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Halakhah, Kabbalah and History

 

I. Kabbalah and Halakhah

The role of kabbalistic mysticism in normative Jewish practice is complex. For someone skeptical of the kabbalistic enterprise, it may even be frustrating. However, a fairly authoritative approach to the role of kabbalah in Jewish law should serve to alleviate many of the concerns.

Traditionalists accept the Zohar, the source of many kabbalistic practices, as a Tannaitic work from the school of R. Shimon Bar Yochai. However, modern scholarship dates the work to Medieval times (link). The more historically sophisticated traditionalists adopt a compromise position–a core of the work is ancient but much has been added over the centuries. While ostensibly this debate should greatly impact the role of kabbalah in halakhic decision-making, there is good reason to render this issue entirely irrelevant.

II. Tefillin and Kabbalah

Two case studies regarding tefillin should establish the relevant attitude. Rishonim, Medieval authorities, debate whether we are obligated to wear tefillin on Chol Ha-Mo’ed, the intermediate days of the holiday (see Tosafos, Menachos 36b sv. yatzu; Rosh, Hilkhos Tefillin no. 16; Rashba, Responsa no. 690 – link ). Important authorities note this debate and add that since the Zohar states not to wear tefillin on Chol Ha-Mo’ed, we should follow that view. R. Yitzchak Karo, uncle of the Beis Yosef, writes that if kabbalists disagree with the Talmud, we must reject their ruling and follow the Talmud. However, if the kabbalists side with one view in a post-Talmudic debate, as in the case with tefillin on Chol Ha-Mo’ed, we allow kabbalah to decide between the disputing parties (Responsa Beis Yosef, end – link). Even those who disagree on this specific case can agree with the approach in general.

On Rosh Chodesh, the prevalent practice is to remove tefillin before the additional Musaf prayers. The Radbaz (Responsa, vol. 4 no. 80 – link) rules that this practice is permissible because it does not contradict a Talmudic ruling. However, since it is based entirely on Kabbalah, we cannot force anyone to follow it. He writes, “I do not instruct anyone to remove or not remove.”

III. Optional Kabbalah

Significantly, the Mishnah Berurah (25:42), quoting an earlier source, explicitly endorses these attitudes. He writes:

The Kenesses Ha-Gedolah wrote in his rules of authorities that anything on which kabbalists and the Zohar disagree with the Talmud and codes, follow the Talmud and codes. However, if the kabbalists are strict we should also be strict. But if it is not mentioned in the Talmud and codes we cannot force people to follow it even though it is mentioned in kabbalah. We should follow the words of kabbalah regarding a rule that is not contradicted by the Talmud and codes. And when authorities disagree, the words of kabbalah should decide.

Many counter-examples can be raised that imply kabbalistic practices are mainstream and mandatory. While I do not wish to speak overly broadly, I can confidently state that, according to this approach, practices based on post-Talmudic kabbalah are generally not mandatory, even if some authorities report them as normative. They are optional, albeit possibly praiseworthy and important.

There is another approach that sees any practice that does not contradict the Talmud as obligatory (see Kaf Ha-Chaim 25:75 for the two views – link). However, the approach we described is perfectly acceptable. A good recent example of this attitude can be found in R. Mordechai Eliyahu’s Imrei Mordekhai (vol. 1 no. 1). After listing over a dozen examples of laws from across the Shulchan Arukh influenced by kabbalah, he cites the above general rules and others which yield the result that while many kabbalistic practices are widespread and deeply ingrained, they are often optional.

IV. Zohar As An Important Text

I see two main theological avenues of explanation for this attitude toward kabbalah and halakhah. The first accepts kabbalistic texts as ancient and authoritative. However, the traditional attitude toward kabbalah restricts its knowledge to the intellectual elite. If you aren’t required (or permitted) to know something, you cannot be obligated to follow it.

However, if there are non-kabbalistic reasons to follow a particular practice, such as a debated understanding of the Talmud and its laws, then the learned authorities who must decide the dispute can/should allow kabbalah to influence their conclusions. This all assumes full acceptance of the kabbalistic authority of the Zohar. Even if it is ancient and holy, it need not be the guide of our daily lives.

