Thursday, January 06, 2011

A response to other anti-anti-Zohar points

Summary: A continuation of my analysis of Rabbi Bar-Ron's critique of casting aspersions on the authenticity of the Zohar.

Post: While the previous post dealt with those point touching on the Esnoga proof, Rabbi Michael Shelomo Bar-Ron made other point as well. I saved my thoughts on those points for this post. Of course, one should read his essay in full to get a better sense. Even here, I don't mention every one of his points.

He writes:
Anti-Zoharists often mention Sepher HaYuHasin, which claims the widow of Rav Moshe de Leon admitted that her late husband had personally authored it, falsely claiming the authorship of Shim’on Ben YoHai in order to sell the work.  However, it is difficult to believe a widow would incriminate her own husband in those times.
While I personally am not convinced by this testimony in Sefer Hayuchsin, this is essentially a psychological assessment. It is difficult for him to believe that the widow would incriminate her husband. I don't think I buy this. Here, from the Vikuach, is the account, which I wonder if Rabbi Bar-Ron read before critiquing it:
"And what will you say about the testimony written in Sefer Yuchsin, printed in Constantine (and which the Gaon {=Yaabetz} brings down in his sefer, that Rabbi Yitzchak of Akko, the student of the Ramban, went to investigate the sefer haZohar, which was found in the hands of the students, and he did not find their words in tune. For some of them told him that the Ramban found it in Eretz Yisrael and sent it so Cologne, and some of them told him that it was never the composition of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, but rather than Rabbi Moshe of the city of Leon was the author of it, and in order to take for it a large price he suspended himself by the large tree {=Rashbi}. And therefore, he, Rabbi Yitzchak of Akko arose and went to the city of Valladolid {in Central Spain} and found there Rabbi Moshe de Deon, and he {=Rabbi Moshe} swore to him that the sefer of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was in the house of his dwelling in the city of Avila. And in returning to his home, he died on the road. And Rabbi Yitzchak came to the city of Avila and found there a sage whose name was Rabbi David Refan, the relative of Rabbi Moshe, and he found favor in his eyes, and he made him swear to tell him if he knew the truth of the matter of the sefer haZohar. And this sage said to him that it was clear to him with certainty that Rabbi Moshe had invented it from his heart, and had given it to wealthy individuals in our country, and accepted from them many gifts, and all that he profited he dispersed in his lifetime, and left his wife and children naked and lacking everything. 
And when he {=this relative} heard of the death of Rabbi Moshe, he went to Rabbi Yosef de Avila, who was a very wealthy man, from whom Rabbi Moshe {de Leon} had already taken from him a lot of money, and told him that now the time had arrived that he was able to purchase the great sefer haZohar in its entirety, if he wished to send a good portion to the widow of Rabbi Moshe, who was in abject poverty. And he did so, and send gift by the hand of his wife to the wife of Rabbi Moshe, and she swore to her that her husband never had the sought after sefer haZohar, but rather from his own heart and mind did he write, and that she had already reproved him on this, why he suspended his own wisdom upon others. And he {=Rabbi Moshe de Leon} answered her that if he said these words in his own name, they would not value them, and would not give him gifts. And after this, the woman {=the wife of the rich man} spoke with the daughter
of Rabbi Moshe, and she found that her words were in accord with the words of her mother."
Would Rabbi Moshe de Leon's widow (corroborated by his daughter and his relative, Rabbi David Refan) have said such a thing? I could imagine that they could have. After all, while he had received all these great gifts in his lifetime, he had used up all this money and left them penniless. Furthermore, even during his lifetime, this widow was thinking that this was a terrible scam, and reproved him about it. And there is what to reprove, for it is falsifying the masora for material gain. If the widow is given opportunity to correct what she feels is a great moral sin, wouldn't she take it? Wouldn't she be wicked not to tell the truth?

Again, not that I necessarily agree that this testimony is to be believed, or that it was even given over.

