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Lurianic Kabbalah is a school of kabbalah named after the Jewish rabbi who developed it: Isaac

Luria (15341572; also known as the "ARI'zal", "Ha'ARI" or"Ha'ARI Hakadosh"). Lurianic Kabbalah
gave a seminal new account of Kabbalistic thought that its followers synthesised with, and read into,
the earlier Kabbalah of the Zohar that had disseminated in Medieval circles.
Lurianic Kabbalah describes new doctrines of the origins of Creation, and the concepts of Olam
HaTohu (Hebrew: " The World of Tohu-Chaos") and Olam HaTikun (Hebrew:
"The World of Tikun-Rectification"), which represent two archetypal spiritual states of being and
consciousness. These concepts derive from Isaac Luria's interpretation of and mythical speculations
on references in the Zohar.[1][2] The main popularizer of Luria's ideas was Rabbi Hayyim ben Joseph
Vital of Calabria, who claimed to be the official interpreter of the Lurianic system, though some
disputed this claim.[3] Together, the compiled teachings written by Luria's school after his death are
metaphorically called "Kitvei HaARI" (Writings of the ARI), though they differed on some core
interpretations in the early generations.
Previous interpretations of the Zohar had culminated in the rationally influenced scheme of Moshe
Cordovero in Safed, immediately before Luria's arrival. Both Cordovero's and Luria's systems gave
Kabbalah a theological systemisation to rival the earlier eminence of Medieval Jewish philosophy.
Under the influence of the mystical renaissance in 16th-century Safed, Lurianism became the nearuniversal mainstream Jewish theology in the early-modern era,[4] both in scholarly circles, and in the
popular imagination. The Lurianic scheme, read by its followers as harmonious with, and
successively more advanced than the Cordoverian,[2] mostly displaced it, becoming the foundation of
subsequent developments in Jewish mysticism. After the Ari, the Zohar was interpreted in Lurianic
terms, and later esoteric Kabbalists expanded mystical theory within the Lurianic system. The
later Hasidic and Mitnagdic movements diverged over implications of Lurianic Kabbalah, and its
social role in popular mysticism. The Sabbatean mystical heresy would also derive its source from
Lurianic messianism, but distort the Kabbalistic interdependence of mysticism with Halakha Jewish

1The nature of Lurianic thought

o 1.1Background
1.1.1Earlier Kabbalah
1.1.2The early modern Safed community
o 1.2Lurianic Kabbalah
1.2.1Kabbalist views
1.2.2Academic views
o 2.1Primordial Tzimtzum Contraction of Divinity
o 2.2Shevira Shattering of the sephirot vessels
o 2.3Tikun Rectification
2.3.1Partzufim Divine Personas
2.3.2Birur Clarification by Man
2.3.3Gilgul Reincarnation and the soul
o 3.1Sabbatean mystical heresies
o 3.2Influence on ritual practice and prayer meditation
o 3.3Modern Jewish spirituality and dissenting views
o 3.4Contemporary traditional Lurianism
o 3.5Literal and non-literal interpretations of the Tzimtzum

o 3.6Hasidic and Mitnagdic views of the Tzimtzum

5External links

The nature of Lurianic thought[edit]

Jewish mysticism


The characteristic feature of Luria's theoretical and meditative system is his recasting of the
previous, static hierarchy of unfoldingDivine levels, into a dynamic cosmic spiritual drama of exile
and redemption. Through this, essentially there became two historical versions of the theoreticaltheosophical tradition in Kabbalah:
1. Medieval Kabbalah and the Zohar as it was initially understood (sometimes called
"Classical/Zoharic" Kabbalah), which received its systemisation by Moshe
Cordovero immediately prior to Luria in the Early-Modern period
2. Lurianic Kabbalah, the basis of modern Jewish mysticism, though Luria and subsequent
Kabbalists see Lurianism as no more than an explanation of the true meaning of the Zohar
Earlier Kabbalah[edit]
The mystical doctrines of Kabbalah appeared in esoteric circles in 12th century Southern
France (Provence-Languedoc), spreading to 13th century Northern Spain (Catalonia and other
regions). Mystical development culminated with the Zohar's dissemination from 1305, the main text
of Kabbalah. Medieval Kabbalah incorporated motifs described as "Neoplatonic" (linearly
descending realms between the Infinite and the finite), "Gnostic" (in the sense of
various powers manifesting from the singular Godhead, rather than plural gods) and "Mythical" (in
contrast to rational, such as Judaism's first doctrines of reincarnation). Subsequent commentary on
the Zohar attempted to provide a conceptual framework in which its highly symbolic imagery, loosely
associated ideas, and seemingly contradictory teachings could be unified, understood, and
organised systematically. Meir ibn Gabbai (born 1480) was a precursor in this, but Moshe
Cordovero's (15221570) encyclopedic works influentially systemised the scheme of Medieval
Kabbalah, though they did not explain some important classic beliefs such as reincarnation.[5] The

