Friday, May 11, 2012

You Don't Mess With The Zohar

(A re-post from October 2010)

On the earlier post, Baby's Blue Beads, someone left the following comment:

...the reaction to questioning the Zohar - either its authenticity or its authority - and delving into the superstitious elements or some outdated medieval concepts that underlie the work, will probably be the most visceral and I think more so than any subject, even the evolution issue. The difference is that you don't really see this happening in print, unlike the evolution issue which has been a fairly prominent issue, relatively speaking, in recent decades.

Personally, I think the reaction against an intellectually honest historical approach to the Zohar would be even stronger than the reaction against Rabbi Slifkin. Even many reasonable people who would not necessarily go "on the attack" over it would nonetheless feel it's out of bounds or offensive to question that work.


I think that he's probably correct. You don't mess with the Zohar. Even a relatively moderate charedi figure such as Rav Leff said that somebody who does not believe that the Zohar was written by Rav Shimon Bar Yochai is a heretic (see this link for audio, transcript and analysis). I am told that Rav Leff did later retract this upon being made aware of various information, but the fact that he said it at all shows how widespread such a view is.

It is fairly well known that Rav Yaakov Emden challenged the origins of much of the Zohar, but this doesn't seem to be taken very seriously in traditionalist circles today. Perhaps this is because Rav Emden's opposition to Rav Yonasan Eybeshitz as a Sabbatean, which is popularly (though probably mistakenly) considered unfounded, gives him an image of someone who unjustifiably opposes things. But in the course of my research for my Shiluach HaKein article, I was surprised to find that even a figure as conservative as Chassam Sofer was of the opinion that most of the Zohar was written in a much later period. One would think that the Chassam Sofer would be an unimpeachable authority, but it seems that his views on the Zohar are not widely known.

Personally I have never really explored the issue, beyond the aforementioned view of the Chassam Sofer. There was an article on this which was floating around the net a few years ago, which you can download at this link. I can't give it a haskamah, since I'm not nearly knowledgeable enough in this area to evaluate it, and I haven't even read it carefully; just enough to see that it needs quite a bit of editing! But the quotations at the end, from unnamed Charedi gedolim, are fascinating and show just how divisive and explosive this issue is.

UPDATE: See too this post: Rav Ovadiah Yosef on the Zohar

124 comments:

  1. Could you kindly cite the source for the Chasam Sofer's view?

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  2. The two sources are in my Shiluach HaKein essay.

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  3. More important, perhaps, than dealing with the issue of authenticity is the issue of how to relate to the Zohar, even if one accepts that it was written by R. Shimon bar Yochai. One can approach it as a work with authority equal to that of the Talmudim, with halakhic force, as many Sephardim do. On the other hand, one can treat it as just another part of the vast midrashic corpus with no halakhic force, and largely metaphorical. If one anyway has a rationalist approach to Midrash, acceptance of the Zohar into the canon is not so difficult to accept. I have read that R. Hirsch adopted this second approach, and felt no problem integrating it into his generally rationalist approach. This is a more diplomatic way of undercutting the Zohar's often retrograde, non-rationalist impact without "messing with it" head-on.

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  4. The Zohar has a structure that is hard to figure out from reading the text. It was partly explained rather late, notably by the Arizal and the Ramchal. The Arizal and the Ramchal were not making things up - the structure is really there. If this was the single-handed work Rabbi Moshe De Leon, he was a super genius.

    This does not mean that the Zohar does not contain apparent nonsense. Our genome contains apparent junk also, but where would we be without it? This also does not mean that Rashbi authored the text of the Zohar. The genome Mashal can be taken a step further. Secret texts can evolve rather freely, by the mechanism of non-random mutation, especially as long as the population is small (before the age of printing). Survival of the fittest certainly applied, and there is no reason to assume that the mutation rate was small.

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  5. @ HaDarda’i – But look at all the halachos which are based upon Zohar sources! For 2 basic examples look at the two articles which have links on the right – about Netilas Yadayim and Mezuzah. In practice Orthodoxy has adopted so much from kabalistic sources (interpretations of the Zohar). Saying it should be only taken metaphorically, at this point, would discount a whole lot of teachings and practices. And that is the crux of the problem – that so many of our minhagim and halachos l’ma’aseh are based upon something that should not have been taken literally in the first place (if it even has a place among the holy books in our cannon).

    And if Rabbi Zev Leff took back what he said after being shown he was mistaken, maybe this can actually help shed light on the fact that there was this “dogma” or “myth” which nobody wanted to call out as “The Emperor’s New Clothes” for fear of getting executed or excommunicated. As someone said in a comment on an earlier thread, that even many rabbanim feel pressured to paskin in a machmir way that goes against their convictions for fear that they be rejected or denounced by the community. Is this the first time in our history that rabannim felt social pressures? Of course not. So too this big myth that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar was passed from generation to generation with the greater multitudes not knowing that it was rooted in a lie.

    Does anyone really think that a myth mascarading as a truth, is not possible to have crept in during the last 2,000 years of our exile? Blame it on “our terrible golus” and the fact that “the shechinah is in exile,” or on 2,000 years of persecution and moving from country to country, inquisitions, book burnings, crusades, pogroms, etc. It doesn’t matter what you say the REASON is for this myth/lie/mistake to have run amok, but the truth that it is indeed a mistake should be put out there for people to know.

    And then there is the Arizal, and those who expounded upon his teachings, etc. And so one house of cards is then built upon another, and then another. And then it becomes a part of our normative practice of Orthodox Judaism. But meanwhile, it could very well all be a myth, with so much therein which is actually antithetical to actual Torah teachings and values.

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  6. I think the Rabbi has made a pretty accurate summation.
    there are definitely parts of Zohar that seem to cause issues (it mentions Kal Nidrei yet the geonim were against and called it a 'new minhag' - a few hundred years after Rashby). Yet the Dor Deah (Darda'im) view has caused a storm of protest from both within the Yemenite communities and outsiders. Even Rav Yosef Kafah, the grandson of the original leader of the Dor Deah seems to have a more moderate view than his father and grandfather.
    I suppose that the reason is because for the most part major latter commentaries accepted it and used it. Beis Yosef calls it Midrash Hane'ellam and occasionally paskens from it - (no tefillin on chol hamoed). Though its strength when it disagrees with pshat is subject to debate.

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  7. The Chasam Sofer is saying that much of the Zohar is not by RSBY because it explicitly cites later Tannnoim/Amoraim. He would not agree that it was written in the 15th century.

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    1. Your right it was definitely written in the 13 th century by rav Moshe de leon

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  8. I don't think so; if I recall correctly, he discusses it in the context of how people get their ideas accepted by attributing them to authority figures. If it was anyway written by Tannaim/Amoraim, that would be unnecessary.

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  9. I really don't understand the controversy. Moses de Leon first published the Zohar in the 14th (?) century, claiming it was based on an ancient manuscript or R. Shimon B. Yochai, in his possession. At the time of it's first appearance on the scene, people were skeptical, and asked to see the manuscript. De Leon put these people off and never produced it. There is a well known story that de Leon's widow when offered a large sum of money for the original bar Yochai manuscript, confessed that her husband actually wrote the work. No one has ever verified de Leon's claims that the Zohar is tannaitic. What is the problem?

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  10. Are you asking what the problem is from an academic perspective, or from the perspective of having your approach accepted in the Orthodox Jewish community?

    If the former - none.
    If the latter - the problem is that the Zohar has been accepted as authentic by such greats as the Vilna Gaon, and has achieved canonical status.

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  11. Michapeset - I don't doubt that the Zohar, and the kabbalah in general, has had an impact on current state of halakha, especially for Sephardim. Just look at their siddur. It would make my pre-expulsion Spanish forebears weep. However, we don't need to uproot well entrenched halakhot (assuming they are) just because the Zohar has, um, an authenticity issue. The same issue arises when we try to deal with the impact of false science on halakha, e.g. killing lice in Shabbat. We don't necessarily change the halakha because its source is dodgey. The development of halakha has its own dynamic. Unlike in the realm of haskhafa, I don't think we need to remove all the lumps from the halakhic soup.

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  12. Well said. In Sacred Monsters I presented and explained the approach of Rav Herzog that even halachos based on mistaken science still hold true.

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  13. Rav Yaakov Emden held that the Zohar was authentic, but 280 additions which were added in later generations.

    I probably shouldn't ask this, but then why did the book get banned? Even a mild claim like this is "messing with the helige Zohar"?

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  14. I don't understand, given the sketchy historicity of the book, how anyone could ever claim that not accepting it as tanaitic is a heresy. As a counterpoint to R. Leff, we have R. Saul Liberman's famous quip, made at the 92nd St Y, when he introduced Gershon Scholem to speak: "Prof. Scholem is a work authority on Kabbalah. We all know that Kaballah is nonsense, but the history of nonsense is important scholarship."

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  15. Is there a difference between mistaken science and mistaken history?
    Can we say that in the case of science, error was due to mistake, but in the case of the Zohar's history, deception does not lend it halacha-establishing credence?

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  16. I think that many of the reasons for maintaining halachos based on mistaken science would be equally applicable to halachos based on texts that are not authentic.

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  17. A friend of mine said to me that the G'ra accepted the Zohar as legitimate and the G'ra could never be fooled. So it must be authentic.

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  18. If I can digress for a moment, why do we follow halachot that are based on a mistake? Wouldn't the decisor of the halachah have formulated a different halachah if he had known the truth, and therefor following a halachah based upon an error be in contradiction to the decisor's intent and desire?

    The only reason I can think of is that this behavior was introduced for purposes of stability. It would be meant to prevent halachah from being rewritten every time what was accepted as true was changed, and to prevent a misconception about the halachah or the truth from being used to change the halachah.

    As yet these reasons are applicable to the Zohar debate (as our ability to confirm or deny wether the Zohar is authentic is limited, and even if the Zohar wasn't written by Rasbhy it might stlll be valid). However, in regards to scientific errors, at present the reason no longer applies. We can have very high confidence in most scientific conclusions, and there is low probability that our conclusions will be overturned. Furthermore, often the halchah is explicit about its basis. Therefore, neither reason would apply and we should not follow halachot based on scientific mistakes.