Rabbi Bar-Ron continues:
It is even harder to believe that an author who sought to forge a work in the name of a Tanna in order to increase its buyership would write it in a difficult dialect of Aramaic that only the most advanced Torah scholars could understand.
This involves second-guessing the motivations and thought-processes of a forger. How about this for motivation -- kabbalah is esoteric, and the harder it is to understand, the more impressed people would be. And he was selling this work, a page or two, or a section, at a time, to rich gevirim. That there is an arcane word which doesn't make sense to laypeople, but then when it is pointed out that this is a use of a arcane Aramaic word used once or twice in Shas would give people the impression that this is no simple forged text. Rather, it is from someone (Rashbi, Tannaim, and Amoraim) writing fluently in his native language, which only on careful study and encyclopedic knowledge will reveal the intent. Whether or not it is true, this does not strike me as very hard to believe.
Wouldn’t he author in the authentic Hebrew of the Tannaim in the Land of Israel at the time?  That would truly increase its readership by making it understandable to the lay scholar.

Ease of reading it is not necessarily the goal, especially when he is not going for wide distribution but controlled release of a bit at a time to wealthy patrons. He is not looking to get on the New York Times bestseller list. And the more difficult, the more esoteric it seems.
Furthermore, the “lie” would be accepted more easily—it being easier to fool lower-level scholars than those who are more advanced.   Even advanced scholars would be impressed:  The Mishnah and Pirqei d’Rabi Eli`ezer demonstrate that Hebrew was the language of the Tannaim in the Land of Israel at the time.  Why would Rav De Leon have chosen to use a language that it was known Ribi Shim’on would not have used? 
Theories and more theories of motivations and reactions by people. Perhaps, or perhaps not. He is right about Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, in terms of what people of the time thought. Yet there is good evidence that Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer is not from the Tannaim.

In terms of the Mishna, also perhaps. Really early Mishnayot and braytot are indeed written in Aramaic. And Onkelos and Targum Yonasan were written in Tannaitic times, and were written so that the people, in Tannaitic times, would be able to understand the meaning of the Torah text during leining. Did they speak late Palestinian Aramaic? I don't think it at all impossible for Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to have used some form of Aramaic.
Now consider that, by Moshe De Leon’s time, Aramaic had been the language of Torah scholarship for centuries.  If Zohar were an Oral tradition that had been passed down through the golden age in the schools of Bavel, it would likely have been preserved in Aramaic.
Yes, that is another way in which it could have been written in Aramaic.

By the way, here is what Shadal considers the reason the Zohar was written in Aramaic:
And why was the Zohar not written in the holy tongue {=Hebrew}?

Because it is extremely difficult to write in the language of the the Mishna and the Brayta, and most of those who read it would recognize the forgery, but not many are wise in the Aramaic language to recognize and to distinguish what is the language of the Sages of the Talmud and what is a forged language which models itself after it, but is not really like it.
The author of the article continues:

The greatest anti-Zoharist work is MithpaHath Sefarim, by Rav Ya`aqov Moshe Emden (1697-1776), the Ya`avetz.  This Torah giant exposes literary inconsistencies in the Zohar: misquoted sections from Talmud and even Scripture.  He cites ritual observances in the Zohar that were ordained by later rabbinical authorities, and a mention of the crusades against the Muslims.   

But wouldn’t a forger who went to the efforts of inventing such an enormous work as the Zohar be at least careful enough not to misquote, and certainly not to mention later historical events?
In evaluating claims and counter-claims, I would like to know the precise nature of each. Some examples, with some original text. For example, for the Crusades, I would need to see chelek 2, 32a in the Zohar. And I'd further like to see what Rav Yaakov Emden writes in Mitpachat Seforim. (Indeed, both of these are scheduled for another post, scheduled soon.) But from what I've seen in Zohar, I would rather explain the passage in the Zohar as a reference to a future event. For example, we see here in the Zohar:

If Rashbi is prophesying the Crusades, this is a better answer, and undermines the obviousness defense. Meanwhile, from what I could make out (but perhaps I didn't look far enough), Rav Yaakov Emden's actual objection is that this passage in the Zohar describes Arab rule in Israel as a prelude to the Crusades, a very different, and less obvious, anachronism. Similarly, he points to Zoharic descriptions of the Bnei Yishmael as monotheists, while back then, they were actually pagans. These are not so obvious anachronisms, and are well within the realm of Rav Moshe de Leon to overlook.