Medieval-Cordoverian scheme describes in detail a linear, hierarchical process where finite Creation
evolves ("Hishtalshelut") sequentially from God's Infinite Being. The sephirot (Divine attributes) in
Kabbalah, act as discrete, autonomous forces in the functional unfolding of each level of Creation
from potential to actual. The welfare of the Upper Divine Realm, where the sephirot are manifest
supremely, is mutually bound up with the welfare of the Lower Human Realm. The acts of Man, at
the end of the chain, affect harmony between the sephirot in the higher spiritual
Worlds. Mitzvot (Jewish observances) and virtuous deeds bring unity Above, allowing unity between
God and the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) Below, opening the Flow of Divine vitality throughout
Creation. Sin and selfish deeds introduce disruption and separation throughout Creation. Evil,
caused through human deeds, is a misdirected overflow Below of unchecked Gevurah (Severity) on
The early modern Safed community[edit]

Joseph Karo synagogue in Safed. The 1538 Safed attempt by Jacob Berab to restore
traditional Semikhah (Rabbinic organisation), reelected the community's Messianic focus. Karo, author of the
normative Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Law) was one appointed

The 16th century renaissance of Kabbalah in the Galilean community of Safed, which
included Joseph Karo, Moshe Alshich, Cordovero, Luria and others, was shaped by their particular
spiritual and historical outlook. After the 1492 Expulsion from Spain they felt a personal urgency and
responsibility on behalf of the Jewish people to hasten Messianic redemption. This involved a stress
on close kinship and ascetic practices, and the development of rituals with a communal-messianic
focus. The new developments of Cordovero and Luria in systemising previous Kabbalah, sought
mystical dissemination beyond the close scholarly circles to which Kabbalah had previously been
restricted. They held that wide publication of these teachings, and meditative practices based on
them, would hasten redemption for the whole Jewish people.

Lurianic Kabbalah[edit]

The old cemetery in Safed where its pre-eminent 16th century mystical and legal figures are buried,
including Yosef Karo, Shlomo Alkabetz, Moshe Alshich, Moshe Cordovero and the Ari. After the Expulsion from
Spain the Safed circle held a national Messianic responsibility, mirrored in Lurianic scheme

Where the messianic aim remained only peripheral in the linear scheme of Cordovero, the more
comprehensive theoretical scheme and meditative practices of Luria explained messianism as its
central dynamic, incorporating the full diversity of previous Kabbalistic concepts as outcomes of its
processes. Luria conceptualises the Spiritual Worlds through their inner dimension of Divine exile
and redemption. The Lurianic mythos brought deeper Kabbalistic notions to the
fore: theodicy (primordial origin of evil) and exile of the Shekhina (Divine
Presence), eschatological redemption, the cosmic role of each individual and the historical affairs of

