Doctrines and radical movements in the Kabbala

"In spite of the extreme confusion that reigns on its surface, and perhaps precisely because of it, our times are messianic by their very nature."

- Tiqqun, Bloom Theory

"Over the course of this exodus, certain unusual solidarities appear, and friends and brothers gather along the new battlefronts being sketched out -- the formal opposition between the Spectacle and the Imaginary Party becomes concrete. And so, among those who act on their essential marginalization, a powerful feeling of belonging to non-belonging develops, a kind of community of exiles."

- Tiqqun, Theses on the imaginary Party

The reference to the Kabbala is an important, if not fundamental contribution to the magazine's project. The enterprise's theoretical framework is as much comprised of Heideggerian philosophy as it is of the metaphysical trajectory of the kabbala, rediscovered and compassed by the magazine's writers within a teleological vision of history.

It is outside of the purposes of this text to describe the whole of the richness and complexity of this doctrine of Jewish religious thought, born in the twelfth century in [the french provinces of] Provence and Languedoc. A certain number of clarifications concerning Jewish messianism, however, are indispensable for a better understanding of the Jewish radical and nihilist currents of the 17th and 18th centuries that Tiqqun has a certain affiliation with: the latter essentially originating in a specific reading of the Lourianite doctrine, the messianic adventure of Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676) and the revolutionary and nihilist interpretation made of it by the religious leader Jacob Frank (1726-1791).

Before diving into a quick clarification of this little known aspect of jewish history, and more broadly into the history of millenarianism itself, however, we'll have to look into three or four historical and religious facts without which jewish millenarianism would come off as just some kind of old eccentrics' ranting.

1. the first monotheistic people known, worshipping a unique and jealous god, delivered by Moses from Egyptian slavery in the exodus, the Jews were promised a land (Israel) and a law. This episode, of the Exodus, along with the Genesis, is all related in the first books of the Old Testament, the part of the Bible that then comprised an absolute reference for the Jewish people. These fundamental episodes simultaneously anchor the idea of a very special specificity and an unmatched collective fate in the mentality of the Jewish people.

2. Jewish messianism and millenarianism always appear as responses to a serious historical crisis affecting the Jewish people and their land, a crisis that at first finds no response in the religious discourse recorded in the Bible. The central question may be summarized as follows: how can we still believe in a God that his promised us a land and deliverance, while we have ceaselessly been invaded and enslaved over the centuries by foreign people, from the Assyrians to the Romans, from the Babylonians to the Persians and Greeks? We will not here be going into the responses given to this (generally the subjugated situation of the people is seen as expressing a divine punishment to sanction a fault, a punishment that is nonetheless to be removed by the imminent arrival of a prophet and the announcement of a new era), rather we are simply going to be describing a constant process in the millenarian phenomenon: all historical, political, and social crises are immediately transcribed onto the religious plane. This point is doubtless the most important one for understanding what is to follow here, since the the form of religious thinking we're dealing with, even if it opens up a number of sometimes remarkable possibilities, doesn't burden itself with the contradictions that our own mode of reflection usually brings about. Here we can find a preliminary explanation for the numerous aberrations exuded by Tiqqun when the writing in the magazine delves into more detailed social, historical, political, or economic analyses of contemporary capitalism.

3. In the year 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem (the wailing wall is all that remains today. That's enough for the tourists, anyway...). In 133 AD they repressed the last Jewish revolt and the holy city was forbidden to them from then on. The majority of the Jews of Palestine were exiled again and went to enlarge the ranks of the diaspora. This reality of exile is fundamental in the sense that for certain currents of Judaic thought, it does not merely express itself in a geographical and physical dispersion of individuals, but in a metaphysical wandering, a wandering of the soul in search of itself. Thus we can see more clearly how a religious and spiritual reading of history perfectly fits with questions of a metaphysical nature; above all, it allows one to see in a preliminary fashion why in the magazine the metaphor of individuals and souls in exile in the desert of commodity domination characterizes the majority of the articles.

4. The Jewish people are always waiting for their messiah. This observation partly explains the regular resurgence of millenarian agitation among the Jewish community. Furthermore it shows the importance taken on in the eyes of thousands of individuals by the messianic adventures of Sabbatai Zevi and Jacob Frank, and, now, by Tiqqun.

Scene 1: The Lourianite Kabbalah

"All modern revolutionary thought comes together before our eyes in the unification of German idealism and the concept of Tiqqun, which in the lourianite Kabbalah designates the process of redemption, the restoration of the unity of meaning and of life, the reparation of all things by the action of human beings themselves."

