by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
A highly-respected historian rabbi recently went on record (via a public video) “proving” that the Zohar is not authentic, or at least that the vast majority of it is not. He quoted a number of well known scholars from years ago who said such things as, “It was not written by Shimon bar Yohai as is believed,” and, “It is filled with mistakes, additions, [and] anonymous comments.” He quoted Reb Yaakov Emden from the 1700’s who said that not only is the Zohar “not authentic”, but that “everybody added to it, the printers, the copyist added to it,” and although “some of the ideas are Shimon ben Yohai’s, they are not as we have it.”
He also quoted the famous Chatam Sofer who said, “If we could sift out what is not of, or from, Reb Shimon it would be a very thin book, only a few pages.” And the proof is that “there are people listed there who were born way after Reb Shimon Bar Yochai lived,” so obviously, the book is “not authentic.”
Frankly, I wonder what his purpose was in having given this talk. He seemed to be belittling a holy book! But the real question is: is he correct? Are his sources and arguments valid? Was the book written by someone other than Reb Shimon? Are there additions, corrections, and comments by unknown copyists and printers? Is the Zohar authentic, or not?
The lessons of the Zohar form the very background for virtually all Jewish mysticism. There are thousands upon thousands of lessons contained in this book. Each of its teachings is a treasure that can change your entire life, if you can really understand it, and if you take it to heart.
For instance, the Zohar teaches that, just as G-d put Adam (the first man) in the Garden of Eden then, “So does G-d do now [put man in the Garden] when he repents of his sins and occupies himself with the Torah.”[i]The Zohar is showing us that the Torah is an ongoing explanation of our very lives. It is not merely a history book, nor a book of morality. Of course, the Torah is historically true, and of course it contains moral teachings, but the Torah’s greatest value to us is that it is actually talking about us in the world today. It teaches us how to live a proper spiritual life.
Now, is this an authentic teaching? The greatest Torah scholars we have ever known--from all streams of Orthodox Judaism--certainly have said that it is legitimate. For instance, the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Moshe Cordevero (aka the Ramak, who was the primary authority on Kabbalah before the Ari), and the Ari (the most famous of all Jewish mystics) all taught Kabbalah based on the Zohar.
But what if it was not written by Reb Shimon? What if there have been additions throughout the ages, and even printers’ errors? You could certainly ask these very questions about every page of the Gemora (Talmud). And in fact, frequently the Talmud “changes its mind” and says, “Rabbi So and So could not have said it that way, he must have said it like this,” and it changes what the Talmud had previously said that the Rabbi had said. But, is anyone suggesting that the Talmud is not authentic? Sure, lots of Jews do not believe that theTalmud is authentic.
Attacking the authenticity of sacred books is not a new thing. Not only has the entire Talmud been challenged, but there are Jews today who claim that the Torah itself, the Five Books of Moses, were not written by Moses! “Religious” Jews are saying such things as, “The story of the Exodus from Egypt [the Passover story] is not literally true. It never happened!”
The Chazon Ish, one of the greatest rabbinic legal authority during the early years of the last century, was known to be a non-mystical, no-Kabbalah rabbi. He said, “Some of the most beautiful teachings of our Sages come from the Zohar.”
It would be very difficult to understand the proper mystical teachings of the Torah without the Zohar’s explanations.
The test of the authenticity of a holy book is not only who wrote it. It is whether it helps the Jewish People to grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and even physically.
[i] Zohar, Genesis 27a