Israel, symbolism of sexuality in the supernal Divine manifestations, and the

unconscious dynamics in the soul. Luria gave esoteric theosophical articulations to the most
fundamental and theologically daring questions of existence.[6]
Kabbalist views[edit]
Religious Kabbalists see the deeper comprehensiveness of Lurianic theory being due to its
description and exploration of aspects of Divinity, rooted in the Ein Sof, that transcend the revealed,
rationally apprehended mysticism described by Cordovero.[2] The system of Medieval Kabbalah
becomes incorporated as part of its wider dynamic. Where Cordovero described the Sephirot (Divine
attributes) and the Four spiritual Realms, preceded by Adam Kadmon, unfolding sequentially out of
the Ein Sof, Luria probed the supra-rational origin of these Five Worlds within the Infinite. This
revealed new doctrines of Primordial Tzimtzum (Withdrawal) and the Shevira (shattering)
and reconfiguration of the sephirot. In Kabbalah, what preceded more deeply in origins, is also
reflected within the inner dimensions of subsequent Creation, so that Luria was able to
explain messianism, Divine aspects, and reincarnation, Kabbalistic beliefs that remained
unsystemised beforehand.
Cordovero and Medieval attempts at Kabbalistic systemisation, influenced by Medieval Jewish
philosophy, approach Kabbalistic theory through the rationally conceived paradigm of "Hishtalshelut"
(sequential "Evolution" of spiritual levels between the Infinite and the Finite - the vessels/external
frames of each spiritual World). Luria systemises Kabbalah as a dynamic process of "Hitlabshut"
("Enclothement" of higher souls within lower vessels - the inner/soul dimensions of each spiritual
World). This sees inner dimensions within any level of Creation, whose origin transcends the level in
which they are enclothed. The spiritual paradigm of Creation is transformed into a dynamical
interactional process in Divinity. Divine manifestations enclothe within each other, and are subject to
exile and redemption:
The concept of hitlabshut ("enclothement") implies a radical shift of focus in considering the nature of
Creation. According to this perspective, the chief dynamic of Creation is not evolutionary, but rather
interactional. Higher strata of reality are constantly enclothing themselves within lower strata, like the
soul within a body, thereby infusing every element of Creation with an inner force that transcends its
own position within the universal hierarchy. Hitlabshut is very much a "biological" dynamic,
accounting for the life-force which resides within Creation; hishtalshelut, on the other hand, is a
"physical" one, concerned with the condensed-energy of "matter" (spiritual vessels) rather than the
life-force of the soul.[7]
Due to this deeper, more internal paradigm, the new doctrines Luria introduced explain Kabbalistic
teachings and passages in the Zohar that remained superficially understood and externally
described before. Seemingly unrelated concepts become unified as part of a comprehensive, deeper
picture. Kabbalistic systemisers before Luria, culminating with Cordovero, were influenced
by Maimonides' philosophical Guide, in their quest to decipher the Zohar intellectually, and unify
esoteric wisdom with Jewish philosophy.[8] In Kabbalah this embodies the Neshama (Understanding)
mental level of the soul. The teachings of Luria challenge the soul to go beyond mental limitations.
Though presented in intellectual terms, it remains a revealed, supra-rational doctrine, giving a sense
of being beyond intellectual grasp. This corresponds to the soul level of Haya (Wisdom insight),
described as "touching/not-touching" apprehension.[8]
Academic views[edit]
In the academic study of Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem saw Lurianism as a historically located
response to the trauma of Spanish exile, a fully expressed mythologising of Judaism, and a uniquely
paradoxically messianic mysticism, as mysticism phenomenologically usually involves withdrawal
from community.[9] In more recent academia, Moshe Idel has challenged Scholem's historical
influence in Lurianism, seeing it instead as an evolving development within the inherent factors of
Jewish mysticism by itself.[10]

Primordial Tzimtzum Contraction of Divinity[edit]
Main article: Tzimtzum

Scheme of the Five Worlds forming within the Khalal Vacuum (Outer Circle) through the illumination of
the Kav Ray (Vertical Line). Concepts are non-spatial. Sephirot shown in the scheme of Iggulim ("Circles")

Isaac Luria propounded the doctrine of the Tzimtzum, (meaning alternatively:

