Sunday, January 20, 2019

You Don't Mess With The Zohar... Or Do You?

Who wrote the Zohar? Was it the tanna Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, as the work claims, or was it a collection of texts from Amora'aim and/or later figures that was compiled, liberally edited, and generously added to, by the fourteenth-century forger Moses de Leon?

Nearly a decade ago I wrote a post titled "You Don't Mess With The Zohar," in which I agreed with someone's claim that questioning the Zohar's authenticity or authority is unwise. The Zohar has become canonized as one of the pillars of Judaism. The fact that Rav Yaakov Emden wrote a book with over three hundred arguments for the Zohar being largely of later authorship is not widely known, and pointing it out is unlikely to make a difference. The reaction would be too visceral.

Today, however, I'm not so sure if this is still true. Over the last decade, some changes have taken place. First is that due to the spread of the internet into Orthodox homes, more and more people are aware of things that were previously only known in scholarly circles. Second is that more facts have come to light regarding rabbinic authorities of impeccable credentials who disputed the Zohar's authenticity to a lesser or greater degree. Aside from Rav Yaakov Emden, there was also Chasam Sofer and the Noda B'Yehuda. Even Rav Ovadiah Yosef acknowledged that it cannot be considered heretical to deny the Zohar's authenticity, due to the many questions on it. Marc Shapiro's Hebrew article on this topic, "Is There An Obligation To Believe that the Zohar Was Written By Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai?" and blog posts have doubtless also been of great impact.

In my original post, I shared a critique of the Zohar, in English, by an anonymous charedi author. Recently I discovered a much more extensive document, this time in Hebrew. It's Rav Yaakov Emden's Mitpachas Sefarim, but with a lengthy introduction and elaborations of various parts. You can download it at this link. Meanwhile, for the English/ academic reader, there is an excellent treatment in Tishby, The Wisdom Of The Zohar, vol.1, pp. 55-87. I plan on including a brief summary as an appendix to my book Rationalism vs. Mysticism: Schisms in Traditional Jewish Thought.

(For anyone interested in the definition of heresy, I would strongly advise reading my article, “They Could Say It, We Cannot: Defining the Charge of Heresy," in Hakirah, available for download here.)


  1. Rabbi David Bar-Hayim has an interesting source on this:

    1. Such an interesting video. Thank you for posting this.

  2. The Zohar is filled with fiery exhortations and mussar. Regardless of who the author is, it provides teachings worth emulating and practicing. Rehashing an age old question, is an exercise in futility in my opinion. Rabbi Berel Wein has an extensive discussion on this. The only difference it makes, is for one not wanting to adopt the teachings of the Zohar, claiming it was written by an imposter. Those who seek truth [ahem] will accept it regardless of who said it or wrote it.

    1. Then how do you know it is 'truth'? Why should it be 'accepted'? It is a compilation that appeared thousands of years after Torah.

    2. I think there's a typo in your comment MO
      Instead of the words "it provides teachings worth emulating and practicing" it should have said "it provides a lifetime of mumbo jumbo and superstitions with no basis in either traditional Judaism or common sense. It leads Jews astray from rabbinic pharisaic judaism by putting the teaching of the Ari above those of Chazal and has no historical basis. It induces people to beleive in all sorts of stupid things and general reduces Judaism to the point where outsiders see a collection of mystical pseudo-beliefs where they should see Dvar Hashem"

      Other than that...

    3. Fozziebear:

      "by putting the teaching of the Ari above those of Chazal"

      The Zohar does that?

    4. I think there's a typo in your comment Fozziebear. It should have said "I am smarter and much more astute than the hundreds of brilliant and undeniably wise scholars over the last few hundred years, many of whom were outright geniuses, who, had they possessed my intellectual and critical abilities, would never have subscribed to the teachings of the Zohar, and they only did so because all of them (!) were incapable of thinking for themselves, unlike myself, who is categorically omniscient."

    5. I can think of a few other religious works full of fiery exhortations and mussar that you won't find in any bais midrash...

    6. @A Yid

      Well said. C'mon Fozzie, do you really think all those people didn't know a thing or two. Would be interesting to know what turned you off like that.

    7. Thank you. I think it turns out Fozzie Wozzie was indeed a bit fuzzy in certain ways.

    8. MO,
      that is overreach
      is it the only one?
      what of Ben Sira?

    9. Levi, fair point about the zohar specifically, I meant kaballa in general, but the effect of the Zohars teaching as seen through the 'one true interpreter', is the deification of the ari.

      A Yid and Skeptic,
      I don't buy that argument. Our great and respected ancestors made a mistake on this one and now the questions that is to effectively be accused of heresy.
      I'm not turned off, I'm a practicing orthodoxy jewelry who cares enough about his Judaism to actually study it and it's history.
      And no matter how you slice it kaballa is different, distinct a day new. It ain't the Judaism of the talmud.

    10. Wow so many typos. Apologies.

      1. And now to question that is to effectively....

      2. Practicing orthodox jew....
      3. Is different, distinct and new....

    11. a fuzzy fozzie indeed.

      I would venture to suggest that the talmud is simply a cut down version of kabala that is preasented for standard consumption. kabala is 'what it is about', 'das ding an sich' if you will. For example the Maharal says that the melacha of maka bepatish is the 'completion of the tzurah' of the object. Definitely a kabalistic take. You can have a lot of negotiation around the details of the melacha in gemara logic, but the core of the issue is the spiritual action, which is zohar.

    12. "practicing orthodox jew"... Actually, I was more comfortable with the "jewelry" version.. at least jewelry cant be expected to have a shred of respect for the mesorah...

    13. Skeptic,
      You would say that. But you would be utterly wrong.

    14. A Yid,
      I respect the Mesorah. What does kaballa have to do with that. Seriously.

    15. Fozzie, do you agree with the premise that the Vilna Gaon and his teachings are an integral part of our mesorah? Or are you operating with the belief espoused on this blog that only those (far and few between) so-called "rationalist" scholars got this whole Judaism thing right?

    16. How could the Vilna Gaon be an integral part of the mesorah, seeing as he didn't have a rebbe?

    17. Statler

      The Vilna Gaon learnt by the Pnei Moshe (author of the pirush on Yerushalmi by that name.)

    18. For about three months. Puleeze.

    19. And he has declared minus or said chas v'sholom about positions held by Rambam (famous) and Tosafos (Eruvin 76b Sages of Caesarea, R' Yochanan) among others. How does this fit with mesorsah? The Gaon had a mesorah from the PM that these positions were impossible in Judaism? The Rishonim are supposed to be the conduit of the Mesorah.

    20. A Yid, I want to give a proper full response (and to Skeptic too). Your comments deserve a better reply than a one-liner. I'm just swamped at work. Will try to get to it soon,

    21. Re VG learning by the PM, it was for a few months AND I think he was @7 years old. Absurd to claim the he received the mesorah that way.

    22. A Yid Shalom,

      I think the key words in your question were 'an integral part of the Mesorah'. The question of what is and isn't integral to Judaism is a fascinating question for any 21st Century Jew who looks back at our history and our texts and tries to answer a very basic question "What does it mean to be a good Jew?"

      What are the sources for answering such a question?
      What parts of our Tradition are ikkar and what are tefel? What might be considered 'integral' and what has been added into the mix along the way? How much of 'adding things into the mix' is actually a part of Judaism? And if you don't include things that have been added into the mix along the way, then what is left? Not much.

      I have a hard time seeing anything kabbalistic as an integral part of the tradition. I know it has been widely adopted in the last few hundred years or so. But it's new and foreign. It's claims and concepts are easily punctured. Speculation about what lies beyond the natural realm seems to be a particular weak basis for making such extravagant claims as kaballa does. It added a whole new set of understandings that have no basis in earlier judaism. So.... it's not integral.
      It's not even particular sensible. Talmud (overall) is so sensible, down to earth, grounded in real life. Mysticism is just a different beast.

      I don't think that 'rationalism' is the only way to go. although it's much preferable to 'mysticism'. It too is an invention added to Judaism along the way. I don't think that pharisaic judaism (which is at least a reasonable spot to pick for where our current 'Mesorah' began - although I concede that this too is somewhat arbitrary) was particularly mystical or rationalist. it just defined acceptable behaviours (halacha) and tried to be moral.

      Kaballa often seems to result in bad moral standards, which is another reason to reject it.