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  19. From "And from Jerusalem, His Word: Stories and Insights of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach", by Hanoch Teller(pg. 231):

    "A Yemenite student at the yeshiva asked Reb Shlomo Zalman to officiate at his wedding. Before the ceremony the Rav discovered that one of the designated witnesses was a member of an obscure sect of Jews whose members do not belive in the Zohar Ha-kodesh and whose trustworthiness as a witness may therefore be suspect. The individual was himself a rabbi, so in order that no one be offended and that there be no possible question concerning the validity of the marriage, the Gaon announced that he himself would be a witness and the other rabbi would officiate as the mesader kiddushin. The rabbi, of course, wished to defer to the Gaon, but Reb Shlomo Zalman prevailed. There was no room for leniency in so vital a subject as kiddushin."

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  20. >What is the problem?

    The problem is that the rabbinic Jewish tradition eventually accepted it as "the Zohar ha-kadosh." So saying "Of course it's a forgery, duh" doesn't contribute one way or another to the problem, or the question of whether it is indeed a problem.

    In any case, in theory the most widespread accepted practice seems to have been to accept the Zohar where the Talmud has nothing to say about a subject. Where it does, and disagrees with the Zohar, then the Talmud is supposed to be followed. If the Zohar takes a side in an already existing machlokes (e.g., tefillin on Chol Ha-mo'ed) then it can be used to be machria (or, for those who still ignore it, then it becomes just another de'ah). Some people might say that this status quo is good enough, and that investigating the authenticity or publicly advertising that it is a forgery is far far worse. To the extent that the above rules are ignored in practice (are there examples of halachic practice that is like the Zohar and against the Talmud, for example?) maybe some would countenance revisiting these particular issues.

    As for the Gra argument (which I used to accept myself) if you think about it, it is extremely disrespectful to earlier authorities who also accepted it.

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  21. "Even a relatively moderate charedi figure such as Rav Leff said that somebody who does not believe that the Zohar was written by Rav Shimon Bar Yochai is a heretic"

    1) On Cross Currents, R. Yitzchok Adlerstein wrote regarding R. Leff's opinion( "Outside the Pale – Responding to Readers", 12/21/07)

    "Some readers pointed to statements by Rabbi Leff that indicate that he does not distinguish between “beyond the pale” and “heretical,” particularly a statement about the authorship of the Zohar. I would be disappointed to find out that he held that someone who questioned whether all the content of the Zohar came from the pen of R. Shimon bar Yochai was a heretic (although my regard for him would not be diminished). After listening again, I don’t believe that he was saying that. He branded as heretic someone who would deny that the content of the Zohar is part of Torah she-b’al-peh. That is a far more defensible position."

    2) Rabbi Adlerstein writes in Mail Jewish(Volume 20 Number 65, 7/21/95):

    http://www.ottmall.com/mj_ht_arch/v20/mj_v20i65.html#CSS

    "The bottom line, according to R' Kaplan, was a simple one. There can be no question that the CONTENT of the Zohar is ancient, and there is no a priori reason to doubt the mesorah [tradition] that the IDEAS of Zohar originated with the teaching of R' Shimon bar Yochai and his son. This corpus of teaching was passed on orally, as had been other parts of Torah She-b'al-peh [the Oral Law] until they were redacted in the Mishnah and Gemara. Whether medieval terminology (and even historical references) were incorporated in a much later redaction of the kernel material of the Zohar need not concern us. In the final analysis, we are interested in the truths that the Zohar conveys to us, and we have no reason to doubt the sincerity and scholarship of the redactors, nor
    the source of the Zohar's content in a tradition of nistar [hidden parts of the Torah] that is mentioned in many earlier works."

    3) In comments to Cross Currents("The Apostasy of the Monsey Fish, 5/15/06), R. Adlerstein quotes R. Aryeh Kaplan regarding a source possibly not seen by Scholem:

    "Much ink has been spilled on the matter. I’m sure you can find some good material somewhere. I will only relate my personal conversations on the matter with R Aryeh Kaplan z”l. He told me several times that 1) there is no question that the intellectual content of the Zohar is extremely old, leaving aside for a moment the issue of whether R Shimon bar Yochai actually penned a work that was lost and rediscovered, or is credited for formalizing a discipline whose output was then transmitted orally till medieval times 2) documents he had seen in a university collection (which he believes Gershom Scholem had not seen) provided evidence that the greatest critic of R Moshe de Leon subsequently changed his mind, and accepted the authenticity of the Zohar."

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  22. Whatever happened to the Dor Daim (or whatever they were called)?

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  23. It seems like it was written by Rav DeLeon. So it is at the very least a rishonic work. Either way, kabbalah existed before the Zohar was written and it was just a compilation of kabbalah.

    I believe the story goes that Rav Isaac of Acre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_ben_Samuel_of_Acre) asked to see the manuscript and the widow said it did not exist. However, Issac of Acre was a big kabbalist. Actually, he is of the opinion, according to Rabbi kaplan, that the world is 13.7 billion years old.

    I don't know why people MUST attribute the whole Zohar to Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochi.

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  24. Rabbi Slifkin- I think I figured it out!
    The difference between Halacha that is instituted on mistake scientific basis and halacha instituted as a result of mistaken history lies in the intention of the founders of a halacha. To illustrate:
    In the case of science, the Rabbis understand that science is constantly evolving, and halacha cannot be updated at the same pace. They are Mechadesh, then, that even if the basis for their ruling is belied, the halacha remains.
    HOWEVER- no such Chiddush is made in the case of halachic matters that depend on an understanding of history, which is not implicitly subject to change.
    Perhaps, Rabbi, this is the reason the Gemara is so preoccupied with establishing EXACTLY what was said by which Tanna or Amora, and goes to lengths inquiring such of various students of those Rabbis- the liability of discovering a mistake in WHAT WAS SAID would be too great!
    Is that reasonable?

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  25. >"Much ink has been spilled on the matter. I’m sure you can find some good material somewhere. I will only relate my personal conversations on the matter with R Aryeh Kaplan z”l. He told me several times that 1) there is no question that the intellectual content of the Zohar is extremely old, leaving aside for a moment the issue of whether R Shimon bar Yochai actually penned a work that was lost and rediscovered, or is credited for formalizing a discipline whose output was then transmitted orally till medieval times 2) documents he had seen in a university collection (which he believes Gershom Scholem had not seen) provided evidence that the greatest critic of R Moshe de Leon subsequently changed his mind, and accepted the authenticity of the Zohar."

    I remember that post. The existence of another manuscript doesn't prove much (and why didn't Kaplan publish it?). Unfortunately the mekubalim and their supporters created a genre of forged literature to show support for kabbalah, the Rambam's "conversion" to Kabbalah being a more famous example. The fact that someone a few hundred years ago imagined a change of heart and wrote it down hardly constitutes proof - although of course if such a document exists it should be critically examined.

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  26. If you decide to write further about the Zohar authorship issue, just do yourself a favor - don't claim you are the first or only man to ever address it.

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  27. >>> A friend of mine said to me that the G'ra accepted the Zohar as legitimate and the G'ra could never be fooled. So it must be authentic.

    Thank you Jay for my laugh of the day.

    To me, this whole episode of the Zohar …. Its sudden appearance, its eventual acceptance to near canonical levels, etc. is a very powerful support for those who are not too convinced with the Kuzari/mesorah type arguments used by the faithful to try to rationalize their beliefs.

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  28. It has come to my attention that some of your opponents are claiming that the title of this post may have been influenced by the title of an inappropriate movie that you could only have been aware of if the sitra achra were influencing you- Please say it aint so and that this was just an example of how similar phrases may be used in two sources without one influencing the other. (as mentioned here http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/ZoharEnglish.pdf)

    KT
    Joel Rich

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  29. You're joking, right?

    Just in case you're serious, I have a question: Following their logic, how could they have known about such a movie, unless the sitra achra was influencing them?

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  30. Elemir:

    You're welcome. I can assure you, however, I was not laughing when my friend said it.

    I have argued with people that the Zohar comes from outside the chain of the Mesorah and just "appeared" seemingly from nowhere. People ALWAYS answer me by asking how all the 'gedolim' who accept the Zohar as an authentic text from a Tana could be wrong. Your point about the Kuzari proof is relevant here. I have pointed this out to people. We claim to accept the truth of the Torah being from HaShem because there was a public revelation and an unbroken tradition of that revelation having taken place. So, if that's the standard by which we judge things in Torah, then where was the public revelation of the Zohar?

    I think this is a battle that we will never win. People WANT to believe that the Zohar is from Rashbi, so no amount of argument will sway them.

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  31. >People WANT to believe that the Zohar is from Rashbi

    Some people, but I think other people (maybe most) want something more than that: they want one of the foremost canonical texts not to be a forgery or pseudepigrepha (if we're being gentle(, and they also want there to really be a sod to the Torah.

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  32. You're joking, right?
    ==========================
    yes, sorry for not being clearer-I meant the say it aint so as a hint.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  33. To me, this whole episode of the Zohar …. Its sudden appearance, its eventual acceptance to near canonical levels, etc. is a very powerful support for those who are not too convinced with the Kuzari/mesorah type arguments used by the faithful to try to rationalize their beliefs.

    I'm not a die-hard defender of the Kuzari proof, but I think there is a difference here, inasmuch as the Zohar was supposed to be an esoteric text i.e. even people who thought it was by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai did not expect to find any references to it in earlier literature, because only a handful of people were supposed to know about it.

    On the other hand, the Kuzari proof relies on the public nature of Matan Torah - that every Israelite man, woman and child experienced it and remembered it frequently through the mitzvot.

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  34. I received a forwarded email attachment a couple of years ago containing an essay entitled Tohar HaYihud (it is now being hosted at mesora.org). The body of the email stated:

    "I recently received the attached paper written by an elderly Rav and Maggid Shiur who wishes anonymity. He realizes the venomous attacks others suffered through the ages when opposing what is popular. He only wishes to shield his family by concealing his name. He cares none about his own battles.