Tiqqun, "What is Critical Metaphysics?"

The name of this doctrine comes from Isaac Louria Ashkenazi, who was born in Jerusalem in 1534 and died in Safed in 1572. The strength and broad diffusion of the Lourianite doctrine within the Jewish world in the 16th century, specifically outside of the well-educated, elitist Kabbalist circles, cannot be understood without a brief review of history. Forty years before the birth of Louria, a historical episode took place that had dramatic consequences for the Jewish world as a whole and its self-image: the expulsion from Spain in 1492, and from Portugal in 1497. Aside from the full accomplishment of the process described in point 2, there was a simultaneous awakening of mystical and messianical exaltation which had been unknown as a whole by medieval Judaism (for Christians it was a very different case). This messianic renewal, occasionally reanimating the sources of ancient Jewish messianism, took place through Kabbalah and had a high degree of success over the whole course of the 16th century in popular sectors, even ending up dominating, in the rabbinical tradition's stead, for two centuries (these were the days of the Jewish Roman Empire, in a very cursory manner of speaking). It was in this context that Louria appeared as one of the most important thinkers of this movement.

The Lourianite Kabbalah is extremely complicated in its details. An understanding can however be approached by looking at three essential points: Tzimtzum, or the contraction of God, Shevirat, or the shattering of the vessels, Tiqqun (there's the rub) or the restoration of the broken world, and Gilgul, [reincarnation/cycle] which is anything but a slavic dish of boiled cabbage. We won't discuss the last point, which is of no major importance for what we're dealing with here.

1. Tzimtzum, or the contraction [withdrawal] of God.

Contrary to the biblical teachings about Genesis, for Louria, the creation of the world is not the result of an exterior act by God, where God willed the world into existence because he was bored all alone, but rather of an internal act, a contraction. God and the infinite are present, and the world could only be born at the moment when God, by a movement of interiorization, withdraws into himself. Without this contraction, this withdrawal, this Tzimtzum, there could be no creation. For Louria, the birth of the world is a "kind of exile in which God withdraws from his own being and sinks into his mystery." At the moment when God goes through this contraction inside himself (and hey, it's not an enema!), he turns outside himself and sends out a ray of light. The world is born of a divine crisis. We won't discuss how this ray of light ends up organizing all creation, but voila, humanity was born.

2. Shevirat, or the shattering of the vessels

The divine light, agent of creation, is then put into vessels. After a certain time, they can't handle the abundance of the divine light anymore and they shatter. Then a cosmic drama takes place: each element of the world leaves its original trajectory and nothing is any longer exactly in its place as it was at the time of the Creation. What was united is now separated (like the sexes, or good and evil, for example). Evil becomes autonomous and takes power over the good, so as to make its order reign: represented as pieces of tree-bark (Qlippoth), evil encloses all the sparkles of good that were thrown out during the shattering of the vessels so as to better feed off of them. Contrary to the teachings in the story of Adam and Eve, this vision denies right off the bat all human responsibility in the origination of evil. However, if the world of evil is born from the shattering of the vessels, the multiple errors and failures of man since Adam up to the present day have accentuated and complicated its domination. Our world, at present, is indeed the result of this shattering, a history of evil leading to the modern confusion, the reign of the Qlippoth (see, for example, how Tiqqun integrates into this representation what it calls "the substance" of the commodity in the article On the Economy considered as Black Magic.

3. Tiqqun, or the restoration of the world.

Tiqqun represents the positive content of this evolution. Like revolution, it marks the historical completion of a process where evil and its power are defeated. A true redemption of humanity, it comes about when human beings become aware of their duty on the planet and work for holiness and justice. This duty, which is by and large rag-picker's work, is defined as follows: man must gather all the sparkles of holiness (the sparkles of good), that are hidden behind every reality, which are simultaneously hidden and protected by the tree-bark of evil (the Qlippoth) and to restore to them the divine essence that they were primordially separated from during the shattering of the vessels. God has no particular role in this work. Though he too may participate in the restoration (in tiqoun), nevertheless, contrary to the Christian apocalyptic tradition since Saint John, this process is above all the responsibility of humanity itself. And this, furthermore, is humanity's sole earthly function and purpose. This is a fundamental point, because it is humanity's first break with divine authority by the degree of responsibility accorded to humanity to reconstruct the world. The other, more historical point, is a verification of what was expressed in the introduction. Tiqqun can basically only take place on one condition: it only becomes effective when the exile of the people of Israel has been fully realized. If the people had their Land, they would not work to gather the dispersed sparkles. Thus, perhaps for the first time in the history of Jewish religious thought, the reality of exile is no longer lived out as if it were the result of divine wrath, but as a mission. So, in the course of their historical destiny, the Jewish people now no longer have to lament the fate that regularly effects them; and will no longer so much seek a response to the misfortunes of the times in the biblical roots, and will rather look to the future to hasten and take heed of the coming of Tiqqun. This point explains the essence of the vast popularity of the Lourianite doctrine within the Jewish community in the 17th and 18th centuries. It moreover comprises the theoretical basis for the millenarian and revolutionary fever that characterized that doctrine's impact in Europe...