      I guess there are different ways to think about what is good judaism:
      1. it's some form of whatever the 'original' judaism is
      2. it's whatever rabbis of today decide (after all 'original judaism' does say to follow the leaders
      3. there is no real reason so everyone should take responsibility to try to figure out for themselves what it means to be a good jew

      I go with 3. It opens the door to heterodox judaism, but that's OK with me. As long as they are making serious and honest transparent and well thought out and well considered claims about what it means to be a good jew.

      the Mesorah is largely undefined by Judaism (at least until recently, when people started to feel the need to do so). It's better off without definitions. None of them really work. After all, Judaism is a living tradition.
      What Judaism is, is what Jews decide it is.
      The Mesorah is, at best, a record of the discussions.

      Does that help?

    23. @FuzzieFozzie
      You would say that. But you would be utterly wrong.

      You would say that...

    24. More typos... option 3 should read "There's no real Mesorah..."

    25. Fozzie thank you for taking the time to elaborate. I realize now that we are virtually coming from two totally different planets when it comes to understanding what it means to be a Jew, and it would probably be pretty much futile to debate any of this, unless we were to have multiple hours-long discussions. To try my best to squeeze it all in a nutshell, I can only say that: A) I have merited to learn from a person who not only knows basically kol hatorah kulah, but also who has obtained a level of obvious selflessness and greatness that seems inhuman to anyone who is privileged to interact with him. This talmid chacham has a mesorah that he was mekabeil from a likewise outstanding talmid chacham and tzaddik and so on for many generations back. The thing you must understand is that people such as these have vastly independant and open minds, and yet they choose, for some reason, to narrow their worldview to a set of basic beliefs and principles (it's called "actually having beliefs"). Now, one of these beliefs held by them, among hundreds of scholars of their kind, is that the Vilna Gaon was on a level above everyone in his time, and indeed possibly had the status of one of the rishonim (again, this means little to someone who is not trying to speak the language and absorb the wisdom of the scholars in these circles). The Vilna Gaon clearly subscribed to the teachings of kabbalah, and indeed, put forth some stunningly beautiful Torah thoughts based on it.
      B) I myself have ended up stumbling upon many Kabbala-based passages in various seforim (as has anyone who tries to take limud torah seriously) and the wisdom one can glean after getting a bit of a handle on the system is outstanding and deep beyond imagination (I do NOT claim to be proficient or even close to it; nor do i believe it is recommended to spend time on it; and still I have experienced wonderful insights from the little i have seen!)
      C) I'm sure you're aware that the Kabbala is also known as Toras Nistar. This is because it is not just a limmud to itself, to be studied independently. Rather, it is the layers within the Torah we were given, which are hidden from the eye and the mind's eye. The teachings of the Arizal are firmly intertwined with those of the Tanach and yes, those of the Talmud as well. In fact, the Talmud, which you deemed above as "so sensible and down-to earth" is actually chock-full of the seemingly odd and mystical. In the Kabbalah literature, all of this (in addition to many straightforward halacha passages) is cleverly alluding to various kabbalistic concepts (in addition to having simpler, mussar-type levels of meaning as well).
      in conclusion, I am not bothered by the historical analyses or critical theories surrounding this topic, because I dont try to start from the beginning and work my way down! Instead my starting point is the words of those whom i know to be so much wiser and more honest than me, and their mesorah, and I gladly surrender my own logic with all its fallacies to this mesorah. Such is the wonderful system i am proudly part of, and I truly pity those who are not, as they must grapple in the dark and "take responsibility to try to figure out for themselves what it means to be a good jew." I sincerely hope that you open your mind to this very different approach. it will be infinitely rewarding!

    26. Fair enough and thank you for the full response. I agree that it seems that we are working from different perspectives about how to understand what it means to get to the truth of Torah.
      Fundamentally, you accept the decisions of your Rav as ultimate Truth and I don't.

      You urge me to be open to this approach. I would, in response, seriously urge you to be careful of any 'cult' who promises that they have 'true wisdom' that reveals the 'truth' about other sources of knowledge (especially when the other sources of knowledge are transparent and well sourced and open to all but this new one isn't). Anytime you read a halachic source that says "אנשי חכמה" or "חכמי אמת" you know full well it isn't something with a solid basis in rabbinic judaism.

      Studying the history of Yahdut isn't anti-orthodox. It's just wanting to understand better who we are, where we came from and what throughout the ages people have thought about those questions. Surely it can only enhance your yiddishkeit.

    27. What was the VG's mesorah? From the PM for a few months at age 7? Or since "he was a Rishon" he didn't need one?

    28. Fozzie, I am confused as to what you believe in and what you dont. Do you believe in any sort of God-given Torah which claims to have "true wisdom" at least in regard to how one should behave? If not, then I amend my previous statement to "we are virtually coming from two totally different GALAXIES". And if yes, then how do you consider yourself not part of a "cult"? I dont understand where you draw the line. It almost seems as if you grasp at straws to maintain ANY sort of belief in the Torah, and your true instinct would be to not believe any of it at all (at least, if you are being intellectually honest) Am I wrong?

    29. And why does A Yid disregard the Lubavitchers who put the Alter Rebbe on a pedestal above all others in his generation, or the students of Chacham Bernays who raised him above (or up to) R' Yonasan Eibeshitz (!), or the followers of the Chidah who think similarly about their "maran?" See a pattern here? Students/followers often are very taken with their rebbi, rebbe, maran, RY etc. Of course if you are born and bred in Lithuanian circles (products of the yeshiva world) you have special reverence for the Gaon. Why is that convincing? It's obvious and expected. Perhaps R' Chaim Volozhin as a student of the Shaagas Aryeh and the Gaon can compare those two (did he ever?). Other than that, who can say he was even greater than the Nodah B'Yehudah, to say nothing of the older R' Yonasan Eibeshitz, Yaavetz, Pnei Yehoshua etc?

    30. Hi A Yid,

      Don't worry, we're not that far apart. It's more of a question of how you view the mechanism of transmission from Sinai.
      Do you see the chain from Chazal as being:

      A) Infallible without any human reinterpretation / input along the way (and that's how Hashem wants it)? or;
      B) A chain of human reinterpretation / loads of input along the way (and that's how Hashem wants it / that's just how it is).

      Or somewhere in between on the spectrum. I'm in the 'B' camp (duh).

      I don't know why you think I would deny Sinai.
      If I did I wouldn't be here on this blog ;-)

    31. A Yid,

      In case I wasn't clear in my earlier comment.. the 'cult' I was talking about was not Judaism, it was Kabbalah. Judaism is the transparent, well sourced and open source of knowledge.

    32. I understood your intention in "cult"- I was trying to point out that you should think about why you aren't likewise wary of the entire Torah- seeing as the Torah claims to have "true wisdom". Have you executed a full-scale historical and scientific analysis of its authenticity and likelihood? Seems fishy... (hey, don't just roll your eyes- think about it for a minute!"

    33. @Shlomo I have no idea where your notion that "A Yid" disregards ANY of those people came from, so its unclear what the basis of your question is. As for why the Gaon is a prime example of mesorah has everything to do with the fact that he is now revered by the chachomim across the spectrum, from the chassidishe to the litvishe to the yekishe- and the common denominator between those groups is the very fact that they all defer- and yes, are 'taken by' their respective rebbeim etc.

    34. A Yid

      I don't need to be wary of Torah in the Rabbinic Tradition sense of the word as it's out there and open. It also doesn't claim to displace regular knowledge. Kaballistic approaches utterly invalidate other proven methods in order to shield their (largely disprovable) claims from critical rigour.

      Torah is up for (and not scared) of the search for truth. Claims made in the name of Torah have to be well founded, well sourced (as Halacha does so well) and agreed upon by the Klal.
      It's 'authenticity' is open for all to see who choose to follow the ways in which halacha has evolved / been paskened along the way.

      If the חכמי אמת had sources for their ideas they would quote them. But they don't, so they can't.

    35. It's amazing how quickly defenders of Kabbalah blasphemously attack the sanctity and authority of the Torah, when someone questions why you have to revere a book that a goy found in a box that you're not even allowed to read because it's full of apparent gibberish and people who read it go nuts. If there actually was such a things a the klippah, one would have to say that they were possessed by it.

    36. @Gavriel M.
      "blasphemously attack the sanctity and authority of the Torah"- Nice move there, taking a rhetorical question and pretending I meant the OTHER way (all the while not actually answering the crux of the question, of course). Very mature and productive to dialogue.

  3. "questioning the Zohar's authenticity or authority is unwise. The Zohar has become canonized as one of the pillars of Judaism. The fact that Rav Yaakov Emden wrote a book with over three hundred arguments for the Zohar being largely of later authorship is not widely known, and pointing it out is unlikely to make a difference. The reaction would be too visceral.

