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Review of the critics...

Responses to the Claims of the Skeptics

Responses to the Claims of the Skeptics

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Responses to the Claims of the Skeptics
Review of the critics...

First, a general observation about the nature and method of scientific inquiry:

…pejorative and patronizing terminology, instead of solid scientific arguments…

We find a remarkable phenomenon in the academic literature examining the authorship of the Zohar: the prolific use of pejorative and patronizing terminology instead of solid scientific arguments. For example "the preposterous term "olifna" (meaning 'I have learned')" (Major Trends, notes to Lecture V, n. 37); "Preposterous too is the expression… The author here confused the words l'via and h'lva" (ibid. n. 45); "the contention… is baseless" (ibid. n. 46). Of course, Scholem does not bother to explain why it is baseless in his opinion); similarly, "the explanation offered by R. Margulies… has no philological base" (ibid. 47), again without any explanation as to why in Scholem's opinion it has no base); "the attempt of R. Margulies to 'vindicate' (his quotation marks) the author of the Zohar by pointing to a Talmudic passage… is purely apologetics" (ibid. f. 64); "as is the case of so many other modern defenders of the 'antiquity' (his quotation marks) of the Zohar, the facts which he presents with much proof of erudition but without critical analysis, prove precisely the opposite of what he infers from them" (ibid. n. 76) - of course, Scholem does not show how this is so); on the Aramaic of the Zohar: "it is not the language of the Bible, or of the Mishna, or of Daniel and Ezra, or of Onkelos and [Targum] Yonatan, or of the Babylonian Talmud, or of the Palestinian Talmud, or of the Midrashim, or of the Geonim, or of the commentators, or of the codifiers, or of the philosophers, but a ridiculous language, a mixture of all the languages I have mentioned, a language that would come automatically to the lips of anyone who wanted to write in the Talmudic style without studying it sufficiently. In fact, I know a man who learned a tiny scrap of Talmud and then tried to write in the Talmudic style, and all he could do was write in the style of the Zohar" (Samuel David Luzzatto quoted in Tishby, Mishnat HaZohar [English] p. 64-5); proofs based on the very scientific "there is reason to believe" (Tishby, Mishnat HaZohar p. 67) or "it is quite clear that" (ibid. p. 69) are found quite often, without any support for their claims; statements such as, "replies to these arguments were both few and weak, and they are not worthy of consideration from the point of view of scientific criticism" (ibid. p. 71) - without any explanation of why they are not worthy of consideration - are also found frequently in Scholem, Tishby and others. This would not be so bad if, in fact, there was a basis to the claims of these academics. I will show that there is no such basis, or at the very least their arguments are largely weak and inconclusive.

Furthermore, it must be kept in mind that a percentage of "anomalies" can be explained by virtue of the fact that there were probably several copyists of the Zohar so that human error can account for some of them. Furthermore, these academics sometimes make their claims based on a single occurrence of a word in the Zohar.

1) Topographical deceptions and errors

Scholem (and his student Tishby) cites 18 places in the Zohar where a place called Kapotkia is mentioned. Scholem argues that no such place ever existed in Israel, and it was never mentioned in Talmudic or Midrashic sources as a place in Israel, but rather as a province named Kappadokia in Asia Minor. Yet, "there is absolutely no doubt that the Zohar did not intend to refer to Kappadokia in Asia Minor but (correctly or incorrectly) to a village or town in the Land of Israel, close to Lod, as mentioned several times in the Zohar." (She'elot Bikoret, Tzion p. 43.)

The obvious conclusion is that "the author had never so much as set foot in Palestine and that his knowledge of the country was derived entirely from literary sources which he misunderstood!" (She'elot Bikoret, Tzion, ibid.)

Scholem and Tishby were either ignorant of basic sources… or attempted to deliberately mislead their readers…

The following is a list of sources where the place Kapotkia appears - in Targum Onkelos, Targum Yonatan, Mishnah, Babylonian Talmud and several Midrashim! An examination of these sources reveals that none other than Scholem and Tishby were either ignorant of basic sources… or attempted to deliberately mislead their readers.

Targum Onkelos to Devarim 2:23; Targum Yonatan to Amos 9:1 ("the Philistines from Kapotkia" - the land of the Philistines is in the Gaza Strip area, not very far from Lod); Mishnah Ketubot 13:10, 11; Shabbat 26a, 134a; Yevamot 25b, 121a; Ketubot 10a, 110b; Bava Batra 58b; Chulin 47b; Yerushalmi Yevamot 38a; Shir Hashirim Rabba 7:5; Kohelet Rabba 11:1; Tanchuma Va'era 13; ibid. BeHa'alotecha 1.

