Religion Wiki


34,272pages on
this wiki
Part of a series on
Tree of life hebrew
Ein Sof · Tzimtzum · Ohr · Sephirot · Four Worlds · Seder hishtalshelus · Tree of Life · Merkavah · Jewish angelic hierarchy · Shemhamphorasch · Shechina · Kelipot · Tikkun · Sparks of holiness · Messianic rectification in Kabbalah · Gilgul · Ibbur  · Kabbalistic astrology · Gematria · Notarikon · Temurah · Tzadik · Tzadikim Nistarim · Panentheism
Chronological history
Early: Sefer Yetzirah · Tannaim · Heichalot Medieval: Bahir · Toledano tradition · Chassidei Ashkenaz · Prophetic Kabbalah · Zohar · Kabbalistic commentaries on the Bible · Mainstream replacement of Philosophy with Kabbalah Rennaisance: Selective influence on Western thought · Mysticism after Spanish expulsion · Mystics of 16th century Safed · Cordoveran Kabbalah · Lurianic Kabbalah · Philosophy of the Maharal · Shnei Luchos HaBris Early Modern: Baal Shem-Nistarim · Sabbatean mystical heresies · Emden-Eybeschutz Controversy · Immigration to the Land of Israel · Traditional Oriental Kabbalists · Beit El Synagogue · Eastern European Judaism · Hasidic Judaism · Hasidic philosophy · Lithuanian Jews · Hasidic-Mitnagdic schism Modern: Hasidic dynasties · HaSulam · Academic interest in Jewish mysticism · Non-Orthodox interest in Jewish mysticism
The grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai1 (before 1899)
Torah study · Mitzvot · Minhag · Customery immersion in Mikveh · Jewish meditation · Deveikut · Jewish prayer · Nusach · Kavanot · Names of God in Judaism · Tikkun Chatzot · Tikkun Leil Shavuot · Teshuvah · Asceticism in Judaism · Pilgrimage to Tzadik · Pilgrimage to holy grave · Lag BaOmer at Meron · Practical Kabbalah
Tree of Life, Medieval
100s: The Four Who Entered the Pardes · Shimon bar Yochai

1100s: Isaac the Blind · Azriel 1200s: Nahmanides · Abraham Abulafia · Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla · Moses de Leon · Menahem Recanati 1300s: Bahya ben Asher 1400s: 1500s: Meir ibn Gabbai · Joseph Karo · Shlomo Alkabetz · Moshe Alshich · Moshe Cordovero · Isaac Luria · Chaim Vital · Judah Loew ben Bezalel 1600s: Isaiah Horowitz · Abraham Azulai 1700s: Chaim ibn Attar · Baal Shem Tov · Dov Ber of Mezeritch · Moshe Chaim Luzzatto · Shalom Sharabi · Vilna Gaon · Chaim Joseph David Azulai · Nathan Adler · Schneur Zalman of Liadi · Chaim Volozhin 1800s: Nachman of Breslov · Ben Ish Chai · Shlomo Eliyashiv 1900s: Abraham Isaac Kook · Yehuda Ashlag · Baba Sali · Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Position in Jewish thought
Ark at Sfat synagogue
Torah · Tanakh · Prophecy · Ruach HaKodesh · Pardes exegesis · Talmudical hermeneutics · Midrash · Jewish commentaries on the Bible · Oral Torah · Eras of Rabbinic Judaism · Generational descent in Halacha · Generational ascent in Kabbalah · Rabbinic literature · Talmudic theology · Halakha · Aggadah · Hakira (Medieval Jewish Philosophy) · Classic Mussar literature · Ashkenazi Judaism · Sephardi Judaism · Modern Jewish Philosophies · Jewish studies
God in Judaism · Divine transcendence · Divine immanence · Free Will in Judaism · Divine Providence in Judaism · Kabbalistic reasons for the 613 Mitzvot · Jewish principles of faith · Jewish eschatology

The Zohar (Hebrew: זֹהַר‎, lit Splendor or Radiance) is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah.[1] It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah (the five books of Moses) and scriptural interpretations as well as material on theosophic theology, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology. The Zohar contains a discussion of the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, redemption, the relationship of Ego to Darkness and "true self" to "The Light of God," and the relationship between the "universal energy" and man. Its scriptural exegesis can be considered an esoteric form of the Rabbinic literature known as Midrash, which elaborates on the Torah.