In terms of misquoting, it depends on how quickly he is producing this enormous work. And it could be that he thought he remembered the gemara, but actually got it wrong. And with the wrong sense of history, he might not have realized, e.g., that Yishtabach is post-Talmudic. In terms of pesukim, he could well have been citing variant Torah text as they developed accidentally or deliberately in his particular area. Minchas Shai cites a number of variant traditions.

At the end of the day, though, it is hard to respond to general critiques like this, removed from the text. I prefer direct quotes, so we can see the statement in context, with all its nuances.


Anonymous said...

Bar Ron's arguments are really laughable and self-contradictory. If you find an anachronism then it's proof of its authenticity! (it's reminicent of the babelfish argument in hitchhikers guide)
You then are put in the absurd position of trying to minimize the severity of the anachronism. It's almost hard to believe that a Rabbi would write such nonsense. But wait! it's such obvious nonsense that a forger would never try to pass it off as authentic so it must be that he (Bar-Ron) did actually write it!


S. said...

>Wouldn’t he author in the authentic Hebrew of the Tannaim in the Land of Israel at the time? That would truly increase its readership by making it understandable to the lay scholar.

It is not so easy to write in the authentic style of anything but what you yourself write. Not everyone can imitate the Mishnah, and lucky are those who can, per Shadal.

>The Mishnah and Pirqei d’Rabi Eli`ezer demonstrate that Hebrew was the language of the Tannaim in the Land of Israel at the time. Why would Rav De Leon have chosen to use a language that it was known Ribi Shim’on would not have used?

Not so simple. From other evidences we see that Aramaic was used in the Galil. You-know-who and his disciples are always quoted in Aramaic and not Hebrew in their Bible. Although we can't say for sure what it means, Megillas Taanis is in Aramaic, as well as what you pointed out.

All in all, although partisans have staked out positions on the meaning of the fact that the Mishnah is written in Hebrew, we certainly cannot say that it "the language" in all of Israel in Rabbi Shimon's time.

>Similarly, he points to Zoharic descriptions of the Bnei Yishmael as monotheists, while back then, they were actually pagans. These are not so obvious anachronisms, and are well within the realm of Rav Moshe de Leon to overlook.

I once posted about a contemporary rabbi who also, in my opinion, failed to distinguish between Arabs pre and post Islam and raised a difficulty where I think none exists.

Anonymous said...

If as according to him the language of the time was hebrew that should prove that it's a forgery since it's written in aramaic instead he uses it as a proof of its authenticity.

S. said...

Well, it's not impossible for someone in a given time and place to write a work in a language which isn't the primary local language.

I think the point is that de Leon would be stupid to pass of an Aramic text as written by a Tanna. Since, so goes the argument, de Leon was not stupid and would've written it in Mishnaic Hebrew if he forged it, then the language isn't an impediment to its authenticity.

So, per the argument, we must conclude that the language is entirely meaningless.

Anonymous said...


Hi folks. I consider my self to be a talmid of Mori Bar-Ron. At the same time, I believe I agree with most of what you write. While I would never purport to speak for him, I recommend you contact him for a response, instead of assuming his position. If you have already tried, please understand he is extremely busy. If I remember his view on this topic correctly, the most legitimacy he will give to the Zohar is that it could be a "multi-layered" text, with some elements that are legit, and others that are bogus. Either way, please stop taking (what seem to my humble view to be) cheap shots, and get his response. He is truly a down to earth guy, and there is no reason to get overly passionate about these things. But wait until after PesaH. Okay? But between you and I, I believe the Zohar has a ton of blatant Av Zor inside of it. But I don't over focus on this hot topic, because it can so divisive.
Shavua Tov

DaweedYaqub said...

I recently have been doing much reading on and it seems to me that the site admin and rav michael bar-ron are one person(???). if so then i dont think he believes in the zohar anymore: see here: & this pdf

someone clarify the stance of the author of, if he is the same person or not, and is there contradictions to what he is claiming?


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