    Today, however, I'm not so sure if this is still true. Over the last decade, some changes have taken place. First is that due to the spread of the internet into Orthodox homes, more and more people are aware of things that were previously only known in scholarly circles."

    The same can be said for the Torah, v"y.

    1. The authorship of the Torah, that is the thing to be discussed, but it is not.

  4. I just read the introduction to the Mitpachas Seforim that you linked to.
    Pretty powerful stuff!
    Who authored it?

    1. I was wondering the same thing. Who wrote this? Isn't it ironic that the author of an essay dealing primarily with rightful authorship would choose to remain anonymous.

  5. A common misconception of the Zohar is that it is merely an explanation of the Torah in a style similar to medrash. While this is certainly true, the Zohar as well as all Kabbalah are studies and sayings of ethics. The most basic idea that Kabbalah addresses is to emulate God. Understanding how God "operates" is a key component in attempting to emulate Him.

    1. Rather than emulate the G-d of the Tenach, we need be much much better.

    2. Chazal speak about emulating God. "Just as He is merciful, so too we should be merciful." The Zohar tells us to make the mother bird suffer. Is that emulating God?

    3. God is so to speak "multi-faceted" sometimes the appropriate behavior for the time is compassion sometimes strength. God told Abraham to sacrifice Issac, obviously that wouldn't detract from God's compassionate side. Sometimes God punishes, as with drowning the Egyptians. When the time warrants strict behavior than that is it's place. I can only speculate, as to why seemingly being cruel to the mother bird is the correct behavior for that particular instance. Since the "cry" of the bird will awaken the mercy of God for the Jewish people, then the "suffering" of the bird shall been the cause of great mercy. Perhaps a similar idea would be the slaughtering of animals for Human consumption. Will killing an animal needlessly is certainly cruel, for the benefit of food for humans - we somehow understand that this is appropriate and certainly not cruel. In Kabbalistic terms, you are elevating the animal from a lower level to a higher level by serving the human.

    4. Was Avrohom's choice to slaughter his son emulating God? Is a surgeon who cuts open someone's body emulating God? Yes and yes. I dont have it in front of me, but I believe it is the Gr"a who says that the mitzva of shiluach hakein is actually a practice in cruelty-based on a gemarah yerushalmi that says that upon the mother bird's return, she is so anguished that she drowns herself. The lesson is that one must be able to subjugate ALL of their middos- including rachmanus- to the will of God which is the ultimate good. (Imagine the reaction someone who has never heard of the concept of surgery, watching one occur.) This is by far a harder nisayon than one which REQUIRES rachmanus. Yiras shamayim is a lot more than, and often opposed to, social and societal morals.

    5. Rav Kook says exactly the opposite. And he's a mystic.

    6. The Zohar tells us to make the mother bird suffer.

      I though the Zohar reports that the Torah tells us to make the mother bird suffer.

    7. Last i checked with dawkins, Tanach is as cruel as Zohar. I'll have to check with how his disputants argue against that and see if those arguments work for the Zohar too.

      In general, often anti-Torah liberalism is powered by genuine Chesed run-amok. If the Torah has elements of cruelty, they serve to balance that. (Not PC at all!)

    8. That makes no sense. It's an apologetic, and not even a good one. If G-d's Torah has cruelty in it (and it does, alas), then it's a problem. You can't whitewash it.

    9. Fozzie, still the specific argument that Zohar can't be authentic since it contains cruelty doesn't pan out. To the contrary, this cruelty would show that it's in the spirit and tradition of the Torah.

      You use the word "alas". That sounds like the cruelty doesn't interfere with you remaining a believer. A heretic would say without any compunction that the Torah is cruel. You don't explain why you maintain your belief. But anyway, let it be cruel yet legitimate, and let the Zohar be the same. (Sorry if this is a repeat of another comment that wasn't accepted so far.)

    10. Hi Chaim,

      I don't think that the cruelty in the Torah is the litmus test for legitimacy (ditto the Zohar ).
      If I understood him correctly, Rabbi Slifkin's point is that often the Zohar turns non-cruel bits of Torah into cruel ideas of mysticism , i.e. it distorts Torah. And the distortion (not the cruelty) should be enough reason for people to question Kaballa.
      But as you point out the cruelty of the Torah could be a basis for being a heretic and on this point you are right . How can God command the suffering of agunot, or slaves or homophobia (or whatever offends you / whatever your society deems to be cruel / whatever is objectively cruel)?

      Why this doesn't make me a heretic is a long story, but the short answer is that I believe it is squarely within the mandate of rabbanim to legislate out the cruelty. They just often fail to do so.
      The Zohar's cruelty however is, I believe, the product of some very funny ideas about God and too much Tzfat mountain air.

  6. That introduction to the Mitpachas Sefarim was apparently written by a letz. Why do I say letz? Because he writes that perhaps when the Gaon used to tremble when mentioning the name of the Arizal it was not out of fright but rather out of anger. That's besides for the terrible things he writes in an attempt to be mevazeh the Arizal, עפרא לפומיה.

    The fact that R' Yaakov Emden wrote a sefer about this is more widely known than you make it sound, and the general approach is that he wrote it in order to fight against Shabbsai Tzvi, like the Chida says.

    1. Are you saying that he didn't believe what he wrote?

    2. Are you referring to the first part of my comment about the author of that introduction to the Mitpachas Sefarim, or the second part about R' Yaakov Emden?

    3. That's what I'm saying. I believe the Chida says that as well.

    4. The Chida is the biggest excuse maker and mystic apologist that can possibly exist. If he lived during the time of Shabbtai Tzvi, he would defend him too and call all those who disagreed apikorsim.

    5. Ben Fuzze:

      Comments like that hamper debate on this blog because it causes people like me to think twice before making a comment that could elicit a response that in our view is a serious degradation of a great Torah scholar from the Gedolei Acharonim. Maybe try to tone down the rhetoric. Thank you.

  7. Extrapolating from my personal experience, I believe that there are many in the orthodox world who are embarrassed by kabbalah and would be happy for it just to disappear, but find the prospect of actually doing anything just too overwhelming and just prefer not to think about it. They are not wrong exactly, kabbalah - and in particular its most virulent and anti-Torah form taught by the disciples of the Ari - has spread so much and so deeply that it has become like a cancer that cannot be cut out with killing the patient. It is certainly true that the mainstream orthodox belief that 'clal yisrael' can't ever be wrong cannot survive an attack on kabbalah.

    On the other hand it is is far from clear that Judaism can survive not making an attack on Kabbalah. For hundreds of years it has been a non-stop car crash, producing Sabbateanism, Frankism, Habad Messianism, Breslev sex cults to name only the most famous examples, and is the unacknowledged source of the American Reform doctrine of Tikkun Olam through sin (Stephen Wise was a Sabbatean). Every single time you come across something idiotic or wicked within the orthodox world you only have to dig for a few minutes and you find kabbalah rearing its ugly head.

    However, one should not despair. In the first temple period, many perhaps most, Jews adulterated the Torah by worshiping various middle Eastern deities in conjunction with Hashem, but the prophets won. In the late second temple period, many, perhaps most, Jews believed in logos theology and treasured all sorts of inane and wicked holy books, but Hazal won. In the late-Geonic period, many, perhaps most, Jews practiced all sorts of pagan socery and treasured the heichalot literature, but the Rambam won. This can be done. The real problem, however, is that, so far, Jewish paganism has responded to every defeat by reinventing itself in a more insidious form. Avoiding that is the real challenge.

    1. You go too far, in my opinion. However one views its intellectual underpinnings, kaballah has been a spring of vitality and life-force. Without it Judaism would be dull and dreary and well may have withered away. At most it would have evolved into just a scholarly religion for the bookish.
      And why do you say kaballah is always at the root of all problems we face within orthodoxy? We had many problems before Kaballah became widespread/existed, too. All religions and societies face problems, its part of life. Plus Kaballah (in the form of Chassidus) also solved many of our problems.

      (I always enjoy your take on things, just think this one is exaggerated.)

    2. "Due to the spread of the internet into Orthodox homes, more and more people are aware of things that were previously only known in scholarly circles."

      Partially true. Some items have made inroads that were not widely known before. But others were always well known. The Emden Eibeshuts controversy mentioned earlier is one of these, and so too is the cloud surrounding the Zohar is another. Any halfway intelligent or even moderately well-read person was well aware of it long ago. Those individuals who were so uncurious or unaware then are the same types today to also be unaware. For them the internet has made no difference.