Now, Tiqqun deals with the adaptation of the exile myth to our world: because commodity society has such overpowering means to isolate, atomize and circumvent individuals and minds, it is the perfect negative realization of the external and internal decay of modern man. The time of Tiqqun, which the magazine's members summon in all their vows, thus appears imminent. Here is an example of one of their proclamations, among others: "loneliness, precarious employment conditions, anxiety, exclusion, poverty, foreigner status -- all the categories that the spectacle deploys to make the world unreadable from a social perspective, make it simultaneously crystal clear from a metaphysical perspective. All of them, though in different ways, echo the complete dereliction of humanity when the illusion of "modern times" finally becomes fully uninhabitable, that is, when Tiqqun comes about." Bloom Theory.

4. As for Gilgul

Take 3 big cabbages, brown them, stir, and work shit out...

We can't finish this section properly without mentioning another element of Jewish mysticism which also has to do with the eccentric enthusiasm of Tiqqun's primary protagonists. Although we can't really make a clear connection to any particular article in the magazine on this point, the presence of God in the universe is called Shekhinah in the mystical tradition of Judaism. According to G. Scholem, from certain kabbalistic approaches it can also be called "the Kingdom," "the Lady," "the Gazelle," or the "Young Girl" (and just because there's no explanation given here, please don't start singing the worn out old refrain, "oh what a funny coincidence!").

Scene 2: Sabbataism and Frankism

"Possibilities are now open to us that were lost since the time of the millenarian uprisings and Jewish messianic movements of the 17th century"

Tiqqun, "Theses on the Imaginary Party"

"As for the trained eye, it sees in all of this nothing to give credence to the irreversible victory of the commodity and its empire of confusion; rather it sees the intensity of the catastrophe, of the moment of truth that will finally put an end to the unreality of this world of lies. In that sense and many others, it's not superfluous to be a Sabbatean."

Tiqqun, "What is Critical Metaphysics?"

"In strict relation with this, we see the emergence of the kind of person whose radicalism in his or her alienation accentuates the intensity of his or her eschatological expectations."

Tiqqun, Bloom Theory

Exile lived as the prior condition for the realization of Tiqqun, and the history of the human race paradoxically understood essentially as a progress towards a messianic end in spite of all regression, as we have said above, became little by little the subject of a good deal of infatuation among the popular sectors of Jewish society starting from the 16th century. Besides responding to a kind of exasperation, they gave a meaning and truth to the path of history while at the same time giving the Jewish community the benefit of a positive, liberating conclusion to it all. It was within the framework of that blowup that the messianic adventure of Sabbatai Zevi and the Sabbatean movement began, in the second half of the 17th century.

Sabbatai Zevi was born in 1626. Educated in Kabbalistic principles from an early age, and specifically in the Lourianite doctrine, he began a wandering life, which then led him to disassociate himself entirely from obedience to the rabbinical law and to declare his allegiance to a superior law. In 1665, he met Nathan de Gaza, a kind of herald and standard-bearer of the coming Messiah (he had a role similar to that of John the Baptist's role relative to Jesus). Nathan called Sabbatai the new Messiah, able to open the road to the rectification of all human suffering and the reconciliation of wounded souls. From then on the messianic fever spread quickly. The news from the East of the appearance of the Messiah reached the whole of the diaspora and put it into turmoil. To Nathan, the news of Sabbatai's appearance marked an advancement to a new level in the process of Tiqqun. The sorting of the divine sparkles imprisoned by the tree-bark (Qlippoth) was complete. This was the twilight threshold of the passage from exile to redemption, to Tiqqun. Thus, all laws that had been proclaimed and obeyed up to that moment expired, irrelevant -- namely all the laws that had been established by the rabbinical tradition and rabbinical authority. Faith, unflagging in Sabbatai's thought and action, was now to replace all the old practices and rites... Nathan announced, moreover, that during an upcoming journey to Constantinople, Sabbatai would take over the Ottoman empire. The excitement of the Jewish masses then reached a fever pitch: everywhere were scenes of mystic exaltation, announcements of collective prophecies, ecstatic pieces of work where a melange of blasphemous acts and words overflowing with self-esteem flooded out in a climate of general hysteria. Sabbatai arrived at Constantinople in 1666, but was immediately arrested by the Turks. He was given a lengthy detention which had no impact at all on his legend, until, having been denounced to the sultan as a dangerous element by a Polish kabbalist, he was given the choice between immediate death and conversion to Islam. Sabbatai's decision was to renounce the Jewish faith, and his apostasy had enormous repercussions on the future of sabbatean movements. Basically it caused a profound trauma and a general despondency in the Jewish community: as Scholem lucidly summarizes, though there's no difficulty involved in accepting the idea of a crucified messiah, accepting the idea of an apostate messiah -- a traitor -- is difficult, if not impossible.