    He cites so many fine arguments and authoritative sources, refuting Kabbalah and its heretical tenets.

    Please study it, and enjoy, as he wishes to spread the truth. If you are in chinuch, or know of others who would also benefit from this tremendous research and documentation, please share this work without restraint, as he wishes.

    I strongly suggest all mechanchim make copies, distribute, and also email this to others."

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  35. "I think that many of the reasons for maintaining halachos based on mistaken science would be equally applicable to halachos based on texts that are not authentic."

    I would disagree. From my understanding, the reason halachos based on wrong science are still valid is because Chazal had the authority to legislate halchah with the power of the sanhendrin, which Hashem commanded us to follow. Therefore it is a "law on the books" that must be followed until a new sanhedrin. I do not see how this could possibly be applied to the Zohar if it was written later. Such a book would have no authority under the Torah law.

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  36. That's only one reason. In my book, I present other reasons.

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  37. R. Aryeh Kaplan has many books explaining the possible histories of the Kabbalah.

    The Zohar is only the most famous and largest as it follows the parshiot in a limited sense.

    However, Kabbalah existed long before the Zohar.

    The first book is Sefer Yetzirah, attributed to Avaraham, and academically sourced to the 2nd century CE, also referenced to by the Talmud.

    The second book is the Ba'hir first manuscripts found from 1174 and is the first book to make mention of the "10 Sephirot"

    Ramban in his commentary quotes the Ba'hir and attributes it to a Tanna.

    Then later you have the Zohar in 1270.

    To say that the zohar came out of nowhere is misleading if not outright false.

    Wikipedia will allow you to click on a chain of mystical teacher to student in the south of France dating back to the crusades.

    One of my Tunisian French friends tells me that they have a tradition of mystics leaving Israel before the destruction of the first temple, and then heading up to France.

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  38. I'm supprised that no one has mentioned Rabbi Yihiye Kapach, the grandfather of the well known Rambam scholar Rabbi Yosef Kapach, both from Yemen, or the Dor Daim movement he founded.

    Quoting from the above linked wikepedia articles:


    The work for which Rabbi Qafiḥ is most well known is Milḥamot HaShem (Wars of the Lord). In it he argues that the Zohar is not authentic and that attributing its authorship to the Tannaitic sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is to besmirch him. Perhaps more importantly, Milḥamot HaShem maintains that the theology of Lurianic Kabbalah which he believes advocates the worship of Zeir Anpin (the supposed creative demiurge of God) and the Sephirot, is entirely idolatrous and irreconcilable with the historically pure monotheism of Judaism. This stance met with much opposition, and led the Rabbi to become embroiled in a dispute with Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. This dispute is still very much alive in the modern Jewish world, and contemporary Poskim such as Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky have also joined in and condemned Rabbi Qafiḥ's work as being heretical.

    The original Dor Daim, such as Yiḥyah Qafiḥ, condemned the Zohar as an outright forgery and as filled with idolatry, and even organized ceremonial public burnings of the book.

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  39. Ha'Dardai, you said: "However, we don't need to uproot well entrenched halakhot (assuming they are) just because the Zohar has, um, an authenticity issue. The same issue arises when we try to deal with the impact of false science on halakha, e.g. killing lice in Shabbat. We don't necessarily change the halakha because its source is dodgey."

    And it seems Rabbi Slifkin agreed to this point.

    However, I disagree with this point. Halacha is supposed to be based on the Talmud. The lice halachot and those regarding mistaken science of chazal - I don't necessarily agree with the logic, but I understand the point of view whereby the halacha should remain even if based on mistaken science, and I see that as a reasonable approach (even if not the most reasonable approach in my humble opinion). But I really do not see how that can be equated with an extra-chazalic source such as the zohar or other kabbalistic mystical speculations.

    It appears to me that the view that Talmudic halachot based on faulty science should remain as the halachot nonetheless rests upon the binding authority of the Talmud/Torah she baal peh and chazal in general. But if a given halacha is based on mystical speculation of the zohar (and depending on the case might even contradict the Talmudic corpus), why should that necessarily remain the halacha or mesorah? It would seem to me that a rabbi and community would have much leeway in deciding what degree of authority would be granted to zohar in such an instance in terms of custom and practice. Certainly much more leeway than with the Talmudic psak based on mistaken science.

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  40. >>>>> People ALWAYS answer me by asking how all the 'gedolim' who accept the Zohar as an authentic text from a Tana could be wrong.

    Its absolutely way past the time that THESE people wake up and realize that neither Khazal, nor the geonim, nor the rishonim, nor the achronim, and certainly no one in our generation of so called “Gedolim” were/are infallible. Believing otherwise just assures us that we become the laughing stock of the world.

    >>>> To say that the zohar came out of nowhere is misleading if not outright false.

    While there is no doubt that some of the ideas therein may have been or were developed over centuries by select individuals prior to the book’s writing, there is absolutely no indication that the book was extant before deleon’s time. One would expect that if this book was so important, it would at least be referenced by somebody, somewhere in the 2-12th centuries time frame.

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  41. Regarding the Dor Da'im - I have some fascinating news that I will post tomorrow.

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  42. For anyone interested here is R. Yiḥye Kafaḥ's Sefer Milḥamoth HaShem

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  43. One other thought about using the Zohar to paskin halacha.

    I've heard that one reason given for not using the writings of the Meiri as a source when making halachic decisions is due to his works having been, "out of circulation" for so many centuries. Wouldn't this argument also apply to the Zohar since it was completely unknown until it was published in the 15th century?

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  44. The same R. Eibshitz doubted the Rambam's authorship of the Moreh. You can't have it both ways.

    FYI: there were many written responses, at that time, to R. Eibshitz. I recently chanced upon writings by the Radziner Rebbe that addressed this question at length and points to many other writings of R. Eibshitz in which he relies upon the Zohar.

    It is disingenuous to cite R. Emdin without citing the sources that argue that he was attempting merely to prevent the Zohar from being misused.

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  45. It's not disingenuous when I have never heard of these other sources and I freely admit that I know very little about this topic!

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  46. I think people need to be made aware of which minhagim and mitzvot are affected by the Zohar and more importantly "the kabbalists"

    We are not just talking about mezuzot and netilat yedaim.

    I'd love to see a full list, I only know of a few of them.
    Kabbalat shabbat, how to stand during the amidah, how to write tefilin, myriad of rules of davening, how women cover their hair.

    I am curious what jewish practice would look like if we removed anything that is related to the Zohar.

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  47. Machon Shilo's Rav David Bar-Hayim excludes the Zohar from having a say in his halachic decisions.

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  48. " Wouldn't this argument also apply to the Zohar since it was completely unknown until it was published in the 15th century?"

    13th, not 15th. It became common practice in the 15th. Not the same as being published.

    There is also clear evidence that it was not "unknown"

    The meiri was published, forgotten, and then rediscovered. It was not never written down in the first place until some point in time when it was accepted.

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  49. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I'm looking forward to the post on Dor Da'im. I only discovered their existence a few months ago. Many people know that R. Yakov Emden questioned the authenticity of the Zohar. Very few people, however know that the famous Rav Kapach's grandfather thought the Zohar was outright heretical. Amazing!

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  50. The problem with arguing that halachot based on mistaken science are 'fixed' is that it is not always so pashut that that is the case, and I am not sure that there are clear rules for deciding when this should be the case. For example, the following is an illustrative quote from Dr. Noam Stadlan (from the comments section on hirhurim blog), in response to the claim that even if Chazal's definition of death (which is taken to be that of cardiovascular 'death') was based on a lack of full understanding of the metzius, we should still go with their definition le'halacha (i.e. and not with brain death), since they were the ones with the authority to establish it:
    "In practical terms, poskim have been ignoring the DETAILS of chazal’s definitions of life and death for a long time. It isn’t even a question at this time. Please see Rabbi/Dr. Eddie Reichman’s work(referenced in a footnote in my article). As a quick example, the gemara in Yoma discusses how much of a person needs to be uncovered before they can be declared dead. No matter which girsa or Rishon you want to use to understand this, when you see that some certain part is not moving, you have to stop digging on Shabbat. That is not how we do it today. Even if they are not moving, not breathing, and have no pulse, we dig them out, do CPR, shock them with defibrillators, and all sorts of things that are clearly melacha. They are not considered dead when they are under the building, they are only dead after all these attempts at resuscitation have been exhausted. Clearly we are using a different determination of death then what is in the gemara."

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  51. I don't believe that kabbalistic ideas have made much inroad into Jewish practice. Those that have, such as alternate hand washing in the morning, are harmless. Some, such as standing for making kiddush, are even laudable. As to the authenticity of the Zohar and presumed teachings and practices of the Ari based on the Zohar, one can treat them charitably like midrashim of unknown and post-talmudic provenance. Take what appeals and is consistent with normal halachic practice, and ignore the rest.

    However, there are kabbalistic ideas about GOD that verge on a heretical treatment of the Deity akin to Gnostic speculations. The reference cited by R' Natan and, particularly, the "Tohar Hayichud" cited in the Anonymous comment (10/28 8:21) cite various such examples. Whether truly heretical or not, it is foolhardy to speculate about divine transformations and emanations, and foolish to believe them. If Moshe and the other prophets didn't reveal such matters, why should anyone trust non-prophets to have a correct perception of the matter?

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  52. >The same R. Eibshitz doubted the Rambam's authorship of the Moreh. You can't have it both ways.

    Emden; but sure you can. It's not on his authority, but on the quality of the arguments. You might as well say that you can't cite R. Emden against the Moreh witout also thinking that R. Yonasan Eybeschutz was a rasha.

    >It is disingenuous to cite R. Emdin without citing the sources that argue that he was attempting merely to prevent the Zohar from being misused.

    I agree that it is wrong to hide the existence of such an argument, but that doesn't make it a good argument. What of those sources themselves? They have a pro-Zohar agenda.

