MA'ARIV NEWSPAPER INTERVIEW
W/ REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN
ON THE REVIVAL OF NEO-SABBATIAN KABBALAH
The noted Israeli newspaper, Ma'ariv, recently published an interview with Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain on what they are calling his
"Neo-Sabbatian Revival." Following is a full transcript of the questions Ma'ariv asked Reb Yakov Leib and the answers he gave them. It was
from this full text that Ma'ariv finally published its condescended version of the interview at
QUESTION: Why neo-Sabbatianism? What does this approach have that other religious streams, in or outside of Judaism, lack?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: First, we are not a "religion." Neo-Sabbatianism seeks to destroy religion, not to compete with it. Religions -- all religions (and most especially the so-called "Abrahamic" religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) -- are the Kellipot surrounding and entrapping the Glory of God. Jews worship Judaism; Christians worship Christianity; Muslims worship Islam -- we Neo-Sabbatians worship God, not as a supernatural being but as an infinite, boundless, undefinabable Mind possessing no corporeality or substance, yet having self-awareness, intelligence, emotion, will, and intention. All things that ever were, are and will be are in this "God," but in potential rather than physical form. This "God" is energy, not entity -- at first, before creation, Energy in its potential state but, during and after creation, energy in its kinetic state as well. Like energy, and because it is energy, this "God" can neither be created nor destroyed. It corresponds more to the Ayn Sof of Kabbalah than to the Yahweh of Judaism. Strictly speaking, we Neo-Sabbatians don't "worship" or pray to this "God" but seek to know It, communicate with It and assist It in its return to the wholeness from which It has fallen by the act of creation. We do this not "out there" as religions do, but "in here" as the so-called mystic does. We do this not through religious creed and ritual -- which we consider deterrents rather than aids to knowing "God" -- but by the direct inner experience of It through the power of Ze'ir Anpin, or what C. G. Jung calls "the One who dwells within [us], whose form has no knowable boundaries, who encompasses [us] on all sides, fathomless as the abysms of the earth and vast as the sky."
QUESTION: The last article of yours we published aroused much interest but one topic was ostensibly missing: the practice. What sins do you actually practice, how do you chose them, what are the consequences, the price, the reward?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: We're not concerned in Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah with the "practice" of sin, but with the transformation of unholiness into holiness -- again, not "out there" somewhere but "in here" where it exists without our needing to "choose" it. Furthermore it is on the level of thought not deed that this transformation of the unholy into the holy -- this "redemption through sin" -- takes place for us. As the Ba'al Shem Tov said, "The Evil Thoughts come to man even in the midst of prayer. And they come to him as to their redemption. When an evil or alien though arises in a man, it comes to him in order that he may redeem it, and let it ascend." In other words, for us "sin" is not an outer ritual to be acted out through the body, but an inner encounter with evil in what the Zohar calls the "heart-mind" for the purposes not of enjoying the evil, but of transforming it. To quote the great poet and Sufi master, Rumi:, "To do evil is only reprehensible when it is done for its own
sake. But when evil is done for the sake of the good, then it is not reprehensible" which corresponds almost directly to the Ba'al Shem Tov's statement, "In truth, there is no opposite between good and evil, for evil is the throne of good."
QUESTION: Could you elaborate on the issue of religious conversion? How has your own religious experience changed as you took on yourself Christianity, Islam and Hinduism?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: To begin with, the point of my multiple conversions -- like those of Sabbatai Zevi and Jacob Frank before me -- wasn't to change me, but to repair God. In fact, the entire emphasis in Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah isn't on me -- not on my salvation or my transformation -- but on the salvation and transformation of God. Martin Buber put it best, I think, when he said, "No soul has its object in its own salvation True, each person is to know themselves, purify themselves, perfect themselves, but not for their own sake -- neither for the sake of their temporal happiness nor for that of their eternal bliss -- but for the sake of the Tikkun which they are destined to perform upon the world." Therefore, the Holy Apostasies of Sabbatai Zevi, Jacob Frank and myself were not conversions "of-the-flesh," as it were, but conversions "of-the-heart." The goal of converting to each religion was to retrieve and liberate the Holy Sparks imprisoned there, rather than to become a practicing member of its religious communion. Actually, in a way, the purpose of such Neo-Sabbatian conversions is to destroy the religion one enters into, much in the way the worm destroys the apple, rather than to become a practicing member of it.