Another possible explanation may be more palatable to those academically inclined. Even those who believe that the Zohar was composed by a (or many) Medieval scholar(s) must admit that the author was a brilliant and influential rabbinic thinker. He (or they) certainly attained the status of a Rishon, an important Medieval authority. The Mishnah Berurah‘s rules fit perfectly with this attitude. In a dispute of Rishonim, the Zohar is considered a decisive Rishon who (generally) settles the debate. Like we would a Rishon, we disregard the Zohar if it seems to contradict the Talmud. And if the Zohar proposes a new practice, it can only be optional, even if currently mainstream.

Whether the Zohar is a sacred book from Talmudic time or a Medieval work, its influence in Jewish law is similar. It has an important but not overriding status. Most significantly, it can, but need not, be treated as a source for unique practices.

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

59 Responses

  1. YU Talmid says:

    Really enjoyed this post. For what its worth, I believe that R Rakeffet (perhaps explaining the Knesses Gedolah although I’m not 100% sure) thinks that Kabbalah should be counted as an Acharon, not a Rishon. Probably in this shiur http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/765377/Rabbi_Aaron_Rakeffet-Rothkoff/2011-11-6-2011_Responsa_5-_The_Influence_of_the_Kaballah_on_the_Halacha

  2. Mike S. says:

    What about kabbalah other than the Zohar?

  3. David says:

    The Torah world and Torah leaders, by now, have universally accepted the authorship of the Zohar is by Rabban Shimon Bar Yochai.

  4. mycroft says:

    “YU Talmid on August 14, 2012 at 10:00 pm
    Really enjoyed this post. For what its worth, I believe that R Rakeffet (perhaps explaining the Knesses Gedolah although I’m not 100% sure) thinks that Kabbalah should be counted as an Acharon, not a Rishon. Probably in this shiur http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/765377/Rabbi_Aaron_Rakeffet-Rothkoff/2011-11-6-2011_Responsa_5-_The_Influence_of_the_Kaballah_on_the_Halacha

    Listen especially near the 20th minute where Rabbi Rakeffet thanked Nachum Lamm for lending him the book of the Van Leer conference on the Rav.

  5. mycroft says:

    “David on August 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm
    The Torah world and Torah leaders, by now, have universally accepted the authorship of the Zohar is by Rabban Shimon Bar Yochai”
    “Torah world” “Torah leaders”-certainly many of those who are speakers in YUtorah.org have not accepted that.

  6. Jr says:

    “what about Kabbala other than the Zohar”

    See here: http://HebrewBooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=920&pgnum=5

    As Rav Moshe says in the above link, it is only due to the zohar’s unique authoritative status as a Tanna, that yields it so much power in the halachik framework.
    To think that the anonymous rishon, as brilliant as he was, should be used to decide matters of Halacha where the great luminaries of our MESORA debated, seems to me to be ludicrous.
    The Rif, Rambam, Rosh etc. were giant poskim of their time and/or produced serious analytical proofs from the Talmud to argue their position. How can one think that an anonymous figure, even if he were to be given the status of a rishon, could decide these debates by just stating his opinion. There is no way this happened without the assumption that the Zohar originates with the tannaim.

    Truth of the matter is I don’t understand why would Kabbala settle the debate either way. Even assuming Rashbi maintains all the decisions mentioned in the Zohar, why should that settle debates. Do we always paskin like Rashbi in the Talmud? I don’t think so. Kal v’chomer why should his esoteric teachings decide halachik debates?

  7. Anonymous says:

    “The Torah world and Torah leaders, by now, have universally accepted the authorship of the Zohar is by Rabban Shimon Bar Yochai””

    And if that’s true, and it isn’t, the Torah world eschewed and eschews chakirah on the topic of the authorship of the Zohar. Given this, what relevance is it that everyone assumes the same thing based on nothing more than the fact that everyone assumes the same thing? “But the Gra believed it and he was so smart” is not an argument.

  8. Elon says:

    The Chatam Sofer was apparently not a Torah Leader, then.

  9. Shlomo says:

    How can one think that an anonymous figure, even if he were to be given the status of a rishon, could decide these debates by just stating his opinion. There is no way this happened without the assumption that the Zohar originates with the tannaim.

