Humros, Kabbalah and the Trinity

Which famous Gaon, one of the most celebrated Poskim of the nineteenth century, penned this?

ידע כי אני איני נוהג שום דבר חומרא יותר מדלת העם ומהדיוט שבהדיוטים הלואי שיהיה חלקי לעולם הבא עם חד עמא דארעא הולך תמים ודל:

Click here for the answer.

This is reminiscent of the attitude that Rivash attributes to Rav Shimshon of Chinon:

גם שמעתי [מפי מורי הרב רבי פרץ הכהן ז”ל] שהרב רבי שמשון מקינון ז”ל שהיה רב גדול מכל בני דורו, וגם אני זכור ממנו ואם לא ראיתיו בעיני, והוא היה אומר אני מתפלל לדעת זה התינוק. כלומר, להוציא מלב המקובלים שהם מתפללים פעם לספירה זאת ופעם לספירה אחת כפי ענין התפילה. והם אומרים כי זה פירוש מה שאמרו ז”ל הרוצה להתחכם ידרים להתעשר יצפין. ר”ל יכוין למדת ימין או למדת שמאל. גם בתפלת שמנה עשרה יש להם בכל אחת ואחת כונה לספירה ידועה. וכל זה הוא דבר זר מאד בעיני מי שאינו מקובל כמו הם וחושבים שזה אמונת שניות. וכבר שמעתי אחד מן המתפלספים מספר בגנות המקובלים והיה אומר הע”ג1 מאמיני השלוש והמקובלים מאמיני העשיריות.2

Rav Leon (Yehudah Aryeh) Modena amplifies on the analogy between the Kabbalistic doctrine of the Sefiros and the Christian belief in the Trinity in his notorious anti-Kabbalistic polemic Ari Nohem:

והנה הרע הגדול הזה והנמשך מזה, כי הרבוי קל להדמות מכל אדם, אך לחזור וליחד, אפילו כדבריהם אין כל אדם זוכה. כי כמו שהנוצרים אומרים בפיהם ואינם מציירים בלבן השילוש ביחוד, וכמה יש מהם שנשאר בדעתם שהם ג’ אלהות, כן וודאי אצלי שיש כמה וכמה מהכת הזאת, ומה גם להיות רובם פתאים כמו שכתבתי לעיל, מחשיבים אלהות לכל ספירה לבדה, ומתפללים לזו, ולא לזו, כמו שאומר פה לפנינו, ביתר הדמויים לנוצרים.

ויש לך טעות וסכנה לכפירה גדולה מזה, בלי שום צורך, כמו לכתוב אזני ד’, ועיני ד’, ומה שאמר אותו גדול שהביא הריב”ש ז”ל: הנוצרים מאמינים השלוש, והמקובלים מאמינים העשיריות. שאי אפשר להמלט מלהאמין עשר ספירות אלו כאשר הם מציירים, וליחדם אחר כך אלא כמו שעושים הנוצרים, שאין פיהם ולבם שוין, והתורה אמרה לא בשמים היא, ורצתה שכל אחד ישיג מציאותו ואחדותו יתברך בפה ובלב.3

  1. נראה שזה שינוי מהצנזורא, וצריך להיות “הנוצרים”, וכמו שמובא בארי נוהם, להלן []
  2. שו”ת ריבש (מהדורת מכון אור המזרח / מכון ירושלים, תשנ”ג) סימן קנ”ז עמוד קס”ה []
  3. ארי נוהם (ירושלים תרפ”ט) חלק ג’ פרק כ”ז עמודים פו-פז – קשר []

9 thoughts on “Humros, Kabbalah and the Trinity”

  1. I was with you until the bit of anti-Kabbalah. Kabbalah is mainstream Judaism. The mesorah of Yahadus passes through the hands of people who believed in the ideas that are being knocked (contrast how the Mishnah Berurah quotes how one should daven and what was written above).

    (Paraphrase based on memory) “Im ein chochom, ein chochmah” It’s one thing to say that the ideas are hard to understand, that there is inherent dangers in the ideas if taken literally, etc. Quite another to say that the ideas are wrong, that the people who had them were mistaken. Doing so destroys the mesorah.

    (No, this doesn’t address the questions factually, but a) Kabballah is beyond me, and I can’t answer what I don’t know, and b) the people who did believe and expound Kabbalistic concepts are many and illustrious, I’m sure they have already explained the chochmah ‘ad klos’.)

  2. Note that I do not express any opinion of my own here, just citations of important Jewish thinkers. Rivash and Rav Shlomo Kluger are impeccably traditional, esteemed authorities, although Leon Modena is admittedly a problematic figure.

    1. Rav Shlomo Kluger doesn’t mention a word about the validity kabbalah qua kabbalah, but rather how a person should conduct himself in practice. Agreed. Mainstream Yahadus frowns on people learning Kabbala or incorporating, based on their own ‘sevara’, Kabbalistic practices.

      The comment from the Rivash is either the source or is very similar to what the Mishna Berura, Siman 98 siif koton 1, writes, but note the vast difference in tone. (Regardless, I still see in the words quoted above only a condemnation of the problematic outcomes of some Kabbalistic practices [perhaps only done by inexperienced Kabbalsitic initiates who weren’t a) ‘malim kreisim’ properly and/or b) didn’t have proper rabbeim in the chochma], not of the validity of the underlying Kabbalistic ideas. Your thoughts?)

      There were battles fought over Kabbalah but mainstream Yahadus accepts that Kabbalah is an ancient chochma, a chelek of Torah. For every one source that might be interpreted otherwise, there are dozens of others that make this a matter beyond any serious question.