Also: Jerusalem Talmud Yevamot 38a tells about a trip from Casarea to Kapotkia (Caesarea was also in the Mediterranean coastal region. See #3 below).

Kfar Kanya: This is found once and only in one version of the Zohar (vol. 3, p. 42b): (Rabbi Abba was on his way to Kfar Kanya). This village is not mentioned anywhere else, and so the academics view its existence with suspicion. In response to the argument that other versions of the Zohar have a different reading -"Rabbi Abba was on a business trip", Scholem comments that R. Abba was not known from any source as a businessman. This is incorrect: From Kiddushin 59a it is clear that R. Abba bought and sold land for a living! As for the first argument, that the village is not mentioned in other sources is weak; perhaps there was no reason to mention a small village (after all it appears only once in the Zohar, and then again only according to one version!)

Lod: According to Tishby, Lydda "was thought [by the author of the Zohar] to be a town in Galilee, because it is cited as being in the neighborhood of Usha and Caesarea." (Zohar II, 5a, 36b; I 8a). (This actually proves the contrary for Caesarea is on the Mediterranean coast, not far from Lod.) He continues: "The cave in which Rabbi Shimon and his son hid themselves is referred to as being in the wilderness of Lydda (Lod), whereas according to early sources (Kohelet Rabba 10:8) it was situated in Galilee" (Mishnat Ha-Zohar p. 63). [Tishby cites Kohelet Rabba 10:11, but this is incorrect.] Of course Lod is in the area of the Judean desert, and the author "not knowing that Lod is in the area of Judea transferred it to the Galilee."(She'elot Bikoret, Tzion p. 52.)

Scholem adds, "perhaps we can see a similar confusion in an Aggadic section mentioned in Sanhedrin [98a] that transfers R. Yehoshua ben Levi, who lived in Lod, to a messianic vision at the cave of Rabbi Shimon. In any event, the same confusion could have occurred here [in the Gemara] too!" (Why do we have to assume that he was "transferred" there? Couldn't he have traveled there? Alternatively, Rabbi Yehoshua may have gone to the cave not far from Lod where Rabbi Shimon hid from the Romans for thirteen years (see below), and not to the cave in the Galilee.

All the sources are consistent with the Zohar…Scholem and Tishby did not do their research properly…

Ignoring Scholem's arrogance, let us simply point out that both Scholem and Tishby confused the events mentioned in the Zohar and other sources. Rabbi Shimon's thirteen year stint in the cave took place in the area of the Judean desert, close to Lod. The Gemara (Shabbat 33b) tells the story that Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Yehudah and a fourth person named Yehudah ben Geirim were in Yavneh (which is situated between modern-day Ashdod and Tel-Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast), not far from Lod, when the events took place that forced him to flee to the cave - which is spoken about as being in "the wilderness of Lod" (Zohar Chadash, Ki Tavo maamar Havtachot v'Nechamot) in the vicinity of the Judean Desert!

Tishby's assertion that, "the cave in which Rabbi Shimon and his son hid themselves… was situated in the Galilee" is completely baseless. The source he quotes in Kohelet Rabba merely states that after Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar came out of the cave they were advised (or decided) to go to the hot springs in Tiberias in order to heal their skin which had become cracked during their stay in the cave. He does not bring any other source to prove his point. Other sources that report the same story (Esther Rabba 3:6; Bereishit Rabba 79:6; Yalkut Shimoni, Vayishlach remez 133), give no indication at all that the cave itself was in the Galilee. Thus, all the sources are consistent with the Zohar and each other, and the only problem is that Scholem and Tishby did not do their research properly.

Itam. Scholem: "It appears to me that the intention here is not [to a place] in Israel." This makes it sound like a place far away from Israel, but see: Judges 15:8, 11, which takes place in the land of the Philistines on the Mediterranean coast, bordering Israel; Chronicles II 11:6, which takes place in the area of Judah). Itam spring is mentioned numerous times, e.g. Shabbat 145b, Yoma 31a, Zevachim 54b, etc. It still exists today, and is on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Kfar Itam is mentioned in Mishna Yevamot 12:6 and in the Babylonian Talmud 106b too.

The next article in this series: Authenticity of the Zohar, Claims and Responses .

