Wednesday, February 03, 2010

"belief" in kabbalah

Another quote from a modern orthodox Rabbi that caught my eye on another blog was the following statement about kabbalah: "...One can be a full and complete Jew while disbelieving all of it." This Rabbi goes on to say that one must nonetheless recognize the contribution of kabbalah to our prayers, our rituals, and our customs.

With all due respect, I have no idea how to interpret such an unequivocal statement. What does it mean to conclusively “disbelieve” (not "lack understanding of", not "lack of interest in" -- "disbelieve") in kabbalah? How does a layperson (for whom this Rabbi's book is intended) arrive at such a firm "disbelief"? I had jotted down a bunch of other thoughts and questions, but I decided to just quote what R’ Tzadok haKohen writes in his Sefer Zichronos, citing a tshuvah of the Bach:

תה שנתפרסמה חכמת האמת בעולם מוסכם בפי חכמי ישראל האמיתים וכל הכופר בה הוא מכלל האפיקורסים ...דהמלעיג על דברי חכמים ומדבר דופי על דברי הקבלה שהיא מקור התורה ועיקרה וכולה יראת שמים פשיטא שאין לך מזלזל בדברי חכמים גדול מזה

Enough said. Harsh words indeed, words designed to leave an impact and grab our attention.


  1. Many academics don't believe in it and that is what they mean when they say "Rationalist". Incidentaly, Slifkin doesn't believe in Kabalah either which makes the Slifkin issue "halachik".

  2. Interesting story with R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach: One of his talmidim was a Yeminite bochur. Upon the bochur's engagement R' Sholomo Zalman was asked to be mesader kiddushin. Looking into the Eidim, R' Shlomo Zalman found out that one of them was a Baladi Rav of the bochur's family's shul, and someone who did not accept the Zohar etc.
    Worried that the rav might be posul for eidus, R' Shlomo Zalman called him up and asked him to be m'sedar kiddushin instead - telling the Rav that as longtime figure in the bochur's family life, it was more fitting that he have the kibud . . .

  3. In Emes Le-Yaakov, R'Yaakov ztl has a long discussion about things that are not mefurash either in chumash or shas but only later do we understand their significance -- specifically, why the Torah doesn't identify RH as the yom ha-din, and why the gemara and Chazal do not explain the cosmic significance of Hoshana Rabba. Ke-darko ba-kodesh, R'Yaakov gives a very beautiful explanation, but he notes that the question came from a huge talmid chacham and that R'Yaakov suspected that he heard a kitrug on the Zohar in the question. When I later heard who the talmid chacham was, there is no question that all would consider this person quite halachic -- notwithstanding possible kitrug on the Zohar.

    Also worth noting the klal of the poskim that we disregard the Zohar when it is in conflict with the Bavli.

    (Just to be clear, I accept the validity of the Zohar, kabalah, etc -- just noting that the issue is not new, found among great talmidei chachamim, etc etc.)

  4. >>>Also worth noting the klal of the poskim that we disregard the Zohar when it is in conflict with the Bavli.

    The RI"F paskens like the Bavli over the Yerushalmi, but that does not mean he did not "believe" in Ylmi.

    I can't comment on your story because I have not seen it inside. By "kitrug" on the Zohar do you mean a rejection of one piece of Zoahr as inauthentic, or a complete rejection (disbelief) in all the teachings of kabbalah? Big difference there.

    There are many gedolim who never cite kabbalah -- e.g. the Brisker Rav. I wouldn't say the B.R. "disbelieved" kabbalah, I would say it was simply outside the gedarim of what his Torah interest was. He simply found everything he needed in shas and Rambam.

  5. I'd love to see that Bach inside. It's not in the teshuvos habach on, or in anything on there. Maybe a Bar Ilan search would uncover it. Not that I don't trust him, just that it's a lomdishe question about what makes such a person an apikoros? The fact that he's disparaging the gedolim who believe it's a chelek of Torah, or because it's considered paskened by acclamation that it's a chelek of Torah. The two tzdadim are very, very different. If the former, at worst he's like a mamrei, and if he keeps his opinion to himself, he's ok.

  6. By disbelief does this person mean a disbelief that it was written by Rav Shimon bar Yochei? Did he mean a disbelief that kabbala works like magic? Or did he mean a disbelief that it was written by anyone jewish?

    Even the people that deny the zohar was written by Rav Shimon bar Yochai would still say it was written by a Rishon, Moshe deleon. If so what disbelief are we talking about exactly?

    He probably meant something like a disbelief in kabbala working like magic. I mean, do we paskin like the kabbala?

    It is very unclear what he means by disbelief.

    Also, is rav tzadok referring to the mesorah or to the Zohar?

  7. >>>I mean, do we paskin like the kabbala?

    Yes, so long as there is no stira from shas.

    >>>It is very unclear what he means by disbelief.

    Exactly the problem. And there's not even a footnote to clarify.

    Barzilai, I couldnt't find it either and don't have access to the full Bar Ilan. Sounds to me that the issur here is disparagement, but rejection as an authoritative source (i.e. a cheilek of torah) is itself disparagement.
    פשיטא שאין לך מזלזל בדברי חכמים גדול מזה

  8. There are a couple of places where the Mishna Berurah uses the Zohar to paskin. However, I am not sure that we poskin like the Zohar every time it does not outright argue with shas.

