What is the Zohar?
Many rabbis try to show that some Zohar notions are reasonable by ignoring the vast majority of the book and by mistranslations. They insist that the Zohar was composed by Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai around the year 130 CE. However, scholars recognize that Moses d’ Leon, a Spaniard living in Granada, wrote it around 1286, that parts of the book were added by others after his death, and that the work is a pious forgery.
Zohar means “luminous” and alludes to the notion that God illuminates people through mysticism. But while ostensibly dealing with enlightenment, the Zohar is usually very difficult to understand, many of its ideas are not rational, and very few people are able to read it.
The Zohar’s basic teaching is the doctrine of the Sefirot, “numbers,” ten divine entities that function in ten different ways. The lowest entity is shekhinah, also called malkhut, which mystics see as the anthropomorphic feminine part of God that interacts with humans.
The mystics feel that the ten parts of God have become disconnected and that humans have a duty to help God become one with all the ten disjointed parts reassembled, like putting Humpty Dumpty together again. When this is done, they say, the messianic age will arrive.
Scholars have collected many proofs showing that the Zohar was not an ancient document. The following are some of them.
- A renowned person visited Moses d’ Leon to see the ancient documents that d’ Leon claimed he used to copy the Zohar. Moses d’ Leon kept putting him off and later asserted that the documents had strangely disappeared. After his death, d’ Leon’s wife admitted that the ancient documents never existed.
- The ideas in the Zohar are an expansion of earlier mystical notions that were composed long after 130, showing that the ideas in the Zohar were developed after these earlier works, and not in 130, as d’ Leon claimed.
- Neither the rabbis nor anyone else knew anything about the Zohar until d’ Leon introduced it.
- Moses d’ Leon had no sense of history; he describes the alleged second century author conversing with people that lived long after his death. The book supposedly composed in the year 130 could not have known about people who lived long after its composition.
- The Zohar author knew of the existence of vowels and accent marks used in the Torah books and gave them mystical interpretations. However, these items were not invented until the ninth century, seven centuries after the alleged composition date of the Zohar.
- The terms “master of dikduk [grammar]” and “tenuah gedola” [long vowel] are used in the Zohar even though they were not coined until the tenth and eleventh centuries, respectively.
- The author inserted terms from Jewish philosophy first used in the Middle Ages.
- The book contains ideas copied from the eleventh-century Kuzari of Yehudah Halevi.
- The author introduces Maimonides’ twelfth-century concept about physics.
- The volume mentions putting on two pairs of tephilin, a practice that arose in the twelfth century.
- The Zohar discusses the Kol Nidre prayer of Yom Kippur, a ceremony that began in the eleventh century.
- The language of the Zohar is later than the language spoken and written after its alleged date of composition.
- There are many incorrect quotations from the Bible and the Talmud. The latter did not exist in 130.
- Prophecies in the volume inform the reader that the Zohar will be revealed around 1300 CE, a blatant attempt to justify its late appearance.
- There are parallel passages between the Zohar and other books that were indisputably composed by Moses d’ Leon, including mistakes in the original books that d’ Leon repeated in his Zohar.
- There is no mention in the Talmud or Midrashim that the alleged author of the Zohar, Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai, was interested in mysticism. Thus, d’ Leon took the wrong hero for his work.
- The famous mystic Rabbi Jacob Emden (born 1697) recorded 280 contradictions, anachronisms, and incorrect statements and concluded that the book is a forgery of the thirteenth-century with some later additions.
In summary, the Zohar is the most prominent book of Jewish mysticism and is considered holy by many people. It contains the majority of the most important notions of modern Jewish mysticism. However, the book is not what it claims to be, its ideas are at best obscure and incomprehensible, its concept of God is curious and polytheistic, it gives people wrong ideas about Judaism, and it encourage a passivity and reliance on God that stifles people from intellectual and emotional growth.