Question: Is someone who is not Baki in Shas and Poskim permitted to study Kabbalah, and is it permitted for women to study Kabbalah?
Answer: The study of Kabbalah is extremely important and it is in it’s merit that Israel will be redeemed, as is explained in the Holy Zohar, “In the future Israel will taste of the tree of life which is this Sepher HaZohar they will redeemed by it from the exile with mercy and lovingkindness.” And also in the Holy Zohar parashat Pekudei(247) it is how important is the study of the Zohar.
In the Shu”T Torah Lishmah(17) it is written: It is a truth that a man is required to labor in the study of Kabbalah and to learn the secrets of Hashem as it is written by David HaMelekh upon him be peace and his son Shlomo, “Know the G-d of your fathers and how to serve him.
However the Rama writes(Yoreh Deah 246:4): “A man should not sojourn in the orchard, until after he has filled his belly with meat and wine, which means to know Issur V’Heter and the laws of the mitzvot.” And the Shakh writes(S”K 6): “The Kabbalists and the other achronim have argued over whether one should not learn Kabbalah until after he has filled his belly from the Shas. There are also those that have written that one should not learn Kabbalah until he is forty years old as it is written: ‘A forty year old to understanding.’ Also there is need for holiness and purity and exactingness and cleanliness for this, many who rush to ascend to this wisdom do so before the proper time as it is written concerning the four Sages of truth.”
The Rema wrote in his sefer Torah HaOleh(3:4): “Many of the ordinary people, rush to study Kabbalah because it is desirable in their eyes… even Baalei Batim who do not know their right from their left in their ignorance they don’t even know who to explain a page of gemmarra or the parasha according to Rashi, and they rush to study Kabbalah… and they all learn only a little but boast in learning much and give speeches to the masses.” Note the warning of the Ramban in his well known introduction to the Torah for a man not to dare to learn the Kabbalistic issues in his book except from the mouth of a man who is certified to teach them.”
See the Shu”T Rav Pealim(Y”D 1:56) which writes: “Eve a great sage amongst the sages and a great Gaon of the Gaonim it is impossible for him to clearly understand the issues from his own wisdom and understanding, even if he has all the holy books the Kabbalah, for it is a tradition passed orally from man to man until our teacher Rabbi Haim Vital who received it from our master the Ar”i Z”l who received it from the mouth of Eliyahu HaNavi Z”l, because there are things that are impossible to write and impossible to describe with pen and ink, rather they are only possible to be passed from person to another.” Also in Shu”T Rav Pealim(O”C 2:61) he brings the words of the Hayei Adam(Nishmat Adam Klal 145:2) that in the midst of the things that bring a man to impurity he writes, “Also a person who is not worthy to learn the wisdom of Kabbalah it causes him to be impure. Our teacher Rabbi Haim Vital writes(in the introduction to Shaar HaHakdamot 1C, and it is printed in the introduction to Sefer Eitz Chaim) Therefore a man should not say I will go and I will learn the wisdom of Kabbalah before he has learned Torah, Mishnah and Talmud, for our sages have already said, “A man should not enter the orchard unless he has filled his belly with meat and wine, and behold this is like a soul without a bodythat has no reward, or deeds or accounting until it is joined with a body and is thus able to uphold the 613 mitvot that are commanded in the Torah as is necessary.”
Therefore, one who has not learned Shas, and has not learned the four parts of the Shulchan Arukh is not able to enter into the wisdom of the Kabbalah, rather it is permitted and even a mitzvah to learn Chok L’Yisrael with the Zohar that is brought there even if he has not filled his belly with Shas and Poskim, even in depth, but not more than this. Also one who is accustomed to learn Zohar simply by reading it, this is permitted for it purifies the soul, but he should not learn it in depth.
There is also to know, that the study of Kabbalah requires one to be in holiness and purity and it is forbidden for women to join in this even if they Yirei Shamayim, and it is certainly forbidden for women and men to learn together. Hashem the Blessed One may He save us and save all Yisrael from the curses written there by the Shakh.
And may it be his will that we shall all merit, and that everyone will return in complete teshuva, and that we will merit to serve the creator and to do his will and may we merit to see the redemption speedily in our days. Amen may it be His will.
- There is a difference between the learning of the Eitz Chaim and Shaar HaKavvanot and the learning of the Zohar.
- One who has filled his belly with Shas and Poskim and who has entered into the four parts of the Shulchan Arukh it is a mitzvah for him to study Kabbalah form the mouth of a Mekubal.
- Someone who has not studied Shas and Poskim is able to read the Zohar but not in depth and to learn the Zohar that is brought in Chok L’Yisrael in depth, but it is forbidden for him to learn Kabbalah until he has learned Shas and Poskim.
- Women are not permitted to learn Kabbalah even if they are Tzadiket(Righteous) and Chasidinot(Pious). Since a man is forbidden from teaching his own son, Kal V’Chomer men are not permitted to learn with women.
- It is a great mitvah to tell one who has learned Shas and Poskim that he has an obligation to learn Kabbalah. And to tell one who has not arrived at the level where he is able to learn Shas and Poskim that he is not permitted to learn Kabbalah.
WIth great Blessing
Rav Mordekhai Eliyahu
Rishon L’Tzion Chief Rabbi of Israel