Kabbalistic Tarot: Hebraic Wisdom in the Major and Minor Arcana links Tarot with the Jewish spiritual tradition and the Kabbalah. From Dovid Krafchow, a student of Tarot and Kabbalah for over thirty years.
By Dovid Krafchow · Book · Published by Inner Traditions
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Kabbalistic Tarot was originally published in 2002, by Shadium Press, under the title Listening to the Soul. I find both titles appropriate, as the Tarot is a gateway to understanding our soul. Krafchow addresses the Tarot, as the subtitle notes, from the Hebraic point of view. How he sees the connection between Kabbalistic matters and the Tarot, and how someone, say, from the Western Hermetic Tradition would see the connection between Tarot and the Kabbalah is at times divergent. In this review, we will stay strictly with the Hebraic version. I want to add here that Krafchow has studied both Kabbalah and the Tarot for over thirty years.
Krafchow begins by defining Cabala (his spelling, different from the title) as "receiving", which also meant drawing down knowledge from the heavens through uniquely personal experiences. His hope in sharing the wisdom from the Cabala through the Tarot is that is will address the confusion and spiritual weakness that abounds in our times.
For two decades Krafchow devoted himself to the study of the four levels of Torah: the written word, the extrapolated idea, the metaphor, and the secret. It was some time after this that he found himself in a book store, staring at a large gilded book that promised to reveal the "Secret Knowledge of the Tarot". The one word that he was truly drawn to throughout the book was Cabala. The deck used for illustrating this book was the Rider-Waite Tarot. Krafchow put the book back, bought the deck, and proceeded to through out the LWB (Little White Book) that came with it. He saw the connection with his Cabalistic studies, and felt that the cards would explain themselves.
Krafchow sees the Tarot as having their roots in Jewish spiritual tradition. He personally feels that the cards were used as a clandestine method for the captive tribes of Israel to study their sacred text. The short section that covers this early history is a very interesting one, not to be set aside lightly.
The foundation of the Tarot mirrors the blueprint found in the Cabala. The twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana are associated with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The four suits of the Tarot are associated with the four elements and the four worlds. The suit of Staffs is associated with the element of Fire and the world of Atzilut (fire). The suit of Cups is associated with the element Water and the world of Yetzirah (emotions). the suit of Swords is associated with the element of Air and the world of Briah (thought). The suit of Coins is associated with the element of Earth and the world of Asiyah (action).
Krafchow does an excellent job, through text, tables and graphics, of explaining the connection between the Tarot, the four worlds, the Cabala and the Tree of Life (which very interestingly is superimposed over a schematic of the human body). The ten Sefirot reflect the nine numbered pips (Two through Ten), representing the body, and one of five cards (the court cards - Page, Knight, King, Queen, and Ace), representing the soul.
The Major Arcana are presented in an interesting fashion - not 0 (Zero) through XXI, in order, as we see them traditionally, but in pairs, describing the male and female essence of the cards. As an example, the first cards that are presented represent the female and male essences of Pleasure and Will. They are the cards of the Hanged Man and the Tower. The following text is from the book, along with black and white scans.
The Hanged Man, The Tower
The Hanged Man card depicts a young man hung upside down by the foot. A yellow crown encircles his head, representing pleasure. The crown, keter, is the Cabalistic symbol for pleasure, the source of all our energy and reason for all action. The all-encompassing motivation of pleasure is seen in Cabala as being beyond logic, and is therefore sometimes also called chaos. In this card image we see that just beyond the intellect, pleasure - the foundation of life - overflows in a fuming state of unbridled energy.
The Hanged Man's heart is elevated above his head. In the human body the heart is above logic; when the heart is elevated above the head it is a sign that chaos rules. Cabalistically, chaos is what precedes logic and is considered one of the higher realms. The confine of logic is further from the singularity of the Light Without End; it is the chaos of light and darkness, Pleasure and Will, that connects the infinite with the finite.
The line - the essence of male - is represented in the Tarot cards by The Tower, the most phallic of images. Here a bolt of lightening strikes the tower and blows its crown off in a burst of fire as men jump from the window. Will is single-minded: everything else can jump out of the window. Nothing stands before Will.
The Court Cards, Aces and Pips are also presented through text and a black and white scan. From the book:
Ace of Pentacles
In the Ace of Pentacles, or Earth, the heavenly hand holds the pentacle above a garden. A hedge divides the garden from the world. At the far side of the garden, a path through a bowered gate leads from the garden to the outside. Beginnings are hard, but they are also beautiful. By leaving one's comfortable surroundings and going out into the world, a person begins the journey into life. These ideas apply to any new venture: to the beginning of love, to new thoughts and attitudes. Children often choose this card.
The Ace of Pentacles is the profound present. The highest part of the soul partakes in the great joy of a new venture. It is why we feel so exhilarated. Because all beginnings are hard, the Creator made the soul infuse the body with the joy of pleasure at life's changes.
Do not be fooled by the card's pleasant evocations: the sun will set, the wind will howl - things will be difficult. All beginnings are difficult.
At the end of the book, Krafchow talks about becoming a "reader with intention". The reader is the medium through which the message of the cards is delivered. Krafchow gives an example of a Cabalistic reading, discussing the how's and why's as he goes along.
Also included are a table of card associations (card, attribute, anatomy, color and planet), and a glossary.
The Kabbalistic world of Tarot is a world of great depth, and one that is easily misunderstood. Krafchow has done an excellent job of getting his ideas across in a concise, fluid manner that is easy to understand and easy to follow. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to study the Kabbalistic structure and associations of the Tarot. This is an excellent reference book to have in one's library.
© Bonnie Cehovet
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer.