    Why do people take the Arizal’s kabbalistic psaks so seriously when he it certainly not a tanna, at best a rishon, and perhaps an acharon?

  10. Shmuel says:

    “For someone skeptical of the kabbalistic enterprise, it may even be frustrating.”

    I think “frustrating” is the wrong word. The core of the problem is simply the source of obligation. If the source of a supposed obligation or the major factor in a pesak is kabbalah, then that “obligation” or factor simply don’t exist for someone who is committed to halakhah, not kabbalah. And that will remain true no matter how many posekim cite the kabbalistic view.

    It should further be stressed that it is not the Zohar, but rather the Lurianic kabbalah that has had the most impact on Jewish practice. In terms of the siddur that impact was enormous, and a great many common customs that are codified by the acharonim have no halakhic basis whatsoever. (Quick examples: Mizmor shir channukat ha-bayit at the beginning of pesukei de-zimra, le-david hashem ori.) So if someone doesn’t see Lurianic kabbalah as a source of obligation, need he feel obligated to say these things?

  11. joel rich says:

    what r’gil is proposing may well be emet l’amito. I would also point out that given the facts on the ground (of how kabbalah seems to impact halacha) it’s a neat actuarial theory to describe a possible function that generated those facts on the ground (i.e. in another universe where kabbalah weren’t accepted, a slight twist would equally well explain that result- e.g. Another possible explanation may be more palatable to those academically inclined. Even those who believe that the Zohar was composed by a (or many) Medieval scholar(s) must admit that the author was a brilliant and influential rabbinic thinker. However he certainly could not have attained the status of a Rishon, an important Medieval authority. )

    KT

  12. Shmuel says:

    The various points made about the Zohar “counting” as a Tanna or a Rishon or whatever don’t make any sense.

    When does the opinion or a Tanna or a Rishon matter? Only when it is part of the process of the revealed Torah which is the source of halakhic obligation. The “secrets” of the Torah do not oblige others, no matter who is expressing them, even if that person is a posek.

  13. Tuvia says:

    “However, modern scholarship dates the work to Medieval times”

    A long time ago Rav Kasher disproved many of Scholem and his students’ arguments. Why accept Scholem’s arguments as the simple truth. Not mentioning Moshe Idel’s academic approach is surprising.

    For a basic English summary of ways in which academic dating of Zohar is rife with mistakes, see Rabbi Moshe Miller’s 5 part essay http://www.kabbalaonline.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/663169/jewish/Authenticity-of-the-Zohar.htm

    Last Paragraph: “For earlier sources … see Rabbi David Luria’s Kadmut Sefer HaZohar. In addition, see Dr. Chaim David Chavel’s article Sefer HaZohar k’makor Chashuv l’Pirush HaRamban and Rabbi Reuven Margolis’s article HaRambam v’HaZohar. Also, the latest academic opinions disagree strongly with Scholem; see Prof. Moshe Idel’s “Kabbalah, New Perspectives”. One of the areas Prof. Moshe Idel examines is the Zohar as a source of Christian mysticism, proving the opposite conclusion of earlier academics such as Graetz (who believed that Christian Gnosticism influenced the author of the Zohar).”

  14. J. says:

    Tuvia – R. Miller’s work is not exactly the last word on the subject. He is apparently not even aware of many of the key arguments for a late dating. See this post on parshablog for more details: http://parsha.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/guardians-and-authenticity-of-zohar.html

    R. Waxman’s series of posts is worth reading. To quote his assessment of Miller’s work: “If Scholem and Tishby did commit the errors Rabbi Miller accuses them of, then they should rightly be scolded. The problem is that, time after time, these are not errors on Scholem and Tishby’s part. Rather, they are either embarrassing ignorance on Rabbi Miller’s part, or deliberate lies to mislead his readers.”

  15. yehupitz says:

    I think a pithy comment made by the Baal Hatanya resolves this problem in a neat tautology: He was asked, “When there is a difference of opinion between the poskim and the mekubalim, do we pasken like the poskim or the mekubalim?” He answered, “According to the Mekubalim, [i.e. those who accept the 'Chazal' status of the Zohar] we pasken like the mekubalim. According to the poskim we pasken like the poskim.”