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  53. "As for the Gra argument (which I used to accept myself) if you think about it, it is extremely disrespectful to earlier authorities who also accepted it."

    The whole gra argument is a farce. There's very little connection, if any, between intelligence and open-mindedness. Just take a look at the gedolim. The gra was certainly slightly rebellious when it came to halacha but he was also the guy who flipped out at chassidus. There's no evidence that he was anything other than a shtetl yid (fanciful tales about authoring mathematical theorems notwithstanding).

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  54. "I've heard that one reason given for not using the writings of the Meiri as a source when making halachic decisions is due to his works having been, "out of circulation" for so many centuries. Wouldn't this argument also apply to the Zohar since it was completely unknown until it was published in the 15th century?"

    The halachic process is not necessarily comparable to a (nearly non-existent) mystical process. Anyway, like every other charedi argument what is said really just means "That's not how I picture them having done it last decade so that's not how God and I want it."

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  55. Rav Yakov Emden states in Mitpachas Soferim that the bulk of the Zohar is legitimately attributed to R' Shimon bar Yochai because the teachings in the Zohar originated from him and were eventually compiled by the disciples of his school. While he argues that later material found its way into the Zohar, he clearly does not believe that the Zohar itself is a late work.

    R' Yakov Emden's position in this regard is in perfect consonance with Kabalistic sources that state that the compilation of the Zohar into the work(s) we have today was a process that took several hundred years, and that later material did find its way into the final work.

    No (knowledgeable) advocate of the authenticity of the Zohar would argue with the basic nature of these claims (although there may well be disagreement about the details). Citing R' Yakov Emden (and possibly the Chasam Sofer, I haven't seen the source for this claim) as support for the late origin of the Zohar is incorrect.

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  56. From what I understand, the Meiri wasn't "forgotten," it just was lost to circulation as a physical manuscript, but when originally published, it was well known and cited by his contemporaries, and these citations were preserved in later sources extant during the era in which his manuscript was "lost" in the vatican. So people would see his name and work cited but not have access to the actual work in question, until it was finally recovered. If that's true, that's a far cry from "forgotten."

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  57. Regarding halachot and minhagim attributed to the Zohar, such as Kabbalat Shabbat, what's the big deal?

    Mourner's Kaddish, Av HaRachamim, most of Kinnot, and Yizkor are all innovations from the Crusades.

    You don't have to authenticate a mystical tradition to hold onto innovative customs that speak to people.

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  58. "Mourner's Kaddish, Av HaRachamim, most of Kinnot, and Yizkor are all innovations from the Crusades."

    I don't understand your argument.
    This was the same time period as when the Zohar and it's related content was being published and spread about.

    You could argue that the Zohar is an innovation from the Crusades if you really wanted to.

    I really don't think many of the commenters here really understand it's influence, history or its content.

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  59. "I'm supprised that no one has mentioned Rabbi Yihiye Kapach" -- Robert.

    Ahem.
    See my comment at "Baby's Blue Beads" at this website.

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  60. Yitz:
    "I probably shouldn't ask this, but then why did the book get banned? Even a mild claim like this is "messing with the helige Zohar"?"

    Don't forget the second part of the statement, that he held that the Raya Mehemna and the Tikkunei Zohar were entirely forged. These are printing with Zohar, considered part of Zohar, and similarly attributed to Rashbi. Thus, to cite Wikipedia:

    "Raya Mehemna, giving a conversation between Moses, the prophet Elijah, and Shimon ben Yochai on the allegorical import of the Mosaic commandments and prohibitions, as well as of the rabbinical injunctions."

    "Tikkunei Zohar (or Tikkunim), containing seventy discourses by Shimon ben Yochai on the first word of the Torah ("Beraishit")"

    Add that to the late insertions and you have a pretty controversial position.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  61. "Emden; but sure you can. It's not on his authority, but on the quality of the arguments. You might as well say that you can't cite R. Emden against the Moreh witout also thinking that R. Yonasan Eybeschutz was a rasha."

    Fair. But this post didn't really present his arguments, it merely mentioned his position, which is an appeal to authority.

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  62. Y Aharon wrote: "If Moshe and the other prophets didn't reveal such matters, why should anyone trust non-prophets to have a correct perception of the matter?"

    It is probably this question (or objection) that the kabbalists address when they assert and explain that Moshe was the greatest prophet, but the Ari was the greatest chacham. (I believe this was attributed to Reb Tzaddok Hakohen if I'm remembering correctly). This is their way of saying that the greatest prophet could not conceive of the greatest elements of nistar.

    I'm not sure of my own opinion of such assertions, but take that for what it's worth. Hopefully I'm presenting it correctly and attributing it to the right people.

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  63. ""Emden; but sure you can. It's not on his authority, but on the quality of the arguments. You might as well say that you can't cite R. Emden against the Moreh witout also thinking that R. Yonasan Eybeschutz was a rasha."

    Fair. But this post didn't really present his arguments, it merely mentioned his position, which is an appeal to authority.

    October 29, 2010 7:26 PM"

    I was assuming that people were mentioning his position because of its validity in their eyes, due to the quality of his argument, not as an appeal to authority. For that same reason (or, really, the opposite reason), no one here was bringing up his position on the Moreh.

    I know very little of the argument personally, but I am aware that Rav Emden brings up the appearance of the Spanish word "esnoga" in the text of the zohar as one of the points buttressing his claim.

    This is generally a rationalist site, so using the logic "so-and-so said this and he's great, therefore it's correct" wouldn't really fly.

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  64. Student V, I believe the comparison of Moshe rabbenu with the Ari is that "the Ari was greater in his knowledge of torah esoterics" which was the apparent opinion of the Ari's disciple, R' Chaim Vitale. While we may grant some allowance for an exaggerated opinion of a disciple for his master, it is highly unlikely that GOD who taught His torah to Moshe would have omitted an important aspect (kabbalistists would say, the most important). The talmudic sages state further that Moshe understood as much as was possible for mortals (the 49 gates of wisdom). Besides, the depiction of hierarchy of creation in kabbalistic literature is not a matter of wisdom or logic, but of imagination or ancient tradition. However, there is no evidence that the Zoharic scheme of celestial hierarchies that the Ari accepted and elaborated goes back much prior to the Middle Ages in Jewish sources. That leaves it a matter of people's imagination or prophetic vision. But we haven't had a certified prophet since Malachi some 2.5 millenia ago. That is why I concluded my earlier comment with the observation that the theology in the Zohar is unreliable if not dangerous. Some have called it heretical, but I prefer not to use that term casually.

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  65. "However, there is no evidence that the Zoharic scheme of celestial hierarchies that the Ari accepted and elaborated goes back much prior to the Middle Ages in Jewish sources. "

    Sepher Yetzirah is agreed by most scholars to date back to the 2nd century.

    In that book, it has strict hierarchies of letters and numbers and other themes found more prominently in the 10th century.

    Also, it has always been known by people that men are attracted to the color red. However, it wasn't until recently that there was scientific explanation of it, or how/why it works. That doesn't meant its new knowledge, it just means it is better explained.

    The same can be said regarding the relationship between Moshe and the Ari

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  66. Ameteur, it is my impression that sefer Yetzirah doesn't contain the theology of the Zohar. I didn't make the claim that all the ideas of the Zohar date to the Middle Ages - only that the theology it espouses was novel. If you disagree, kindly cite wording from Yetzirah dealing with things such as adam kadmon, atik yomin, abba ve'emah, and ze'eir anpin. As to the dating of sefer Yetzirah, while mention is made of such a sefer in the talmud, the versions that we have appear to be post-talmudic with various later additions.

    Finally, I fail to see how your example of the eye-catching property of the red color has anything to do with the relative knowledge of Moshe and the Ari. Of course, we have more information about the alleged secrets of the torah from the Ari than from Moshe. Moshe, after all, lived some 3 millenia prior. Who knows what knowledge transmitted orally by Moshe was lost over time? My point is that the very idea that some later sage knew more about GOD's secret teachings than Moshe is highly untraditional.

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  67. "Ameteur, it is my impression that sefer Yetzirah doesn't contain the theology of the Zohar."

    indeed, this appears to be the position of Shadal (in Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah). he claims that sefer Yetzirah is authentic and old, but that the theology is not the same as that of later kabbalists. the numbers mentioned in sefer Yetzirah are just numbers, not Sefirot, etc. He explains this at length and then asserts that this is the position / explanation of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, author of the sefer Kuzari. See here, then here, and then here.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  68. " My point is that the very idea that some later sage knew more about GOD's secret teachings than Moshe is highly untraditional."

    My point was that what a person knows in their gut, and what they are able to explain to others are different things.

    " the numbers mentioned in sefer Yetzirah are just numbers, not Sefirot, etc."

    Maybe he explains it elsewhere, but in the links you gave, he does not explain why the "10 numbers" are 10 and not nine, and ten and not eleven. (what is the point of that statement except to clarify arguments regarding the 10 sephirot?) (not to include da'at, and to include Keter)

    Secondly, the issue of letters and numbers being unbounded yet not divine things is simple, I don't understand that argument. Are numbers divine? Are they unbounded?

    Also, if you take a word, and spell each letter, and continue this, you can do it infinity.

    Arguments that suggest that since its not exactly in sefer yetzirah, but is in the Zorah don't make sense coming from a Talmudic Jew.

    All of our books expand on ideas transmitted and not transmitted which were not included in earlier books.

    The Chumash says nothing about Olam Habah, but its all over the Talmud. Are you going to suggest that Olam Habah as a concept is also not legitimate mesorah? How could the rabbis of the talmud know about it but not Moshe?


    The argument that 10 is referring to base numbers really doesn't hold water with me for a few reasons.

    1. Why 10? why not binary?
    2. What is the point of saying 10 sphirot, and sippur, sepher, saphire if this is just talking about numbers?

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  69. " If you disagree, kindly cite wording from Yetzirah dealing with things such as adam kadmon, atik yomin, abba ve'emah, and ze'eir anpin."

