Kabbalah FAQs

The author of 'The Beliefnet Guide to Kabbalah' answers your questions about these mystical teachings.

Index of Questions:
  • WHY THE RED STRING?
  • IS THERE A MINIMUM AGE?
  • DO I HAVE TO KNOW HEBREW?
  • WHAT DOES KABBALAH MEAN?
  • IS IT A RELIGION?
  • WHY DO CELEBRITIES LIKE IT?
  • WHAT ARE THE 72 NAMES OF GOD?
  • ARE ALL HASIDS KABBALISTS?
  • IS KABBALAH LOOKED DOWN UPON?
  • WHAT'S THE ZOHAR?
  • WHAT ARE THE SEVEN HEAVENS?

    Why the Red String?
    My family is of Italian origin (parents are first-generation American). Babies in my family have been wearing a red string on their arm or pinned to their sweater or carrier for as long as I can remember to ward off the evil eye or "Mal Oche." Is there a connection to Madonna and other celebrities who follow Kabbalah and wear a red string?

    For celebrities like Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Madonna-and even Madonna's daughter Lourdes-it has become fashionable to wear a "Kabbalah" bracelet made out of braided red string to protect them from "the unfriendly stare and unkind glances," as the Kabbalah Centre (where the string sells for $26 a length) puts it. Surprisingly, though, this tradition is not explicitly from Kabbalah. Many Mediterranean cultures wear red to ward off the evil eye. There are biblical traditions associated with a red string as well. Wrapping a red string around the tomb of the matriarch Rachel is supposed to protect women in childbirth. Since Rachel is associated with the Shekhinah (in Kabbalah, the divine presence), there are also some kabbalistic overtones. One nonsupernatural explanation of the string's power is that it reminds the wearer to bear himself or herself with humility, so as not to attract envy.

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    Is There a Minimum Age?
    I've heard that Jews aren't supposed to study Kabbalah until they're at least 40. Does anyone still follow that rule?

    It was never a hard-and-fast rule, it was simply one tradition. Age 20 was good enough for many teachers, provided the students had attained a sufficient level of learning about the Torah and the Talmud and seemed mentally and emotionally stable. Nowadays, it's up to the teacher. I'm sure there are some ultra-orthodox teachers who follow the 40-only rule; others believe that even children can benefit from exposure to Kabbalah principles.

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