Jewish Studies Modern Kabbalah
Jeremy Phillip Brown
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0177


Though the academic study of Kabbalah began in the late 19th century, the definitive contributions of Gershom Scholem, beginning in the 1920s, truly set the field into motion. His studies modeled a text-driven history of ideas approach to rabbinic Judaism’s esoteric sciences, chronicling their appearance in the Middle Ages, and their manifold evolutions into the modern period. However, due in part to Scholem’s ambivalence with respect to the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time, the academic study of modern and contemporary forms of Kabbalah has only emerged as an independent area of investigation since the scholar’s death. Scholars are divided on how to pinpoint a precise historical moment when the medieval Kabbalah became modern. They are similarly divided over what criteria should determine the modernity of Kabbalah. Kabbalah and Jewish Modernity and Ha-ḳabalah ba-’et ha-ḥadashah ke-teḥom meḥkar otonomi (Modern Kabbalah as an Autonomous Domain of Research) make the case that the Kabbalistic fellowships of the early modern period (see Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies article Safed) (16th-17th centuries) introduced sociological and psychological innovations to classical Kabbalistic paradigms of theology and religious practice which, they propose, already exemplify Jewish modernity. Without attempting to arbitrate the disputed criteria of Kabbalistic modernity, this bibliography focuses heuristically on developments from the 18th century onward. According to Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Kabbalah found itself in a difficult position in the aftermath of the Sabbatian movement, a putative messianic “heresy” whose chief ideologues based their beliefs upon doctrines of the Safed kabbalist R. Isaac Luria. Was post-Sabbatian Kabbalah, then, heretical by association? Even the participation of some proponents of Lurianic traditions in anti-Sabbatian polemic, discussed in The Kabbalistic Culture of Eighteenth-Century Prague: Ezekiel Landau (The ‘Noda Biyehudah’) and His Contemporaries, could not shore up latter-day enthusiasm for the dissemination, study, and creative development of the teachings attributed to Luria. The vigorous rise of Hasidism in eastern Europe in the 18th century, by far the most represented development in the scholarship of modern Jewish mysticism, is the clearest evidence that the widespread condemnation of the Sabbatian movement did not cork-up the spirit of Kabbalistic creativity. Because such cognate topics are represented by separate Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies entries (current or forthcoming), this article does not directly cover Safed, Sabbatianism, or Hasidism. Nor does this article cover the important topic of Christian Kabbalah, which merits a full bibliography of its own. Rather, it highlights the principal trajectories of modern and contemporary Kabbalah—construed mainly as confessionally-Jewish phenomena—from the 18th century to the present day. It covers the major trends of rabbinic mysticism from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, Kabbalistic elements in popular religion during the modern era, Kabbalah in modern Jewish thought, the production and consumption of Kabbalistic texts, as well as contemporary manifestations of Kabbalah. Other topics covered include the modern study of Jewish mysticism, as well as Kabbalah, science, and modern psychology.

General Overviews

The best introduction to the Kabbalah in general is Berenbaum and Skolnik 2007, which delineates basic patterns in the theology, symbolism, religious practices, and historical evolution of Kabbalah from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. For French readers, Mopsik 2003 includes elegant translations from classic texts, and addresses contemporary Kabbalah directly. Myers 2011 introduces readers to the study of contemporary Kabbalah, and refers to its growing scholarly literature. Huss 2005 assesses the limitations of earlier Kabbalah research with respect to the study of contemporary phenomena. Two approaches to the question of delimiting what is modern about modern Kabbalah can be found in Weinstein 2016 and Garb 2017. Hallamish 2001 and Meir 2016 are highly informative histories of Kabbalah in two distinct geohistorical contexts. For a thematically organized overview of 20th-century Kabbalah, and one framed against the background of contemporary trends in global spirituality, consult Garb 2009.

  • Berenbaum, Michael, and Fred Skolnik, eds. Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 11. 2d ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.

    See extensive article on Kabbalah (pp. 586–692), with updates to Gershom Scholem’s earlier version by Jonathan Garb and Moshe Idel. Updates address Kabbalah in the modern period, and new trends in Kabbalah scholarship.