The Zohar is mostly written in what has been described as an exalted, eccentric style of Aramaic, a language spoken in the Land of Israel during the Roman Period in the first centuries of the Common Era.

The Zohar first appeared in Spain in the 13th century, and was published by a Jewish writer named Moses de Leon. De Leon ascribed the work to Shimon bar Yochai, a rabbi of the second century CE during the Roman persecution[2] who, according to Jewish legend,[3][4] hid in a cave for thirteen years studying the Torah and was inspired by the Prophet Elijah to write the Zohar. This accords with the traditional claim by adherents that Kabbalah is the concealed part of the Oral Torah.

While the traditional majority view in religious Judaism has been that the teachings of Kabbalah were revealed by God to Biblical figures such as Abraham and Moses and were then transmitted orally from the Biblical era until its redaction by Shimon ben Yochai, modern academic analysis of the Zohar, such as that by the 20th century religious historian Gershom Scholem, has theorized that De Leon was the actual author. The view of non-Orthodox Jewish denominations generally conforms to this latter view, and as such, most non-Orthodox Jews have long viewed the Zohar as pseudepigraphy and apocrypha while sometimes accepting that its contents may have meaning for modern Judaism. Jewish prayerbooks edited by non-Orthodox Jews may therefore contain excerpts from the Zohar and other kabbalistic works,[5] even if the editors are not literal Kabbalists.


Initial view

Suspicions aroused by the facts that the Zohar was discovered by one person, and that it refers to historical events of the post-Talmudic period while purporting to be from an earlier time, caused the authorship to be questioned from the outset.[2] Joseph Jacobs and Isaac Broyde, in their article on the Zohar for the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, cite a story involving the noted Kabbalist Isaac of Acco, who is supposed to have heard directly from the widow of de Leon that her husband authored the Zohar for profit:[2]

A story tells that after the death of Moses de Leon, a rich man of Avila named Joseph offered Moses' widow (who had been left without any means of supporting herself) a large sum of money for the original from which her husband had made the copy.[2] She confessed that her husband himself was the author of the work. She had asked him several times, she said, why he had chosen to credit his own teachings to another, and he had always answered that doctrines put into the mouth of the miracle-working Shimon bar Yochai would be a rich source of profit.[2] The story indicates that shortly after its appearance the work was believed by some to have been written by Moses de Leon.[2]

However, Isaac evidently ignored the woman's alleged confession in favor of the testimony of Joseph ben Todros and of Jacob, a pupil of Moses de Leon, both of whom assured him on oath that the work was not written by de Leon.[2] Over time, the general view in the Jewish community came to be one of acceptance of Moses de Leon's claims, with the Zohar seen as an authentic book of mysticism passed down from the second century. The Zohar spread among the Jews with remarkable swiftness.[2] Scarcely fifty years had passed since its appearance in Spain before it was quoted by many Kabbalists, including the Italian mystical writer Menahem Recanati[2] and by Todros Abulafia. Certain Jewish communities, however, such as the Baladi Yemenite, Andalusian (Western Sefardic or Spanish and Portuguese Jews), and some Italian communities, never accepted it as authentic.

Late Middle Ages

By the 15th century, its authority in the Spanish Jewish community was such that Joseph ibn Shem-Tov drew from it arguments in his attacks against Maimonides,[2] and even representatives of non-mystical Jewish thought began to assert its sacredness and invoke its authority in the decision of some ritual questions.[2] In Jacobs' and Broyde's view, they were attracted by its glorification of man, its doctrine of immortality, and its ethical principles, which they saw as more in keeping with the spirit of Talmudic Judaism than are those taught by the philosophers,[2] and which was held in contrast to the view of Maimonides and his followers, who regarded man as a fragment of the universe whose immortality is dependent upon the degree of development of his active intellect. The Zohar instead declared Man to be the lord of the creation, whose immortality is solely dependent upon his morality.[2]

