Tuesday, May 16, 2006

DovBear: Who wrote the Zohar? Not me!

A reprint, in honor of Rashbi's deathday.

DovBear: Who wrote the Zohar? Not me! I would love to attribute this blog to Moshe Rabbanu. If I could convince you that Moshe was the man behind my insights and comments, I'm sure I'd get a boost in page views. I bet I could even add some adverts, or a pay pal button. Soon, as the blog became more and more popular, I'd be able to focus full time on retailing and turn the actual writing of the blog over to OrthoMom and other low paid interns (MBAs call this "Garfielding" it.)

But I'd never get away with it. And not even even the typically well-thought out, carefully researched, right-wing style explanation ("But he's Moshe! Moshe can do anything!") would save me from a fierce dressing-down in the Jewish Press.

The teeming masses may not be bright. (They read the Jewish Press, after all.) But even someone like Heshy would eventually realize that this blog is composed in English, a language that did not exist in Moshe's time. (But he was Moshe! Moshe! Moshe can do anything! --- Ok, folks, did that work? Let me know. I'm in a rush to start retailing.)

Anyway, there's a book we call the Zohar that is also attributed to someone who lived long ago.

For those unfamiliar with the Zohar, it is a work of Jewish mysticism alleged to have been written in the second century by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and passed, teacher to student, until the 13th century when Moses de Leon published it.

[Important Interjection: I will not attack the validity of the Zohar. That would be stupid, and also bad for retailing. People smarter than me, and Amshinover, plus Hasidic Rebbes of every stripe, have praised the Zohar, and I have no reason to think that the publisher paid them off. As far as I am concerned Bernard McGinn, Professor Emeritus, The Divinity School, University of Chicago was underselling the Zohar when he called it "the crown jewel of Jewish mysticism...[and a] masterpiece of mystical literature." Ok? So please have your credit cards ready.]

But who gets credit for that achievment? Did de Leon merely publish it? Or did he write it? From the very beginning, questions have been raised about the authorship of the Zohar. Yitzchak of Acco, a kabbalist and student of the Ramban, met de Leon's widow, reviewed the manuscript, and determined that the Zohar was, in fact, written by de Leon. (See Sefer HaYuchasin by Rabbi Avraham Zacuto 1425- c. 1515 CE in which Mrs. de Leon admits the fraud.)

Rabbi Yitzchak's conclusion was supported by later scholars, including Elijah Delmedigo, Yakov Emdem, and Gershom Scholem, the 20th century Hebraist. They observed that the Zohar:

1 - contains names of rabbis who were born after Bar Yochai had already died;
2 - misquotes passages of Scripture and misunderstands the Talmud;
3 - contains ritual observances which were ordained by rabbinical authorities who were born after Bar Yochai had already died;
4 - mentions the crusades against the Muslims (who, inconveniently, did not exist in the second century);
5 - uses the expression "esnoga", which is a Portuguese corruption of "synagogue;"
6 - gives a mystical explanation of the Hebrew vowel-points, which were not introduced until long after the Talmudic period.
7 - contains suspicious marks of Spanish and Spanish sentence patterns
8 - is riddled with Aramaic errors; at times, Scholem found, the Aramaic is actually Hebrew with a few extra alephs scattered here and there. [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zohar]

I admit to not having read the Zohar (that and my wonderful singing voice might cause people to confuse me with Madonna) but I have read Scholem and Emdem and I find their arguments compelling.However, when I repeat these compelling arguments the reaction of the teeming masses is not friendly. Why is this? Why can't the Zohar be, simply, an awfully good book of great importance? Why is the back story about Bar Yochai necessary? What does it add? Why do people who can hardly even spell the word Zohar cling to this story? Does anyone seriously believe that the value of the Zohar would be reduced if we put aside the myth that it was written by Shimon Bar Yochai?

No comments: