Berkeley rabbi, author speaks on Kabbalah of Creation

One could say that Rabbi Eliahu Klein wrote “Kabbalah of Creation: The Mysticism of Isaac Luria, Founder of Modern Kabbalah” on a bet. Only there were no winners and no losers, because the bet was with himself.

Klein was curious whether it was “possible to take an entire text of Lurianic Kabbalah and explain it to a general audience,” adding that Lurianic Kabbalah “is most complex, because you’ll see people extract little pieces, but they don’t address the panoramic vision that Lurianic Kabbalah is attempting to present to the world.”

Klein, a Berkeley-based rabbi, teacher, prison chaplain and writer, is marking the second release of the book, originally released in 2000 with Jason Aronson Publishers. He will be talking about the book Wednesday, April 26 in Berkeley.

When the print run ran out twice, and Aronson was sold, Klein obtained the rights to his book so he could republish it.

The book was re-typeset, with a new index and glossary and new translations, but whether the content is accessible to a general audience will be left for the reader to decide.

The new edition is also in paperback, which means that it is less than half the price of the original, making it much more accessible.

In his introduction, Klein writes of Isaac Luria, also known as the Ari: “A young, unknown, mystic rabbi [who] settled in [Safed] in 1570, lived there for less than two years, died in a cholera epidemic with his wife and two sons, and changed the entire Jewish understanding and practice of Kabbalah for the next four centuries.”

The Jewish mystical tradition came about, Klein said, in some ways because the traditional modes of Jewish expression weren’t “working,” in a sense. No matter how devout were the Jews, praying three times a day, reading the Torah and keeping all the mitzvahs, they still faced suffering and persecution, he said.

Quoting the view of Jewish mystical scholar Gershom Sholem, Klein said, “the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria happened because of the expulsion of 1492 and the Spanish Inquisition. There was a break in belief almost. That way of thinking and believing wasn’t cutting it anymore” — because nothing had changed since the destruction of the temple, and Jews still were subjected to the mercy of whatever government they were living under.

They could have just believed the suffering was because they were in exile, but that idea was too simplistic. Rather, they came up with the concept that God the divine went into exile.

The mystics were actually akin to Buddhists, said Klein, in that they believed in something like what Buddhists call the Bodhisattva vow.

The Buddhists say that “even if I become fully enlightened in this lifetime, I will come back again and again in order to save or help other beings until everyone in the world becomes enlightened or sees the truth,” said Klein, while the mystics of the 16th century “started seeing that they cannot just save Jews, but had to have the whole God equation in mind and had to do things to include all beings of the world.”

“Kabbalah of Creation: The Mysticism of Isaac Luria, Founder of Modern Kabbalah,” by Eliahu Klein (301 pages, North Atlantic Books, $18.95).

Eliahu Klein will speak at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 26 at the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. Tickets: $10-$20.The event is co-sponsored by the Aquarian Minyan and Black Oak Books as a benefit for the Aquarian Minyan. For information call BRJCC at (510) 848-0237.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."