Conversely, Elijah Delmedigo (c.1458 – c.1493), in his Bechinat ha-Dat endeavored to show that the Zohar could not be attributed to Shimon bar Yochai,[2] arguing that if it were his work, the Zohar would have been mentioned by the Talmud, as has been the case with other works of the Talmudic period;[2], that had bar Yohai known by divine revelation the hidden meaning of the precepts, his decisions on Jewish law from the Talmudic period would have been adopted by the Talmud,[2] that it would not contain the names of rabbis who lived at a later period than that of Simeon;[2] and that if the Kabbalah was a revealed doctrine, there would have been no divergence of opinion among the Kabbalists concerning the mystic interpretation of the precepts.[6]

Believers in the authenticity of the Zohar countered that the lack of references to the work in Jewish literature were because bar Yohai did not commit his teachings to writing but transmitted them orally to his disciples over generations until finally the doctrines were embodied in the Zohar.[2] They found it unsurprising that bar Yochai should have foretold future happenings or made references to historical events of the post-Talmudic period.[2]

The authenticity of the Zohar was accepted by such 16th century Jewish luminaries as R' Yosef Karo (d.1575), R' Moses Isserles (d. 1572), R' Solomon Luria (d.1574), and R' Solomon Luria (d.1574), who wrote that Jewish law (Halacha) follows the Zohar, except where the Zohar is contradicted by the Babylonian Talmud.[7]

Enlightenment period

Debate continued over the generations; Delmedigo's arguments were echoed by Leon of Modena (d.1648) in his Ari Nohem,[2] and a work devoted to the criticism of the Zohar, Miṭpaḥat Sefarim, was written by Jacob Emden (d.1776), who, waging war against the remaining adherents of the Sabbatai Zevi movement (in which Zevi, a false messiah and Jewish apostate, cited Messianic prophecies from the Zohar as proof of his legitimacy), endeavored to show that the book on which Zevi based his doctrines was a forgery.[2] Emden argued that the Zohar misquotes passages of Scripture; misunderstands the Talmud; contains some ritual observances which were ordained by later rabbinical authorities; mentions The Crusades against Muslims (who did not exist in the second century); uses the expression "esnoga," a Portuguese term for "synagogue"; and gives a mystical explanation of the Hebrew vowel-points, which were not introduced until long after the Talmudic period.[2]

The influence of the Zohar and the Kabbalah in Yemen, where it was introduced in the 1600s, gave rise to the Dor Daim movement, whose adherents believed that the core beliefs of Judaism were rapidly diminishing in favor of the mysticism of the Kabbalah. The Dor Daim movement, led by Rabbi Yiḥyah Qafiḥ, emerged as a recognizable force in the later part of the 19th century, and considered) the Kabbalists to be irrational, anti-scientific, and anti-progressive in attitude. Its objects were to combat the influence of the Zohar and subsequent developments in modern Kabbalah, which were then pervasive in Yemenite Jewish life, to restore what they believed to be a rationalistic approach to Judaism rooted in authentic sources, and to safeguard the older ("Baladi") tradition of Yemenite Jewish observance that they believed to be based on this approach. Especially controversial were the views of the Dor Daim on the Zohar, as presented in Milhamoth Hashem (Wars of the Lord),[8] written by Rabbi Qafiḥ. A group of Jerusalem rabbis published an attack on Rabbi Qafiḥ under the title of Emunat Hashem (Faith of the Lord), and measures were taken to ostracize members of the movement.

In the Ashkenazi community of Eastern Europe, later religious authorities including The Vilna Gaon (d.1797) and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (d.1812) (The Baal HaTanya) believed in the authenticity of the Zohar.

Contemporary religious view


Title page of first edition of the Zohar, Mantua, 1558. Library of Congress.

Most of Orthodox Judaism holds that the teachings of Kabbalah were transmitted from teacher to teacher, in a long and continuous chain, from the Biblical era until its redaction by Shimon ben Yochai. Many (most?) accept fully the claims that the Kabbalah's teachings are in essence a revelation from God to the Biblical patriarch Abraham, Moses and other ancient figures, but were never printed and made publicly available until the time of the Zohar's medieval publication. The greatest acceptance of this sequence of events is held within Haredi Judaism. Some claim the tradition that Rabbi Shimon wrote that the concealment of the Zohar would last for exactly 1200 years from the time of destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE and so before revealing the Zohar in 1270, Moses De Leon uncovered the manuscripts in a cave in Israel. R' Yechiel Michel Epstein (d.1908), and R' Yisrael Meir Kagan (d.1933) both believed in the authenticity of the Zohar.