    3. For the record. The whole Tikon Olam thing is based on a grammar mistake. Its a "kaf" not a "kuf." It means to "prepare" not to "correct." See Rambam and other Rishonim's text of Alenu. R Mazuz has made this point in his siddur.

    4. And why do you say kaballah is always at the root of all problems we face within orthodoxy?

      Name me a problem and I'll tell you. And I didn't say it is the root, I just said it's always there in one way or another.

      However one views its intellectual underpinnings, kaballah has been a spring of vitality and life-force. Without it Judaism would be dull and dreary and well may have withered away.

      It's obviously true that Judaism was in something of a mess before Kabbalah came along because otherwise it would never have been accepted. However, if you believe the Torah is 'dull and dreary' without banging on about sefirot then you have my unfeigned sympathy. Perhaps you could take a trip to see the Negev in bloom next month. Frankly, I have never read anything so completely turgid as long winded explanations of how one entity that doesn't exist interacts with another entity that doesn't exist in someone's diseased imagination and I've read a lot of proper rubbish in my time.

      At most it would have evolved into just a scholarly religion for the bookish.

      There is nothing more 'bookish' than Kabbalah. Honestly, people act like you can't hold hands and dance in a circle without some druid telling you that by doing so you make Tiferes have a mystical union with a Adam haKadmon.

    5. Koillel Nick - the phrase used in the Gemara (as opposed to Tanach) is definitely תקון עולם with a Kuf, and it definitely is used in the sense of "improvement."

      Gavriel M - the influence of Kabbalah, save in minor matters mostly affecting prayer, has been primarily in the form of Chassidus that it spawned. So one's view of Kabalah, in practical terms, boils down to whether you think Chassidus was a net positive or a negative for Judaism. I think the former.

    6. Gavriel M - the influence of Kabbalah, save in minor matters mostly affecting prayer, has been primarily in the form of Chassidus that it spawned.

      This is obviously not true about the Sephardi world and is also not true about the Ashkenazi world. Chassidus is credited with having 'livened up Judaism', which had become a empty formalist shell in which Torah study had morphed into pilpulist navel gazing. Let us accept the argument (though I hardly see how the Mesora fanatics can do so with a straight face). Why had Judaism become this way?

      The answer is that in one generation Lurianic kabbalah had completely taken over the Jewish people, and in one more generation this had developed into the grotesque and sordid spectacle that was the Shabbatai Tzvi episode. The Rabbinical establishment was caught in the horns of a dilemma. They couldn't jettison Lurianic Kabbalah and they couldn't figure out a way to stop the natural development of Lurianic Kabbalah into madness. The response was to declare kabbalah too holy to be studied except by rare individuals in private. This created the obviously absurd situation in which no-one is allowed to know what the supposed theological core of their religion is and people were practicing Lurianic halacha without even the ability to ask why or what they were doing. Judaism thus became an empty shell and Torah study became an exercise in trying to distract oneself from real questions.

      The Baal Shem Tov (the name itself is disturbing, referring to his penchant for sorcery), 'solved' this issue by developing a watered-down version of Sabbateanism. So all you can say that Kabbalah was used to solve the problem Kabbalah caused, at best.

      So one's view of Kabalah, in practical terms, boils down to whether you think Chassidus was a net positive or a negative for Judaism. I think the former.

      Let's leave aside the obvious horrors of Chassidus, the 10,000s of thousands of Chabad messianists, Breslev drug addicts dancing to trance music in public, Eliezer Berland, Skverer arson, Satmar endorsing Obama/Clinton, all the weird stuff in Ger etc. etc. ... what's so good about it?

      People say Chassidim are more spiritual, In my experience the typical schul is full of people chatting interrupted by extraordinarily perfunctory davening. People say they are more warm, but large portions of them have no manners at all and react to anyone slightly different to themselves by gawping like a mental patient. Then there's the endemic welfare fraud, the bizarrely bad schooling, the inability to do anything about homosexual pederasts, the really stupid clothes, etc.

      Now, they're not all bad. They are better on tznius than 90% of the orthodox world, they get married at a sensible age, they have a basically correct view about women's rights, and they usually have the best herring, but I'm not really seeing the great benefit they have brought to Judaism, let alone what would compensate for the massive disasters kabbalah has inflicted on the Jewish people.

    7. The influence of Kaballah on the Sefardic and Lithuanian world is, in practical terms, mostly negligible. Thus, in my opinion, the question of 'what hath kabbalah wrought' can only be properly assessed via an appraisal of Chassidus, its chief progeny.

      You acknowledge many of their strengths. I would add to this that Chassidim also, by and large, still have normal understandings of a man's responsibility to take care of his family. They haven't fallen for the Kollel craziness. In addition, a lot of services, food products, and manufactured products, come from Chassidim. Yeshivah world products, when they are working at all, are primarily in professions like law, medicine, or accounting. Not that these are worthless, but I judge the contribution of the Chassidim on this front to be more valuable.

      (Of course - it should be obvious, but this is the age of disclaimers - there are numerous exceptions, and every groups has strengths and weaknesses, etc etc. Yoitzei.)

    8. DF:

      You are completely inverting reality. The belief in Kollel for everyone is explicitly premised on taking kabbalist concepts about the effects of studying kabbalah that then were transferred (admittedly completely against the explicit statements of the Ari and his followers), to study of the Gemara. While there are various reasons that this crazy ideology has taken off, there is no doubt that without kabbalistic legitimization it would not be as widespread or as entrenched as it is today. This is a classic case of kabbalah causing real harm to the Jewish people. Conversely, the Hassidish approach to employment is totally unexceptional (except in the appalling laxness towards business ethics and filing of income) and no-one would even remark on it were it not for the craziness of the 'Litvish' system to which it is compared.

      Where Chassidim are right it has nothing to with Kabbalah and where they are wrong it has everything to do with Kabbalah and this applies also to the Yeshiva world, Religious Zionism and Sephardim. It does not apply, I will admit, so readily to MO, although it's hardly absent.

    9. Gavriel M: "they have a basically correct view about women's rights". Do you truly believe that, as in Saudi Arabia, women should not be allowed to drive? I guess that I really wouldn't be surprised.

    10. DF,
      Speaking as a sephardi, the entire Sephardic world was utterly hijacked by kaballa.

    11. Gavriel - I don't agree with that. The spread of Kollel has nothing to do with Kabbalah. The two men most responsible for its spread, RA Kotler and the Chazon Ish, had nothing to do with Kabbalah. Perhaps some cloistered academic unfamiliar with the real world thinks Kollel has Kabbalah at its root. But anyone who's actually been in Kollel would laugh at such a notion.

      And I don't think or say the chassidishe emphasis on work is based on kaballah. I said Chassidus as a whole spawned from the Kabbalah, and among their many good attributes is the emphasis on work.

      Fozziebear - I don't see it. If anything, it has been hijacked by the Lithuanian yeshivah world (but even that is exaggerated.)

    12. The spread of Kollel has nothing to do with Kabbalah. The two men most responsible for its spread, RA Kotler and the Chazon Ish, had nothing to do with Kabbalah.

      What does this mean? They didn't believe in Kabbalah? They rejected 'halachot' based on kabbalah? If you mean they didn't publish books on Kabbalah then, guess what, 95% of Chaddishe Rebbes also have 'nothing to do with Kabbalah'.

      Perhaps some cloistered academic unfamiliar with the real world thinks Kollel has Kabbalah at its root. But anyone who's actually been in Kollel would laugh at such a notion.

      Why on earth would someone in Kollel be trusted to provide an accurate account of what is at its 'root'? Kollel is based on a concept of Torah study which is derived from Kabbalah. This is just a fact.

      I don't see it.

      Well that's kind of the point, I keep pointing out examples of terrrible, terrible harm that Kabbalah has done to the Jewish people and you keep sticking to your counterfactual claim that the only effect it has had is Chassidus combined with the claim - which does not, to say the very least, seem entirely obvious - that Chassidus has been some massive boon to the Jewish people.

      David Ohsie:
      This = you

    13. @Gavriel M: ". They couldn't jettison Lurianic Kabbalah and they couldn't figure out a way to stop the natural development of Lurianic Kabbalah into madness. The response was to declare kabbalah too holy to be studied except by rare individuals in private. "

      It's true that they said that a person shouldn't learn the writings of the Arizal until age 40, and he has sufficient learning in the rest of the Torah. But they also allowed learning Zohar and Remak for people over age 30.
      It's not absurd to require people to first acquire knowledge in practical matters of halachah and have demonstrated that they're G-d-Fearing and pious, and only then engage in philosophical speculation. The Rambam also says that in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah.

