Kabala “allows each of us to become an ear that hears what the universe is saying to us,” said Dr. David Ariel, president of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Oxford in England.
The author of three books on the Jewish mystical tradition, Ariel said part of his mission is to reclaim Kabala from its New Age practitioners and celebrity trappings.
“As I stated in my last book, Kabbalah, the principles of Jewish mysticism can be stated in clear, understandable language to modern seekers in a way that is both true to the sources and respectful of the intelligence of thoughtful adults,” said Ariel, in an e-mail interview with NJJN. “We don’t need to dumb down the teachings of Jewish mysticism, conceal them from those who are not ‘authorized’ to explore Kabala, or reduce them to spiritual psychobabble.”
Exploring those principles will be among the topics discussed by Ariel when he comes to Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen April 1-2 as scholar-in-residence.
“Our tradition says that Moses became an ear that heard what the universe was saying to him and communicated it to others who then added to it themselves,” said Ariel. “But each succeeding generation, indeed each individual, hears the divine voice differently and interprets it in ways that we see fit.”
On Friday evening Ariel will speak on “Contemporary Kabala” and on Saturday morning “A Kabalistic Approach to Torah. That afternoon he will focus on “Judaism and Islam.”
Subjects he plans to focus on include the difference between spirituality and mysticism and the five “cardinal principles” of Kabala.
In the afternoon program on Jews and Islam, Ariel said, he will explain “the myth of Jews and Muslims as cousins” by exploring a number of passages from the Koran showing Islamic attitudes toward Jews and Judaism.
As an American in Great Britain, Ariel said he finds that “British views of Muslims are shaped by the large number of immigrants from Muslim countries — such as Pakistan — and the presence of a small number of radical Islamic clerics and their followers.
“Jewish attitudes [in Great Britain] are shaped by the relatively small size of the Jewish population in comparison to the Muslim population,” he said, “and by the prevalence of anti-Zionism that makes many Jews feel insecure.”
Ariel has lectured extensively on Jewish thought throughout the United States, Israel, the former Soviet Union, and Europe, becoming the first foreigner in 70 years to teach Jewish studies at the Ukraine Academy of Sciences and Kiev State University.
He served for 25 years as president of Siegel College in Cleveland. Building one of the largest graduate programs for Jewish educator development in North America, Ariel established a videoconferencing network to deliver advanced degrees to students across North America. Prior to Siegel College, he taught at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
The program is being sponsored by the synagogue’s scholar-in-residence fund, the Ohev Shalom Endowment, and the Gilbert and Claudie Hayat Endowment.