"Contraction/Concealment/Condensation/Concentration"), the primordial Self-Withdrawal of Divinity
to "make space" for subsequent Creation. This reconciles the Infiniteness of God with finite Creation,
preventing created realms from being nullified into non-existence within their source of vitality.
Previous Kabbalah taught that before the creation of the spiritual or physical realms, the Ein
Sof ("Without End") Divine simplicity filled all reality. In a mystical form of Divine self-revelation,
the Ohr Ein Sof ("Light of the Ein Sof/Infinite Light") shone within the Ein Sof, before any creation. In
the absolute Unity of the Ein Sof, "no thing" (no limitation/end) could exist, as all would be nullified.
About the Ein Sof, nothing can be postulated, as it transcends all grasp/definition. Medieval
Kabbalah held that at the beginning of Creation, from the Ein Sof emerged from concealment the
10 Sephirot Divine attributes to emmanate existence. The vitality first shone to Adam
Kadmon ("Primordial Man"), the realm of Divine Will), named metaphorically in relation to Man who
is rooted in the initial Divine plan. From Adam Kadmon emerged sequentially the descending Four
spiritual Realms: Atziluth ("Emanation" - the level of Divine Wisdom), Beriah ("Creation" Divine Intellect), Yetzirah ("Formation" - Divine Emotions), Assiah ("Action" - Divine Realisation). In
Medieval Kabbalah the problem of finite creation emerging from the Infinite was partially resolved by
innumerable, successive tzimtzumim concealments/contractions/veilings of the Divine abundance
down through the Worlds, successively reducing it to appropriate intensities. At each stage, the
absorbed flow created realms, transmitting residue to lower levels.
To Luria, this causal chain did not resolve the difficulty, as the infinite quality of the Ohr Ein Sof, even
if subject to countless veilings/contractions would still prevent independent existence. He advanced
an initial, radical primordial Tzimtzum leap before Creation, the self-withdrawal of Divinity. At the
centre of the Ein Sof, the withdrawal formed a metaphorical (non-spatial) Khalal/Makom
Ponui ("Vacuum/Empty Space") in which Creation would take place. The vacuum was not totally
empty, as a slight Reshima ("Impression") of the prior Reality remained, similar to water that clings to
an emptied vessel.
Into the vacuum then shone a new light, the Kav ("Ray/Line"), a "thin" diminished extension from the
original Infinite Light, which became the fountainhead for all subsequent Creation. While still infinite,
this new vitality was radically different from the original Infinite Light, as it was now potentially
tailored to the limited perspective of Creation. As the Ein Sof perfection encompassed both infinitude
and finitude, so the Infinite Light possessed concealed-latent finite qualities. The Tzimtum allowed
infinite qualities to retire into the Ein Sof, and potentially finite qualities to emerge. As the Kav shone
into the centre of the vacuum it encompassed ten "concentric" Iggulim (the conceptual scheme of
"Circles"), forming the sephirot, allowing the Light to appear in their diversity.

In the development of Luria's school, debate considered the degree to which his scheme was
metaphorical (more philosophical) or literal (more mythological). Differences over the tzimtum
revolved over whether the Divine was immanent in Creation or not. However, all emphasised that
concepts needed divestment from false corporeal-spatial interpretation. The dialectic between
Tzimtum and Kav begins a dynamic of Divine exile/crisis-redemption/catharsis in Lurianism that
continues to repeat through subsequent consequences in unfolding Creation. At each stage, the
Divinity before the crisis returns in a new form afterwards, in order to allow rectification. Creative
levels are no longer self-enclosed entities, complete in themselves.

Shevira Shattering of the sephirot vessels[edit]

Main article: Tohu and Tikun
The first divine configuration within the vacuum comprises Adam Kadmon, the first pristine spiritual
realm described in earlier Kabbalah. It is the manifestation of the specific divine will for subsequent
creation, within the relative framework of creation. Its anthropomorphic name metaphorically
indicates the paradox of creation (Adam man) and manifestation (Kadmon primordial divinity).
Man is intended as the future embodiment in subsequent creation, not yet emerged, of the divine
manifestations. The Kav forms the sephirot, still only latent, of Adam Kadmon in two stages: first
as Iggulim (Circles), then encompassed as Yosher (Upright), the two schemes of arranging the
sephirot. In Luria's systematic explanation of terms found in classic Kabbalah:

Iggulim is the sephirot acting as ten independent "concentric" principles;

Yosher is a Partzuf (configuration) in which the sephirot act in harmony with each other in the
three-column scheme.

