As a person with a lifetime interest in Kabbalah I have long recognised that there are few published works in the English language about this subject that provide the reader with a clear insight to its mysteries. Less than fifty years ago there were few books available in the English language about this obscure, albeit influential system of spiritual development. Indeed, before the turn of the twentieth century there were scarcely any. One, entitled The Kabbalah: Its Doctrines, Development and Literature, written by Dr. C. D. Ginsburg, had been published in 1865, but was not easily obtained until it was republished in the twentieth century. It was the first objective work on the subject to be published in English since the seventeenth century and has been very influential in esoteric circles; indeed, it still commands a great deal of respect.
Another, was The Philosophical Writings of Solomon Ben Yehudah Ibn Gebirol, published in 1888 by American scholar Isaac Myer. In the late nineteenth century, these were the most readily available works in the English language concerning Kabbalah. After the turn of the twentieth century this situation changed as more books concerning this little-known subject became available.
Many, but by no means all, were written by members of a well-known, yet short-lived, esoteric Christian Rosicrucian order known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Kabbalah was fundamental to its workings, and W. Wynn Westcott, one of the founder members of this order, wrote a simple yet interesting introduction entitled The Kabbalah, which was published in 1910. Arthur Edward Waite, another member, wrote a deeper study of the secret doctrine of Israel entitled The Doctrine and Literature of the Kabbalah, which was published in 1902, and republished with considerably more information in 1929. Other authors with connections to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and who published books about the Kabbalah, were Henry Pullen-Bury, Dion Fortune and Israel Regardie.
Dion Fortune’s book, The Mystical Qabalah (published in 1935), is a basic interpretation of the Tree of Life from a magical perspective; it is still in demand in some circles. Israel Regardie’s book The Garden of Pomegranates, first published in 1932 is also a study of the Tree of Life and follows a line of enquiry broadly similar to Dion Fortune’s book. During the last fifty years or so a great many more books have been written in the English language about the Kabbalah.
It is a matter of fact that the majority of books about Kabbalah published in the English language have appeared in the last seventy-five years or so and that they are predominantly concerned with medieval magical thought, or describes medieval Jewish psycho-spiritual disciplines without conveying any real knowledge or understanding.
There are exceptions to this, such as for example, Christian Ginsburg, Adolph Franke, A.E. Waite and Gershom Scholem. There are others but as a rule many contemporary works on the subject seem to be inspired by magical orders such as the Golden Dawn and the countless orders derived therefrom that have filled the esoteric landscape of our world in all directions. Thus, masonic; Rosicrucian; esoteric Christian; neo-Gnostic, Neo-pagan and Wiccan and Neo-Druidic groups, and many more too numerous to mention, seem to have structured their esoteric philosophies and systems according to medieval Kabbalistic thought filtered through Golden Dawn and other such lenses.
It is a filtering that focusses the readers mind upon phenomena and the phenomenal world, whether it be the coarse material world we perceive with our senses, or whether it be some astral/ethereal counterpart that we experience with the mind. In either case they are definitions rooted in the discursive mind born of Duality, and in which the addictions of astral tourism along with all of its visual and emotional stimuli, seems to be an essential component.
Few authors have given any consideration to the spiritual significance of many #Kabbalistic texts and disciplines. Perhaps this is because to do so would require a profound study of the Old and New Testaments which undeniably form the heart of Kabbalah. However, the study of the scriptures does not appear to be a popular choice. One sees little reference to it in contemporary books on Kabbalah. Instead, many, so it would seem, think of Kabbalah as a fusion of Greco-Roman, Neoplatonic, Gnostic and Jewish thought, and prefer to explore it in the context of one or more of these belief-systems. It is an approach that may be of some value, but unfortunately so many fail to recognise that the synergy of all of these influences is shaped and governed by spiritual teachings that are biblical and unambiguously mono-theistic.
One author, Joshua Abelson (1873-1940), an orthodox rabbi and scholar, and arguable one of the great Kabbalists of his generation, published one of the earliest scholarly treatments of Kabbalah in English. It is a first and foremost a spiritual perspective of the spiritual dimension of practical Kabbalah, and for those who have the eyes to see it is one of the most exquisite expositions of the subject in the English language.
He wrote this book, small that is, under the title Jewish Mysticism in 1913 for G.R.S. Mead’s ‘Quest’ series of studies on the spiritual essence of the world’s major religious traditions. Every volume of the series reflects Mead’s aim of providing scholarly texts that are fully accessible to the non-specialist reader. As the foremost English-language authority of the day on his topic, Abelson achieved this objective with ease, and in doing he produced a masterpiece. It remains a classic more than a century later and is reproduced here under the title Mystical Elements in Kabbalah.
The great value of Abelson’s book is that it presents the spirituality of the #Kabbalah, illuminating essential elements of the frequently overlooked mystical and spiritual thought embodied in Kabbalistic teachings. Herein Abelson gives rare insights into the spiritual teaching that lies at the very heart of the Kabbalah, providing students with a valuable resource that will assist them to comprehend the principles and dynamics of the interior life of the Tradition. For this reason alone it deserves a place on every student’s bookshelf.