  16. Hirhurim says:

    Jr: The Rif, Rambam, Rosh etc. were giant poskim of their time and/or produced serious analytical proofs from the Talmud to argue their position. How can one think that an anonymous figure, even if he were to be given the status of a rishon, could decide these debates by just stating his opinion.

    I think you are incorrect. The Rambam produced a code — the Mishneh Torah. Like most (but not all) codes, it contains no proofs or arguments, just rulings. Considering the reception of the Zohar, it seems its author was given equal or perhaps greater weight than the Mishneh Torah.

    Shlomo: Why do people take the Arizal’s kabbalistic psaks so seriously when he it certainly not a tanna, at best a rishon, and perhaps an acharon?

    Even an important Acharon can be considered authoritative. I know many people who consider the Mishnah Berurah to be the final word in halakhah.

    Shmuel: When does the opinion or a Tanna or a Rishon matter? Only when it is part of the process of the revealed Torah which is the source of halakhic obligation.

    The positive reception of Teshuvos Min HaShamayim seems to undermine your claim.

    Tuvia: A long time ago Rav Kasher disproved many of Scholem and his students’ arguments.

    I had Rav Kasher and others like him in mind when I referred to sophisticated traditionalists. Some people are convinced by them and others not.

    Yehupitz: I can’t process that statement. I find it cute but entirely unhelpful.

  17. Jerry says:

    Tuvia,

    Rabbi Moshe Miller??!! Hasn’t parashablog called him out time and time again for what, at best, must be appalling ignorance (and at worst, deliberate misleading of innocent readers) in his discussions of the Zohar. I can’t even count how many times Rabbi Miller’s criticisms of Scholem have been shown to be just embarrassingly wrong.

    Here’s a classic example: http://parsha.blogspot.com/2011/01/cappadocia-and-authenticity-of-zohar.html

    It should be noted that R. Kasher and others (who must be taken far more seriously than R. Miller) made similar claims that there existed a town named Kaputkia in Israel. But their arguments were FAR more circumspect (and not even presented as definitive, simply as a suggested solution to the problem Scholem pointed out). It turns out that Scholem is almost undoubtedly correct. Now, given the nature of the respective claims to the contrary, R. Kasher’s position is at least sensitive and understandable (even if unacceptable), whereas R. Miller’s position is, as demonstrated in the post, shocking amaratzus (and even out and out deception).

  18. Jerry says:

    Hirhurim: I had Rav Kasher and others like him in mind when I referred to sophisticated traditionalists. Some people are convinced by them and others not.

    This is certainly a fair characterization, but note that R. Kasher published his arguments in the late 50s (if I’m not mistaken) and his arguments have been responded to and mostly rejected since then.

    At the same time later scholars, including Scholem’s own students, have moved in different directions as well. A long, in depth study of this question (and many related issues) was published by Daniel Abrams pretty recently (maybe 2 years ago or so) where he goes through the varying theories and proposes a much more methodologically secure approach to the Zohar than scholars of the past generation considered.

  19. J. says:

    R. Gil – I’m not sure there are that many people who really take the MB to be the last word in halacha, even if they claim to. After all, the Chazon Ish was the one who wrote that the MB is like the Sanhedrin the Lishkas Hagazis, yes he disagrees with the Chafetz Chaim all over the place. There are numerous pesakim in the MB that have very few adherents at all. I’ve hardly come across anyone doing atifa with their tallis katan, for example.

  20. R. Araujo says:

    Okay, but what about Prof. Moshe Idel in Kabalah: New Perspectives?

  21. Anonymous says:

    Gil may be right about people accepting the MB as the final authority, but all that does is give an analogy for the Ari as a major acharon who is taken as a final authority – but only for those who accept him that way. The question here is, why would those skeptical about kabbalah accept the Ari? It isn’t as if everyone accepts the MB as final authority either.

  22. Mechy Frankel says:

    You might wish to note what is perhaps the best reference on the topic – as he is on many others – the late Jacob Katz’s collection “Halokhoh V’Qabboloh”, especially the article “hakhro’os hazzohar bid’var halokhoh”. He also demonstrates therein that many halokhos whose disposition is attributed to the zohar (e.g the practice to initiate the bentsching zimun with an introductory rabbosai n’voriekh/mir villen bentschen (mogein avrohom, OH 192)) actually precede the zohar’s admonition. And so too with the issue of T’filin on Chol Hammoeid, which despite R. Yitzchoq Karo’s attribution of non-wear in sefarad to the zohar, seems not to be so.