"Upright" is so called by way of an analogy to the soul and body of man. In man the ten sephirotic
powers of the soul act in harmony, reflected in the different limbs of the body, each with a particular
function. Luria explained that it is the Yosher configuration of the sephirot that is referred to
by Genesis 1:27, "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male
and female He created them". However, in Adam Kadmon, both configurations of the sephirot
remain only in potential. Adam Kadmon is pure divine light, with no vessels, bounded by its future
potential will to create vessels, and by the limiting effect of the Reshima.
From the non-corporeal figurative configuration of Adam Kadmon emanate five lights: metaphorically
from the "eyes", "ears", "nose", "mouth" and "forehead". These interact with each other to create
three particular spiritual world-stages after Adam Kadmon: Akudim ("Bound" stable
chaos), Nekudim ("Points" unstable chaos), and Berudim ("Connected" beginning of
rectification). Each realm is a sequential stage in the first emergence of the sephirotic vessels, prior
to the world of Atziluth (Emanation), the first of the comprehensive four spiritual worlds of creation
described in previous Kabbalah. As the sephirot emerged within vessels, they acted as ten
independent Iggulim forces, without inter-relationship. Chesed (Kindness)
opposed Gevurah (Severity), and so with the subsequent emotions. This state, the world
of Tohu (Chaos) precipitated a cosmic catastrophe in the Divine realm. Tohu is characterised by
great divine Ohr (Light) in weak, immature, unharmonised vessels. As the divine light poured into the
first intellectual sephirot, their vessels were close enough to their source to contain the abundance of
vitality. However, as the overflow continued, the subsequent emotional sephirot shattered (Shevirat
HaKeilim "Shattering of the Vessels") from Binah (Understanding) down to Yesod (the Foundation)
under the intensity of the light. The final sephirah Malkhut (Kingship) remains partially intact as the
exiled Shekhina (feminine divine immanence) in creation. This is the esoteric account
in Genesis[11] and Chronicles[12] of the eight Kings of Edom who reigned before any king reigned in
Israel. The shards of the broken vessels fell down from the realm of Tohu into the subsequent
created order of Tikun (Rectification), splintering into innumerable fragments, each animated by
exiled Nitzutzot (Sparks) of their original light. The more subtle divine sparks became assimilated in
higher spiritual realms as their creative lifeforce. The coarser animated fragments fell down into our
material realm, with lower fragments nurturing the Kelipot (Shells) in their realms of impurity.

Tikun Rectification[edit]
Partzufim Divine Personas[edit]
Main article: Partzufim

The sephirot in the scheme of Yosher ("Upright"), from which the partzufim develop

The subsequent comprehensive Four spiritual Worlds of Creation, described in previous Kabbalah,
embody the Lurianic realm of Tikun ("Rectification"). Tikun is characterised by lower, less
sublime lights than Tohu, but in strong, mature, harmonised vessels. Rectification is first initiated
in Berudim, where the sephirot harmonise their 10 forces by each including the others as latent
principles. However, supernal rectification is completed in Atziluth (World of "Emanation") after the
Shevira, through the sephirot transforming into Partzufim (Divine "Faces/Configurations").
In Zoharic Kabbalah the partzufim appear as particular supernal Divine aspects, exponded in the
esoteric Idrot, but become systemised only in Lurianism. The 6 primary partzufim, which further
divide into 12 secondary forms:

Atik Yomin ("Ancient of Days") inner partzuf of Keter Delight

Arikh Anpin ("Long Visage") outer partzuf of Keter Will
Abba ("Father") partzuf of Chokhma Wisdom
Imma ("Mother") partzuf of Binah Understanding
Zeir Anpin ("Short Visage" - Son) partzuf of emotional sephirot
Nukva ("Female" - Daughter) partzuf of Malkhut Kingship