Some in Modern Orthodox Judaism reject the above view as naive. Some Orthodox Jews accept the earlier rabbinic position that the Zohar was a work written in the middle medieval period by Moses de Leon, but argue that since it is obviously based on earlier materials, it can still be held to be authentic, but not as authoritative or without error as others within Orthodoxy might hold.

Jews in non-Orthodox Jewish denominations accept the conclusions of historical academic studies on the Zohar and other kabbalistic texts. As such, most non-Orthodox Jews have long viewed the Zohar as pseudepigraphy and apocrypha. Nonetheless, many accepted that some of its contents had meaning for modern Judaism. Siddurim edited by non-Orthodox Jews often have excerpts from the Zohar and other kabbalistic works, e.g. Siddur Sim Shalom edited by Jules Harlow, even though the editors are not kabbalists.

In recent years there has been a growing willingness of non-Orthodox Jews to study the Zohar, and a growing minority have a position that is similar to the Modern Orthodox position described above. This seems pronounced among Jews who follow the path of Jewish Renewal.

The Zohar is rejected by almost all Spanish and Portuguese Jews. Some among them believe the Zohar is collection of ideas based on Midrasim and misinterpretation of midrashic concepts.

Modern criticism, view of authorship

In the mid-20th century, the Jewish historian Gershom Scholem contended that de Leon himself was the most likely author of the Zohar. Among other things, Scholem noticed the Zohar's frequent errors in Aramaic grammar, its suspicious traces of Spanish words and sentence patterns, and its lack of knowledge of the land of Israel. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, noted professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, claimed that "It is clear that the Zohar was written by de Leon as it is clear that Theodore Herzl wrote Medinat HaYehudim (The Jewish State)."

Other Jewish scholars have also suggested the possibility that the Zohar was written by a group of people, including de Leon. This theory generally presents de Leon as having been the leader of a mystical school, whose collective effort resulted in the Zohar.

Another theory as to the authorship of the Zohar is that it was transmitted like the Talmud before it was transcribed: as an oral tradition reapplied to changing conditions and eventually recorded. This view simultaneously believes that the Zohar was not written by Shimon bar Yochai, but was a holy work because it consisted of his principles.

Even if de Leon wrote the text, the entire contents of the book may not be fraudulent. Parts of it may be based on older works, and it was a common practice to ascribe the authorship of a document to an ancient rabbi in order to give the document more weight. It is possible that Moses de Leon considered himself inspired to write this text.

Within Orthodox Judaism the traditional view that Shimon bar Yochai was the author is maintained. R' Menachem Mendel Kasher in an article in the periodical Sinai refutes many of Scholem's points. He writes:

  • 1. Many statements in the works of the Rishonim (medieval commentors who preceded De Leon) refer to Medrashim that we are not aware of. He writes that these are in fact references to the Zohar. This has also been pointed out by R' David Luria in his work "Kadmus Sefer Ha'Zohar".
  • 2. The Zohar's major opponent Elijah Delmedigo refers to the Zohar as having existed for "only" 300 years. Even he agrees that it was extant before the time of R' Moses De Leon.
  • 3. He cites a document from R' Yitchok M' Acco who was sent by the Ramban to investigate the Zohar. The document brings witnesses that attest to the existence of the manuscript.
  • 4. It is impossible to accept that R' Moshe De Leon managed to forge a work of the scope of the Zohar (1700 pages) within a period of six years as Scholem claims.
  • 5. A comparison between the Zohar and De Leon's other works show major stylistic differences. Although he made use of his manuscript of the Zohar, many ideas presented in his works contradict or ignore ideas mentioned in the Zohar. (Luria also points this out)
  • 6. Many of the Midrashic works achieved their final redaction in the Geonic period. Some of the anachronistic terminology of the Zohar may date from that time.
  • 7. Out of the thousands of words used in the Zohar Scholem finds two anachronistic terms and nine cases of ungrammatical usage of words. This proves that the majority of the Zohar was written within the accepted time frame and only a small amount was added later (in the Geonic period as mentioned).
  • 8. Some hard to understand terms may be attributed to acronyms or codes. He finds corrolaries to such a practice in other ancient manuscripts.
  • 9. The "borrowings" from medieval commentaries may be explained in a simple manner. It is not unheard of that a note written on the side of a text should on later copying be added into the main part of the text. The Talmud itself has Geonic additions from such a cause. Certainly this would apply to the Zohar to which there did not exist other manuscripts to compare it with.
  • 10. He cites an ancient manuscript that refers to a book Sod Gadol that seems to in fact be the Zohar.