  23. Aryeh says:

    Since it hasn’t been mentioned already, check out Marc Shapiro’s article from Milin Havivin on whether there is an obligation to believe the Zohar was written by R. Shimon Bar Yochai:
    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B9qDT_J6e1NHZjFiOTIzMDUtNDg0Zi00NTY3LWJhYjItOGViZDBmMzMxNWQ2/edit?hl=en_US

    The article quotes great rabbinic leaders, closing with R. Herzog.

    It might also be worth mentioning that as opposed to those “skeptical of the kabbalistic enterprise,” the current Sephardic world has practically accepted the Zohar’s position as Tannaitic. Nevertheless, R. Ovadia’s relationship with kabbalah is not so strait forward. He has single-handedly ended many Sephardic humrot that were based on kabbalah (to the anger of many). In fact, his first book (at 17!) was tearing down most of the Ben Ish Hai’s rulings (based on the kabbalah of the Arizal and the Rashash) as non-binding. R. Ovadia still leans toward kabbalistic practice on other occasions.

    Also unmentioned are certain communities who have rejected the kabbalah altogether (Spanish-Portuguese and Yemenite Dor Deah).

  24. Nachum says:

    Can anyone refresh my memory of the details of a young R’ Shnayer Leiman’s correspondence with Scholem? I seem to recall that R’ Leiman found some Tannaic (or Amoraic) sources for parts of the Zohar and sent them to Scholem, who never responded. Of course, this hardly means that the “traditionalist” view is correct- I don’t think it is, and I doubt R’ Leiman does- but it adds a bit to the complexity.

  25. Nachum says:

    By the way, let me stress that I’ve never read the Zohar, and thus my “I don’t think it is” is not based on the text, but on other logical proofs, like, say, its lack of existence before a certain date. I remember once hearing a shiur on YU Torah that included the casual line “the commentators say that perhaps the source of the Rambam is the Zohar” and not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

    As an interesting aside, compare the original and current editions of the Soncino Zohar. A careful eye will catch that the bulk of the introduction was removed. You can guess what was in it.

  26. Anon says:

    Isn’t R. Herzog saying that we have to believe that the Zohar goes back to Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai? What do you make of his other letter where he says we can give new non literal perushim of Torah?

  27. Shlomo says:

    After all, the Chazon Ish was the one who wrote that the MB is like the Sanhedrin the Lishkas Hagazis, ye[t] he disagrees with the Chafetz Chaim all over the place.

    Lekula or just lechumra? The latter wouldn’t mean much.

  28. Jr says:

    ״How can one think that an anonymous figure, even if he were to be given the status of a rishon, could decide these debates by just stating his opinion. There is no way this happened without the assumption that the Zohar originates with the tannaim.״

    Shlomo responded:
    ״Why do people take the Arizal’s kabbalistic psaks so seriously when he it certainly not a tanna, at best a rishon, and perhaps an acharon?״

    While the arizal’s influence is great, it is mainly in the realm of minhag and not Halacha.

    See here what the maharshag says:

    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1278&st=&pgnum=88

    The authoritative status of “Kabbala tachria” EVEN FOR MANY HALACHISTS was granted solely to the Zohar and not the Arizal as Rav Moshe has stated in the previous link that I provided.

  29. J. says:

    Shlomo – Both. Just take a look at the back of any contemporary edition of MB. Just to quote one example (http://www.torah.org/advanced/weekly-halacha/5771/reeh.html?print=1):

    “Whether or not the neck opening is included in the minimum size is disputed by the poskim. Mishnah Berurah (8:17, 16:4) holds that it does not count, while Chazon Ish (O.C. 3:30) rules that it does, and that there is no need for stringency on this issue.”

  30. R. Araujo says:

    Just wondering, but how many men wrap the retzuos of their tefiloh shel yad around their arm just 2 or 3 times and not 7 al pi the Arizal?

    Wouldn’t eschewing the impact and authority of kaballah create a completely different looking Judaism then we have today?

