The Polytheism in Judaism (Expect the Unexpected)

Judaism is often understood as one of the great monotheistic faiths. While Trinitarianism entered Christianity later and was made orthodoxy under Constantine (306-337 CE), Judaism has seemed to maintain that God is singular. But apparently there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to monotheism and Judaism.

Israel Shahak, who we’ve discussed before, explains how Orthodox Judaism, which has its roots in classical, not biblical, Judaism, is not entirely monotheistic:[1]

The decay of monotheism came about through the spread of Jewish mysticism (Kabbala [or cabbala]), which developed in the 12th and 13th centuries, and by the late 16th century had won an almost complete victory in virtually all the centers of Judaism. The Jewish Enlightenment, which arose out of the crisis of classical Judaism, had to fight against this mysticism and its influence more than against anything else, but in latter-:lay (sic) Jewish Orthodoxy, especially among the rabbis, the influence of the cabbala has remained predominant. For example, the Gush Emunim movement is inspired to a great extent by cabbalistic ideas.”[2]

He then describes how these polytheistic ideas manifest in practice. An example he gives is a basic prayer:

“…perhaps the most sacred Jewish formula, ‘Hear 0 Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one,’ recited several times each day by every pious Jew, can at the present time mean two contrary things. It can mean that the Lord is indeed ‘one;’ but it can also mean that a certain stage in the union of the male and female deities has been reached or is being promoted by the proper recitation of this formula.”[3]

Who are those male and female deities? Shahak explains, and it’s necessary to quote at length here (bear with me; I’ll bold the main points as much as I can):

According to the cabbala, the universe is ruled not by one god but by several deities, of various characters and influences, emanated by a dim, distant First Cause. Omitting many details, one can summarize the system as follows. From the First Cause, first a male god called ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Father’ and then a female goddess called ‘Knowledge’ or ‘Mother’ were emanated or bornFrom the marriage of these two, a pair of younger gods were born: Son, also called by many other names such as ‘Small Face’ or ‘The Holy Blessed One’; and Daughter, also called ‘Lady’ (or ‘Matronit’, a word derived from Latin), ‘Shekhinah’, ‘Queen’, and so on. These two younger gods should be united, but their union is prevented by the machinations of Satan, who in this system is a very important and independent personageThe Creation was undertaken by the First Cause in order to allow them to unite, but because of the Fall they became more disunited than ever, and indeed Satan has managed to come very close to the divine Daughter and even to rape her (either seemingly or in fact -opinions differ on this). The creation of the Jewish people was undertaken in order to mend the break caused by Adam and Eve, and under Mount Sinai this was for a moment achieved: the male god Son, incarnated in Moses, was united with the goddess Shekhinah. Unfortunately, the sin of the Golden Calf again caused disunity in the godhead; but the repentance of the Jewish people has mended matters to some extent. Similarly, each incident of biblical Jewish history is believed to be associated with the union or disunion of the divine pair.”[4]

Shocking stuff for what is supposed to be a monotheistic religion. This reads more like something you’d expect to find in the Bhagavad Gita than in Jewish works. By this interpretation (which again is not the interpretation of all Jews), God is one only to the extent that divine union between god and goddess (the Shekhinah, pronounced “shay-khi-NAH”) can be achieved. The sin committed by Adam and Eve also hindered the two gods’ union, and so the Jewish people were created to reunite the break. This idea of unity and disunity of the gods is then used as a framework to understand major biblical events.

There is a lot more we could say about the Shekhinah; there are various opinions about what else it can mean. Right now though, we are sticking with Shahak’s description because the point is that this belief he has described exists, and it exists in some streams of what is supposed to be Orthodox Judaism.

So, the Cabbalistic view is that prayers and certain rituals can help restore “perfect divine unity, in the form of sexual union, between the male and female deities.” Shahak tells us devout Jews recite the formula given by Cabbala during morning prayers:

‘For the sake of the [sexual] congress of the Holy Blessed One and his Shekhinah…’”. [5]

I’ve used Shahak because of his succinct explanation and knowledge of the subject (he points out in his book that a lot of information on Jewish theology is not available in English), but here is more evidence of these Cabbalistic beliefs within Judaism. That’s from Chabad’s website, which is a Hassidic group whose ideologies come directly from Cabbala. It’s based in New York, though there are Chabad centers around the globe.