    14. DF

      The Sephardic world committed suicide in very recent times by going to learn with the Litvaks. (c.f. Rav Ovadia), but the classic Sephardic world was utterly twisted forever in the 16th - 17th Centuries, became kaballistic and never recovered.
      Read Roni Weinstein's fascinating description of the process in his book published by the Littman Library but whose name I've forgotten...

    15. It's true that they said that a person shouldn't learn the writings of the Arizal until age 40, and he has sufficient learning in the rest of the Torah. But they also allowed learning Zohar and Remak for people over age 30.

      I don't know who 'they' refers to here, but suffice to say that there are dozens of different versions of this 'rule', which are all equally made up. The simple fact is that before Shabbatai Tzi, Kabbalah was widely studied by anyone who was literate. Almost everyone who learned Gemara also learned Kabbalah, and lots of people who never learned Gemara also did. Nor is this in any way surprising. If Kabbalah is, in fact, the source of all holiness and authority in Judaism, the thing that gives the Torah in its entirety and in every particular meaning and purpose, if (as the Kabbalists - may G-d forgive them - teach) Torah study itself without Kabbalah has no merit for the world to come, then obviously it makes sense for people to study the kabbalah.

      It's not absurd to require people to first acquire knowledge in practical matters of halachah and have demonstrated that they're G-d-Fearing and pious, and only then engage in philosophical speculation.

      Restricting kabbalah study to those who have demonstrated that they are G-d fearing and pious doesn't work, since as a matter of demonstrable fact those who are G-d fearing and pious are nevertheless be led into evil by Kabbalah. Even Natan of Gaza was scrupulously observant until his dying day. The only way to stop Kabbalah leading people astray is to keep raising the threshold for who is qualified to tudy it until no-one learns it at all, which is, in fact, the reality in the Yeshivish and actually most of the Hassidish world (with the notable exceptions of the parts that [coincidentally!] keep falling into extreme evil). It is obviously absurd to hold up something as the height of holiness and the foundation of your entire religion and simultaneously pronounce it too dangerous for anyone to actually know what it says. It can hardly be considered surprising, therefore, that ever since Shabbatai Tzvi, the observant Jewish world has been almost entirely devoid of true creativity and proved incapable of capturing the imagination of more than a small minority of the Jewish people.

      The Rambam also says that in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah.

      Since you brought it up, the Rambam's conception of an esoteric philosophical elite who alone merit eternal life is a radical departure from historical Judaism and is the obvious weak link in his entire system, providing the opening for the Kabbalistic counter-reformation. The Rambam was forced into this position by his belief in the Aristotelian-NeoPlatonic synthesis which (a) is really complicated (b) obviously contains teachings that are wildly different from anything in the Torah (c) is in many respects completely false and in some respects total nonsense. Let this be a warning to all who seek to force Judaism into compatibility with modern fads based on gibberish concepts like the social contract or obviously false claims like all people are born equal. Fortunately, Torah theology is not actually very complicated. You can teach it to a moderately intelligent 13 year old in few hours.

      הנסתרת ליי אלקינו והנגלת לנו ולבנינו עד־עולם לעשות את־כל־דברי התורה הזאת

    16. Shorter Gavriel M.: Kabbalah caused everything that occurred after it that which Gavriem M. considers bad. All good that came after was in service of the fight against Kabbalah. Oh, and women need to learn to stay in their lane like they did a couple of centuries ago.

    17. Gavriel M, you lost me at the end. Torah theology is not very complicated and can be taught to a 13 year old in a few hours? The correct understanding of bitachon/hishtadlus, mechanics of nissm, correct way to interpret fantastical stories in chazal or their apparent mistakes, how bechirah is possible in a seemingly deterministic world and many many more issues seem like they would take more than a few hours to master.

    18. "Even Natan of Gaza was scrupulously observant until his dying day."

      If I remember correctly, he was still trying to convince people that Shabbetai Tzvi was still the Messiah, even after his conversion to Islam. Here's the Wikipedia article about him:
      "Seeing that the rabbis of Jerusalem were very hostile to the Shabbethaian movement, Ghazzati proclaimed Gaza to be henceforth the holy city. He first spread about the Messiah's fame by sending circulars from Palestine to the most important communities in Europe. Then he visited several of the chief cities in Europe, Africa, and India, and finally returned to Palestine. Even after Shabbethai Ẓebi's apostasy Ghazzati did not desert his cause; but, thinking it unsafe to remain in Palestine any longer, he made preparations to go to Smyrna. The rabbis, seeing that the credulous were confirmed anew in their belief, excommunicated all the Shabbethaians, and particularly Ghazzati (Dec 9, 1666), warning everybody against harboring or even approaching him. After a stay of a few months at Smyrna he went (end of April, 1667) to Adrianople, where, in spite of his written promise that he would remain quiet, he continued his agitation. He urged the Shabbethaians of Adrianople to proclaim their adhesion to the cause by abolishing the fasts of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Ab."

      And proclaiming that everyone who studies Kabbalah (i.e., Chassidim and Sefardim) goes off the deep end one way or another is also demonstrably wrong. If so, then the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, and Rav Eliyashiv's grandfather, the author of לשם שבו ואחלמה, also went off the deep end.
      (The Gra has a pirush on Sefer Yetzirah, ספרא דצניעותא (the Zohar on Parshas Terumah), a pirush on the Tikkunei Zohar, and a pirush on the רעיא מהימנא. That sounds like he learned quite a bit of Kabbalah.)

    19. Gavriel,

      You wrote: "the Rambam's conception of an esoteric philosophical elite who alone merit eternal life is a radical departure from historical Judaism"

      Where does the Rambam say that?

    20. @Shlomo

      You raise two issues. The first are theological-philosophical paradoxes, which every religion of civilized people has eventually stumbled upon, resulting in literally 10,000s of theologians cracking their heads and getting nowhere. If there was a good answer to any of them, you'd have heard it by now. There isn't, you won't. The second is not theology, but apologetics. Apologetics does, indeed, require a lot of work and time, but what is certain is that Kabbalah and other foreign theologies are of absolutely zero use in solving even one of the topics of apologetics.

      @Yehuda P

      If I remember correctly, he was still trying to convince people that Shabbetai Tzvi was still the Messiah, even after his conversion to Islam.

      Yes. The point is that knowing the gemara back to front and being a person of undoubted moral probity and calibre is absolutely no insurance against kabbalah turning you into a nutcase. In Natan's case we know it took only a few months of indulging in kabbalistic meditation before he started having hallucinations.

      blah blah blah Vilna Gaon blah blah blah

      Ding, ding, ding! We've hit the Godwin's Law of any debate about Kabbalah.

      There are two things to understand here. First, it is in fact the case that the Gra was led astray by kabbalah. He rules that one should not wear tefillin on Chol haMoed and that women may not wear tefillin [maybe that will make Ohsie cheer up a bit], plainly contrary to Hazal, based on Kabbalistic teachings. Now this is a minor failing, certainly compared to, say, having public orgies and converting to Catholicism, but still regrettable. It is testament to the power of Kabbalah that it can distort even the greatest scholar's perception so that things that are clear to a moderately competent talmudist become blurry.

      Secondly, the Gra believed that his kabbalistic studies would bring the Mashiah. Apparently, he was wrong. Imagine for a second that he had spent the thousands of hours he wasted on kabbalah and instead became the world's foremost chemist or physicist. This would have been a tremendous kiddush hashem and allowed his talmidim to set up advanced industry in Eretz Yisrael rather than panhandling.

      A talmid chacham learning kabbalah is a bit like a historian immersing himself in Louis Althusser of Michel Foucault. At best, he has wasted a whole bunch of time that he could have spent either studying more historical sources or learning something else useful. In all likelihood it will cloud his perception somewhat leading him to misinterpret historical events, and there's a non-trivial chance that it will drive him totally bonkers.

    21. @Gavriel M:
      But you said that "Nathan of Gaza was scrupulously observant to his dying day"! Yet he urged everyone to abolish the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av! That's "scrupulously observant"?!
      No, no, that's because of Kabbalah. Not because he was a conniving charlatan who was leading people away from Judaism.
      Okay, I think I understand now. You set me straight.