  31. Jr says:

    “Jr: The Rif, Rambam, Rosh etc. were giant poskim of their time and/or produced serious analytical proofs from the Talmud to argue their position. How can one think that an anonymous figure, even if he were to be given the status of a rishon, could decide these debates by just stating his opinion.

    I think you are incorrect. The Rambam produced a code — the Mishneh Torah. Like most (but not all) codes, it contains no proofs or arguments, just rulings. Considering the reception of the Zohar, it seems its author was given equal or perhaps greater weight than the Mishneh Torah.”

    Yes, but as Rav Moshe has said, it is ONLY because he was assumed to be Rashbi. I wrote “and/or” because I had the Rambam in mind. He didn’t provide arguments but he was not some anonymous author who rendered decisions in a whole new untraditional way. The real problem is understanding why esoterical and mystical concepts are incorporated into mainstream Halacha, even by halachists, regardless of who the author is.

  32. ruvie says:

    “Even those who believe that the Zohar was composed by a (or many) Medieval scholar(s) must admit that the author was a brilliant and influential rabbinic thinker. ”

    Is there any proof of this statement? if rashbi was on a low level of hierarchy in terms of pakening as a tanna how is now vaulted to a deciding factor because of the zohar? influential – 100% but why is more complicated.

  33. yehupitz says:

    Gil I don’t understand why you find the line entirely unhelpful. I think it sums up the debate quite well: One either accepts that the Zohar is a member-work of Chazal; and therefore as authoritative and persuasive as other Chazal-works, which makes the works of Rishonim and Acharonim who use the Zohar as a source authoritative

    -or one doesn’t accept it as a premier Chazal-like source, either viewing it as only marginally persuasive or as a non-factor.

    The lines have been drawn by most poskim and most kehillos. In the free world in which we live, individual Jews pick their poskim and communities. At the end of the day, what more is there to say?

  34. Joseph Kaplan says:

    “Can anyone refresh my memory of the details of a young R’ Shnayer Leiman’s correspondence with Scholem? I seem to recall that R’ Leiman found some Tannaic (or Amoraic) sources for parts of the Zohar and sent them to Scholem, who never responded. Of course, this hardly means that the “traditionalist” view is correct- I don’t think it is, and I doubt R’ Leiman does- but it adds a bit to the complexity.”

    I remember attending a lecture series many years ago given by Dr. Leiman on Jewish forgeries. One lecture devoted to the Zohar which he attempted to show was a medieval work.

  35. Anon. says:

    I think today everyone knows it’s a forgery, but since it is part of the halachic mesorah we need to accept it.

  36. Jr.: “Truth of the matter is I don’t understand why would Kabbala settle the debate either way. Even assuming Rashbi maintains all the decisions mentioned in the Zohar, why should that settle debates. Do we always paskin like Rashbi in the Talmud? I don’t think so. Kal v’chomer why should his esoteric teachings decide halachik debates?”

    ruvie: ” if rashbi was on a low level of hierarchy in terms of pakening as a tanna how is now vaulted to a deciding factor because of the zohar?”

    A famous teshuvoh (#98) of the Maharshal (also on tefillin and kabbalah actually – re standing vs. sitting when putting on shel yad, and re how many brachos to make on them) comes to mind, where he strongly statesואם היה רשב”י עומד לפנינו וצווח לשנות המנהג שנהגו הקדמונים, לא אשגחינן
    בהו, כי ברוב דבריו אין הלכה כמותו

    It can be seen at http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=11884&st=&pgnum=294

    and http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=11885&st=&pgnum=137

    (though the old prints are hard to read in places).

    Also coming to mind are the words of the gemara הרבה עשו כרשב”י ולא עלתה בידן.

    Perhaps to simplify and generalize, we could say that the ones that are big into going to Meron on/around Lag La-Ba-omer are those who take a maximal position re the Zohar?

  37. nooneinparticular says:

    It frustrates me greatly.

    I see it like this: The bottom line is that it is medieval text and not what it was claimed to be. Halachic authorities are committed to the text a-priori, so they have to defend their decision and find (to a larger or smaller extent) authenticity in the text. But its always going to be a stretch, because, fundamentally, it is not what it says on the box – a book by Rashbi. It just isn’t.

