From the Introduction to Jewish Meditation
People are often surprised to hear the term "Jewish meditation." Otherwise knowledgeable Jews, including many rabbis and scholars, are not aware that such a thing exists. When shown texts that describe Jewish meditation, they respond that it belongs to esoteric or occult corners of Judaism and has little to do with mainstream Judaism.
It is therefore not surprising that many current books on meditation give scant attention to Judaism. Although most writers seem to be aware that mystical elements exist in Judaism, their discussion is usually restricted to the Kabbalah or the Chasidic masters. Most books on meditation emphasize Eastern practices, and in some instances Christian meditation, but Jewish meditation is for all practical purposes ignored.
For students of meditation, this is a serious oversight. Judaism produced one of the more important systems of meditation, and ignoring it is bound to make any study incomplete. Furthermore, since Judaism is an Eastern religion that migrated to the West, its meditative practices may well be those most relevant to Western man. Without a knowledge of Jewish meditative practices, an important link between East and West is lost. This omission is all the more significant in light of considerable evidence that the Jewish mystical masters had dialogue with the Sufi masters and were also aware of the schools of India. . . .
Because so little on Jewish meditation was ever published, many people argued that meditation was to be found only in the backwaters of Judaic literature--in works not even worthy of publication. Actually, many works dealing with Kabbalistic methods of meditation were not published because the practices were dangerous and were not meant for the masses. Still, even these works shed considerable light on obscure passages found in published mainstream works; they are an integral part of the puzzle, without which major areas of Judaism are difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Once the puzzle began to come together, it became clear to me that some of the most important mainstream Jewish leaders of the past relied on various meditative techniques.
With the publication of [my] Meditation and the Bible,
interest in Jewish meditation began to grow. Even the Lubavitcher Rebbe issued a directive that Jewish forms of meditation should be explored. Groups that taught and practiced Jewish meditation were formed in the United States and Israel. I felt privileged that my books formed the basis of many of these groups.
Unfortunately, a number of groups also involved in "Jewish meditation" were practicing something far from Judaism. Some of them attempted to adapt Eastern practices to Jewish audiences, or to Judaize Eastern teachings. Although these groups attracted a following of sorts, they were not teaching Jewish meditation.
Meanwhile, together with a group of committed Jewish psychiatrists and psychologists, I began to experiment with the techniques I had found in the literature. Together we explored the inner space of the meditative state . . . One important discovery we made was that most texts dealing with Jewish meditation assume that the reader is familiar with the general techniques, and intend only to provide additional detail. The details were fascinating, but when we tried to translate them into practice, we discovered that too much information was missing. It was like trying to use a book on advanced French cuisine without a rudimentary knowledge of cooking. The recipes were there, but a novice could not use them. In the case of Jewish meditation, the ingredients were there, but the means of mixing them together were omitted or glossed over.
To some degree, the puzzle was pieced together in my two previous meditation books. However, neither of these books was meant to be a practical guide. Many people expressed the need of a guide to Jewish meditation written in nontechnical terms for the layperson. It was out of these requests that the idea for this book was born.
This book presents the most basic forms of Jewish meditation, especially as discussed in mainstream sources. It assumes no special background on the part of the reader either in Judaism or in meditation. It is my hope that this book will at least begin to provide its readers with insight into the spiritual dimensions of the Jewish heritage.
Excerpted from Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan. Copyright © 1995 by Schocken Books, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Schocken, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.