    22. @Benignuman

      First of all, I should admit that the way I phrased that was, if not accompanied by two caveats, misleading to the point of being actually false, so thankyou for picking me up on that. What I was referring to is that the Rambam believed the following things [the references are illustrative, there are any other place the same points are made]:

      1) The correct understanding of the afterlife is that a given person's intellect survives the death of the body to the extent that he/her(lol) has achieved correct apprehension of metaphysics during his/her lifetime. (Guide 1.70)
      2) Assenting to formal statements of correct metaphysical beliefs is not sufficient if one has other beliefs that are incompatible. So, for example, one who believes that God has positive attributes does not, in fact, believe in God. (Guide 1 50)
      3) It is absolutely forbidden for anyone to study metaphysics before intense moral and intellectual training, which few can achieve. (Guide 1 32)

      Now for the caveats:
      (i) The Rambam believed that under changed circumstances, which would actually occur after the resumption of the Davidic monarchy and its military subjugation of all enemies, it would be possible for a far larger proportion of people to study metaphysics.
      (ii) Even before that, Rambam believed it was possible to teach a wider group of people a b'kitzur form of metaphysics, which would thus give them some element of an afterlife, albeit a small one. Actually achieving this was major life goal of his, though it's hard to say that - by his own standards - he had any success in achieving it.

      Anyway, this is a bit beside the point No-one disagrees that Rambam believed that the ultimate point of Judaism was medieval Aristotelianism, or that this involved a separation between the philosophical elite and everyone else who didn't and woudln't penetrate to the core of Judaism. This is, in a certain sense, similar to the beliefs about Kabbalah that Yehuda P. wants to defend, but from my perspective it proves the opposite of what he wants. Both forms of esotericism are foreign intrusions into Judaism. Rationalism and mysticism are two sides of the same bad coin.

    23. Yet he urged everyone to abolish the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av! That's "scrupulously observant"?!

      Talk about glass houses.

      Not because he was a conniving charlatan

      There's no evidence he was a conniving charlatan. He didn't benefit at all from leading the Sabbatean movement, to the contrary he endured significant hardship and refused any personal honour. You mention the abolition of the fasts. That was Shabatai's decision, not his, and made perfect sense if you believed him to be the messiah. Natan prescribed an intensive programme of fasts for believers and practised an even more extreme one himself, so he was hardly in it for the food. There were certainly charlatans in the movement who were in it for the treif, but he wasn't one of them. As to the impact kabbalah had on him, this is just a fact. He was well-known in EY for his learning and piety, he started practicing kabbalistic mediation and a few months later he started having hallucinations that were so intense that his faith in them endured until his dying day. Now, I suppose it's not unlikely that he had some sort of pre-existing mental condition that only manifested itself because of kabbalah, but that hardly lets kabbalah off the hook.

      Now, if I were minded to think of 'a conniving charlatan who was leading people away from Judaism' there are much better examples. A man who taught people not to sleep in the sukkah, a man who taught women not to wear hair coverings, a man who taught that praying to a Rebbe is not praying to an intermediary because a Rebbe contains an aspect of God, a man who taught his inner circle that he was mashiah and publicly acknowledged this to a crowd of 1,000s of cheering disciples. But I don't blame him either. Not, really. I'm lucky to be completely immune to the charms of kabbalah, but there's no doubt that it's one hell of a drug.

    24. @Gavriel M.:
      "Rationalism and mysticism are two sides of the same bad coin."
      Rabbi Slifkin presents us cases where they are two polar opposites. If then, what's left?
      It reminds me of Prof. Richard Feynman hating all the philosophical discussion about quantum mechanics. He said, "Just shut up and calculate!"
      I guess you would prefer that we just study the classical texts from Chazal, read the poskim to know what to do, keep everything within practical halachah, and just "shut up" with all the philosophizing.

    25. The Wikipedia article says that Nathan of Gaza was excommunicated and told to stop preaching his Sabbateanism--after Shabbetai Tzvi's conversion to Islam (if that's not a siman that a person isn't the Messiah, what is?). He continued to do so, and was driven out of Israel.

      The Rebbe didn't bring Kabbalah sources for 1) preferring wigs over snoods (he said that women who wear snoods often leave some of their hair uncovered), 2) not sleeping in the Sukkah, 3) implying that the leader of the generation is Moshiach, or has a spark of G-dliness in him. He brought davka a Yerushalmi that said,
      מאן "פני ה'? דא רבי שמעון בר יוחאי

      If the Rebbe would have left any descendants, Chabad would have moved on to the 8th Lubavitcher Rebbe. That's what happened in previous generations.

      Chabad aren't the only ones who prefer sheitels. You see that the Litvishe wives also wear them.

      Chabad aren't the only Chassidim that don't sleep in the sukkah in Israel. Gur and Belz (I think) also don't.

      It's fascinating how you're able to be מלמד זכות on Nathan of Gaza, with all of the shenanigans of the Sabbateans-- but you're not capable of being מלמד זכות on followers of the Rebbe.

      הלוואי that you could be מזכה את הרבים the way Chabad has (but you'll just say that all of Chabad's evil outweighs any good that they've done--as you've said in the past about how "worthless" the tefillin campaign is, putting tefillin on people who, in many cases, had never put on tefillin even once in their lives--while in the same breath you'll say how you'd like to try to convince people who are already frum how great it is to put on tefillin on Chol HaMoed. I think it's more because you like to be argumentative, rather than actually seek out opportunities to get others to do more mitzvos.)

    26. 1) That quote that you brought to justify your Rebbe's advocacy of idol worship is from the Zohar. I don't know what Yerushalmi you are referring to.

      2) Many groups rely on heterim to not sleep in the sukkah, most of which are, frankly, outlandish given that no-one is living in Belarus and you can get a decent sukkah heater for 100 shekels. However, no-one else has been so brazen as to claim that, absent heterim, it is actually wrong to sleep in the sukkah. Only he did that, and the simple fact is that he did so based on kabbalah.

      3) There is indeed an appalling degree of laxity with regard to women wearing wigs in public in much of the orthodox world, but no-one else has made the absurd and deranged claim that it is actually better for a woman to wear a wig that cover her head.

      4) There is absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever with a woman exposing part of her hair, either according to halacha or common sense. The claim that a woman needs to cover every hair on her head comes from .... you guessed it. (I invite everyone to read the entire article, it's impossible to describe in words just how idiotic kabbalah is, you have to see it in the flesh).

      5) I have not been melamed zechut on Natan of Gaza yimah sh'mo. I am pointing out that all the available evidence indicates he did not ave ulterior motives, but acted based on hallucinations he experienced while practicing kabbalistic meditation. It's obvious why you want to believe otherwise, but some of us prefer to base our opinions on reality.

    27. Forgive me for changing the subject, but to go back to a previous comment. The Rambam says that מעשה בראשית and מעשה מרכבה are essentially physics and metaphysics. The Kabbalists would say that it's סדר השתלשלות and צמצומים and angelology and whatnot. If it's not this and not that, then essentially no one knows what they are anymore. I guess you would say that, just as no one nowadays knows how to pronounce the name of Hashem, so have these disciplines also been lost over time.

    28. I don't think there's any great mystery about what ma'aseh mercavah is.

    29. Gavriel,

      I have not learned Moreh Nevuchim, but a cursory review of the sources demonstrates that these are ideas you are pulling out of the Moreh but are not expressly stated therein. Not only does it not state that only the few who ascertain the correct understanding of metaphysics can achieve the afterlife, but the Rambam in the Yad clearly states otherwise.

      In Yesodei HaTorah 4:13, the Rambam writes that although metaphysics (e.g. Pardes, Maaseh Merkava) is the "davar gadol" it is important to learn halacha and gemara first. One reason provided is "שֶׁהֵם הַטּוֹבָה הַגְּדוֹלָה שֶׁהִשְׁפִּיעַ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְיִשּׁוּב הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה כְּדֵי לִנְחל חַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא." And "it is possible for everyone to know them (halacha and gemara), small or great, man or woman, one of a wide heart or one of a narrow heart."

      And in Hilchos Teshuva 3:5, the Rambam writes that beinanim and even reshaim have a portion in the afterlife because "כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ לָהֶם חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא."

      Given the Rambam's clear statements to the contrary in the Yad, I am skeptical of your interpretations of the Moreh.

      You also wrote "No-one disagrees that Rambam believed that the ultimate point of Judaism was medieval Aristotelianism, or that this involved a separation between the philosophical elite and everyone else who didn't and woudln't penetrate to the core of Judaism."

