Read the following two arguments about philosophical understandings of the nature of God and religious experience found in Kabbalah and decide which one is a good example and which one is a poor example. Give reasons to justify your decision, particularly in relation to use of quotations, references to scholars and the style of reasoning.

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‘It is possible to have a personal, mystical union with God in Judaism’. Evaluate this view.

Develop the basic argument below by using any relevant quotes/references to scholars that are listed. You may also have your own. It should not be assumed that all are relevant or required. Then compare with others in the class and discuss any differences assessing the justification given for those differences. Don’t forget to also consider the different styles of evaluation examined above and in the A02 task based on topic of different views about Kabbalah.

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Evaluating value of aids to worship in Kabbalah

The issue for debate here is that followers of Kabbalah were in possession of, and practised, a wide variety of mystical techniques which acted as aids to worship. Some might claim therefore that this suggests that aids to worship have an important part to play in Kabbalah, and that they act as the means by which a person can come to experience the divine nature and presence of God. Furthermore, the fact that the path to God within this particular mystic tradition is esoteric in nature might lead one to expect that symbolism and imagery of some kind needs to be present in order to act as a focus for worship, especially in ways which appeal to the imagination.

Kabbalah presents a solution via an aid to understanding which has come to be known as the Tree of Life. Its value as an aid to worship in Kabbalah is significant as it presents, in diagrammatical format, ten Sefirot which are considered to be the ten attributes through which God is manifested. The Tree of Life describes the different stages along a path to awareness of God.

The practice of meditation could also be considered by some to be of value as an aid to worship in Kabbalah, as great emphasis is placed upon it as the foremost method of achieving a true understanding of hidden truths.

One must therefore familiarize oneself with the ways of the Torah and know the purpose of the Holy Names. He should be an expert in them, and when he needs to request something from God, he should concentrate on the Name designated to handle that question. If he does so, then not only will his request be granted, but he will be loved in the heavens and beloved in the world; he will inherit both this world and the next. (Rabbi Gikatila)

By engaging in the combination of letters and names, the mystic was able to empty his mind so as to concentrate on divine matters. Through such experiences, the kabbalists believed they could attempt to conduct the soul to a state of the highest rapture in which divine reality was disclosed. (Cohn-Sherbok)

The roots connect the Tree to the all-encompassing Reality Beyond Being, and the Tree portrays the flow of Life that finally manifests itself as everyday world reality. (Falcon and Blatner)

Heaven connects to earth, spiritual to physical, Creator to creation. Everything starts getting into harmony with its essence and inner purpose. (Freeman)

For the sake of the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He and His Shekinah, in awe and devotion I am prepared and ready to perform mitzvah (named here) to the full command of my Creator. (Kabbalistic prayer)

Here is the strong foundation which I deliver to you that you should know it and engrave it upon your heart: the Holy Name, the whole of the Torah, the sacred Scriptures and all the prophetic books; these are all full of divine names and tremendous things. Join one to the other. Depict them to yourself. Test them, try them, combine them … First begin by combining the letters of the name YHVH. Gaze at all its combinations. Elevate it. Turn it over like a wheel … Do not set it aside except when you observe that it is becoming too much for you because of the confused movements in your imagination. (Abulafia)

The phenomenon of the golem contributed meaningfully to the portrayal of the Kabbalah as an esoteric, mysterious, and powerful compendium of ancient magic. … The life force of the golem is the Hebrew alphabet, the secret name of God inserted under his tongue, or the word 'truth', one of God’s names engraved on his forehead … The legend of the golem conformed to, and strengthened the image of the Kabbalah as doctrine that could bring great benefits, but one that also includes some sinister, dangerous elements. (Dan)

The Kabbalah, according to the kabbalists, is never new; it can be newly discovered or newly received, but essentially it is millennia-old divine truth. (Dan)

One should not discuss … the Creation unless there are two besides him, nor the Divine Chariot with one individual, unless he was a wise man and had much knowledge of his own. (Mishnah Hagiga 2:1)

In all known periods of the development of this mystical tradition, Jewish mystics were in possession of, and apparently practised, a wide variety of mystical techniques … all of them included a deep involvement of the mystic, who was expected to invest considerable effort in order to attain his religious goal. (Idel)

In the Kabbalah of Abraham Abulafia and his school, devekut is fundamentally rooted in the combinations and permutations of the names of God. In Abulafia’s concept of language, we learn that language is perceived as the universe itself; it reveals the structure of the Divine names of God; it reveals the structure of the laws of reality; and each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is in itself an entire world …The Hebrew language is not a human creation but a Divine emanation and a result of Divine revelation. (Shokek)