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.)