Chabad is not enthusiastic about waving the Israeli flag or the country’s national anthem- the Hatikvah- in large part because they see the state of Israel as too secular than it should be. Nonetheless, the group since its inception by Rabbi Schneerson, has supported Israel in many ways, including economically and by encouraging military service.

Not Just Strange Mystical Beliefs

Cabbala appears to be far more ubiquitous in Judaism now than sources sometimes even explain. Do you recall the stampede in northern Israel that killed around 45 people this past April? That was during the minor festival of Lag b’Omer, which was in part to celebrate the life of the famous Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (or “Rashbi,” for short), who was a Cabbalist.

That “Rashbi” is considered by many to be one of the most important contributors to Cabbala isn’t mentioned in the New York Times article, which seems curious (especially considering the first author listed on the article), but in any case you can get a quick overview of him here.

How remarkable that so much of Jewish life in Israel seems to be peppered with Cabbala, with mystical beliefs in things like the union of a male and female god. And how even more remarkable that it is rarely mentioned or discussed outside of non-Jewish circles. One exception to that is indeed a curious one- an article in The Atlantic suggesting that a new translation of the Zohar (the main text associated with Cabbala) could be the springboard for bringing Cabbala even further into Jewish theology.

The author is quite clear on the types of teachings Cabbala brings forth:

“The Sabbath, for the Zohar, is no longer just a day of rest, but is transformed into the mysterious bride of God, and Jews at the dinner table join the host of angels accompanying her to her wedding feast.”

Another interesting point the author mentions about the Zohar:

“Torah is not just the commanded word of God, but a verbal incarnation of divinity that comes alive in the hearts and minds of those who engage with it.”

“Verbal incarnation of divinity” could mean a few things, but if it means that the person engaging with the Torah is also divine, then not only is that polytheistic, twisted, and bizarre, but in light of the plight of Palestinians, it is extremely dangerous. It could mean that one side thinks there is no limit to the amount of destruction that they have the right to bring, perhaps due to some divine rite.

Blurred Lines

This discussion of Jewish mysticism is not meant simply as a confusing ride into the esoteric, although it is interesting for Muslims to know that Judaism has indeed strayed from the path of monotheism. On top of that, though, it’s meant as a reminder that these mystical, polytheistic beliefs are one of the reasons that Palestinians are oppressed. They are one of the reasons that Israel holds onto the territory it has and wants more of the surrounding areas.

Let’s go back to Shahak’s explanation of that morning prayer and the female god, the shekinah. What Shahak explains about the existence of different meanings to the prayer and to Shekhinah is telling:

“Provided the working is left intact [e.g. reciting the prayer in Hebrew], the meaning is at best a secondary matter.”[6]

In other words, what one believes when reciting the prayer is not a big concern, what matters more (not just as much) is the maintenance of the tradition. This is obviously something that would be very bizarre to Muslims.

Why This is Important

That such mystical concepts are important aspects of Judaism now is significant to us for two main reasons: 1) this renders Judaism not purely monotheistic, and 2) this is a further slap in the face to Palestinians who struggle to keep their land because Jewish people claim right over it based on religious grounds. We can see that these grounds become shakier in light of all this mysticism.

Shahak also emphasizes the significance of understanding the polytheistic aspects of Judaism:

“…these ideas play an important contemporary political role, inasmuch as they form part of the explicit system of beliefs of many religious politicians, including most leaders of Gush Emunim, and have an indirect influence on many Zionist leaders of all parties, including the zionist left.”[7]

Consider it more insult to injury, that these confounding ideas are part of the faith of many who continue to conquer Palestine. We cannot boil all of Judaism down to these mystical beliefs, nor can we say all Jews believe in them, but the fact that they are even present in some of what are considered “orthodox” branches of the faith is alarming. Plus, it’s often those branches that come out the strongest against Palestinians.