After this conversion, a deep rift was cut through all sabbataism. The most moderate called for the community to return to the laws of the Jewish tradition. Without forgetting or totally disowning Sabbatai Zevi, they gave the explanation that he had been a real chance at redemption that had failed. The fulfillment of their expectations had been pushed back... A much more radical tendency refused to see an act of renunciation in Sabbatai's conversion. It had a different perspective on this event of such dramatic appearance, a reading of it that permitted a continued hope for redemption while at the same time turning the trajectory of the movement down the path towards an absolute nihilism, of which Jacob Frank was the ideal representative. Was Sabbatai Zevi's conversion an act of apostasy? This tendency replied that it was not. On the contrary, according to them it was simply the continuation of Zevi's prophetic oeuvre, misunderstood by the Jewish people. To understand their complex explanation, we'll have to go back to the Lourianite doctrine. When Sabbatai began his march of deliverance, evil and its tree-bark felt their imminent end with panic. Pressured by the urgency of its situation, evil had doubled its grip on the sparkles of good and unleashed an overwhelming force which prevented any liberation by means of frontal attack. Thus, sheltered within an impregnable citadel, evil could now only be defeated by means of a ruse. This explained Sabbatai's apostasy, as a kind of subterfuge by means of which he had descended into the abyss of impurity so as to root out the last sparkles of good that were still captive there. Though it was not free of paradoxes of its own, this explanation would drive a part of the radical tendencies in sabbataism to frankism, that is, to the blackest and most absolute nihilism.

Scene 3: Jacob Frank

"Everywhere Adam went, a city was built, but everywhere I go, everything will be destroyed. I have come to this world only to destroy and annihilate, but what I build will last forever."

J. Frank, "The Words of the Lord" (quoted in the article "Silence and Beyond")


Tiqqun, Bloom Theory

"The Imaginary Party claims responsibility for everything that conspires to destroy the present order in thought, words, or acts. Disaster is its doing."

Tiqqun, Theses on the Imaginary Party.

According to Scholem, "J. Frank will remain in the memory of men as the most terrifying case in the history of Judaism. Whether for personal reasons or otherwise, he was a religious leader who behaved as an absolutely corrupt and degenerate character in his every act." Whatever Frank's psychological makeup, the influence he had on a large part of the Jewish community cannot be explained without referring to the nihilist trajectory that a fraction of the Sabbatean movement had undertaken after Sabbatai Zevi's apostasy. This trajectory was taken to the most radical extreme by Frank via an insane mysticism: to push everything that exists into the abyss, to call upon absolute cataclysm, to drain the cup of desolation to the dregs, to exercise a destructive fullness and to totally strain out the word "life" so as to extract its elixir, its essence... (and this links back to all revolts based on strictly religious and metaphysical postulates, and to the experience of nothingness discussed in the first chapter concerning Heidegger).

There is no mystery left now that Julien Boudard has been ridiculously influenced by Frank's words in his idea of the mission he believes is to be accomplished. And thus we now turn to those writings to show the connection to Tiqqun.