Concerning the Zohars's lack of knowledge of the land of Israel, Scholem bases this on the many references to a city Kaputkia (Cappadocia) which he states was situated in Turkey not in Israel. A city by this name located in Israel does appear, however, in Targum Onkelos, Targum Yonatan, Mishnah, Babylonian Talmud and several Midrashim.

Academic historical views

In the Encyclopaedia Judaica article written by the late Professor Gershom Scholem of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem there is an extensive discussion of the sources cited in the Zohar. Scholem views the author of the Zohar as having based the Zohar on a wide variety of pre-existing Jewish sources, while at the same time inventing a number of fictitious works that the Zohar supposedly quotes, e.g., the Sifra de-Adam, the Sifra de-Hanokh, the Sifra di-Shelomo Malka, the Sifra de-Rav Hamnuna Sava, the Sifra de-Rav Yeiva Sava, the Sifra de-Aggadeta, the Raza de-Razin and many others.

Scholem's views are widely held as accurate among historians of the Kabbalah, but like all textual historical investigations, are not uncriticially accepted; many of the following conclusions are still accepted as accurate, but some current academic scholars[who?] of Kabbalah have differing ideas.

While many original ideas in the Zohar are presented as being from (fictitious) Jewish mystical works, many ancient and clearly rabbinic mystical teachings are presented without their real, identifiable sources being named. Academic studies of the Zohar show that many of its ideas are based in the Talmud, various works of midrash, and earlier Jewish mystical works. Scholem writes:

The writer had expert knowledge of the early material and he often used it as a foundation for his expositions, putting into it variations of his own. His main sources were the Babylonian Talmud, the complete Midrash Rabbah, the Midrash Tanhuma, and the two Pesiktot (Pesikta De-Rav Kahana or Pesikta Rabbati), the Midrash on Psalms, the Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, and the Targum Onkelos. Generally speaking they are not quoted exactly, but translated into the peculiar style of the Zohar and summarized....
... Less use is made of the halakhic Midrashim, the Jerusalem Talmud, and the other Targums, nor of the Midrashim like the Aggadat Shir ha-Shirim, the Midrash on Proverbs, and the Alfabet de-R. Akiva. It is not clear whether the author used the Yalkut Shimoni, or whether he knew the sources of its aggadah separately. Of the smaller Midrashim he used the Heikhalot Rabbati, the Alfabet de-Ben Sira, the Sefer Zerubabel, the Baraita de-Ma'aseh Bereshit, [and many others]...

The author of the Zohar drew upon the Bible commentaries written by medieval rabbis, including Rashi, Abraham ibn Ezra, David Kimhi and even authorities as late as Nahmanides and Maimonides. Scholem gives a variety of examples of such borrowings.

The Zohar draws upon early mystical texts such as the Sefer Yetzirah and the Bahir, and the early medieval writings of the Hasidei Ashkenaz.

Scholem's studies concluded that the author of the Zohar "develops tendencies which appeared first in the writings of the circle of the Gnostics in Castile in the middle of the 13th century ." While this view is still widely accepted as plausible, it is currently being argued that perhaps Scholem has this conclusion backwards. Moshe Idel has argued that the Gnostic views found within the Zohar developed indigenously within Judaism, and from there extended outwards towards adherents of Gnostic theology. A similar approach has been taken by other scholars as well, for example, Yehuda Liebes and Elliot R. Wolfson.


The Book of Zohar includes parts and chapters in conformance with the weekly chapters of the Torah:[9]

  • The Book of Beresheet: Beresheet, Noach, Lech Lecha, Vayera, Chaiey Sarah, Toldot, Vayetze, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz, Vayigash, Vayichi.
  • The Book of Shemot: Shemot, Vayera, Bo, Bashalach, Yitro, Mishpatim, Terumah (Safra de Tzniuta), Tetzaveh, Ki Tissa, Veyikahel, Pekudey.
  • The Book of Vayikra: Vayikra, Tzav, Shmini, Tazria, Metzura, Acharey, Kedushim, Emor, Ba Har, Vechukotay.
  • The Book of Bamidbar: Bamidbar, Naso (Idra Raba), Baalotcha, Shlach Lecha, Korach, Chukat, Balak, Pinchas, Matot.
  • The Book of Devarim: Ve Etchanen, Ekev, Shoftim, Titze, Vayelech, Ha’azinu (Idra Zuta).