QUESTION: Could you briefly describe your spiritual biography - how come you found yourself drawn to antinomian religion? Do you find it related to the 60's counter-culture?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: I'm 73 years old, and for as long as I can remember -- even as far back as when I was an infant in my crib -- I was mad for this "God" who relentlessly pursued me in dreams and visions -- even, as I said, when I was an infant in my crib. To paraphrase our friend, Leonard Cohen, "it's not I who chooses God, but God who chooses me." I wasn't "drawn to antinomian religion," -- it was God who drew me to it. As for the 60's, I was what I was long before they were. I studied philosophy and comparative religion in college, at least a decade before the 60's. In a way (if you'll excuse my signature immodesty) it was people like me who created the 60's, not the 60's that created us.
QUESTION: And of course - could you tell a bit about the community of Turkish Ma'aminim and your relationship with them?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: My mother's family was originally from Istanbul, Turkey where their Donmeh surname was "Goldman." (The photo you see below is of my Turkish great-grandmother, Peli, on the left, taken when she was 101 years old..) My father's family, although not from Turkey, was from Romania, so both sides came from what was then the Ottoman Empire, cradle of Sabbatianism. Probably for that reason, the hereditary Ma'aminim of Turkey have been supportive.of our work almost from its beginning. In fact, many of them are members of Donmeh West, and one of their leaders (some say THE leader, but he denies being such) helped me establish Donmeh West on the internet a decade ago and has been our supporter and friend ever since.
QUESTION: In what ways do you instruct your students to get in touch with God? What is the practical teaching? Examples would do as well.
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: "God speaks first in one way, and then in another, but not one notices. He speaks by dreams, and visions that come in the night." (Job 33:14) So the "practical teaching" we give is, Shut up and listen! Concerning this use of dreams in Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah, the noted Bible scholar, author and Zurich-Certified Jungian analyst, J. Marvin Spiegelman, wrote: "[Yakov Leib HaKohain] has made an unusual attempt at combining Jungian [dream interpretation] and the Kabbalah, significantly more than has been assayed heretofore. There have been accounts of the impact of Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah on [modern dream interpretation] -- e.g. Freud and Jung -- but [Yakov Leib HaKohain] is the first to our knowledge who explicitly combines archetypal information and Jungian concepts in a back-and-forth relation between dreams, personal history and Kabbalistic imagery." (J. Marvin Spiegelman, Modern Jew In Search of a Soul," Falcon Press, 1986, p. 84)
QUESTION: Would it be possible to give also some examples of the process you described, of committing sins inwardly and then repenting?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: The purpose of "committing the sin inwardly" isn't actually to "commit" it, but to transform it, so the entire issue has nothing really to do with "repenting" as much as it does with releasing Holiness from the Klippah of Unholiness that imprisons it. To paraphrase Rebbe Nachman, one enters into the sin not to commit it for one's own personal gratification, but to "transform it into a holy angel, a being of might and destiny." For example if an "alien thought" , as the Ba'al Shem Tov calls it, comes to one during prayer -- say, having hot sweaty sex with the young babe davening on the other side of the mechitzah -- the praying man should not do everything he can to put that thought out of his mind, but he should instead "embrace" it, allow himself to engage in it, through what the Zohar calls the "Gate of Imagination," -- and this, not for his own sexual satisfaction, but to release the nitzot of holiness from its klippah of sexual desire. In other words, it is the kavannah behind the imagining that makes it either a holy tikkun or an issur sexual fantasy.
QUESTION: Sabbatai Zevi as described among his followers as the Messiah, not only in the universal sense (as an example of a God-Realized man for instance) but as the historic, unique savior in which one should have faith (in the Pauline sense). What is your viewqbelief of Sabbtai's importance?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: We do not view Sabbatai Zevi as a "savior", or even necessarily as the "messiah" in the commonly understood sense of the word. And we certainly do not view him as a God-man in the way Christians view Jesus. (Remember, this is NEO-Sabbatian Kabbalah we're talking about.) Rather, we view Jesus and Sabbatai, along with the avatars of other spiritual traditions, as stages in an ongoing process extending from Jesus to the present moment -- a process in which all of us, whether we know it or not, are participating; a process called, "the continuing incarnation of God" about which C. G. Jung wrote, "The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the third divine person, in man, brings about a Christification of many." In other words, Sabbatai Zevi wasn't and isn't God, but a godly man through whom God chose to speak and act. So it's not Sabbatai the man, but that which God revealed of Itself through that man which has any importance for us. It's like the Shofar. The Talmud tells us that it's the sound issuing from the shofar, and not the shofar itself, that's holy -- and, in fact, that the shofar itself is so profane that it can be used as a funnel to feed milk to a nursing infant. In that sense, Sabbatai Zevi was only the shofar; but what issued from him was the Sound. We follow the Sound, not the horn of a dead creature that makes it.
