[Hebrew, kabala = "acceptance of tradition"] - An esoteric and mystic current within Judaism that had its origins in medieval Spain. The movement was influenced by Greek philosophy, particularly the Pythagoreans, Plato and Plotinus, and also by the Gnostics of the early medieval period.

This Jewish form of mysticism was based on the assumption that the main religious texts harbor secret meanings, knowledge of which allows one to influence the world's fate. The oldest known work providing the basis for the concepts underlying the Kabbala was Sefer Yetsira [Hebrew, The Book of Creation], dating back to the third and fourth centuries. The term "kabbala" was first used in reference to esoteric speculations about God and the creation of the world by Yitzhak the Blind, a twelfth-century Jewish mystic from Provence. Yitzhak the Blind who was probably the author of Sefer ha-bahir [Hebrew, "The Book of Clarity"].
Kabbalistic ideas took shape as a coherent system in medieval Spain during the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Nachmanides, Shlomo ibn Gabirol, Azriel of Gerona, Abraham Abulafia, and Moshe de Leon, who was probably the author of Zohar, were all active there. Kabbalistic works were published and brotherhoods established in various cities.

Kabbalistic speculations developed along two lines: the first strove to explain the existence of God, the creation of the world (Sefira), the purpose of the existence of material and man, the origins of evil, the manner in which God manifests Himself in the created world, and, finally, salvation through the Messiah. The second was strictly esoteric, and taught mystic practices enabling initiates to unite with God (or his last emanation, Shechina), and magic. Contemplating the letters of the Torah and divine names (names of God), ecstatic prayer, and combinations of letters and numbers and their study (gematria) played a fundamental role in this type of Kabbalism.
After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, one of the most important Kabbalistic centers became the city of Safed in Palestine, where Yitzhak Luria was active in the sixteenth century. He developed the theory of divine emanation in the process of creation. His ideas lay at the foundation of two Judaistic heresies (Sabbathaism, Frankism) and Chasidism. In the sixteenth century, the Kabbala was practiced in Italy, Prague, Poland and among the German Jews. It influenced Islamic and Christian mysticism, as well as the esoteric currents on the fringes of Christian culture, such as alchemy, eighteenth century Masonic mysticism, mystical speculations of the Romantics (such as Towianism and Polish Messianism), and nineteenth century theosophy.

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