Practical Kabbalah
Home About The Site List All Topics Reference Desk



Original Texts In Translation

Gikatilla, Rabbi Joseph
Sha'are Orah (The Gates of Light)
tr. Avi Weinstein. Harper Collins, © 1994.
Written in the 13th century, this is a treatise on the esoteric Kabbalah which explains the ten sefirot, their attributes, their relation to the Torah, and the Jew's relationship with God.
He-Chasid, Rabbi Judah ben Samuel
Sefer Chasidim (The Book of the Pious)
tr. Avraham Yaakov Finkel. Jason Aaronson, © 1997. ISBN 1-56821-920-2
Written circa 1190-1200 by a German pietist, this very human guide to life, related in close to 1200 short examples, deals with such topics as a Jew's relation to God, prayer, the Divine Name, angels and demons, holidays, scribes and holy books, immorality, social situations, and so on. Though the work is not a Kabbalistic treatice, it does contain a healthy number of references to the esoteric and to folklore. Finkel's translation is plainly done and very well-organized, indexed by paragraph and topic. Rabbi Judah's massages are clear, concise, occasionally humorous, and a pleasure to read. (Note: you might also find the author and title listed under alternate spellings, such as "He-Hasid", "Ha-Hasid", "Sefer Hasidim", etc.)
ibn Pakuda, Bachya
Chovos Halevovos (The Duties of the Heart)
tr. Yaakov Feldman. Jason Aronson, Inc., © 1996
Written in the 11th century. This is not a Kabbalistic work, but a treatise on mystical piety which concerns itself with understanding God's realtionship to His creation and how one can attain a higher level of faith.
Jacobs, Louis, ed.
(The Shocken Book of) Jewish Mystical Testimonies
Shocken Books, New York, 1996. (Or, 1976, Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd.) ISBN 0-08052-4143-4.
Possibly out of print. A very useful collection of translations of original sources for anyone interested in the mystical experience, in particular firsthand accounts. Selections include the writings of Maimonides, Abraham Abulafia, Eleazar of Worms, Joseph Karo, Hayyim Vital, the Gaon of Vilna, and modern authors, plus accounts of the "chariot" mystics. Issues of piety, meditation, angelic instruction, and other ecstatic experiences are discussed. This book is somewhat complementary to Epstein's (see the Overviews section).
Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation)
tr. Aryeh Kaplan
Very esoteric, lots of stuff on the secrets of the alphabet, "paths", letter permutations, correspondences between the Spheres, angels, months, etc. Kaplan is great: he gives the original Hebrew, the literal translation, and (fortunately) a pile of explanation/interpretation. He also includes some historical commentary. Kaplan's written a number of books on the Kabbalah.
Stern, David and Mirsky, Mark, eds.
Rabbinic Fantasies: Imaginative Narratives From Classical Hebrew Literature
Jewish Publication Society, © 1990
Out of print. This very interesting compilation contans numerous translations of original texts, covering many countries and a span of about 1000 years. The title is a little misleading, because most of the tests are not folktales, but parables, sermons, interprestations on the Torah, and other serious writings which have a mystical or "fantastic" slant. Of partiular note is the translation of The Alphabet of Ben Sira, which contains a well-known version of the story of Lilith; Sefer Zerubabel, a really interesting but obscure apocalypse; and numerous examples of the mystical significance of the Hebrew alphabet and Torah.
"The Testament of Solomon," Duling, D.C., translator.
Found in Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1. ISBN 0-385-09630-5 (v. 1).
A translation of the Greek text dating fist to third century CE, which tells the story of Solomon's building of the Temple by forcing a variety of demons to do the work. Includes a good introduction covering religious and literary themes, the lore of Solomon, and the origins of the manuscript. The story itself is quite colorful and includes a parade of fantastic creatures, though it ends on a sort of forced evengelical note. Duling considers the work a Christian text (or at least one edited by a Christian), though one based heavily on Semitic folklore and mythology, possibly on an original Hebrew text.
The Sword of Moses
Anonymous, 1st-4th century CE, tr. Moses Gaster, PhD.
The "Sword" is a long list of divine and angelic Names, which the author states was transmitted to Moses, " which every wish is fulfilled and every secret revealed, and every miracle, marvel, and prodigy are performed..." Part 1 is an introduction, part 2 is the Sword, and part 3 details how to use segments of the Sword to acheive certain effects (healing, divination, defeat of enemies, etc.). Gaster's translation contains an informative introduction about the text and its context. You can obtain "The Sword of Moses" in two ways: One is to purchase the essay in reprint from Near Eastern Press. The other is to locate Gaster's Studies and Texts in Folklore, Magic, Mediaval Romance, Hebrew Apocrypha and Samaritan Archaeology, vol. 1 and 3. IMPORTANT NOTE: In the English translation Gaster does not transcribe most of the vast list of Names which make up the Sword (he uses "N" and "X"); one must refer to the actual Hebrew text in "Studies..." vol. 3. The Near Estern reprint does not include the Hebrew. If one actually intended to study the Sword, having a copy of the Hebrew text is neccessary. (See also Gaster, in the Overviews section.)
See also "The Zohar" and "The Bahir"
Both of these key texts concerning esoteric (theoretical) Kabblah are available in various translations, with and without commentary.

Next Article
Return to the List of THIS TOPIC'S Articles