Kabbalah books

Posted by Yevgeni Kuritski on 9th Nov 2014

It is a fact that the Kabbalah is not only embraced by Jews but also by people of other religions who, once becoming acquainted with it, would like to transform it into a way of living. However, for the non-initiated ones it is very difficult to find reliable sources which they could use in order to learn more about the Kabbalah. Indeed, there are many books available to everyone, discussing the Kabbalah, its symbolism, its practices and manifestations. However, not all of these books are good enough to prepare one for a knowledgeable embracement of the topic.

While many would say that one should simply take the sacred texts of the Kabbalah and read them, it is best for a beginner to look into more general pieces of information regarding the Kabbalah. Thus, a first step would be to buy an encyclopedia or a guide to the Kabbalah, which could provide a well-documented introduction into the main elements, practices, symbols, etc. A good reading in this regard is Daniel C. Matt’s book “The Essential Kabbalah”. It is concise, uses a great amount of primary sources (the sacred texts) and provides the reader with the exact pieces of information needed to leave him pondering over major issues. Another great book for initiation into the Kabbalah is Arthur Green’s “A Guide to the Zohar”. The book offers an accessible approach of the topic, although the author’s views are clearly distinguishable from the text.

After becoming accommodated with the basics of the Kabbalah, one should continue its initiation with more complicated texts and books. In this regard, the book published by Gershom Scholem “Major Trends” offers an academic survey of the topic which is still appealing although it has been published decades ago. The work comprises both essential pieces of information, as well as academic debates on topics which are not stringent to the regular reader.

Another interesting and instructive reading from the same author is the “Kabbalah”, a work which consists of heterogeneous articles which were initially intended to be part of the Encyclopedia Judaica. However, the groups of articles is very well selected, offering the reader a contemporary study guide to use while actually reading the sacred texts of the Kabbalah itself.

The same initiation process is valid as far as the Zohar is concerned. After having become acquainted with the basic pieces of information on the Zohar, from Arthur Green’s book, one could engage in an active study of the Zohar itself. The best translation of the text which is known to be opening the doors to Jewish mysticism is the one of Daniel Matt.

Finally, for the brave ones, who have mastered the basic pieces of information and are looking forward to immersing into the Kabbalah, two books are indispensable. One is the “Bahir”, known to have been the first book of the Kabbalah, published in the 12th century. This book is considered essential for an accurate understanding of the Kabbalah, although the text is difficult to grasp, even in a translated version. The second essential text is the “Sefer Yetzirah” (Book of Formation), dating back to the 3rd century, providing a description of the creation of the World by God with resort to language (the referred language is Hebrew). Translations are incomplete so far.