QUESTION: Do you think there is a similarity of the Sabbatean antinominism and the eastern type of Crazy Wisdom (adopted as well by western teachers) as a means of bypassing, challenging or destroying the ego?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: Yes, there is. Not necessarily with the "old" Sabbatianism, but certainly very much with our NEO-Sabbatianism. It's for that reason we call it "syncretic." Jesus united Jew and Gentile "in his own person;" Amirah added Islam and Judaism; to that, Jacob Frank added Roman Catholicism; and finally, Neo-Sabbatianism embraces and synthesizes all those and the religions of the East as well. "On that day the Lord shall be King over all the earth; on that day, the Lord shall be One and his Name shall be one."
QUESTION: How do people usually react when they hear about your revival of Sabbateanism? Is the old resentment towards Sevi still active?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: Let me answer your question first with a quote from Gershom Scholem. In 1971 he wrote, "There is no longer any disagreement: The dramatic events and widespread religious revival that preceded the apostasy of Sabbatai Zevi in 1666 . . . . deserve to be studied objectively, to the exclusion of moralistic condemnations of the historical figures involved . . . [But] a true understanding of the rise of Sabbatianism will never be possible as long as scholars continue to appraise it by inappropriate standards, whether these be the conventional beliefs of our own age or the values of traditional Judaism itself." So to answer your question: modern people whose knowledge of Sabbatianism is limited to what Scholem calls "the baseless assumptions of 'charlatanry and 'imposture' which occupy so prominent a place in earlier historical literature on the subject," people such as these are predictably less than favorable in their reactions to us. On the other hand, I've seen a dramatic rise in the number of Jews and non-Jews who are drawn to this spiritual revival. For example, almost 90 thousand people from every corner of the world come to our website at www.donmeh-west.com to read and listen to our Neo-Sabbatian teachings. In fact, an independent rating service -- the "Nielsen" of cyberspace, so to speak -- using sophisticated mathematical techniques, consistently ranks Donmeh West among the top-ten of the literally hundreds of thousands of Kabbalah websites on the internet. There are also the so-called "Chulent People," a movement of young yeshiva-trained, formerly Charedi men and women (about whom the N.Y. Times has had at least one feature article) who are exploring alternative approaches to "Judaism" and spirituality, including, to some degree, our own Neo-Sabbatianism.
QUESTION: You mentioned your Turkish ancestry. What did your parents and grandparents had to say about your activities?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: There isn't much to say, really, except that my family came to the United States almost a hundred years ago from Istanbul, where their Donme surname was "Goldman." They came to America, like so many other Donme families, to escape Sabbatianism and the always-present accusation of the Jews that they were mamzerim. They never spoke of Turkey or Sabbatai Zevi or anything else related to our background until, shortly before she died, my grandmother told me about our Turkish origins and my great-grandmother, Peli, whose picture she gave me, taken of her in Donme garb when she was 101 years old. I was, I think, 26 at the time. and from then until now I had to learn everything for myself, literally from dreams, visions and my spiritual teachers -- particularly the great Jungian Kabbalist and direct disciple of C.G. Jung (who was, himself, an admirer of Sabbatai Zevi), the co-founder of the first Jung Institute in the United States, James Kirsch.
QUESTION: You have mentioned that the redemption of evil is done only by thought. this was not the case, of course with Sabbtai and even less with Frank, who followed the Jewish understanding that the deed is holy, therefore the mitvah habaa beaverah must be accordingly acted out. could you comment on that?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: I didn't mean to suggest that the only way to redeem evil is by thought; I'm only suggesting that there is another way of "acting out" the dictum of mitzvah haba b'averah. besides through the body. This is where the "neo" of Neo-Sabbatianism comes in. Let me elaborate on that with a quotation from the Zohar: "For nothing is revealed while the person is still under the spell of the body" -- thus suggesting that a deed performed physically through the body is somehow less holy than the same deed performed spiritually through the mind because the things of the body lead to the consequences of the body, while the things of the spirit lead to the consequences of the spirit, and the consequences of the body are death and decay, while those of the spirit are union with God and life everlasting.
So, yes, our understanding, like that of Sabbatai and Frank, is that the deed itself is holy, but where we part company with them and with conventional Jewish wisdom is in our further understanding that there is more than one level on which a deed itself can be performed. What we know now that they did not know then is that a deed can be accomplished just as effectively (and perhaps even more so) on the virtual level of spirit (that is to say, in the mind) as it can be on the literal level of action (that is to say, in the body). For example, quantum-mechanics physics proposes that anything one can imagine in his mind either already exists or literally comes into existence in some parallel universe as a result of his having imagined it.In this regard, the Zohar says, "God is unknowable. No one has ever been able to identify Him. How, then, can you say: 'Her husband is known in the Gates?' (Prov. 31:23) when 'her husband' is the Blessed Holy One. But, indeed, God is known in the Gates. He is known and grasped to the degree that one opens the Gates of Imagination! The capacity to connect to the Spirit of Wisdom, to imagine in one's heart-mind, that is how God becomes known." In conclusion, then, as I've already said, a deed performed in the body leads to the consequences of the body, which are decay and death, while a deed performed in the soul leads to the consequences of the soul which are union with God and life everlasting.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate what kind of spiritual practice - which would be Sabbatical in essence and opposed to creed and ritual - do you teach in order that one can know God?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: Given what I just said about a deed having the same or even higher consequences when acted out on the virtual as opposed to literal level, let me answer your question by saying that everything Sabbatai and Frank taught and practiced, we teach and practice also -- but, unlike them, we teach and practice it through the Gates of Imagination rather than the gates of the body. Again, this is one of the principles that puts the "neo" into Neo-Sabbatian.