      I am not sure what you mean by medieval Aristotelianism but I the Rambam's understanding of the ultimate goal of Judaism is similar to that of the Ramchal as expressed in the first perek of Mesilas Yesharim: להתענג על ה' ולהנות מזיו שכינתו שזהו התענוג האמיתי והעידון הגדול מכל העידונים שיכולים להמצא

    30. @Benignuman

      I don not think that the sources you cite contradict my reading with the added caveats, but this involves getting into the questions of whether the MT or MN represent the Rambam's true opinions when they contradict each other, whether the Rambam actually contradicts himself in different works, what the Rambam means by equivocal terms in different context, and how one should actually read the MN in the first place. I don't have strong opinions on any of these issues so I leave it at that. It's certainly possible to arrive at a less distressing interpretation of the Rambam's views on the afterlife, so you're welcome to do so.

      The important point is that Rambam clearly believed in the existence of an intellectual elite who alone were able to master the synthesis of Aristotle and NeoPlatonism, which in the middle ages was known simply as philosophy and which the Rambam believed to be the true teaching of the Torah (something which is, for the record, not only not correct, but obviously not correct).

      the Rambam's understanding of the ultimate goal of Judaism is similar to that of the Ramchal

      The Ramchal attempted to synthesise different strands of Jewish thought, including 'philosophy' and kabbalah, so obviously he is some ways like the Rambam and in some ways different. That quotation, by the way, is a masterpiece of using equivocal terms to make a formally unequivocal statement.

    31. @Gavriel M.:
      "I don't know who 'they' refers to here, but suffice to say that there are dozens of different versions of this 'rule', which are all equally made up."
      Sorry for answering to this only now--I have a copy of the book Shomer Emunim Kadmon, by Rabbi Yosef Irgas. I remember that the introduction of my edition (the introduction was written by Rabbi Yitzchak Stern, and the edition is a reprinting from 1965) talked about the Sabbateans and the Frankists. It mentions that sages convened in Poland in 5516 and formulated a cherem on learning even what was authoritatively from the Arizal, unless the student was age 40, and only after he has sated himself on Shas and Poskim. Three books were allowed for people over age 30: Zohar, Remak, and Shomer Emunim Kadmon.

      In a footnote, he says that the cherem was distributed throughout Europe. He quotes the language of the cherem, and says that it can be found in אוצר חכמה, חוברת א, which was printed in Lvov in 5620.
      (Maybe you'll say that this is a "proof by obscure reference", since it's too hard to find the book he's quoting.)

  8. foe some reason sex scandals and kabbalah go hand in hand

    1. Failed Messiah, unfortunately, used to post a wealth of material of sex scandals from all over the "frum" world, kabbalists and non-kabbalists.

  9. Much of the bad flack that the Zohar gets is from lack of basic understanding of what the Zohar is. Very much like the medrash it is a collection of Rabbinic literature and the sayings and teachings of different tanaim. At it's core it is mussar which are ethical teachings. The ultimate goal according to Zohar is to perfect one's middos. Many forget that the same Ramchal who wrote the Missilas Yesharim is the very same author of countless Kabbalistic texts. Kabbalah is the exercise of the mind and heart in the fulfillment of the phrase "and you shall return it to your heart". The practice of Kabbalah is to Envision so to speak as if God is standing before you literally. The the use of parable is another exercise in returning one's heart to God.

    While there are certainly those who hijack and abuse Kabbalah it would be hard to argue that it is therefore false. There are those who use the Torah itself to perpetuate evil and bad things. One need not look further than the Christians and Muslims.

    Many of the greatest works of Ethics were written by kabbalists. Tomer Devorah, Missilas Yesharim, Even Shleima by the Vilna Goan. Sharei Avodah (attributed to Rabbeinu Yona of Geronah.)

    Kabbalah has definitely provided positive influences to the world. The current state of Israel came about through the Kabbalistic vision of the Ramchal, Vilna Gaon and other Kabbalists.

    To say that rationalism precludes mysticism would not be productive, as they both have their time and place. They are 2 distinct modes of reaching the same end, via different methods. Both rationalism and mysticism preach betterment of character as the ultimate goal in this world.

    Learn from everyone and everything and be wise.

  10. I used to like you slifkin when did you go off and become a rasha?

    1. I'm sorry that the opinions of Rav Emden, Chasam Sofer and Noda B'Yehuda make you so uncomfortable. This probably is not a good forum for you to spend time in.

  11. From my understanding, Aryeh Kaplan was presented with a manuscript of Rabbi Yitzchak of Akko (called otzer hachaim) so that he can translate it. What Aryeh Kaplan found was the Yitzchak of Akko said explicitly that Rashbi authored the zohar, even though he was skeptical at first.
    The full story can be found here from pages 16-18:

    1. Most seem to agree with this conclusion, however the skeptics will never be satisfied, as they will insist that the Zohar has been added to and altered thereby it would be of little value even if Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai were it's original author.
      However it was a most interesting source! Thanks for sharing!

    2. It is not the "skeptics" that "insist" the Zohar has been altered and amended - that's entirely backwards. It's the traditionalists who say that. They say OK, there may be additions, but the core of it, they insist, comes from Rashbi. The skeptics, by contrast, hold the entire thing was a forgery. No one today thinks it all comes from Rashbi.*

      (*Obviously there are plenty of folks out there who do, but we're speaking of intelligent, well-read people. The ones who claim the whole entire thing comes from Rashbi never read it, and are completely unaware of what Pseudopigraphic literature is. (ie, they would accept that Raziel Malach was written by the angel Raziel, and the Testaments of the Twelve Tribes were written by the brothers.)

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. 1. I still think it unwise to go this route. It doesn't have a practical net gain. At least in my yeshiva, kollel. It get people too nervous. I just play it out that we go with pshat over nistar.
    2. Prof Marc Shapiro is the wrong guy to write about whether one is required to believe in Zohar. He has a book where he basically argues that parts of 13 principles of faith are not binding.

    1. 1. You may well be correct.
      2. He doesn't write about whether he thinks one is required to believe in either the Zohar or the 13 principles. He documents what others have said about it.

  13. The Enemy Within-Part Three-Chassidism Is Not Judaism - From The UOJ Classics
    Originally Posted January 30, 2007

    Make no mistake, Chassidism is not part of authentic Judaism. In matter of fact it is closer to Christianity than to Judaism. Orthodox Jews believe that ALL of the principles of Judaism were given to Moshe at Sinai. The written Torah and the oral Torah were dictated to Moshe by Hashem for the forty days he was at Sinai. The roots of the Chassidic movement did not begin until the thirteenth century, when Moses De-Leon started the writings of the Zohar. About three hundred years later, Isaac Luria (ARI) started preaching this mystic garble. The Ari as he was known, was an enigma. He purported to preach the thoughts of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who lived fifteen hundred years earlier. The problem is that there was no known link of mesorah or chain of events, going back to that time, from RSBY to him or to De-Leon.

    Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah m'Sinai was transmitted from father to son, generation after generation, traceable back to Moshe. The fact that there was no link from the Ari or De-Leon to RSBY, and therefore no link back to Sinai, would eliminate the Zohar or Kabballah from effectively being part of Judaism. The most we can rationally say about the Zohar, that it was a" theory" of a few people, and no more. Chassidim, have their entire canon (or myths) based entirely on the writings of the Zohar, and the rantings of an unlearned bal agalah or horse and buggy driver, known as the Baal Shem Tov or the Besht. The Besht, being the very first Forest Ranger, hanging out with the animals in the forest and talking to the trees, set a precedent for todays rebbes who hang out in their ghettos with their animals . Tales of the Besht are just that, buba - maases, or in English, fairy tales .

    1. "Chassidism is not part of authentic Judaism"

      Your grandfather would turn over in his grave if he knew you said that.

    2. ...and his great-great-great-great-great grandfather would have asked "What's Chassidism?"

    3. Also, you're communicating like a boorish sailor, not like a cultured individual. What's up with that?

    4. The Vilna Gaon also devoted much effort into learning kabbalah. He has commentaries on Sefer Yetzirah and many of the esoteric parts of the Zohar. If it were nonsense (like what you're writing) he wouldn't have wasted his time on it.

  14. I believe an important idea in mysticism is warranted here. In the world of rationalism or textual Judaism, the closer one is to Sinai the more accurate the source is. So for example the Amorayim wouldn't generally argue on the Tanaim. Rishonim wouldn't argue on earlier Gaonim [generally speaking] the closer one is to the source the more infallible and accurate he is.