    But all this does is bring those authorities into disrespect. For how can they defend something that is demonstrably false? How can you have respect for people who continue to believe that black is white?

    And herein lies the source of my frustration.
    Similarly, when the general religious community commits the same act of cognitive dissonance.

    Is it really that hard for us all to admit, yes, it was a mistake to buy into this book? Yes, we are fallible and in this case screwed up royally? But no, we admit our failing and will move forward?

    Apparently so.

  38. Shlomo says:

    Is it really that hard for us all to admit, yes, it was a mistake to buy into this book? Yes, we are fallible and in this case screwed up royally? But no, we admit our failing and will move forward?

    Some of us have no problem saying that.

    And the others could argue that if we have to accept scholarly opinion about the authorship of the Zohar, how is that different from accepting scholarly opinion about the authorship of Tanach?

  39. Nachum says:

    On the other hand, it was common practice, and well-intentioned, in those days to attribute books to “greats.” I guess you need to examine the contents before the alleged authorship…but don’t ask me to do it, because I’m prejudiced against mysticism generally. :-)

    Joseph, as I said in my first post, I’m pretty sure that’s R’ Leiman’s *main* position on the work. I was asking this as a sort of sidebar, and if anyone else remembers him saying this.

  40. Ruvie says:

    Shlomo- it’s not just scholarly opinion – try r’ Yaakov Emdem who declared it a medieval work. The best you can say parts are dated back to the day but facts are what they are.
    Tanach? Or do you mean Chumash – big difference.

  41. Joseph Kaplan says:

    “Joseph, as I said in my first post, I’m pretty sure that’s R’ Leiman’s *main* position on the work. I was asking this as a sort of sidebar, and if anyone else remembers him saying this.”

    Nachum: I was supporting what you were “pretty sure” of, not challenging your question. I don’t always disagree with you; usually, but not always.

  42. shaul shapira says:

    “Another possible explanation may be more palatable to those academically inclined. Even those who believe that the Zohar was composed by a (or many) Medieval scholar(s) must admit that the author was a brilliant and influential rabbinic thinker. He (or they) certainly attained the status of a Rishon, an important Medieval authority. The Mishnah Berurah‘s rules fit perfectly with this attitude. In a dispute of Rishonim, the Zohar is considered a decisive Rishon who (generally) settles the debate. Like we would a Rishon, we disregard the Zohar if it seems to contradict the Talmud. And if the Zohar proposes a new practice, it can only be optional, even if currently mainstream.”

    R Gil-
    What bothers me (and I think others have alluded to) is that this essentially turns the Zohar into an earlier prototype of the Besomim Rosh. But it doesn’t seem like your attitude towards it is the same. Is there a difference?

  43. Steve Brizel says:

    Excellent post! Such an article sets forth a middle of the road approach that neither views the Zohar as inherently unreliable or a source that should trump the authority of Chazal and Rishonim.

  44. Joseph2 says:

    The consensus of the academics regarding the jewish bible is also found on wikipedia :) it is nothing like the m.o. claim to believe.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bible_and_history#Overview_of_academic_views
    The challenge for those who live on the fault line of secular thought and tradition is great and you all have my sympathies. However honesty demands that we acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of jewish sages after the dissemination of the zohar who form the basis of halachick authority believed in the authentisity of the kabbalah in general and zohar in particular. The case of the arizal really makes it clear. We (halachic authorities) are accepting the legitamcy of prophecy, revelation of elijah, ruach hakodesh of a man who taught for 3 years, who wrote nothing and his student is his boswell to transmit to us the prefered way to do certain mitzvos or say certain prayers. Sure there are holdouts but the overwhelming majority of the jewish world and leaders accepted many of these revelations…what does that tell you..they believe in that which you cannot…the miracles done by these mystics, and the sages of the talmud and possibly the miracles of the bible but for sure not the miracles of the hasidic leaders:) the channels of communication they had from on high….as detailed in rabbi reuven margolis’s intro to shu”t min hashamayim

  45. Nachum says:

    Joseph: I didn’t think you were disagreeing, but I just wanted to emphasize my original question. I know we can sometimes find ourselves in the shocking position of agreeing. :-)

  46. Ira says:

    If you think that Zohar is pseudoepigraphic, why would you accept the authority of anyone who is trying to deceive you as to the authority of the writings?

