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.
“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.”
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.”
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 born. From 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 personage. The 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.”
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…’”. 
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
 Classical Judaism being rabbinical Judaism from 800 CE to the 18th century
 Shahak, 1997, p.32.
 Shahak, 1997, p.30-31.
 Shahak, 1997, p.31.
 Shahak, 1997, p.32.
 Shahak, 1997, p.30.