid, and that lends it an air of holiness, even more because it deals with an arcane subject. But that doesn't necessarily mean only people "with great spiritual development" should study it.
    On the contrary. It should be studied by most people hanging about with their wands and athames, BECAUSE IT PROVIDES spiritual development.
    Finally, you must be doing something quite right, if you drew the attention of a 77 year old jewish scholar...

    (Sorry about the long comment)
    Always a pleasure to read.

    1. "Finally, you must be doing something quite right, if you drew the attention of a 77 year old jewish scholar..."

      I sooo agree with that =)

  5. Hello! Interesting article! I found your website because I bought your book on Qabbalah & Magic this afteroon and am about to start reading =)

    Thought this exchange was pretty interesting. I'm taking Kabbalah classes now and have noticed that some of the traditional Kabbalists are very protective of this book because of the light and power they believe it contains. I'm still new to Kabbalah but I have found the veil of secrecy (sacredness) around the book to be similar to how Reiki Healers feels about disclosing or discussing Reiki symbols. I've been told off for mentioning them on my blog as well. Suppose everyone has different buttons and unfortunately we all react to certain triggers.

    Obviously you do know a lot about Kabbalah as you've written a book on it, though I thought these book recommendations might come in handy:

    Zohar Annotated and Explained: Daniel C Matt.
    The Power of Kabbalah - Yehuda Berg (of the Kabbalah Centre)

    Best of luck!


  6. Fr Barrabas- The true mekubalim in ISRAEL consider kabbalah to be the neshamah of the neshamah of TORAH. What Reb YAKOV said to you refers to 4 very high Rabbis who desired to enter the PaRDeS, which has 4 levels. One went immediately insane, another died instantly, another was "cut off at his roots", while only Rabbi Akiva was allowed to enter and exit in peace. That's why the REB said you had offended the Kavod of HaShem. Zei gezunt.

  7. Beersheva - with all due respect, since I am Not a member of any of the Abrahamic faiths then your point is meaningless to me. Also, I don't believe that any of the Abrahamic faiths have a monopoly on truth and that they therefore do not represent any kind or variety of absolute spiritual truth. Thus, the intent of my article was from the perspective of an interested outsider and nothing more. Let it not be so lightly stated that I am a Polytheist, Witch and Ritual Magician - I am not a monotheist! So, there's nothing more to say about this topic, which I might add, was written some time ago.