    Looking through Aryeh Kaplan's commentary on Sefer Yetzirah, the only concept not mentioned is Ze'eir Anpin. All the other have at least 1 reference to them.

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  70. Y Aharon, re: the most recent comment which you addressed to me.

    Thank you for the clarification that it was Reb Chaim Vitale (I was thinking it might have been him who said that... Is it possible that Reb Tzadok or other great kabalist also repeated this and elaborated on this point?).

    I certainly have no gripe with the comment you made here or with your point of view on this subject. By bringing up this source I was only suggesting that kabalists address this particular complaint, however believable, compelling, or effective their response actually is. (This was why I added the disclaimer that I will leave out my own opinion on that type of assertion). This was not to suggest that your view is trumped, but merely that many kabbalists and kabbalah-inclined people will view it as such because there is a way to address that point. (And the Ari was taught by the angels, etc etc). The way you characterize that response of theirs is certainly something I've thought through before.

    And some of them in turn will claim you are heretical with a comment like that, even though you refrain from labeling them as such, but I certainly don't think there is anything heretical in your comment (chas veshalom).

    The recent quotation of Rabbi Yosef was a pleasant surprise to me given the overall "atmosphere" I have perceived in my own experience. But then again, 'the atmosphere' of the pseudo-learned or self-proclaimed tzadikim is often quite different than what actually comes from the great scholars.

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  71. Also, since it relates to the other point, one last thing to add to your other comment, Y Aharon in which you wrote:

    "My point is that the very idea that some later sage knew more about GOD's secret teachings than Moshe is highly untraditional."

    While many might agree with you, I think the kabalists do view that as traditional and have various explanations as to why that's so. (Again, not saying I agree with their assertions - I think along similar lines as you do in this issue - Just think it's important to point out that the other side even when well aware of the facts simply views them differently. ie, it is not the case that those with the point of view opposite of yours simply don't realize the facts - I think that's a relevant distinction).

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  72. "My point is that the very idea that some later sage knew more about GOD's secret teachings than Moshe is highly untraditional."

    Wouldn't this be much more than nontraditional? Wouldn't it be heretical? I mean, isn't the idea that Moshe was the greatest prophet and no prophet will ever exceed him a basic principle of faith? Don't you end up with, Yeshu, Mohammad and dare I saw (l'havdil) the Ari otherwise?

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  73. "1. Why 10? why not binary?
    2. What is the point of saying 10 sphirot, and sippur, sepher, saphire if this is just talking about numbers?"

    Perhaps these are addressed in the original source, rather than in Shadal's summary. But questions as to details do not undermine the entire interpretation, any more than difficulties pointed out by conspiracy theorists prove that there must be a conspiracy at play.

    As for binary, from their perspective, Hashem gave us the letters and the digits. Did they deal with other base systems, or know about them (other than base 60, perhaps)? And maybe base 10 is primary because we have 10 fingers, which Hashem selected to give to us.

    "problems" with the simple peshat of sefer Yeyzirah might just be you arguing with it, and would not justify radical reinterpretation to legitimize and then resolve your questions. many people can find problems, and could argue, with any idea or text. that does not mean that that idea or text *demands* reinterpretation.

    "The Chumash says nothing about Olam Habah, but its all over the Talmud. Are you going to suggest that Olam Habah as a concept is also not legitimate mesorah? How could the rabbis of the talmud know about it but not Moshe?"
    For Shadal, less of a problem. Without looking towards Talmud, though, we have references in sefer Iyov, and elsewhere, to an afterlife. This is pre-Talmudic. Also, Yaakov laments that he will go down in sorrow to Sheol. With knowledge of what Sheol meant in the Ancient Near East, this is a reference to the afterlife. I can point to other pesukim which similarly allude to this. E.g., 'gathered unto his people'.

    But that is admittedly sidestepping the question. If we believe in derash, how can we disbelieve or delegitimize any derash? Great question, and I'll try to answer in a follow-up comment.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  74. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  75. "gathered unto his people"

    I always assumed this to refer to burial practices, such as were common in the ancient near east. For example, it was common to let the body sit for an extended period ( a year IIRC ) until there was no flesh left on the bones and then move the bones into a communal / family "bone room", thus gathering him unto his people.

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  76. "I always assumed this to refer to burial practices, "

    indeed, that is how i would have plainly read it as well. but Shadal has a nice proof about this, where it would not apply.

    actually, scratch that. i got the wrong prooftext. see this one here, where Avraham 'joins his fathers in peace', while Terach is not buried in the Mearat Hamachpela. See here.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  77. Ameteur, I was referring to sefer Yetzirah itself - not some interpretation of it. I certainly can't claim to have understood this cryptic brief book. However, glancing through it, I find no mention of any divine cosmogony. It just lists various biblical titles for GOD as the Creator.

    Student V, when I said 'non-traditional' I meant not sourced in the torah, talmud, or early midrashim.

    Robert, I wouldn't call placing the Rashbi of the Zohar or the Ari on a higher pedestal than Moshe (in esoteric knowledge) a heretical concept. After all, there is no claim that they were greater prophets. My point is that we have no basis to consider them prophets at all. Hence, their innovations must stand or fall by whether we judge them to be consistent with authentic ancient teachings, or not. I claim that the teachings about a divine "family" fails that test and borders on a heretical concept of the divinity.

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  78. "Wouldn't this be much more than nontraditional? Wouldn't it be heretical? I mean, isn't the idea that Moshe was the greatest prophet and no prophet will ever exceed him a basic principle of faith? Don't you end up with, Yeshu, Mohammad and dare I saw (l'havdil) the Ari otherwise?"

    You are confusing issues.
    Nobody says that the Ari knew the will of G-d better than Moshe. They only say that he was able to explain, in writing, the -system- of how G-d interacts in the world better than Moshe was able to.

    To make a bad analogy: Nobody knows better than the author of a book what story they want the readers to know. However a linguist or a psychologist might better understand why the author wrote a story a certain way, or how those words impact the reader than the author of the story would.

    We reject Jesus and Mohammed because of claims to change the divine law, and for no other reason.



    "But questions as to details do not undermine the entire interpretation, any more than difficulties pointed out by conspiracy theorists prove that there must be a conspiracy at play.

    As for binary, from their perspective, Hashem gave us the letters and the digits. Did they deal with other base systems, or know about them (other than base 60, perhaps)? And maybe base 10 is primary because we have 10 fingers, which Hashem selected to give to us."

    Firstly, this isn't a detail its the entire argument. The first chapter of sefer yetzirah focuses on the "10 sefirot bli mah" at first you can argue it's just poetic language for numbers, but eventually it becomes clear that we are not talking about the numbers 0 - 9, or the numbers 1 - 10.

    Hebrew numbers also use all 22 letters of the alphabet to describe the numbers. We don't have separate symbols such as 0- 9 which make up all other numbers. We have aleph - taf. with values ranging from 1 - 10, 20-100, 100-400

    I suggest reading the first chapter of sefer yetzirah... there are many versions on the net. I have a hard time believing that in any day or age this first chapter was understood as referring to numbers as apposed to referring to an illusive concept of sephirot.

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  79. "They only say that he (the Ari)was able to explain, in writing, the -system- of how G-d interacts in the world better than Moshe was able to." - Ameteur

    First of all, we have very little of the actual writings of the Ari. We do have teachings and statements made by his disciple, Chaim Vitale. More importantly, Moshe wrote what he was divinely authorized. His oral teachings, particularly in non-halachic matters, have suffered much loss over the millenia. It is, therefore, presumptuous to state that Moshe was less capable of transmitting concepts of the divine interaction with the world. Why assume that thses concepts are true but were awaiting the publication of the Zohar for their expression? Besides, who authorized the Ari and the author of the Zohar to speak of a divine 'family' consisting partly of an ancient one (atik yomin), a father and mother, and a 'young face' (ze'eir anpin). However, you interpret such a cosmogony, I view it as too close to pagan ideas which can easily be misinterpreted so as to become true avodah zarah.

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  80. "Student V, when I said 'non-traditional' I meant not sourced in the torah, talmud, or early midrashim."

    I'm sure there are ways to read it into various sources. I would imagine that kabbalists have already done so. If I was more learned I would cite their examples. Believe me, I'm with you, but I just think it's not so simple and they've already created an arsenal with which to refute this type of battery of questions/criticisms. (A person can judge for himself how convincing an arsenal it is - but I'm quite sure it exists)

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  81. "Besides, who authorized the Ari and the author of the Zohar to speak of a divine 'family' consisting partly of an ancient one (atik yomin), a father and mother, and a 'young face' (ze'eir anpin). However, you interpret such a cosmogony, I view it as too close to pagan ideas which can easily be misinterpreted so as to become true avodah zarah."

    What "Family"? You have to do some heavy distorted interpretations of the Zohar, along with not actually reading the book to describe those terms as a family. The Bible can also be easily misinterpreted to say that G-d has a body and that multiple divine beings created humanity.

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  82. "We reject Jesus and Mohammed because of claims to change the divine law, and for no other reason.
    "

    Even if that is the 'main reason' I think there are also plenty of other reasons.

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  83. The Zohar was published well after the liturgical innovations of the Crusades.

    The problem with viewing the Zohar and its innovations as authentic is that you're basically creating a tradition from Sinai to back up those innovations, where no such authentic tradition exists.

    This does not take away from the wisdom of the innovations themselves, which was my point earlier about the Crusades, but it does matter to some of us to acknowledge when something is not from Chazal or from Sinai.

    If we were to acknowledge openly and consistently that the Zohar is not authentic, then we could accept many of its meaningful additions to Jewish life without making them appear unimpeachable matters of halacha. This would also free us from accepting other additions of the Zohar--halachic or doctrinal--that we could do better without.

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  84. I Tick said:

    but it does matter to some of us to acknowledge when something is not from Chazal or from Sinai


    I don't know about other authorities, but Rambam in Mishneh Torah counts two negative d'oryta commandments, one not to add anything to the Torah, and two not to subtract anything from the Torah. It's a sin to attribute something to Sinai that's not from Sinai, or on the other hand to say something is not from Sinai when it is.