Appendices and additions

The Zohar is not considered complete without the addition of certain appendixes, which are often attributed either to the same author, or to some of his immediate disciples. These supplementary portions are almost always printed as part of the text with separate titles, or in separate columns. They are as follows:[2]

  • Sifra di-Tsni`uta, consisting of five chapters, in which are chiefly discussed the questions involved in the Creation, such as the transition from the infinite to the finite, that from absolute unity to multifariousness, that from pure intelligence to matter, etc;[2]
  • Idra Rabbah, in which the teachings of the preceding portion are enlarged upon and developed;[2] and Idra Zuta, giving a résumé of the two preceding sections.[2]

To the larger appendixes are added the following fragments:

  • Raza de Razin, ("Secret of Secrets") dealing with the connection of the soul with the body;[2]
  • Sefer Hekalot, describing the seven heavenly halls, paradise, and hell;[2]
  • Raya Mehemna, giving a conversation between Moses, the prophet Elijah, and Shimon ben Yochai on the allegorical import of the Mosaic commandments and prohibitions, as well as of the rabbinical injunctions.[2]
  • Sitre Torah, on various topics;[2]
  • Midrash ha-Ne'elam, explaining passages of Scripture mystically by way of hints and gematria (mystical numerology);[2]
  • Saba, containing a conversation between the prophet Elijah and Shimon ben Yochai about the doctrine of metempsychosis;[2]
  • Yanuḳa, on the importance of washing the hands before meals and on similar subjects, written in the name of a child of Hamnuna Saba, whence the title Yanuḳa ("child");[2]
  • Tosefta and Matnitin, in which are sketched the doctrines of the Sefirot, the emanation of the primordial light, etc.[2]


According to the Zohar, the moral perfection of man influences the ideal world of the Sefirot; for although the Sefirot accept everything from the Ein Sof (Heb. אין סוף, infinity), the Tree of Life itself is dependent upon man: he alone can bring about the divine effusion.[2] This concept is somewhat akin to the concept of Tikkun olam. The dew that vivifies the universe flows from the just.[2] By the practice of virtue and by moral perfection, man may increase the outpouring of heavenly grace.[2] Even physical life is subservient to virtue.[2] This, says the Zohar, is indicated in the words "for the Lord God had not caused it to rain" (Gen. 2:5), which means that there had not yet been beneficent action in heaven, because man had not yet been created to pray for it.[2]

Zohar's ditheistic theology

In Eros and Kabbalah, Moshe Idel (Professor of Jewish Mysticism, Hebrew University in Jerusalem) argues that the fundamental distinction between the rational-philosophic strain of Judaism and theosophic-mystical Judaism, as exemplified by the Zohar, is the mystical belief that the Godhead is complex, rather than simple, and that divinity is dynamic and incorporates gender, having both male and female dimensions. These polarities must be conjoined (have yihud, "union") to maintain the harmony of the cosmos. Idel characterizes this metaphysical point of view as "ditheism," holding that there are two aspects to God, and the process of union as "theoeroticism." This ditheism, the dynamics it entails, and its reverberations within creation is arguably the central interest of the Zohar, making up a huge proportion of its discourse (pp. 5-56).

Mention should also be made of the work of Elliot Wolfson (Professor of Jewish Mysticism, New York University), who has almost single-handedly challenged the conventional view, which is affirmed by Idel as well. Wolfson likewise recognizes the importance of heteroerotic symbolism in the kabbalistic understanding of the divine nature. The oneness of God is perceived in androgynous terms as the pairing of male and female, the former characterized as the capacity to overflow and the latter as the potential to receive. Where Wolfson breaks with Idel and other scholars of the kabbalah is in his insistence that the consequence of that heteroerotic union is the restoration of the female to the male. Just as, in the case of the original Adam, woman was constructed from man, and their carnal cleaving together was portrayed as becoming one flesh, so the ideal for kabbalists is the reconstitution of what Wolfson calls the male androgyne. Much closer in spirit to some ancient Gnostic dicta, Wolfson understands the eschatological ideal in traditional kabbalah to have been the female becoming male (see his Circle in the Square and Language, Eros, Being).

