Dipping into Jewish mysticism

Over the past decade, Jews have been rushing to Jewish mysticism like parched nomads who have discovered a desert wellspring.

No matter that the waters aren't necessarily purified or that the wanderers don't have cups — they can't help but gulp down the life-saving liquid.

Obviously, American Jews on the verge of spiritual death are craving meaning from their Jewish practice. They have been desperate for reasons to talk about God, love, soul and consciousness. They are dying to contemplate their lives and connect to a higher power.

Never mind that Kabbalah isn't the only answer. Who can condemn those Jews who've tested the waters of mainstream congregations and found the pools too shallow to drink from?

But several Bay Area rabbis are on target when they caution that Judaism's esoteric, mystical teachings shouldn't be guzzled without a base knowledge of Judaism.

They worry that the mass craze surrounding mysticism is superficial, and that anything offered to novices is too removed from real kabbalistic teaching to be worthwhile.

Hard-core Kabbalah is more than meditation and talk about reaching out to God. Many consider it Judaism's equivalent of the occult or witchcraft.

So for those of you interested in Jewish mysticism, don't head into deep waters without a life jacket. Pair the learning with the study of Jewish law, traditions and history. Pair it with Jewish practice and observance.

And be careful who is leading you to the wellspring of Kabbalah. When anything gains sudden popularity, shysters appear who are interested in your money, not your soul.

Avoid anyone who says they have the only wellspring, or that theirs is the only water worth tasting. Cults and phony gurus are no good for any Jews.

So go ahead, take a sip if you're thirsty. But don't dive in headfirst when you don't know what's below the surface.