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  85. in terms of accepting some derash while rejecting others, I think we all do it.

    we accept the derash of Chazal, but we don't accept Christian allegorical reinterpretation of Tanach. the Rishonim rejected as heretical certain philosophical derash which rendered many narratives entirely allegorical. we accept the Arizal's interpretation of Zoharic kabbalah, but we don't accept Sabbatean kabbalah, which *also* was such an interpretation, rather than a radical departure. IIUC, the Gra did not accept the Arizal's interpretation. Many sensible people recognize that feminist interpretations of literature are simply nonsense.

    Just because one *can* interpret a text in some way does not mean that we should or that we do. And certainly the fact that one can interpret or reinterpret a text cannot then be used as hard *evidence* that this tradition went all the way back to Sinai, or to the date of the composition of the text.

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  86. For if that were so, we don't need to cite Sefer Yetzirah. We could just cite any number of gemaras because, as Shadal notes, kabbalistic (and philosophical) derash consistently interpret or reinterpret certain gemaras to find evidence for their kabbalistic ideas. Shadal considers this to be retrojection, rather than a true interpretation, and feels that with enough *creativity*, one can use derash to radically reinterpret many gemaras to refer to kabbalistic or philosophical ideas.

    Shadal opposes such derash as corrupting the meaning of these gemaras, and attempts to demonstrate that the theology presented in kabbalah is in fact in direct *contradiction* to the theology of Chazal, bringing a couple of examples as evidence.

    "I have a hard time believing that in any day or age this first chapter was understood as referring to numbers as apposed to referring to an illusive concept of sephirot."
    Yet according to Shadal, this is precisely what the Kuzari did, and he agrees with this assessment. I confess that kabbalah is not an area in which I have great expertise.

    "Hebrew numbers also use all 22 letters of the alphabet to describe the numbers."
    Yes, that is one system used to describe it. Does the sefer Yetzirah use such a system? If it does, is that not imposed on a base 10 system? Otherwise, why is Kaf 20 and not 11?

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  87. Ameteur, I did use the term divine 'family' in quotes, recognizing that traditional kabbalistic interpretations of the various terms of the divine aspects were far removed from their human counterparts. My point was that the very use of such terms can lead to a misinterpretation which results in directing prayers to the 'ze'eir anpin' aspect which is considered closest to human comprehension. Do I need to bring the precedent from another religion wherein the theological concept of 3 which are 1 resulted in just one of the triad being considered actively involved with humans and therefore most subject to worship?

    Your objection that the torah can also be misinterpreted is misguided. You do believe, I assume, that all of the torah was authorized by GOD - if not dictated. We are not free to second-guess our Creator and the language He chose or authorized to express some facts and ideas. We need only strive to better understand His intentions. The kabbalistic works and ideas, on the other hand, are not the results of prophesy nor can they be shown to have very ancient origins. The should, therefore, be subject to human critique.

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  88. I indeed wonder if the concept of trinity, indeed, could not be the target of similar "teitching" as non-pagan. See here under the subheading Personhood.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  89. Comparing the Sefirot to the Trinity shows both a misunderstanding of the sefirot, and a misunderstanding of the Trinity. This would be like saying that since hinduism worships a god with multiple arms, it is avoda zarah to own an octopus.

    There is a story in the gemorah where somebody wants to learn the Written torah but not the oral torah. He is taught the aleph bet, and then later he is taught different meanings to each letter. The argument is, if you are going to trust the rabbis to teach you how to read chumash, then you should also trust them regarding the oral Torah.

    I can not separate halacha from the Zohar /kabbalah. The people who told me that the Torah is divine, is the same people who told me that the Kabbalistic system of sefirot and the Zohar are also Holy.

    If you are going to use bad logic of appealing to authority of the Torah, then I will just go ahead and use the same bad logic to appeal to the authority of the Zohar. This again, is a conversation non-starter.

    I do not consider the possibility that a person can with all effort miss understand and pervert the meanings of terms to be something else as a means to suggest that those words are not correct or fake or new or anything else of the kind.

    If you are not going to spend the time to understand what it is you think you are rejecting then again, conversation is pointless.


    "Yet according to Shadal, this is precisely what the Kuzari did, and he agrees with this assessment. I confess that kabbalah is not an area in which I have great expertise."

    Can you show me where, because I have read the Kuzari and never noticed anything of the sort. From what I understand of Shadal, he has a bone to pick with kabalah because of his father's missuse of it. He is just as likely to read into the Kuzari a non-kabalisitc bent, as are followers of the Ramban to read a kabbalistic slant into the Rambam.

    Again, the sefer yetzirah is very short. It can take just a few minutes to read the short version. I can not see any argument that suggests that sefer yetzirah is talking about 10 numbers, and not 10 sefirot.

    For example, the line which Shadal says suggests that we get the number 10 from our 10 fingers.. the full verse is this:

    ‏משנה ב . ‎

    ‏עֶשֶׂר סְפִירוֹת בְּלִימָה כְּמִסְפַּר עֶשֶׂר אֶצְבָּעוֹת‎

    ‏הָמֵשׁ כְּנֶגֶד חָמֵשׁ וּבְרִית יָחִיד מְכֻוֶּנֶת בְּאֶמְצַע‎

    ‏בְּמִלַּת הַלָּשׁוֹן וּבְמִלַּת הַמָּעוֹר׃‎


    How can you say this is referring to numbers without completely ignoring the last 4 words of the verse?

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  90. I cite a couple of the famous criticisms of Kabbalistic doctrines as dangerously similar to Christianity here.

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  91. Ameteur, you wrote: "There is a story in the gemorah where somebody wants to learn the Written torah but not the oral torah. He is taught the aleph bet, and then later he is taught different meanings to each letter. The argument is, if you are going to trust the rabbis to teach you how to read chumash, then you should also trust them regarding the oral Torah. "

    There you go conflating zohar/kabbalah with Oral Torah again. They are not the same.

    "I can not separate halacha from the Zohar /kabbalah. The people who told me that the Torah is divine, is the same people who told me that the Kabbalistic system of sefirot and the Zohar are also Holy. "

    Can you at least acknowledge that historically not all the rabbis "told you" or told us or told the Jewish people that the zohar is "Holy" (or, what you actually mean by the term contextually here), or that the kabbalistic system of sefirot is holy? It's simply historically inaccurate to pretend that there was a unanimous consensus about this work, and that is sort of what this post began with. Many people are seemingly unwilling to accept the FACT that it was not unanimous.

    And that also underlies Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's tolerance for the Dar Daim. Their rabbis did not accept the zohar or its theology!

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  92. "There you go conflating zohar/kabbalah with Oral Torah again. They are not the same."

    Do you also think I conflated an octopus with Vishnu?

    Arguments from authority are useless as everyone has a different authority. That was my only point. You are reading way too much into this.


    "I cite a couple of the famous criticisms of Kabbalistic doctrines as dangerously similar to Christianity here."

    Do you know what else is dangerously similar to Christianity?

    Judaism. These are lousy arguments that already assume a non-acceptance of the material, and are not an actual basis for it.

    " It's simply historically inaccurate to pretend that there was a unanimous consensus about this work, and that is sort of what this post began with. Many people are seemingly unwilling to accept the FACT that it was not unanimous."

    This is the history of Judaism. We never agree on anything and you can always find people who disagree about something. It's really not that hard to do. Even the Tzadukim who we today would write out of Judaism were able to run the sacrifices in the Temple for hundreds of years. It took over 1,000 years for Karite and Tzaduki ideas and philosophies to find no people in Judaism who would support it. (Though some could argue that Reform and Conservative movements have brought it back and perhaps it never really left)

    I think anybody who has not studied true kabalistic* ideas can easily not be aware of the chain of mesorah regarding it. However, I also think that anybody who studies it closely will see it is as old as the Talmud if not older.

    * In contrast to the superstition and populism that people confuse it with.

    I also honestly believe that you would not have the large ba'al tshuva movement that arose in the 60s if it were not for the nearly universal acceptance of the Kabalah.

    Shulchan Aruch is synonymous with Halacha, and you can not have the Shulchan Aruch without the Zohar.

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  93. "Shulchan Aruch is synonymous with Halacha, and you can not have the Shulchan Aruch without the Zohar."

    You assume that everyone accepts, now and in the past the S.A. as the basis of modern halacha. Even though everyone loves to claim that they follow the SA, in reality that is not the case now, nor was it at any time in the past. The best example is the Ashkenazim and the Yeminites. But whose practice today is really strictly according to the SA?

    Also, the reliance of the SA on the Zohar, ( even to a small extent ) is why a significant and growing minority doesn't accept the S.A. at all and instead turns to other source such as Rambam and other pre-Zohar sources.

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  94. I think anybody who has not studied true kabalistic* ideas can easily not be aware of the chain of mesorah regarding it. However, I also think that anybody who studies it closely will see it is as old as the Talmud if not older.

    Ameteur –

    What chain of mesorah are you talking about exactly? There was no mention of the Zohar or it’s ideas in Chumash, Neviim, Kesuvim, Mishnayos, Gemara, Tosafos or the Geonim. Then it suddenly appears during the time of the Rishonim. It is full of what we now know of as Gnosticism which was a non-Jewish philosophy of an older era. Ideas within it are completely new and never mentioned in Torah sources previously. Ideas within it are different and contradict accepted ideas in Chumash, Neviim, Kesuvim, Mishnayos, Gemara, Tosafos or the Geonim. Respected talmidei chachamim who requested from Moshe DeLeon to see the purported original source manuscripts or books from which Moshe DeLeon says he took the Zohar, are not shown any, and are given excuses as to why they can’t see them. After his death, when his almana is poverty stricken, they offer to pay substantial sums of money in order to see the book(s) from which Moshe DeLeon says he copied the Zohar. His almanac says that no such books or manuscripts exist and that her husband made up that the contents of the Zohar are from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in order for the books to gain acceptance.

    However, I also think that anybody who studies it closely will see it is as old as the Talmud if not older.