Biblical exegesis, "Pardes"

The Zohar assumes four kinds of Biblical text exegesis:

  1. The simple, literal meaning of the text: Peshat
  2. The allusion or hinted/allegorical meaning: Remez
  3. The rabbinic comparison through sermon or illustration and metaphor: Derash
  4. The secret/mysterious/hidden meaning: Sod[2]

The initial letters of these words (P, R, D, S) form together the word PaRDeS ("paradise/orchard"), which became the designation for the Zohar's view of a fourfold meaning of the text, of which the mystical sense is considered the highest part.[2]

Influence of the Zohar

In Judaism

On the one hand, the Zohar was lauded by many rabbis because it opposed religious formalism, stimulated one's imagination and emotions, and for many people helped reinvigorate the experience of prayer.[2] In many places prayer had become a mere external religious exercise, while prayer was supposed to be a means of transcending earthly affairs and placing oneself in union with God.[2]

On the other hand, the Zohar was censured by many rabbis because it propagated many superstitious beliefs, and produced a host of mystical dreamers, whose overexcited imaginations peopled the world with spirits, demons, and all kinds of good and bad influences.[2] Many classical rabbis, especially Maimonides, viewed all such beliefs as a violation of Judaic principles of faith.

Its mystic mode of explaining some commandments was applied by its commentators to all religious observances, and produced a strong tendency to substitute mystic Judaism in the place of traditional rabbinic Judaism.[2] For example, Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, began to be looked upon as the embodiment of God in temporal life, and every ceremony performed on that day was considered to have an influence upon the superior world.[2]

Elements of the Zohar crept into the liturgy of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the religious poets not only used the allegorism and symbolism of the Zohar in their compositions, but even adopted its style, e.g. the use of erotic terminology to illustrate the relations between man and God.[2] Thus, in the language of some Jewish poets, the beloved one's curls indicate the mysteries of the Deity; sensuous pleasures, and especially intoxication, typify the highest degree of divine love as ecstatic contemplation; while the wine-room represents merely the state through which the human qualities merge or are exalted into those of God.[2]

In the seventeenth century, it was proposed that only Jewish men who were at least 40 years old could study Kabbalah, and by extension read the Zohar, because it was believed to be too powerful for those less emotionally mature and experienced.

On Christian mysticism

The enthusiasm felt for the Zohar was shared by many Christian scholars, such as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Johann Reuchlin, Aegidius of Viterbo, etc., all of whom believed that the book contained proofs of the truth of Christianity.[10] They were led to this belief by the analogies existing between some of the teachings of the Zohar and certain Christian dogmas, such as the fall and redemption of man, and the dogma of the Trinity, which seems to be expressed in the Zohar in the following terms:

"The Ancient of Days has three heads. He reveals himself in three archetypes, all three forming but one. He is thus symbolized by the number Three. They are revealed in one another. [These are:] first, secret, hidden 'Wisdom'; above that the Holy Ancient One; and above Him the Unknowable One. None knows what He contains; He is above all conception. He is therefore called for man 'Non-Existing' [Ayin]"[10] (Zohar, iii. 288b).

However, many passages in the Zohar talk about the unity and uniqueness of God, in the Jewish understanding of it, rather than the Trinity. One of the most common phrases in the Zohar is "raza d'yichuda "the secret of his Unity" which describe the Oneness of God as completely undivideable, even in spiritual terms.

The above phrase of the three heads, according to the kabbalists has extremely diffferent connotations, as it is known that the Zohar is written in heavily coded terms according to Jewish tradition, and its true meaning is revealed only to the very righteous. However, the simple meaning of that above phrase, according to Jewish sources, has no relation at all to the Trinity. According to Judaism, God Himself is incomprehensible.