    On the other hand the inverse is true about mysticism. The closer one is to the final Redemption the more revealed the mysticism becomes. Hence all mystics argued on their predecessors. The Arizal argued on his Rebbe the Ramak the Ba'al Hatanya on the Arizal etc. In Kabbalah the closer one is to the ultimate redemption the more is supposedly revealed to him. In this context one can better understand the mystics who differed from their predecessors an increasingly calling for more revelation and exposition of the "hidden"

    1. I'd agree the closer one is to Sinai the more accurate the source is. And if anything you believe doesn't fit the bill you had better think twice.

    2. To those who cynically negate this idea, I'd just point out the following;
      The parallel concept exist in science and medicine. The closer one is to the ultimate redemption the more revealed the secrets of how the natural world works.

      Unless perhaps one subscribe to the belief that all the natural workings of the world were revealed to king Solomon. Perhaps also that the natural workings of the world were known to Chazal.

      Perhaps one also believes that it was just a coincidental occurrence that more science has become known to the world in the recent history of mankind, than at any other point in history.

      Perhaps one also believes that the natural world is so astounding, intricate and awesome that that rationally only God could have created the world.

      Now that's an awful lot of belief for a rationalist......

    3. One of the more sickening things that can be found in kaballistic literature is the elevation of the Ari et al to an almost godlike stature. They think the Ari is less likely to make a halachic error than anyone else.

      Again, historically quite unlike the mesorah.

      But then, latter day saints do know G-d's mind better than any Tanna. They had a mystical experience. Elijah spoke to them directly. So there.

  15. Hello R. Slifkin. The source you brought for R. Ovadia Yosef's statement that it's not heresy to disbelieve the Zohar may not be reliable (although the statement itself from R. Ovadia is not implausible). His son R. Yitzchak Yosef say the sefer Mayan Omer that frequently quotes R. Ovadia is not reliable, and he says why. Here is the link of a scan of one of his seforim:
    Second paragraph from top, right column.

  16. What are we proposing "messing with" - the assertion that the Zohar was authored by Bar Yochai, or the assertion that the Zohar has any holiness/validity/value at all?

    I think different people here are assuming one way or the other, and not saying which, which is leading to confusion among other people who are reading them.

    1. This is a very important point. If one has no knowledge of the zohar controversy and just read this blog post and the comments one would be certain that Rav Yaakov Emden believed the zohar was just a bunch of made-up nonsense. Yet, that is most certainly not the case. RYE laid out his reasons for believing that the Zohar was not authored by RSBY, yet he was explicit that the sefer itself was of great value and part of torah.

    2. @Milton: I have heard on good authority (Rabbi David Fink, if you are familiar with him from WebYeshiva) that Rabbi Ya'akov Emden treated the Zohar as the authority of a Rishon (I guess since it was "discovered" in the time of the Rishonim).

  17. I think it would be a good if you did a couple of articles on what I can believe. I am not saying you shouldn't criticize our point things out, just that its harder to have any imunah or belief in Judaism if everything is knocked out.

    1. The essential goal of R Slifkin for the past thirteen years has been to explain to his steadily shrinking fan club why the Yeshiva world is wrong about evergthing they do, and foolish in all their beliefs. Asking him to express only a positive viewpoint would leave him with nothing but his zoo, as believers certainly have better and more knowledgeable Torah scholars - and certainly better Yeshivos - to choose to follow instead.

  18. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan published an examination of whether the Zohar was authentic--including translations of Rabbanim investigating the Zohar at the time. I think it was part of "Meditation and Kabbalah."

  19. fozziebear,

    "If I did I wouldn't be here on this blog ;-) "
    hasn't impeded too many others has it?

  20. Shlomo et al
    It used to be self understood By most For the most part

    A wealthy man in the second decade the 19th century passed away. left

    He bequeathed a will that his assets should be given the greatest Gaon and righteous of the era
    A number of the leading rabbis convened to decide who the recipient ought to be
    It was taken as given to either be Rav Akiva Eiger or Rav Chaim Volozhiner.


    Rav Chaim Volozhiner was greatest
    at least in part to his greater tradition and rebbe

    1. Of course, it OBVIOUSLY wasn't the Chasam Sofer *eye roll*. I forgot to add that Hungarians probably weren't at this fictitious meeting either.

    2. Very well said.gotcha.
      All episodes that don't fit the presupposed agenda and give
      Angst are 'fictitious'

      [What you pointed out Previously bothered myself and presumably others as well]

    3. For some reason my first reply is missing. The thrust was that either this "meeting" included Sephardim, Italians, Germans, and Chassidim, in which case they certainly did not agree that R' Chaim was the greatest, or they weren't included, which just proves my point. Once upon a time the Litivishe Yeshiva world was not the only form of Judaism with any vitality. We often forget that.

    4. @Chaya Cohen
      So we're speaking about the second decade of the 19th century...
      Between 1811 and 1820, then (R. 'Hayim died in 1821 anyway, and R. Akiva Eiger in 1937)
      OK, so I only know of:
      Yad David (died 1811), Ketsos Ha'hoshen (1812), first 'Habad rebbe (1812), 'Haye Adam (1820), Maamar Mordekhai (1825), second 'Habad rebbe (1827), 'Havos Daas (1832), R. Koppel 'Harif (1836), 'Hassam Sofer (1839), R. Avraham Bing (1841), Sha'ar Hazekeinim (1850), who were considered Gedolim at the time in Europe among others.
      But your assembly only thought of those two? To me it looks a lot more like a story made-up a while later by some ignorant Litwak.

    5. No, Ms. Cohen a half-hearted, vague recounting of a story with zero sourcing gives precisely zero angst. But your comment was an excellent microcosm of my entire argument on the myopia and self-centered view of the Litvishe Yeshiva world.


    6. Shlomo,

      Must be terribly painful For one who builds up
      enormous worldview edifice and all it takes is the removal of one single pillar To cause the holding the whole To begin imploding

      Poor ..thing

      such shame

    7. Jew well et al

      RAE was in Posen in Polish Prussia.
      that must be spelled out ?
      Netziv wrote similarly and more
      Tradition magazine 2005

    8. @Chaya Cohen

      1)a)That's quite funny because in fact, it wasn't called Polish Prussia at all, and for one very good reason: the whole geographic area known as Prussia is polish, not to be confused with Prussia as a german state, which at a time encompassed Prussian Poland, wherein lies the city of Poznan/Posen to which you referred. So far for the lecture.
      b)But my point was simply that those two only are considered the greatest rabbinic authorities of the era by later lithuanian circles, for reasons mostly related to learning methods, while other segments of european judaism would challenge this view (another story goes that the Chasam Sofer told his children to learn mussar from their grandfather R. A Eiger, but halakha only from their father, himself, because HE was greater. I personnally don't buy it any more than your tale, but it definitely shows my point). It doesn't mean or imply that they were active only in Lithuania. I therefore think it very unlikely that any reasonable rabbinic council would have then so casually disregarded all these other gedolim. This is why as far as I'm concerned, it was made-up later by some ignorant litwak, as I said.

      2)a)I don't get what you're saying the Netsiv wrote. If you mean he believed R. 'Hayim from Volozhin was a very great Gadol, I am inclined to believe you, as I said in 1). But I would like a reference if what you mean is that he maintained he was greater than R. A Eiger.
      b) I'm sorry to be so dumb, but I couldn't find any such story in Tradition's archives. Could you maybe be more precise, or include a link?

      3)I am quite impressed with the tenacity with which you defend this story and its alleged implications, but I must confess to be at a loss as to your reasons for that, because I can't see any such implications.

    9. Jew well, you are wasting your time. She is a troll. Someone who types out lazy half-sentences and half-lines with close to zero content is merely busting your chops with a minimum of effort. Don't bother.

  21. Please M & C & others, stop saying what "most" people believe or accept. Tell others what's going on in your closet and ask them what's going on in theirs. Claims of knowing what "most" people think is typically ridiculous.

  22. This ought to be an overdo lesson for all who might have been influenced by the Shlomos' out over the web. Throw a curve and their whole bottom falls out from underneath them.
    Avoiding the message, attempting instead to shoot the messenger!

    1. :) You are adorable Chaya.

      Your version of a curve
      is a story you
      once heard once upon

      a time. Go

      look it up you kofrim.

      Can I give you a knip?

  23. Why must it be binary-Zohar and anti Zohar?

    Prior even to Zohar being [Re]discovered, there were חכמי האמת

    1. Because either you gullible or you ain't .


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