  47. shachar haamim says:

    THe only true kabbala-free form of Jewish practice is that of the “dardaiim” school in the Yemenite community (e.g. Rav Kapach) who follow the Rambam on everything and rejected all kabalistic influences on halachic practice

  48. mycroft says:

    ” (e.g. Rav Kapach) who follow the Rambam on everything and rejected all kabalistic influences on halachic practice”

    Rav Kapach I believe followed his grandfather who led a counter reformation against Kabbalistic practices in Yemenite Jewry. My limited educated guess is that pure halachic approach is even more important in his hashkafa than the Yemenites following the Rambam. The Rambam he recognized as the supreme halachik authority for Yemenites-but he clearly understood that others had other halachik authorities. I remember his scarcasm against those who don’t eat in the Succah Shminei Azeret in Chutz laaretz-the gemarrah paskens that way and Chassidim don’t have any right to change the halacha. He of course stated that all Jews in chutz laaretz did so before the advent of Chassidism.

  49. Sam says:

    Can anyone name even one major Torah authority of today who denies the Zohar is authored by Rashbi?

    No? That’s what I thought.

  50. joel rich says:

    Sam,
    And if one did harbor such thoughts, what would the up side be for him to articulate them?
    KT

  51. IH says:

    R’ Joel — leadership, perhaps?

  52. Sam says:


    Sam on August 16, 2012 at 8:39 am
    Can anyone name even one major Torah authority of today who denies the Zohar is authored by Rashbi?

    No? That’s what I thought.

    ==============

    joel rich on August 16, 2012 at 9:12 am
    Sam,
    And if one did harbor such thoughts, what would the up side be for him to articulate them?
    KT

    The Emes. Which is what a Torah authority is defined by.

    So if he harbors such thoughts yet doesn’t disclose them, he by definition isn’t a Torah authority, as he is afraid of the Emes.

  53. yitznewton says:

    “So if he harbors such thoughts yet doesn’t disclose them, he by definition isn’t a Torah authority, as he is afraid of the Emes.”

    No, he’s afraid of thugs. (I’m not justifying, just clarifying.)

  54. joel rich says:

    “So if he harbors such thoughts yet doesn’t disclose them, he by definition isn’t a Torah authority, as he is afraid of the Emes.”
    =================================
    I’m not sure that means he’s afraid of emet – if there is no halachic difference (as posited by R’ Gil above) , and/or if he is unsure (i.e. harbor thoughts doesn’t mean your 100%), not everything in your heart needs to be on your lips (kach mkublani mbeit avi abba :-))
    KT

  55. Ploni says:

    “He (or they) certainly attained the status of a Rishon, an important Medieval authority. The Mishnah Berurah‘s rules fit perfectly with this attitude. In a dispute of Rishonim, the Zohar is considered a decisive Rishon who (generally) settles the debate.”

    But it is not a Halachik work, so is this necessarily true?
    Every Rishon does not get treated the same….

  56. Jon Baker says:

    And Yitz literally means thugs. E.g., thugs suppressed the sale of the 1997 reprint of RYEmden’s Mitpachat Sefarim, which demonstrates the medieval nature of the Zohar text, although it alleges a Rashbi core. – RYE was himself a kabbalist.

  57. avi says:

    “Sam on August 16, 2012 at 8:39 am
    Can anyone name even one major Torah authority of today who denies the Zohar is authored by Rashbi?”

    Yes, I can. But I won’t, because clearly from your position, it will just cause Lashon Harah as you will declare them a non-Torah Authority.

  58. chardal says:

    >Can anyone name even one major Torah authority of today who denies the Zohar is authored by Rashbi?”

    Let us say you are correct? Is it not possible that every major Torah authority is wrong and the academics (you know, the guys who actually produce evidence to back up their claims) are right?

    Just saying. Fact is, that the popular opinion is extremely hard to defend. Problem is, that most major Torah authorities are never put in a position where they actually have to defend it.

  59. IH says:

    Tangentially, I read this intriguing book review while on vacation: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=33666

 
 

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