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Kabbalah (Hebrew for "receiving" or "received [tradition]") is a body of Jewish mystical literature and thought that has fascinated and repelled people of all religious and cultural backgrounds. Over the past several centuries, tension has erupted when scholars, religious leaders, movements, and artists attempt to illuminate, clarify and/or popularize the esoteric teachings of kabbalah. Some kabbalists established prerequisites for those who wish to initiate studies in Jewish mysticism. According to tradition, one must be a rabbinic scholar who is at least forty years old, married, and morally upright. These restrictions were established in order to protect students from the kabbalah's powerful and potentially dangerous teachings.
How does the historical development of kabbalah affect the current anxiety that surrounds Jewish mysticism in art and popular culture? How do current reactions to "pop-kabbalah" compare with responses to the Hasidic movement of the 18th century? According to scholar Gershom Scholem, "All great institutional religions have shown a marked distaste for lay mystics, that is, the unlearned mystics who, fired by the intensity of their experiences, believe they can dispense with the traditional and approved channels of religious life." (On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, 25) Are contemporary artists and filmmakers who use kabbalistic themes similarly perceived as dilettantes who reject religious authority? Scholem is considered the first scholar to bring curious scholars and humanists into the world of Jewish mysticism. Is a production of visual art or popular culture yet another step in making kabbalah more accessible?