Halacha And Kabbalah (Part 2): Dating, Authorship, & Acceptance Of The Zohar

In the previous piece we discussed the basic halachic process. Based on that we can now try to understand how this relates to kabbalah, and how it can or should influence halacha. We can also now begin to understand some of the disagreement over the Zohar.

R. Moshe de León (circa 1240-1305) claimed to have found an ancient text ostensibly written by R. Shimon bar Yochai (circa 2 CE), a student of R. Akiva (killed about 136 CE). This sefer, called the Zohar, is the basic text of kabbalah. If the claim is accurate, we are then faced with a text from before the period of the Talmud. If we are to assume, as we explained at length in our previous installment, that the Amoraim of the Talmud will not argue on the Tannaim that preceded them, and that this Tannaitic text called the Zohar was hidden from them, then we can assume primacy for the Zohar even above the Talmud!

There are, however, many problems with assigning sole authorship of the Zohar to R. Shimon bar Yochai, mainly due to its containing many quotations of later sages, and the recollection of later events. (We will not here debate as to whether or not R. Moshe de León forged the entire book, a view to which this author does not subscribe.) Be this as it may, we then need to date the sefer and figure out whether it is Amoraic, Geonic (pre-Rishonim sages), or even later. It is also possible that the answer is affirmative to all the above possibilities and that some parts of the book date from the period of the Tannaim, some from the Amoraim, with some parts having been added in even later.

Lest one be surprised that something might have been added into an ancient text, one must realize that there was no printing press in ancient times, and notes written into the margin on the side of a manuscript easily may have been incorporated into the actual text by a sloppy scribe. Such mistakes then propagated and spread. Indeed, all sorts of corrections to even the Talmud’s text have been suggested throughout the times of the Rishonim and Achronim. There have even been additions made to the Talmud. Rashi’s grandson, Rashbam (circa 1085-1158), states that the Talmudic sage R. Achai is really the Geonic sage known for his sefer called the She’iltos. While Tosfos rejects this, he does not condemn Rashbam for making such a statement as a possibility. Furthermore, many Rishonim posit that most of the first couple folios of the tractate Kiddushin are Geonic additions! On top of this, there is a pre-Geonic period of sages known as the Savoraim who made numerous additions to the text of the Talmud as well.

All of the above additions are nevertheless treated as Talmud. We do not flippantly reject any of them, and will absolutely decide the halacha based upon on them. (This is not the time to delve into this particular point.) Therefore, even later additions to the Zohar, especially ones from the Amoraic and even the later Geonic periods, should not shock us nor bother us at all. Thus, the Zohar is without question to play some role in the deciding of halacha, and certainly is to be regarded as an important Kabbalistic text. How, exactly, kabbalah as a whole, and the Zohar in particular, fit into the halachic process is what we turn our attention to in the next installment. We shall also elaborate on how exactly the poskim view kabbalah, and specifically the Zohar, with regards to differences with the Talmud.

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