Review by Dan Pelletier
This is a difficult book to review. It is made even more difficult since it is wrapped in a cloak announcing itself as both Tarot, and Jewish Kabbalah.
We are told that the author “has studied Kabbalah and practiced the tarot for more than thirty years. He began his study of the Torah at the Hadar Hatorah Institute for Rabbinical Studies in Brooklyn, New York, and lived for ten years in Zefat, Israel, the city where the Kabbalah was received by the Ari Zal (Rabbi Isaac Luria) 500 years ago. He lives in Northern California.
Well 30 plus years is a good resumé, let’s look into the book itself…and the writings of the man.
Dovid Krafchow informs us that “The pictures on the cards are an outgrowth of the first captivity of the people of Israel in Egypt”. And then, during the heyday of the Macedonian Empire (Alexander died 323 BCE) the Jewish peoples invented the game of Tarot, however it dropped from sight after the Maccabee rebellion. Then Tarot resurfaces in 1450.
We are offered no proof, historical, anecdotal, or scholarly; even though this ‘game theory’ flies in the face of the current history of gaming and gaming devices. Of course it can be argued that since no rebuttal evidence exists – that this must be true. This goes beyond sloppy scholarship.
Krafchow then goes onto explain the four suits correspond to the four worlds (referred to as spirit worlds), and further explained that the numbered cards relate to the sephiroth. And we come across an interesting phenomenon, the author separates the ace (or a one) from the minors and places it with the courts – then bemoans the fact that there are only nine minors since they are missing the one!
Of course this is done to round out the courts to equal five aspects of the soul, as opposed to the traditional four (Chiah, Neshamah, Ruach, Nepesh). We are not informed of the ‘fifth aspect’.
I’m not terribly troubled yet…I understand that this is a personal approach to Kabbalah.
As he begins describing the Tree of Life (Ets Chaim) including Da’at. The inclusion of Da’at, creates eleven Sephiroth. We are told in the Sepher Yetzirah, “The ineffable Sephiroth are Ten, as are the Numbers; and as there are in man five fingers over against five, so over them is established a covenant of strength, by word of mouth, and by the circumcision of the flesh. Ten is the number of the ineffable Sephiroth, ten and not nine, ten and not eleven.” A few folks use Da’at, so I’m not concerned by the author’s approach yet.
In Chapter Two, we become privy to the Twenty-Two secrets. He then uses the paths as defined by the Gra 1884 – apparently taken from the Sefer Yetzirah (Aryeh Kaplan translation), and provides no source credit.
The author here never actually equates a Major with a path – he uses Areas, or undefined space between the paths; these are attributed to the sephiroth rather than the intersections of the paths themselves – this is at once revolutionary and unsettling.
Each major is presented with its pair from the opposite side of the tree; so that Lamed (the Hanged man) which lies between Keter and Binah, is given along with the Tower which is then aligned with Heh. At no point in the book does the author actually tell us which letter equates with which major.The arraignment is beyond quizzical, and in fact attempts to strive for obfuscation.
Let me move onto the treatment of the minors. Here once again the author tells us: "The anomaly of the missing One is the key understanding the Minor Arcana. In the tarot, the One is replaced by the five royal cards representing the five parts of the soul." Let me remind you that in Judaism there are four parts, or aspects of the soul, Chiah, Neshamah, Ruach, and Nepesh.
Alarm bells began to really go off when I got to page 58. We are informed that, “In the Ace of Cups, or Water, the heavenly hand holds aloft a cup that overflows in four directions. The four directions indicate the earth.” I pulled up short. The illustration displays the five streams of water as Pamela Colman Smith drew it. And this is an author who claims more than thirty years involvement with Kabbalah and Tarot. Yet he’s never counted the streams of water?
Serious errors throw not only doubt upon the work – but upon the intentions of the author and publisher.
His treatment of the Three of Pentacles is not only highly diverse from accepted book and non-book norms, we get to look into the psyche of the author himself, “This is the doctrine and the dogma of authority. They are telling the aproned apprentice what to know. The boy stands on a bench, to reach their stature. He does not have the knowledge to refute them. He turns his cup down against what they proclaim.”
Well now... some very basic research would enlighten the author that the aproned apprentice holds not a cup, but a mallet used in stone work. And how do we know they telling him anything? He could be telling them! And further, the three working as a team reflect the three pentacles shown above them! I’ll move on.
When I got to the treatment of the sixes I became more than concerned. I felt ripped off. Six is the number of Tephareth. Tephareth is beauty, and lies on the pillar of harmony. It’s the balance point of Ets Chaim. It’s the spot of the divine within the human, the place of the wounded healer, of Bodhisattva. Let’s see what the author of Kabbalistic Tarot gives us.
Six of Pentacles: ”Relationships are often one-sided”. Six of Cups: Love gives deference to the receiver. The great gush of love only gets everyone wet; love needs to seep out, slowly. Six of Swords: “He does not require their acknowledgement. Their backs are turned to him – he does what he does out of love”. (Is he part of them? Is it a trio as opposed to a duo and he’s just the boatman? Then why are the swords at their end of the boat and not his?) Six of Wands: “A man rides a white horse to a wedding celebration accompanied by his friends.” I’ve never heard that before. Wedding celebration?
The treatment of Nines are also disturbing: Nine of Swords: “A man prays before sleeping…letting go is a sexual energy from deep within…fear inhibits this spiritual/sexual energy from being released…” I’m sorry. I have to stop. Has the author looked at the cards? I’ve never ever heard a sitter look at the Nine of Swords and see prayer…ever.
This book is worse than awful. Do not buy it. It shows a startling lack of scholarship and study and it is neither Kabbalistic nor Tarot.
Dan Pelletier is a co-owner of The Tarot Garden, a most highly respected resource for tarot decks and related information on the Internet.