  3. Maharshak proudly declares that he practices no stringency beyond that of “the simplest of simple people”, not merely that he doesn’t “[incorporate], based on [his] own ‘sevara’, Kabbalistic practices.”, although you are doubtless correct that he accepts the validity of kabbalah, at least in theory.

    Rivash is bluntly critical of Kabbalistic theory. He repeatedly mentions “the kabbalists” in general, and gives no indication that his critique is limited to inexperienced initiates or those without proper rabbeim. He even goes so far as to cite his teacher Rabbeinu Nissim (Ran) as having criticized Ramban (!) for having committed himself far too deeply (“הרבה יותר מדאי תקע עצמו”) in his belief in “that Kabbalah”. It is true, though, that he doesn’t unequivocally and absolutely condemn the discipline, and he does leave the door open to learning it from a “מקובל חכם”, although he’s not sure that even that is appropriate (“ועדיין אולי”).

    Your last paragraph is incontrovertibly true, although we should note Rav Hirsch’s celebrated misgivings about the discipline, although there has been significant debate about how far these misgivings go (R. Shelemoh E. Danziger, R. Joseph Elias, and see here and here).

    1. Regarding Rav Shlomo Kluger we are in almost total agreement regarding what the facts are, yet it seems you still see from his words a dissent from Kabbalah beyond what applies to daily practice.

      Let me ask you, there are countless practices based in Kabbalistic sources that have entered mainstream Yahadus practice, some even referenced in Shulchan Aruch (many more in the nosie keilim, even more in the Mishna Berura’s bottom line analysis of the Achronim). These practices are done by most everyone, including simple people, because “this is how Yahadus is practiced today”.

      Would Rav Sholomo Kluger conduct himself according to those practices (e.g. say those parts of Kabbolas Shabbos that is the direct result of the Ari and his talmidim)? In other words, is his declaration one regarding how a Jew should conduct himself, and once an idea is mainstream practice he would do so as well, since it’s rooted in holy sources, transmitted through an impeccable lineage? Or would he object to its essence, like a modern day Dardai?

      As to the Rivash, I freely admit my ignorance. If his words cannot truthfully be interpreted in the ways I suggested, then he would be among those who were opposed to it. However, it seems clear to me that one does not allow someone to learn mistaken beliefs from anyone, and thus the Rivash’s issues does not lie in the validity. The ‘vadayan ulay’ seems to be regarding the advisability, not the validity. I would even further suggest, while freely professing ignorance, that the strong criticism of the Ran is along the same lines, since if Kabbalah is not valid the objection would have been to the ideas, not the amount of investment.

      As someone whose worldview has been irrevocably colored by RSRH, those misgivings are front and central (as well as those of my Rebbe, whose words [paraphrase], “If someone isn’t properly prepared, it is like rat poison” [rat poison is no paraphrase but as best as I recall his exact choice of words] still keep me leery from learning certain seforim – it is only recently that I bought a sefer from R’ Shimshon Pincus), but they were regarding the interpretations and practice, not the essential validity.

      I’ve seen the debate before, but what are the chances that R’ Danziger is correct when he needs to poo-poo Dayan Grunfeld, R’ Breuer, R’ Elias, R’ Schwab, etc? And this still leaves him with the handwritten ‘mareh mekomos’ in the Zohar for Chorev (which are still extant), the Kabbalistic notes testified to by Dayan Grunfeld in RSRH’s personal siddur, etc.!

      I thank you for the reference to Jonathan’s blog that adds that RSRH’s father gave him a copy of the Zohar for a wedding gift. Couple this with the tradition of Chassidie Ashkenaz, and IMHO there is no serious debate here.

      I end with a few words to try to clarify what originally bothered me. While you quote these views either as interesting historical positions or valid non-mainstream views regarding Kabbalah, others will unfortunately extend it to being ‘makhchish magideha’ (reference to R’ Soloveitchik’s speech).

      P.S. Leon Modena is a very interesting person. I first heard of him through R’ Avraham Twerski in reference to his gambling addiction. I was unaware that he might have rejected Rabbinic authority (Kol Sakal) until I followed your link.

      Are you aware of any other great figure who was afflicted with an addiction, but who left a lasting legacy of Torah (I’m sure that they have existed, but don’t know if their addiction was public)?

      P.P.S. The inability to make inline comments hampers the readability. Most of my paragraphs should be read as a direct response to one of yours, not as flowing from one paragraph to another as in an essay.

  4. I just thought I’d drop off an interesting (and cute) reference from Shu”t Chasam Sofer OC :

    כל המערב דברי קבלה עם ההלכות הפסוקים חייב משום זורע כלאים… ואם הוא מנהיג ישראל מנהיג בכלאים

    While he isn’t denouncing kabbalah per se, he’s upset about its effect on Halachic practice.
    I’ve seen a few juicy examples of מערב דברי קבלה עם ההלכות . Notable is that of another Sofer – the Kaf HaChayim’s assertion that one should not recite Bircas Ilanos on Shabbos because of Borer – separating holy sparks from shells (nitzotzos from klipos – you know them when you see them).
    Rav Ovadia Yosef ZT”L (Yechaveh Daas Vol 1 #2 ) expresses astonishment and asks: how then can you make a bracha on an apple before eating it on Shabbos? Don’t you also do the nitzotzos/klippos thing then?
    The answer he gives in Rav Sofer’s name is, well, you should see it yourself. It will bring a smile to your lips.

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