Notes

[1] Classical Judaism being rabbinical Judaism from 800 CE to the 18th century

[2] Shahak, Israel. Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years. London: Pluto Press, 1997, 30. More here as well https://hakirah.org/Vol23Bronstein.pdf

[3] Shahak, 1997, p.32.

[4] Shahak, 1997, p.30-31.

[5] Shahak, 1997, p.31.

[6] Shahak, 1997, p.32.

[7] Shahak, 1997, p.30.

MuslimSkeptic Needs Your Support!

19 COMMENTS

  1. “The Sabbath, for the Zohar, is no longer just a day of rest, but is transformed into the mysterious bride of God, and Jews at the dinner table join the host of angels accompanying her to her wedding feast.”

    This type of eroticized language plus the goddess worship is ingrained in mysticism. You will find it a lot in Christianity, Kabbalist Judaism, Hinduism, Sufism etc. Mysticism is a very feelings based approach towards religion…this is why it largely attracts women and effeminate men. It repels normal men. This is why churches are devoid of men, you’ll find many homosexuals among the Catholic clergy and Sufi shrines overwhelmingly attract a female audience.

    • Another interesting point is that these mystical paths tend to show very high secularization and apostasy rates. The majority of Jews are self professed atheists. Christianity – at least in the West – is on its deathbed. Shia Iran (Shiism is an affshoot of Sufism – Safavid order) is allegedly majority nonreligious now. At least where it concerns the Persian majority.

  2. There are misguided sects who incorporated shirki beliefs, like many extreme Sufis did, and sects like twelver shias, and there are separate religions which came after Islam that appeared in the Muslim world like Druze and Nusayris, which have similar shirki beliefs to these Jews, what happened to these sects reminds me of this hadith:

    Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:
    You would tread the same path as was trodden by those before you inch by inch and step by step so much so that if they had entered into the hole of the lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Allah’s Messenger, do you mean Jews and Christians (by your words)” those before you”? He said: Who else (than those two religious groups)?

    Reference : Sahih Muslim 2669a
    In-book reference : Book 47, Hadith 7
    USC-MSA web (English) reference : Book 34, Hadith 6448
    (deprecated numbering scheme)

  3. “This type of eroticized language plus the goddess worship is ingrained in mysticism.”

    Catholics do this with the Virgin Mary

    The Protestant world produced Feminism – beginning with the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848

    The Kabbalists do this with Shekinah

    Shiites do this with Fatima

    Sufis have several female saints, Rabia al-Adawiyya being the most prominent

    Hindus have Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Parvati

    • You’re totally ignorant of Sufism or an unashamed liar and propagandist. I suggest you get your facts straight before talking about Sufism. What you said about Sufis and female-worship above is a load of hogwash.

      Read up on some history on how many wars against kuffar were lauched by Sufi regimes vs which regimes are the best friends of christians and jews!

      • Ahmad, I orginally come from the prime centers of Sufism in the world. This country birthed many of the major Sufi tariqas present today. Friday evenings the women of my family would go visit these shrines. Even as a child I noticed how devoid of men these places where. Basically a bunch a lot of women with a bunch of children in tow engaging in superstitious practices and blatant shirk. Alhamdullilah it never made sense to me….besides the place stunk of heavy incense and sweaty socks.

        Your last sentence is a complete red-herring. There are many deviant groups doing “jihad”. The first jihad is the jihad you perform on yourself….so you don’t die on the battle field with a corrupt aqidah.

      • There are different groups of Sufis, some are extreme and do grave worship, not all are the same. For example, both Deobandis and Barelvis are Sufis, they are diifferent and Barelvis are extreme Sufis.

    • 1. Curious to know which prime center of Sufism you come from? (if you don’t mind saying)

      2. Conflating corrupt practices of people with the ideology itself doesn’t help anyone. I can easily talk about “Wahhabis” lying piss-drunk in bars in the west, or their advocating for any rubbish deviance of their rulers in the name of staying on the manhaj. You wanna criticize something, bring in their sources, not the actions of the adherents.