    Hinduism is even older! So is Buddhism and ancient Chinese practices. Not to mention Paganism which we know to be older than Judaism as discussed by our Torah. It being old has nothing to do with it being Torah, or it being legitimate Torah.

    You might want to read the following two documents:

    http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/ZoharEnglish.pdf

    http://www.mesora.org/ToharHayihud.pdf

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  95. "and a misunderstanding of the Trinity"
    are you a Christian theologian, or are you relying on popular understandings of it?

    "can easily not be aware of the chain of mesorah regarding it"
    Shadal debunks this shalshelet hakabbalah, demonstrating that it is false. bli neder, i'll provide a link later.

    "Can you show me where, because I have read the Kuzari and never noticed anything of the sort."
    from online searches -- ch 4, part 25.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  96. Shadal deals with the shalshelet hakabbalah at length, but for a small sampling, see here, here, and here.

    kt,
    josh

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  97. Thank you for the reference to the Kuzari, I must assume that Shadal is refering to this line here:

    "This points to the actuality of existing things and their differences with regard to quantity and quality. Quantity means a number. The mystery of the number is in the number ten The mystery of the number is in the number ten, as is expressed in the passage: 'Ten Sefīrōth without anything else; ten and not nine, ten and not eleven' (ibid. i. 4-5)"

    I see here an explanation that '10 is a magic number', not that "the 10 sephirot refers to numbers." I find it hard to argue that "the mystery is in the number 10" can be equated with the statement "the mystery is the number 10"

    Interestingly, the Kuzari again mentions the 10 sefirot in 4:27 in reference to Jerimiah, and says their ". On this basis the covenant was made.--Their measure is ten in endless progression, (ibid. i. 7) the end being linked to the beginning, and the beginning to the end just as a flame which is attached to the coal. Know thou, think and reflect that the Creator is one, without another, and there is no number which thou canst count before 'one.' (vi. 4)."

    Y Aron, I would suggest that you read chapter 4 of the kuzari, before you go suggesting that the Zohar is something which can confuse people into thinking Christian beliefs. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Kitab_al_Khazari/Part_Four

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  98. "What chain of mesorah are you talking about exactly? There was no mention of the Zohar or it’s ideas in Chumash, Neviim, Kesuvim, Mishnayos, Gemara, Tosafos or the Geonim."

    This is obviously false, and you can read Josh waxman's really helpful links at the bottom.

    To me, the guest in Shadal's writings are not convincing, as he makes many assumptions about the nature of kabalah which are easily refuted. For example ( also think that if these books supported the beliefs of the masters of kabbalah, the kabbalists would have already been swift to promulgate them in Israel) and ( - that Rabbi Yehuda haLevi and Ibn Ezra who saw them and established their early origin, did not maintain at all the positions of the kabbalists. ) These sorts of statements are easily refuted by those who know. (also the arguments regarding Rashi fall short of being compelling)

    In my view, Shadal is a very compelling source for the authenticity of such a chain.

    This link is also nice:
    http://www.torahlab.org/download/shomer_emunim.pdf


    "are you a Christian theologian, or are you relying on popular understandings of it?"
    Relying on the understandings of a catholic priest who I once had an argument with regarding the concept of G-d being in human form for any amount of time.


    Re http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/ZoharEnglish.pdf

    I find this the most compelling aspect of the text:

    "Rav S says that the GRA surely must have seen the problems in the Zohar, but nevertheless accepted a holy core in the Zohar which must have been because he must have seen parallels and patterns in existing Torah literature that reflect in the Zohar as being their continuation, since no others exist.
    I countered that the question on the GRA, is no more than a question - on the GRA, but not on us, for while it may be true that there are some parallels nevertheless there is an enormous amount of novellae and novelty for which the only source is the Zohar, and what a wretched vessel the Zohar is, to hold the most sublime secrets of the Universe."

    It reminds me of some bloggers who insist that the Torah can not be a divine book because of it's perceived errors.

    Also, something which is curious is that his most "damning" argument against the Zohar is that it has different rules for what gives a person olam habah.... And to that I am reminded of the Mishna, to serve Hashem not for the reward. Of all the things to find the most insulting, that is a very peculiar one to me.

    Also of interest, is the fact that the first half of the essay is devoted to changing the commonly accepted definition of terms to be something extremely precise, as to argue against his detractors by definition alone.

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  99. Comparing the Sefirot to the Trinity shows both a misunderstanding of the sefirot, and a misunderstanding of the Trinity. - Ameteur

    I note that Ameteur relies on a conversation he once had with a priest to understand Christian theology. Anyone who knows something about Christianity understands that they believe that there are 3 deities who are somehow one. The fact that 2 are called father and son indicates that the one called 'son' is a derivative of the 'father', yet also a deity.

    The kabbalists have a theology that appears to verge on a similar notion. I note for example in the Zohar on Ex. 17:7; "..hayesh Hashem bekirbeinu im ayin" is interpreted to mean "is 'ze-eir anpin' with us, or is it 'ayin' (the unknown deity). Note that 'ze-eir anpin - one of the subsequent emanations of the 'ein sof' is called 'hashem'. Thus, kabbalah postulates that derived things can still be divine. This leads to the bon mot cited by the Rishon, Rivash (see Yitzhak's link) that Christians believe in 3 that are 1, while kabbalists believe in 10 that are 1.

    I should add, that my critique is on the theology to be found in the Zohar and other kabbalistic writings. I do not maintain that there aren't some worthwhile concepts to be found in such literature. It's just that the theology is too great a turn off for me to devote significant time to it. If Ameteur believes that he has devoted such time, let him cite controversial passages, such as the example I offered, and give his interpretation.

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  100. And to that I am reminded of the Mishna, to serve Hashem not for the reward. Of all the things to find the most insulting, that is a very peculiar one to me.

    IIRC, Rambam says explicitly in the MT that the reason for doing mitzvot is to gain sachar in this world and the next. Which kind of makes sense since humans are primarily motivated by self-interest.

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  101. "To me, the guest in Shadal's writings are not convincing, as he makes many assumptions about the nature of kabalah which are easily refuted."

    to each his own, i suppose. to clarify, in case it wasn't clear, both 'the Author' and 'the Guest' are literary devices, but both are written by Shadal. he tries to present both sides of the argument, but personally sides with 'the Guest', and the Guest eventually concedes on most points. so even where the guest seems to have a convincing rejoinder (at the end of the section I translated), if you keep reading the next section, next section, next section, they descend to the end of the argument, and the guest is convincing.

    of course, if you want to write further responses to reject the guest in 'obvious' ways, you are entitled to. but Shadal was no slouch.

    also, in my sleeplessness, i posted the second link twice, rather than a third link.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  102. Well, there's the internal and philological evidence, which say it's a 13th century text.

    Plus the, ahem, very convenient coincidence of an "ancient text" being found that just so happens to echo contemporary popular mystical ideas.

    But aside from that, the whole notion of a secret tannaitic text being discovered in the 13th century is extremely implausible.

    Consider that we have lost 26 tractates of the Talmud Bavli, more of the Yerushalmi, most of the written work of the Gaonim. Even books that were known to Rashi have been lost to us. And yet somehow this secret text is supposed to have survived?

    Remember: before printing, all books were manuscripts. For a work of the scope of the Zohar to have been known even to elites, those elites would have required their spending substantial time recopying it. Yet not even a fragment of a pre-13th century manuscript of of the Zohar has ever been found. There is not even a pre-13th century reference to the work's existence.

    Mima nafshach: If it was well-known, why is there no hint of its existence? And if it was undiscovered for all that time, how can we know that it is authentic?

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  103. David you are right on the money. I urge all readers to read hacham faurs work on these topics. Search anti-maimonidean demons by faur. Also read rise of apostasy in Spain

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  104. "Consider that we have lost 26 tractates of the Talmud Bavli, more of the Yerushalmi, most of the written work of the Gaonim. Even books that were known to Rashi have been lost to us."

    I was unaware of there being so many lost tractates. Could you site some sources? ( not because I doubt you just because I'm interested )

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  105. In response to Robert's question about how much of Talmud has been lost: The Rambam says in the Introduction to Pirush HaMishnah that there is Talmud Yerushalmi on five sedarim, including Kodashim (which we don't have now).
    My Rosh Kollel said that there was a Rav who was searching for a particular Yerushami. He asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky Sh"lita where it can be found--Rav Chaim Kanievsky said that we don't have that Yerushalmi, but the Meiri quotes the passage in the name of the Yerushalmi.
    So the text was lost sometime after the Meiri.

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  106. Here are a few interesting links concerning the Zohar's authorship:

    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/zohar.cfm (Ephraim Rubin's article entitled "When Was the Zohar Written?")

    http://machonshilo.org/en/eng/list-ask-the-rav/31-general/578-truth-authenticity-tradition-and-reason-who-wrote-the-zohar (Rabbi David Bar-Hayim's article entitled "Truth, Authenticity, Tradition and Reason: Who Wrote the Zohar?")

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCeQmzJjGts (Rabbi Berel Wein on the Zohar's authorship)

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  107. Your tactic here is, I feel, subversive, letting others state unequivocally what you are "unqualified" to say. If your feelings about the Zohar are "private" for whatever reason, keep it that way. If you want to comment on it, comment on it.

    As it stands I cannot help but feel that your post is like [U.S] President Obama saying his views on "marriage" are "evolving". When he 'fessed up this week no one whose been paying attention was surprised about his position, he was just acknowledging the elephant in the room. Likewise,without suggesting equivalency, if you were to come out with your personal belief there may be plenty who are "surprised", but for those who are paying attention I doubt it is really a "man bites dog" story.

    Don't just sow seeds of doubt because you can, without laying out a clear position that can be evaluated and/or defended.