Rabbi Moshe Miller was born in South Africa and received his yeshivah education in Israel and America. He is a prolific author and translator, with some twenty books to his name on a wide variety of topics, including an authoritative, annotated translation of the Zohar. He has developed a coaching-type approach to dealing with life's issues based on Chassidism and Kabbalah—a tool for dealing with normal issues that everyone faces as well as issues psychologists usually address, often ineffectively. He also gives free live classes over the Internet.
The Zohar is a basic work of Kabbalah authored by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his students (2nd century CE). English translation of annotated selections by Rabbi Moshe Miller (Morristown, N.J.: Fiftieth Gate Publications, 2000) includes a detailed introduction covering the history and basic concepts of Kabbalah. Volume 1 (36 pp.) covers the first half of the first of the original’s three volumes. It is available online from our store, KabbalaOnline Shop.
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A. Michael Israel February 1, 2016

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov stated that those who don't have desire for the books of the Zohar and the writings of the Ari z"l have problems with shmirat habrit. Not necessarily because they're good people that are just struggling, but more like because they want their pgam habrit. Reply

Netanel Lasry NY February 19, 2013

Response to Rabbi Miller's Rebuttals Part 2 2- I was wrong in making that second argument (which was my own and not that of any scholar) because I really did not research the sources as I should have.
My argument was based on the premise that the Zohar (and the discussions recorded therein) was written during the time period that Rabbi Shimon was hiding in the cave.

P.S. I would like to thank Rabbi Miller and Rabbi Tilles for taking the time to respond to my comments. Reply

Webmaster Tzefat, Israel via kabbalaonline.org February 19, 2013

Re: Kapotkia - for Netanel Lasry - part 3 a) what exactly is inherently problematic about traveling from there to Kapotkia in the south? Don't we read in the Talmud about certain sages who would travel regularly between Israel and Bavel (more or less modern day Iraq), a distance several times greater than from Pekiin to Kapotkia? b) As far as I remember (check for yourself) the vast majority of places where the Zohar mentions travels to Kapotkia it is from LOD, not Pekiin. Nor is it Rabbi Shimon traveling, but mostly others. See e.g. Zohar I 69b; 138a (Midrash Neelam); 160a; 197b; 223a.
So I really do not see a basis for either of your arguments.

Rabbi Moshe Miller Reply

Webmaster Tzefat, Israel via kabbalaonline.org February 19, 2013

Re: Kapotkia - for Netanel Lasry - part 2 (or deliberately ignored) the numerous places where Kapotkia is mentioned in very early sources, e.g.: Targum Onkelos to Devarim 2:23; Targum Yonatan to Amos 9:1 ("the Philistines from Kapotkia" - the land of the Philistines is in the Gaza Strip area, not very far from Lod); Mishnah Ketubot 13:10, 11; Shabbat 26a, 134a; Yevamot 25b, 121a; Ketubot 10a, 110b; Bava Batra 58b; Chulin 47b; Yerushalmi Yevamot 38a; Shir Hashirim Rabba 7:5; Kohelet Rabba 11:1; Tanchuma Va'era 13; ibid. BeHa'alotecha 1. And this is not an exhaustive list!
My point is that there is no reason to think that the author of the Zohar was inferring from that isolated (and unsourced by Scholem) rather dubious reference to the Palestinian Talmud when there are NUMEROUS sources (mentioned above and in the article) proving that a place named Kapotkia existed in the region which is now known as the Gaza strip (not in the Galilee).
As for Pekiin which is in the north in the upper Galilee: a)
(continued) Reply

Webmaster Tzefat, Israel via kabbalaonline.org February 19, 2013

Re: Kapotkia - for Netanel Lasry - part 1 Here are Scholem's own words (Major trends p. 169):
Whole villages are set up on the authority of some Talmudic passage the meaning of which has eluded the author [of the Zohar]. The most characteristic example of this kind is the frequent mention of a place called Kapotkia, which for the author is not the province of Kappadocia in Asia Minor, but a village, apparently in Lower Galilee, frequently visited by the adepts on their journeys. What the Zohar has to say about the character of its inhabitants leaves no doubt that... a passage from the Palestinian Talmud containing some rather unfriendly remarks on "the Kappadocians in Sephoris" i.e. the settlement of Kappadocian Jews in the town of Sepphoris, has prompted the author to found his mythical village of Kapotkia.
Scholem's statement: "leaves no doubt that... a passage from the Palestinian Talmud... has prompted the author to found his mythical village of Kapotkia" clearly indicates that Scholem was unaware of
(continued) Reply

Netanel Lasry NY January 7, 2013

In regards to "Kapotkia" the author of this article "refutes" the problem by proving that the Philistines land was Gaza.
No academic in his right mind would deny that. The problem with this "refutation" is that it builds a straw man argument because the real problem that Scholem presented was that the Talmud talks about Philistines who MIGRATED from Kapotkia and the author of the Zohar misunderstood this(even if you disagree with Scholem you are at the very least misrepresenting him).
Regardless, even if we accept Kapotkia as being part of Gaza, how does that reconcile with the fact that the Zohar states that while Rabbi Shimon was in the cave(which was located in Pekiin which is in the North) he traveled often to Kapotkia (which is in the South if we are to accept that Kapotkia is in Gaza) Reply

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