Claims to esoteric knowledge are inescapably political. To assert control over a body of knowledge that derives from a source other than human reason is a gesture of power and authority vis-à-vis those who are not part of the privileged chain of transmission. Mysticism and esotericism are often found together. This is certainly the case for Jewish mystics for whom Kabbalah is literally “that which is received.” Kabbalists regard their doctrine as one that originates with revelation, often associated with the theophany at Sinai, or with supernatural pronouncements from the prophet Elijah to select rabbis through the ages. Whatever the source, kabbalistic discourse is built on the claim that Jews have a secretly guarded doctrine that enables them (kabbalists in particular) to control the secrets of the cosmos and wield divine power.

The political dimensions of such claims cannot be...

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