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  108. "Natan Slifkin said...
    Are you asking what the problem is from an academic perspective, or from the perspective of having your approach accepted in the Orthodox Jewish community?
    If the former - none."
    I know you are not familiar with academic scholarship on the Zohar, but the idea that the Zohar was produced entirely by Moshe de Leon is no longer dominant in the academy, see e.g., this interview http://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/ronit-meroz-who-wrote-the-zohar/

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  109. Also re: R. Herzog & the Zohar, in the article by Eliezer Brodt in the latest Hakirah, he discusses the evidently heliocentric passage in the Zohar, and refers to R. herzog's "Judaism: Law & Ethics," p. 166:
    "It may be of some interest to note that the soliocentric theory of the universe generally associated with the name Copernicus, but which in reality can be traced to a very ancient Greek source, would appear to have been known in Israel of old. A veiled allusion may be detected in tannaitic sources. A full enunciation is found in the Zohar, in a passage cited in the name of Rab Hamnuna the Elder. The question about the authorship of the Zohar does not effect the point, for R. Moses de Leon, to whom critics generally attribute that wonderful book, died long before Copernicus. That theory may have been part of the esoteric teachings of the Jewish schools of mystic lore in very early times, of which a good deal would seem to be incorporated in the Zohar."

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  110. It is disingenuous to cite R. Emdin without citing the sources that argue that he was attempting merely to prevent the Zohar from being misused.

    October 28, 2010 10:13 PM
    Natan Slifkin said...
    It's not disingenuous when I have never heard of these other sources and I freely admit that I know very little about this topic!

    These sources are the Shem ha-gedolim of the Chida. Of course, it would be disingenuous to mention the Chida without mentioning that there are sources that think that the Chida did not really believe that R. Yaakov Emden did not really believe in the authenticity of the (entire) Zohar.

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  111. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Can you please elaborate the parentheses of this sentence.

    "Perhaps this is because Rav Emden's opposition to Rav Yonasan Eybeshitz as a Sabbatean, which is popularly (though probably mistakenly) considered unfounded"

    Thanks!

    Gil

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  112. To me both the absolute rational stance and some of the extremes of Kabbalah are equally untenable: An absolute rationalist approach might lead one to state that there is no particular significance to the different Names that are used; that when here the Torah only uses a yud and a heh, and there adds a vav and a heh to it there is no significance whatsoever, or at any rate nothing significant to us, and that somehow using all four letters is no more "complete" than just using two.
    If you can't quite bring yourself to say that, mazal tov! (;-)> You're on the slippery slope that leads to Kabbalah and yichudim.
    And even if chas v'shalom we didn't have the Zohar, there would still be the traditions coming from Rashbi in in Shir HaShirim Rabbah. Some of those will curl a rationalist's hair.

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  113. Gil - check out Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Leiman's articles, e.g. at http://leimanlibrary.com/texts_of_publications.html

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  114. for me just one "im kal da" is enough to show it is not the real thing.

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  115. The question of the authenticity ("Mekoriut")of the Zohar does of course not end here.
    Half a century before the Zohar, we see the appearance of " The Sefer Hassidim". Here also, Professor Haym Soloveitchik in his "Three themes in the Sefer Hasidim" is confounded by the roots of the religious themes of the Hasidei Ashkenaz."The implicit doctrine of dual revelation", he writes there, "bears a familial resemblance to the common idea of the 'book of creatures' which shaped the entire medieval perception of the outside (gentile) world"." Did some Hasid perhaps hear an outdoor (gentile)preacher ...?".
    The "Tzad hashove" between the two
    esoteric works' appearance is quite remarkable.

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  116. In the hope of not dredging up the old debate between me and Ameteur on the significance of the Zohar and other kabbalistic works, let me just point to the apparent paucity of kabbalistic influences on my life. While I "gis negel vasser" on a daily basis, that is taken as a ritual cleansing process rather than some notion about "tumah". Using the alternate hand washing procedure advocated by the Ari is merely a custom inbibed from mothers throughout the ages ("al titosh torat imecha"). I don't put on 'Rabbenu Tam' tefilin, nor do I refrain from putting on tefilin on chol hamoed - both advocated by the Zohar. I consider 'shiluach haken' to be a conditional mitzvah, which has no relevance to me since I have no desire for pigeon eggs - again in contrast to the Zohar. I say the "berich shemay" that is taken from the Zohar since its content is both understandable and appropriate. I say the kabbalat shabbat service, taken from the custom of the Ari's circle, because it has become the general practice and has beauty and meaning. I don't say the "kegavna" paragraphs if davening with a nusach s'fard or Ari minyan because that gets into some theology from the Zohar. In that vein, I don't say the words of the mystical poems that the Ari composed for the shabbat meals. I don't even say some of the words of the "yedid nefesh" poem since I disapprove of some of the language referring to the deity (such as 'chavivi').

    In sum, while the Zohar, the Ari's teachings, and some other mystical works may have received canonical standing in the traditional Jewish world, I don't see how it has had much influence on our hashkafa or practices as modern Orthodox Jews.

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  117. Yidlmitnfidl,

    That is not correct. The Kabbala of Chasidei Ashkenaz is very different from the kabbala of the Zohar. Just two cite two examples, reincarnation is a doctrine foreign to Chasidei Ashkenaz and post-mosaic authorship of parts of the Torah is foreign to the Zohar.

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  118. There were well over 100 comments, so I didn't go back to the begining of the thread, but from skimming the more recent ones, I'm surprised no one cited Rabbi Yosef Kafah. He & his family preserve an unbroken chain of Yemenite tradition, mostly regarding Rambam, but also very much opposed to Kabbalah. If I'm not mistaken, they have their tradition - before any modern scholars told them - that the Zohar was not composed by Rishbi.
    R. Kafah was supposedly told bt R. Ovadia Yosef not to publicize these views too much, but I don't think he came out against him.

    Ezra

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  119. Ezra, R. Kapach is mentioned many times in this post and others on the subject. Regarding him and R. Yosef, there was a reference in one of the posts on this site regarding R. Yosef's opinion ( in regards to a question about R. Kapach ) that someone who doesn't accept the Zohar *cannot* be considered a kofer because there sufficient legitimate doubt regarding it's origins. I'm paraphrasing of course.

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  120. i did not want to write about kabalah today but since everyone else is so here goes:
    the Torah is connected to a numinous reality. It was written not by ruach hakodesh but by some other type of perception. the gemara nor later people like the rambam of the gra claim to be understanding the Talmud by the divine spirit but by human reason. This is a good thing. This gives the basic act of learning gemara a direct connection with the Torah itself. and to the reality of the Torah. People like the Bal shem Tov or rebbi nachman on the other hand do have some amazing revelations but their revelations are based on their own perception of the divine realm. This is a different type of perception than the perception that the Torah was written by. This type of perception in most cases has to pass through the intermediate zone. This is what gives it its mixed results.
    This is not to imply that the Litvak way is right. people like the Arizal and rebbi nachman had true and great insights. But these insights are from their own powers of perception and is different from the Torah and Talmud.

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  121. One one hand there are som escientific concepts in the Zohar that seem ahead of its time. I.e., a mention that the world is round and that people live on the other side, and nobody falls off. Also, a seeming mention of matter and antimatter (if you substitute positive and negative for dchar vnukva [zachar vnekeiva]), where the Zohar says there are stars made of matter that when they meet with stars of antimatter, they will annihilate each other with great fire.

    There are also medrashim filled with great feeling that seem could only be divine. Such as the Zohar mentions that after waters subsided and Noachsaw the great devastation, he began to cry and got angry with the RBSH. He sent out the Orev to symbolize you were cruel to your children like a raven (which is considered in chazal to be cruel to its children). G-d replied, why didnkt you daven for the generation, for if you had, the entire flood could have been averted. Noach responded by sending the dove (peace), meaning I was wrong and you, G-d , were right, and I am no longer angry.

    However, it is also filled with constant references to demons and spirits. Even if we presuppose a deeper allegorical meaning to these, however, one would expect that if the Zohar is Mayseh Breishis and Mayseh Merkava, those who study it would be greatly knowledgeable of the scientific laws that govern our universe. Wouldn't the secrets of the atom and protein folding and all scientific mysteries be in there or at least be derivable from the Zohar's principles? Yet among those who study and revere it, generally secular studies are totally shunned, and they have no familiarity with the laws of science. So I am confused. On one hand you tell me that all science comes from Torah, and gedolim can get it without opening a secular book. (The Aliyos Eliyahu, a biography of the GRA has such stories.) On the other hand, currently I see no gedolim who are experts or knowledgeable in science at the level of current researchers in their fields (unless they studied them from secular sources). I believe many would not evn know the pythag thm. So how can I reoncile the two. I therefore remain on the fence until one can refer me to a mekubal who is an expert in current scientific thought, and who could pass a graduate physics exam.

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  122. @Barry Jacobson. One alleged mekubal (although not in the popular way of giving out blessings) who is also a scientist is Michael Laitman of Bnei Baruch.

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  123. The anachronisms in the Zohar can be explained away if we accept that it is not a book but an oeuvre with ancient origins published piecemeal by Moses de Leon and his circle. Even Rav Emden acknowledged that the essence of the Zohar derived from Rashbi while the Tiqqunim and Ra'aya Meheimna were later accretions (interestingly Emden suspected the Guide of the Perplexed was a forgery because he couldn't accept the author of the Mishneh Torah wrote such a Guide).

    Scholars once believed that the Torah herself displayed anachronisms. One example was the issue of camels being mentioned in Genesis. This doubt was later put to rest by archeology though.

    Ibn Ezra hinted at some controversial ideas too in this regard and Spinoza capitalized on it giving us modern critical biblical scholarship.

    In my own opinion, although I attribute it to the author of the Tiqqunim and Ra'aya Meheimna, the Torah which entered Beri'ah, not the supernal Torah of Atzilut (even though a sharp distinction should not be made), is in fact the product of multiple strands of ancient myth woven together by a divinely inspired/guided single editor (maybe Ezra). How else can we explain the more ancient Sumerian myths which parallel our Torah so closely?

    Yes the Torah herself was subject to evolution which thanks to Rav Kook and Rav Ashalg, we know poses no real threat to Torah. HaShem has certain laws of nature, one of which is evolution (but according to the Arizal's understanding of it as a divinely guided process), which HaShem does not want to break.

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