That being said, let me give you an example. According to Nanthan of Gaza, "the messiah's soul is engulfed by the qelippah . ... . [and just] as the shell appears before the core of the fruit, even so the messianic qellipah (that is, Jesus) appeared first in this world . ... . . [Therefore] he that is the messiah will restore to holiness his qelippah which is Jesus Christ." (Quoted in Gershom Scholem, "Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah
In other words, just as Sabbatai Zevi entered into the "Maw of Satan" by converting to Islam in order to retrieve the Holy Sparks held prisoners there, so Jesus had entered into the realm of the Sitrah Achra to do the same. But since the soul of Jesus remains trapped in the Side of Darkness, the Yechidah Mashiach, of which Jesus is the qellipah, is also trapped there with him.
Now with those Sabbatian teachings in mind, our Neo-Sabbatian practice for restoring the soul of Jesus to holiness.-- not to reinstate him as the messiah or as a god-man, but only to release the yechidah mashiach of which he is the qelippah -- is to fling open the Gates of Imagination and call to him by reciting the words of the Kaddish. That is, we recite the Kaddish to him, not for him.
QUESTION: I suppose you are asked a lot about the sexual aspects of Sabbateanism and Frankism and if you have partially or fully followed their example?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: I've done nothing that Sabbatai Zevi and Jacob Frank did not or would not have done, sexually as well as otherwise. Like them, however, although these strange actions of mine may have been what others would consider immoral and sacrilegious, they were never illegal, and I am neither ashamed of nor regret any of them. However, I will say this: it was largely out of those early antinomian sexual experiences that I realized that whatever is done through the body leads to death and corruption, while whatever is done through the soul -- that is, through the Gates of Imagination -- leads to union with God and life everlasting. It was out of those literal experiences that I realized the power of the virtual experience in all areas of the transformation of God.
Let me elaborate. It's commonly understood that the first five commandments are "religious" while the second five are "civil." That is, the first five deal with one's relationships to God while the second five deal with one's relationships to others. Given our Neo-Sabbatian view of virtual rather than literal antinomianism, we outwardly violate the religious commandments while inwardly observing them; and we outwardly observe the civil commandments while inwardly violating them. Furthermore, this violation of the civil commandants isn't a ritual in which we go looking for sins to redeem; rather, it is only when the alien thought, as the Besht calls it, comes to us that we embrace it in order to transform it -- and then, only through the Gate of Imagination.
QUESTION: About the conversions - do you encourage your students do the same?
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: Because the "neo" in Neo-Sabbatian emphasizes the virtual rather than the literal, because it emphasizes the Gates of Imagination rather than the Gates of the Body, I do not encourage my students to do the same as I did in my multiple conversions, although not for one moment do I regret having done it. Instead, as with almost everything else we teach and practice, I encourage them to make such conversions through the Gates of Imagination rather than the Gates of Religion -- and even then, only for the purpose of redeeming the Holy Sparks, not for the purpose of becoming a practicing member of the religion to which they inwardly "converted." Those familiar with the 19th century Hindu Avatar, Sri Ramakrishna, will recognize here the virtual way he "converted" to the multiple religions he followed, rather than the literal way followed by Sabbatai Zevi and Jacob Frank.
QUESTION: Finally, we understand there is an international movement under way to restore the crumbling 400 year-old birthplace of Sabbatai Zevi in Izmir, Turkey. Could you tell us something about that.
REB YAKOV LEIB HAKOHAIN: Yes. This is a project that's very important to me and many other Ma'aminim throughout the world. Sabbatai Sevi came back into the news, in January 2007, when a crumbling three-story house in Izmir was identified as his birthplace just a few days before it was due to be demolished. Now, the house is secure, but its future is uncertain. The question arises. What should be done with it now? Should it be transformed into a museum, a research center, or tourism center or something else? A special support group has been set up on the internet for people who are interested in learning more about this project and/or helping to see it through to completion. Your readers can find it at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=6669864131.
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