The Parzufim are the sephirot acting in the scheme of Yosher, as in man. Rather than latently
including other principles independently, the partzufim transform each sephirah into
full anthropomorphic three-column configurations of 10 sephirot, each of which interacts and
enclothes within the others. Through the parzufim, the weakness and lack of harmony that instigated
shevirah is healed. Atziluth, the supreme realm of Divine manifestation and exclusive consciousness
of Divine Unity, is eternally rectified by the partzufim; its root sparks from Tohu are fully redeemed.
However, the lower three Worlds of Beri'ah ("Creation"), Yetzirah ("Formation") and Assiah ("Action")
embody successive levels of self-consciousness independent of Divinity. Active Tikun rectification of
lower Creation can only be achieved from Below, from within its limitations and perspective, rather
than imposed from Above. Messianic redemption and transformation of Creation is performed by
Man in the lowest realm, where impurity predominates.
This proceeding was absolutely necessary. Had God in the beginning created the partzufim instead
of the Sefirot, there would have been no evil in the world, and consequently no reward and
punishment; for the source of evil is in the broken Sefirot or vessels (Shvirat Keilim), while the light of
the Ein Sof produces only that which is good. These five figures are found in each of the Four

Worlds; namely, in the world of Emanation (atzilut), Creation (beri'ah), Formation (yetzirah), and in
that of Action (asiyah), which represents the material world.
Birur Clarification by Man[edit]

The soul of Adam included all future human souls, while the 613 Mitzvot relate to 613 spiritual "limbs" in the
configuration of the soul

The task of rectifying the sparks of holiness that were exiled in the self-aware lower spiritual Worlds
was given to Biblical Adam in the Garden of Eden. In the Lurianic account, Adam and Hava (Eve)
before the sin of Tree of Knowledge did not reside in the physical World Assiah ("Action"), at the
present level of Malkhut (lowest sephirah "Kingship"). Instead, the Garden was the non-physical
realm of Yetzirah ("Formation"), and at the higher sephirah of Tiferet ("Beauty").[13]
Gilgul Reincarnation and the soul[edit]
Main article: Gilgul
Luria's psychological system, upon which is based his devotional and meditational Kabbalah, is
closely connected with his metaphysical doctrines. From the five partzufim, he says, emanated five
souls, Nefesh ("Spirit"), Ru'ach ("Wind"), Neshamah ("Soul"), Chayah ("Life"),
and Yechidah ("Singular"); the first of these being the lowest, and the last the highest. (Source: Etz
Chayim). Man's soul is the connecting link between the infinite and the finite, and as such is of a
manifold character. All the souls destined for the human race were created together with the various
organs of Adam. As there are superior and inferior organs, so there are superior and inferior souls,
according to the organs with which they are respectively coupled. Thus there are souls of the brain,
souls of the eye, souls of the hand, etc. Each human soul is a spark (nitzotz) from Adam. The first
sin of the first man caused confusion among the various classes of souls: the superior intermingled
with the inferior; good with evil; so that even the purest soul received an admixture of evil, or, as
Luria calls it, of the element of the "shells" (Kelipoth). In consequence of the confusion, the former
are not wholly deprived of the original good, and the latter are not altogether free from sin. This state
of confusion, which gives a continual impulse toward evil, will cease with the arrival of the Messiah,
who will establish the moral system of the world upon a new basis.
Until the arrival of the Messiah, man's soul, because of its deficiencies, can not return to its source,
and has to wander not only through the bodies of men and of animals, but sometimes even through
inanimate things such as wood, rivers, and stones. To this doctrine of gilgulim (reincarnation of
souls) Luria added the theory of the impregnation (ibbur) of souls; that is to say, if a purified soul has
neglected some religious duties on earth, it must return to the earthly life, and, attaching itself to the
soul of a living man, and unite with it in order to make good such neglect.
Further, the departed soul of a man freed from sin appears again on earth to support a weak soul
which feels unequal to its task. However, this union, which may extend to two souls at one time, can
only take place between souls of homogeneous character; that is, between those which are sparks
of the same Adamite organ. The dispersion of Israel has for its purpose the salvation of men's souls;
as the purified souls of Israelites will fulfill the prophecy of becoming "A lamplight unto the nations,"

influencing the souls of men of other races to do good. According to Luria, there exist signs by which
one may learn the nature of a man's soul: to which degree and class it belongs; the relation existing
between it and the superior world; the wanderings it has already accomplished; the means by which
it can contribute to the establishment of the new moral system of the world; and to which soul it
should be united in order to become purified.