Kabbalah is an ancient study of Jewish mysticism. It gained popularity in the 13th century, and Kabbalah in Hebrew means “receiving”. Since the 16th century the town of Safed has been the main center of Kabbalah scholarship, making it one of Judaism’s four holliest cities, along with Jerusalem, Tiberias and Hebron.
As opposed to formal rabbinical Judaism, Kabbalah is about reading between, behind and around the lines. Each letter and each accent of every word in the holy books is assigned a numerical value with a particular significance, giving an added meaning to the literal word. One of the most popular Kabbalistic concepts is tikkun olam, meaning “improving the world.” According to Jewish mystics, the universe was “broken” by God in order to make room for the physical realm. And now the quest of humankind is to repair the universe through good works and service to God.
Although classical Kabbalah studies are intertwined with studies of the Bible and of the Talmud, not all religious Jews study Kabbalah. Actually, according to tradition, a person must be at least 40 years old and have a through knowledge of other Jewish texts, before they can study Kabbalah. Outside of Hasidic Judaism, which has incorporated certain Kabbalah elements into its worldview, many mainstream Orthodox Jews don’t study Kabbalah at all, preferring to focus on matters of the perceivable world.