      3. Just like history, tafsir, fiqh, “hadith”, etc, the Shias too have their own “tasawwuf”. You can’t transpose that on the tasawwuf of Ahlus Sunnah.

      4. Furthermore, transposing the braying of donkeys claiming to belong to a movement, onto the mainstream ideology itself is nonsense. Example: Omar Suleiman or Yasir Qadi are as much “Salafi” as Hamza Yusuf or Hisham Kabbani are “Sufi”. None of such people can be used as references for either group.

      So if you have some genuine concerns from authentic Sunni Sufi sources you can highlight them and we can discuss, although I don’t think this is the right platform for it.

      • >Conflating corrupt practices of people with the ideology itself doesn’t help anyone. I can easily talk about “Wahhabis” lying piss-drunk in bars in the west, or their advocating for any rubbish deviance of their rulers in the name of staying on the manhaj. You wanna criticize something, bring in their sources, not the actions of the adherents.

        Though there are extreme Sufi sects that believe there is nothing wrong with grave worship, like the Barelvis and some other extreme Sufis, just like there are extremists who claim to be Salafis who are Khawarij, like ISIS.

      • 1. I do mind saying. If I didn’t I would’ve divulged that info in the first post.
        2. I’m not talking only about the laymen. It’s the heads who engage in this behaviour. Plus their written material like the Qasidah Burdah, which is heavy on shirk.
        3. Sufism and Shiism come from the same source, their believes often strongly resemble one another as do their practices. Both are Batinis, both believe in some kind of hidden esoteric meaning to the Quran and both believe in blind following of their religious guide. Be it a Marji’h, Peer, Shaykh or wathever. Giving their ways a strongly cultish vibe. Sufism might have meant something good many centuries ago, today the term mainly refers to deviants. Just like Shia at its start was purely a political term. Over the years and centuries they have developed their own believes and practices basically rendering the Shia a completely independent religion from Islam.
        4. Hisham Kabbani is a hardcore Naqshbandi Sufi. Hamza Yusuf is a Shadhili (don’t know for sure if he still is). Yasir Qadhi never was a Salafi, although he likes to claim this. Many of his former teachers and classmates will testify to this. Qadhi’s manhaj probably is/was closer to the Deobandi school. Nowadays he’s between that and the rationalism of the Mu’tazilah. Which might explain why he’s becomes much milder in regards the Shi’ah over the years. They are Mu’tazilites in aqidah as well.
        5. See point 2

        Much of the backwardness of the Muslim world can be traced to these kind of deviant groups. Groups like these thrive on uncritical and docile masses who easily fall for fantastical claims and are ripped off accordingly. Another big issue is that they aren’t meritocratic but based on lineage i.e. people inherit religious authority instead of earning it based on their deep knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah. This type of thinking has seeped through the society at large and has made the Muslim world terribly nepotistic. Causing stagnation and even a backward trend.

      • Ahmad August 30, 2021 at 11:33 pm
        “Really curious re who promotes worship of women like Hindus and Jews.”

        Woman is the radiance of God; she is not your beloved. She is the Creator—you could say that she is not created.

        Jalal-ud-Din ar-Rumi – Mathnawi

      • 1. OK no problem. I understand. Shame that I too can’t exchange email or number here and we can discuss it out to our heart’s content.

        2. There is nothing shirk in Qasidah Burdah. I say this on a challenge, any and everything in it is based on Quran and sound ahadith. I’m a proud reader of the Burdah and Dalail Al-Khayrat. Not an apologist in any sense of the word. Scholars revered by Salafis like Ibn Hajar Asqalani, Ibn Hajar Haytami have studied it or written commentaries of the Burdah.

