Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Rabbi Yasa, and the authenticity of the Zohar

Summary: Debunking a debunking. Was Rabbi Yasa indeed a Tanna, rather than an Amora?

Post: There is an impressive-looking, five-part article by Rabbi Moshe Miller debunking all sorts of anachronisms in the Zohar. Yet it is riddled with mistakes. I could choose almost any point at random and debunk it, and I've indeed done so for two such points, though not yet in nicely developed posts on parshablog. Yet the article was recently called to my attention a second time, and so I'll put up a post, or more, on it.

Here is one such random debunking from the article:
Similarly, according to Tishby, (Mishnat Ha-Zohar p. 57-8), the only Rabbi Yesa known to us was a disciple of Rabbi Yochanan and lived in the fifth generation after Rabbi Shimon. However it is clear from Yerushalmi Berachot 24a that there was also a Tanna named Rabbi Yesa: "Rabbi Yose the Galilean said in the name of Rabbi Yesa…" (Rabbi Yose theGalilean was a Tanna and is mentioned numerous times in Mishna, including Berachot 7:3, Shevi'it 4:6, Bikkurim 1:10, Eruvin 1:7 etc., etc.). See also Yerushalmi Kilaim 30a: "Tani machlif Rebbe Yaakov bar Ada b'shem Rebbe Yesa b'matnitin".
Thus, Rabbi Yesa can be a Tanna, and can converse with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Now, I admit that one could possibly misread these sources as saying this. This is, after all, probably how Rabbi Moshe de Leon came up with these names.

But let us look at the Yerushalmi that says this, Berachot 24a (and :
ר' יונה ר' יוסי גליליא בשם רבי יסא בר חנינא אין שואלין הלכה לפני מיטתו של מת

He gave a translation of Rabbi Yossi the Galilean, who is thus equal to Rabbi Yossi HaGlili. But it actually says this weird name, Rabbi Yossi Galilya, which is Aramaic. Perhaps it is the same name. But Yehuda Nesia, for example., is not the same as Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi.

So too in Yerushalmi Shabbos:
רבי יונה ר' יוסי גליליא בשם רבי יוסי בן חנינה חמור משלים לקל אין הקל משלים לחמור

and in Yerushalmi Nazir:
ר' יונה ר' יוסי גליליא בשם רבי יוסי בן חנינה אין שואלין הלכות לפני מיטתו של מת

Rabbi Yona is almost certainly an Amora here. Rabbi Yasa Galilya, or Rabbi Yosi Galilya, we are uncertain. If he is a Tanna, and the same as Rabbi Yossi HaGlili, then it is Game Over. But it is a question, as I wrote above. Note, in all three cases, it is the same X citing Y citing Z.

Usually, IIRC, when we have in Yerushalmi a pattern of X, Y cited Z, cited A, etc., these are in close proximity. Which would be strange if Rabbi Yona is an Amora and Rabbi Yossi Galilya were a Tanna from five generations earlier.

Furthermore, it is not just a Rabbi Yesa, as the author of this article indicates. In each case, Rabbi Yossi Galilya is citing Rabbi Yesa (or Yossi) bar Chanina. Have we every heard of such a Sage?

Why, yes! We have! He was a prominent Amora in Eretz Yisrael, a student of Rabbi Yochanan, who served as a dayyan. To cite Sanhedrin 30b:
R. Simeon b. Eliakim was anxious for R. Jose son of R. Hanina to be ordained, but an opportunity did not present itself.5  One day, as he was sitting before R. Johanan, the latter asked them [the students]: 'Does anyone know whether the halachah rests with R. Joshua b. Korha or not?'6  R. Simeon b. Eliakim replied, 'This man here [R. Jose son of R. Hanina] knows.' 'Let him then answer,' said R. Johanan. Thereupon P. Simeon b. Eliakim said: 'Let the Master first ordain him.'7  So he ordained him and then asked: 'My son, what tradition in the matter have you heard?' — 'I heard,' replied R. Jose son of R. Hanina, 'that R. Joshua b. Korha agreed with R. Nathan [that the evidence need not be given simultaneously].'8  R. Johanan exclaimed: 'Is that what I wanted? If R. Joshua b. Korha maintained that the essential witnessing [of the act need not have been simultaneous, is it necessary [to state this] in reference to the giving of evidence [in court]! However, he concluded, since you have ascended,9  you need not descend.'10  R. Zera said: We may infer from this that once a great man is ordained, he remains so.11
So, Rabbi Miller set out to disprove Tishbi's assertion that "the only Rabbi Yesa known to us was a disciple of Rabbi Yochanan and lived in the fifth generation after Rabbi Shimon". But coincidentally, the Rabbi Yesa he assumes is a Tanna person bears the very same name as Tishbi's Amora, down to the father's name. One would think Rabbi Miller would have mentioned that pertinent fact, rather than concealing it from the reader. The same as how he could have mentioned the irregularity in it being Rabbi Yasa Galilya.

He ends with the following proof, writing:
See also Yerushalmi Kilaim 30a: "Tani machlif Rebbe Yaakov bar Ada b'shem Rebbe Yesa b'matnitin"
Let us look at this Yerushalmi:
רבי מאיר אומר צרור השעה טהורות צרור עולם טמאות.  רבי יוסי אומר כל חמתות צרורות טהורות.  אית תניי תני מחלף רבי יעקב בר אחא בשם רבי יסא במתניתין

Thus, there is a brayta involving Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yossi. And the Yerushalmi states that some teach it differently, replacing Rabbi Yaakov bar Acha for the name Rabbi Yesa. Or else, it is going on the Mishna and claiming such a replacement! The clear implication is that Rabbi Yesa is a fine name for a Tanna in a brayta or a Mishna.

But hold on just one minute. Do they really wish to replace Rabbi Yossi, a Tanna, with Rabbi Yaakov bar Acha, a Palestinian Amora of the third generationin a brayta or Mishna?! That seems more than a bit unlikely.

Rather, this is a typographical error, and one fairly common in Yerushalmi. The beis should be a kaf. Thus, it should read:
רבי מאיר אומר צרור השעה טהורות צרור עולם טמאות.  רבי יוסי אומר כל חמתות צרורות טהורות.  
אית תניי תני מחלף 
רבי יעקב בר אחא בשם רבי יסא כמתניתין

Thus, first the brayta, with a dispute between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yossi.
Then, a statement that some have the names reversed. That is, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yossi reversed.
Then, Rabbi Yaakov bar Acha, a Palestinian Amora of the third generation, cites Rabbi Yesa, the Amora and his contemporary Palestinian Amora of the third generation, that it is not reversed, but it is rather like our brayta cited immediately above.

I did not make this up on the spot, by the way. Here is someone who has the kaf and who parses it this way, Rabbi Avraham Moshe Lunz:

and besides the comma and the kaf, see his comments there.

{Update: Not just Rabbi Lunz, but Pnei Moshe, the standard Yerushalmi commentary, as well. Just got home and checked in my Yerushalmi.}

If one is going to accuse Jewish scholars of being ignoramuses, one must take care to first know what one is talking about. In the three or four examples I've examined so far, it seems as though he misunderstands sources.

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