With frightening and fascinating mystical pontifications, Frank's doctrine preached the desolation and ruin of the world. A nihilist path, explainable by the failure of the prophets that preceded him: Moses, Jesus, and Sabbatai Zevi... The latter, sent down by God, was to him also "powerless to accomplish anything. He was unable to discover the true path." "My true desire," said Frank, "is to drive you towards life." A difficult road to travel, necessitating an absolute rejection of all the laws, norms, and conventions of the past, and implying a plunge into the abyss so as to approach "real, true life." It was a veritable redemption through sin, ruin and destruction, a call to absolute and definitive war, where believers become combatants. Here are a few extracts from the Words of the Lord, where Frank gave his aphorisms: "We must descend to the deepest depths if we want to rise to infinity." "I did not come to this world to lift you up, but to rush you to the bottom of the abyss." Frank defended this plunge into chaos as the final act that would permit the good to be saved from the forces of evil (for Frank, the Qlippoth theory was replaced by the idea of divine forces of good and evil. But that is of little importance for what we're dealing with here...). It moreover requires total obedience to an intangible rule: the strict observation of a code of silence regarding the causes and aims involved in the acts of total destruction carried out. Another few extracts: "The man who wishes to take a fortress by assault cannot do so with words; he must devote all his energies to it. Thus we must fulfill our burden of silence." (this citation is reproduced by Tiqqun in their introduction to their article concerning the protest in Turin); "Our ancestors have all spoken: what good did it do them, and what did they accomplish? We must keep silent: let us remain quiet and carry out the tasks we must. Such is our duty."

Following in the myths of the Exile and the Desert, the theme of devastation and silence runs through all the principal articles of the magazine. It is just as much applied to the acts of Bloom as it is adopted in the strategy of the Imaginary Party. We note quickly in passing that Bloom is the figure of modern capitalism's negation, a negation that does not recognize itself as such but rather is formed by the ensemble of its destructive acts (murders, suicides, etc...) under the banner of the Imaginary Party. In this Party, a few of its conscious members (Tiqqun), following the trajectory of their avant-garde justifications, give meaning and value to practices and acts that appear at first to be completely without any: "nothing can explain the systematic absence of remorse among these criminals (Kip Kinkel, for example. -- editor's note), if not the mute sense that they are participating in a grandiose work of general destruction. Obviously these people, insignificant in themselves, are the agents of a severe kind of reasoning, a historical and transcendental reasoning, which demands the annihilation of this world -- that is, the fulfillment of their nothingness." Theses on the Imaginary Party (our italics); "...every one of these murders with no motive and no specific victim, every one of these anonymous acts of sabotage (carried out by Blooms -- editor's note), constitute an act of Tiqqun." Theses on the Imaginary Party.

Madness never burdens itself with paradoxes: Bloom, that black knight of redemption, insignificant in and of himself and ignorant of the Grail he quests after, nevertheless knows perfectly the absolute law of silence. Evoking the sordid story of some forty year old man who suddenly snaps and apparently totally calm goes ahead and massacres his whole family, our dear "conscious members" give this explanation, which is the perfectly obvious one when one understands the mystical sewer system they swim in: "Faced with his judges, as when faced with torture, (?! - They apparently imagine modern courthouses as secret branch offices of the Inquisition, editor's note.) Bloom will remain mute on the motives for his crime. Partly because sovereignty has no need to justify itself, and partly because he senses that the worst atrocity he could subject this society to would be to leave his crimes unexplained. And so he manages to insinuate into everyone's minds the poisonous certainty that in every human being there is a sleeping enemy of civilization. Obviously Bloom's purpose is solely the devastation of this world; indeed, that is his fate, though he will never say it. Because his strategy is to produce disaster, and silence all around." (our italics).

Frankism caused a real trauma to Jewish communities, particularly in Eastern Europe. According to Scholem, it expressed the catastrophic, desperate, and decadent state of a large portion of the Jewish world at the time. For Frank, as for the radical movement in sabbataism, the final aim of destruction was to free good from the grip of evil once and for all, and that goal now allowed for the use of all possible means: fraud, trickery, disavowals, acting as double agents, or even as triple agents -- all were accepted as the tools to work towards an unquestionable goal. This was another aspect of the nihilistic character of the movement, a character proper to the movement of political nihilism itself when it had its resurgence among the Russians over the course of the 19th century. The partisans of the Frankist doctrine thus indulged into the most unbelievable of displays, in the eyes of a traditionalist Jew: alongside their numerous conversions to Christianity, they regularly carried out orgies and acts of collective insanity... In the 19th century, the rabbinical authorities did all they could to erase all the traces of them and all memory of them. When the French revolution came about, however, certain Frankists saw in that political upheaval a confirmation of Frank's prophecies, and rallied to Jacobinism (Junius Frey was one of them, and his ghost signs the first magazine's articles on the last page, next to the names of the other editors). The rest is discussed in the works of G. Scholem (specialist in Kabbalah and Jewish millenarianism), if the subject is of interest to you.

changed April 27, 2010