        3. What you say is rubbish regarding Sufism and Shiaism coming from the same source. Sufism says strict adherence to Aqidah and Shariah is the basis of Tariqah. It is none other than Sufis who say that following Tariqah without Shariah leads to zandaqah and nifaq. This in itself negates the claim that Sufism is a Batini movement. The Sufis have been the most vocal fighters against the Batinis (Shias of all stripes). You talk of cultish vibes. I concur – in this day just about which group doesn’t have it – be it the sycophantic followers of any modern liberal celebrity shaykh, any Madkhali, any Sufi, any Salafi, anyone at all. But yes, from time to time, there have been bad actors who claimed tasawwuf and they have even been Batinis or Mutazilites or a combination of these and more, for all practical intents and purposes, but you do not know or fail to see that they have been shredded to bits by authentic followers of tasawwuf. You’re also incorrect regarding the start of the Shias. They have had wrong beliefs right from the start, aside from the political aspect of it.

        4. Hisham Kabbani is as Naqshbandi as Louis Farrakhan is Muslim! Same for Mark Hanson being Shadhili. See this is your mistake, you take any claimant to Sufism as a representative of it. Much like the common folk we blast here who take any claimant to scholarship as a shaykh! As for Qadi he was indeed a Salafi before and claimed so too. Afaik, he did attend Madinah University too. Right now I don’t know what he claims, but he’s plain psycho. He’s taking bits and pieces of anything from anywhere.

        I agree, the backwardness and even political problems of Muslims can be traced to deviants; but don’t forget the munafiqeen as well. As for nepotism and so on, they are the order of the day in any sect, and politics. I can show you much more serious nepotism in Salafis, at the high level. For the last 200 years (colonialism onwards), Sufis and Salafis alike have been infiltrated with munafiqeen. People who fight Muslims first and leave the ahl al-kitab? Who are those guys?

        There have been Sufis like Fakhruddin Ar-Razi and Ibn AtaAllah cited in the articles on this site. Read them if you must. It’s a shame you and I can’t exchange contacts and discuss this in depth here. In any case, all the Sufi-Salafi issues you mention are discussed all over the internet and have been done to death. This place is good to discuss the kufr of liberal “values” and lets stick to that.

      • Just saw your comment on Mawlana Rumi rahimahullah.

        1. Bring forth the actual Persian verse and let’s discuss that. Translations by orientalists are not source of anything on deen. Even if you’re Persian yourself and you translated it, bring the original verse so that we both look at it together from a level playing field. Orientalists have even twisted meanings of hadith and verses, what is Rumi’s poetry?!

        2. In ANY language, poetry is not something to be taken literally. Poetry in and of itself means allegories and metaphors. So it’s nonsensical to construe poetical expressions as articles of faith, or juridical rulings!

      • Just to be clear, my point 2 above mentioned in response to your comment re Rumi is not apologia or defense of the idiotic kufr English lines you pasted. It is only a follow up action from point 1 (bring forth Rumi’s original verse, that is authentically traced to him) as the next logical thing to do.

        Just so that you know I’m not an apologist and like to defend anything that is alleged to be Sufi. I despise apologia and like to take things head on.

      • @Abdullah – You mentioned extreme Salafis who are khawarij. What about the other extreme who will validate any unIslamic action of the rulers. You do know who I’m talking about, don’t you?

  4. There is also a deep association between Judaism and Kabbala practice of black magic.

    The author of this article would find it quite interesting to research on the above topic and post a new article exposing how Babylonian black magic from the time of Soulayman AS was spread all over the world by the earlier jewish tribes present at that time.

    • There are a few interesting videos on youtube on the relation between Judaism and black magic.

      One by Mohammad Hijab is quite detailed. Dr Tumadir could write an article or two related to it.

    • Dajjal will be a jew and his “powers” will be based on sorcery. This is documented in just about any book on Islamic eschatology.

      Also, with respect, I don’t see the need to dig so deep into the jews’ penchant for idolatry. You can easily see the Sirah and the circumstances around verses like 4:51 where the jews prostrated to the idols of the idolaters only in their enmity of Muslims.

      All kafirs, despite their various forms of kufr, can easily form an alliance against Islam.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here