However, our relation to God is His Divine Presence. This may be comparable to a man in a room - there is the man himself, and his presence and relationship to others in the room. In Hebrew, this is known as the "Shechinah". It is also the concept of God's Name - it His relationship and presence in the world towards us. The Wisdom (literally written as Field of Apples) in kabbalistic terms refers to the Shechinah, the Divine Presence. The Unknowable One (literally written as the Miniature Presence) refers to events on earth when events can be understood as natural happenings instead of God's act,although it is actually the act of God. This is known as perceiving the Shechinah through blurry, cloudy lens. THis means to say, although we see God's Presence (not God Himself) through natural occurences also, it is only through blurry lens, as opposed to miracles, in which we clearly see and recognize God's presence in the world. The Holy Ancient One refers to God Himself, Who is inperceivable. (see Minchas Yaakov and anonymous commentary in the Siddur Beis Yaakov on the Sabbath hymn of Askinu Seudasa, composed by the Arizal based on this lofty concept of the Zohar). This is the simple understanding of that phrase in the Zohar by Jews, however, as understood, there are many deeper and secret kabbalistical interpretations which are not open to the public.

This and other similar doctrines found in the Zohar are now known to be much older than Christianity, but the Christian scholars who were led by the similarity of these teachings to certain Christian dogmas deemed it their duty to propagate the Zohar.[10]

English translations

  • Matt, Daniel C., trans. Zohar: Pritzker Edition (5 vols. to date). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004-2009. (The first five volumes of a projected 12-volume, comprehensively-annotated English translation)
  • ____. Zohar: Annotated and Explained. Woodstock, Vt.: SkyLights Paths Publishing Co., 2002. (Selections)
  • ____. Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment. New York: Paulist Press, 1983. (Selections)
  • Scholem, Gershom, ed. Zohar: The Book of Splendor. New York: Schocken Books, 1963. (Selections)
  • Sperling, Harry and Maurice Simon, eds. The Zohar (5 vols.). London: Soncino Press.
  • Tishby, Isaiah, ed. The Wisdom of the Zohar: An Anthology of Texts (3 vols.). Translated from the Hebrew by David Goldstein. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Berg, Michael: Zohar 23 Volume Set- The Kabbalah Centre Internatonal. Full 23 Volumes english translation with commentary and annotations.

See also


  1. Scholem, Gershom and Melila Hellner-Eshed. "Zohar." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 21. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 647-664. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38 2.39 2.40 2.41 2.42 2.43 2.44 2.45 2.46 2.47 Jacobs, Joseph; Broydé, Isaac. "Zohar". Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk & Wagnalls Company. 
  3. Scharfstein, Sol (2004). Jewish History and You II. Jewish History and You. Jersey City, NJ, USA: KTAV Publishing House. pp. 24. 
  4. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai - Lag BaOmer at OU.ORG
  5. e.g. Siddur Sim Shalom edited by Jules Harlow
  6. Bechinat ha-Dat ed. Vienna, 1833, p. 43), in the Jacobs and Broyde, "The Zohar," Jewish Encyclopedia
  7. See Likeutei Sichos Vol. 33 pg. 98 where the author, quoting a response Reb Hillel Paricher related from Rabbi Shne'ur Zalman of Liadi (the Baal HaTanya) (quoted also in the beginning of Shar Kakolel) explains that where there is an argument between Kabbalah and Poskim, the former should be followed. For it is impossible to say that the Kabbalah is in contradiction with the Talmud itself, rather the Kabbalists and the Halachists have variant understanding of the explanation of the Talmud as explained by the Radvaz (Chelek 4, Siman 1,111)and the Chacham Tzvi (Siman 36) (cited in the Sha'arei Teshuvah 25:14). See also Responsa Tzemach Tzedek A.H. Siman 18,4 and Divrei Nechemia Responsa O.H. 21. It should be noted however that as Poskim, the view of the Radvaz [and of the Chacham Tzvi] is that one should follow the opinion of the Zohar only where a conclusive statement has not been made by the Gemara or Poskim or when an argument is found between the Poskim. The above quoted view, attributed to Rabbi Shne'ur Zalman of Liadi, would thus be accepted as authoritative by followers of Rabbi Shne'ur Zalman of Liadi , followers of the Ben Ish Chai, and followers of other Halacha codifiers who accept to follow the rulings of Kabala over those of the Poskim. Such include: some Chassidim, select Sefardim, and other well known groups.
  8. [1]
  9. Rabbi Michael Laitman, PhD. "The Book of Zohar". Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Jacobs, Joseph; Broydé, Isaac. "Zohar". Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk & Wagnalls Company. 


External links

This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Zohar. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.

Online texts and translations of parts of the Zohar:

Other resources:

Around Wikia's network

Random Wiki