  • Garb, Jonathan. The Chosen Will Become Herds: Studies in Twentieth-Century Kabbalah. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300123944.001.0001

    Translated by Yaffah Berkovits-Murciano, accessible book considers the various ramifications of Kabbalah in the 20th century as they relate to problems of dissemination, Jewish nationalism, and the global rise in New Age spirituality. (Originally published in Hebrew as Yeḥidei ha-segulot yihyu la-‘adarim: ‘Iyunim be-ḳabalat ha-me’ah ha-‘esrim. Jerusalem: Shalom Hartman Institute and Carmel Press, 2005.)

  • Garb, Jonathan. Ha-ḳabalah ba-’et ha-ḥadashah ke-teḥom meḥkar otonomi (Modern Kabbalah as an Autonomous Domain of Research). Los Angeles: Cherub Press, 2017.

    In Hebrew. Lecture delineating criteria for differentiating modern Kabbalah from the early modern and medieval forms of mysticism to which it is heir—this, in order to demarcate an autonomous research agenda. (For a related perspective in English, see Jonathan Garb, “Contemporary Kabbalah and Classical Kabbalah: Breaks and Continuities.” In After Spirituality: Studies in Mystical Traditions, edited by Wexler, Philip and Jonathan Garb, 19–46. New York: Peter Lang, 2012.)

  • Hallamish, Moshe. Ha-ḳabalah bi-tsefon afriḳah le-min ha-me’ah ha-16: Seḳirah hisṭorit ṿe-tarbutit. (The Kabbalah in North Africa: A Historical and Cultural Survey from the 16th Century.) Tel Aviv: Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Meuḥad, 2001.

    Groundbreaking historical work on the impact of Kabbalah in shaping the religious cultures of Jews living in the lands of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya throughout the modern period.

  • Huss, Boaz. “Ask No Questions: Gershom Scholem and the Study of Contemporary Jewish Mysticism.” Modern Judaism 25 (2005): 141–158.

    DOI: 10.1093/mj/kji010

    Article demonstrates how the scholarly paradigm framed by Scholem poses certain obstacles for the study of Kabbalah as a contemporary phenomenon. (Huss’s criticism is based in part on essays contained in the anthology by Gershom Scholem, On the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time. Translated by Jonathan Chipman. Edited by Avraham Shapira. Philadephia: Jewish Publication Society, 1997.)

  • Meir, Jonathan. Kabbalistic Circles in Jerusalem (1896–1948). Translated by Avi Aronsky. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004321649

    Making use of a plethora of archival source material, Meir offers a lucid account of the development of the institutions which supported traditional Kabbalistic learning and practice in Jerusalem during the first half of the 20th century. (Originally published in Hebrew as Reḥovot ha-naḥar. Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi, 2011.)

  • Mopsik, Charles. Cabale et Cabalistes. Paris: Éditions Albin Michel, 2003.

    A historical and thematic overview of Kabbalah and its major protagonists. Concludes with a valuable discussion of the situation for Kabbalah at the end of the millennium, pp. 233–271. (Originally published in 1997.)

  • Myers, Jody. “Kabbalah at the Turn of the 21st Century.” In Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah: New Insights and Scholarship. Edited by Frederick E. Greenspahn, 175–190. New York: New York University Press, 2011.

    A concise summary of the situation of Kabbalah in a postmodern world. Myers makes many helpful references to recent scholarship on contemporary Jewish mysticism.

  • Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York: Schocken, 1946.

    Conceived as a textbook for the study of Kabbalah, introduces readers to concepts and historical factors from the Middle Ages and early modern period which have shaped the modern evolution of Kabbalah. As Huss 2005 makes clear, the book’s presentation of contemporary developments is limited. However, insofar as it has inadvertently served to stimulate neo-Kabbalistic trends in contemporary spirituality, and facilitate the appropriation of Kabbalistic concepts by post-traditional thinkers, the book may be viewed as a primary source, as much as a scholarly exercise in intellectual history.

  • Weinstein, Roni. Kabbalah and Jewish Modernity. Portland, OR: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2016.

    Though this bibliography does not focus on the period surveyed in this title, Weinstein’s argument that the Safed kabbalists sowed the seeds of Jewish modernity should henceforth serve as a critical touchstone for students working to understand the relationship of modernity and Kabbalah. Employs sociological methods for study of Kabbalah.

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