    The idea I was trying to bring across here is that the Zohar does not have the same status as the Gemorah. It's status seems to be more like that of a Rishon. I mean, when the Rambam and the ZOhar argue, who are we gonna follow? Can you call someone a Kofer for following the Rambam instead of the Zohar? For not believing in amulets?

    Also, are you sure Rav Tzadok is referring to the Zohar when he says Kabbalah? Is it possible he is talking about the Mesorah and not the Zohar? Unless you have the context it could be that he is referring to Mesorah and Torah shebal peh type stuff and not specifically the Zohar.

  9. I don't know what to do with Reb Tzadok. Until we find the teshuva from the Bach, (because context and slight wording changes matters,) all we know is that Reb Tzadok wouldn't accept a 'rationalist' for eidus. We don't know that all or any of the gedolei haposkim would agree with him. Is Natan Slifkin kasher le'eidus? Is someone who smokes kasher le'eidus? Is a Lubavitcher kasher le'eidus? Gedolei Haposkim have not publicly addressed these issues, but various Rabbanim have answered these questions yes and no. The result is Nahara Nahara Upashtei, if not eilu ve'eilu.

    But certainly I say that anyone that belittles the limud is guilty of bizayon of the Vilner Gaon and the Recanti and the Ramban and so forth.

  10. R' Tzadok is not talking about who is kasher l'eidus, he is talking about being mal'ig on divrei chachamim, which in your last line you accept as a given.

    >>>Can you call someone a Kofer for following the Rambam instead of the Zohar?

    That's selection of one authority over another, not rejection of kabbalah completely.
    BTW, amulets are mentioned in the Mishna in Shabbos, so even if you never open a Zohar in your life you need to explain what an amulet is.

  11. Let's make things easier by taking the issue of halacha off the table. Someone pulls out a Midrash Rabah and you react by saying you simply do not "believe" anything in the Midrash. Which of the 13 ikkarim have you violated? Answer: All of the above. Because if all you are is a halachic technocrat who has no respect for Chazal's views, opinions, beliefs, you don't even get to first base of what Judaism is all about.

    Insert "kabbalah" in place of Midrash above (and I don't see a need to get into details -- complete rejection means complete rejection) and you have the same idea.

  12. So if I say that amulets have no power, where does that put me in ur categories of someone who is denying the Torah?

    Also, someone can say that the Medrash is not historical and still believe that it is worthwhile. However, would you say that person is denying the 13 ikkarei emunah?

    Lastly, do you have any sources that you could share to prove that you are correct in ur assesment, or is this just how you feel?

  13. Rav Tzadok and the tshuvos haBach are not sources? The whole idea is a davar pashut that needs no ra'aya.

    Look in the Rishonim in Shabbos about amulets, sorry I don't have time. Side point: There is an interesting tshuvah of the Sheivet HaLevi regarding homeopathic medicine which is based on these sugyos.

    I have no idea what it means to say "Midrash is not historical." Mistama you mean not literal, which is how everyone understands it.

  14. Again, Rav Tzadok is not clear. When he says Kabbalah why can't you say he is talking about mesorah and not the Zohar?

    Also, you quote a Gemorah that talks about amulets, but the Rambam says they are worthless, so are you saying that the Rambam didn;t know this Gemorah?

    Yes, I meant that Midrash is not historically accurate and that it brings stories to teach lessons and not history. There are several rishonim and achronim that say that view is incorrect so I am not sure what you mean by everyone understands it that way.

  15. Whenever you get a chance I think you should read this article written about this subject: It is long and filled with many sources. Enjoy!

  16. Tamir5:07 PM

    Barzilai( 1:21 PM): I'd love to see that Bach inside.

    Well, only the second half of the quote Chaim B. brings( ie "המלעיג על דברי חכמים ומדבר דופי על חכמת הקבלה, שהיא מקור התורה ועיקרה וכולה יראת שמים, פשיטא דאין לך מזלזל בדברי חכמים גדול מזה שחייב נידוי") is actually from the Bach. Chaim B. brings a fuller quote at rambam's view of ma'aseh braishis and ma'aseh merkava. There it says, the Bach quote is from Teshuvot haBach haYeshanot, Siman He'.

    Barzilai( ibid.): It's not in the teshuvos habach on, or in anything on there.

    Actually, it is "in the teshuvos habach on"( here, at top of the page). The question( marked שאלה ד,ב) and the beginning of the answer are on the previous page.

  17. Thanks Tamir.

    >>>the Rambam says they are worthless,

    The Rambam brings down the halachos of amulets in perek 19 of Hil Shabbos. The Shulchan Aruch brings it down as well. And last time I checked, when a Rishon is against a gemara, you have a kashe on the Rishon, not on the gemara and you have to say something to be meyasheiv them. This is not my topic - As I wrote, the Rishonim talk about this already.

  18. e-man:
    חכמת האמת means kabbalah as in zohar, rather than masorah.

    but there are other reasons why one can say, with strength, that this is incorrect. btw, this post is no chiddush. this was presumably a citation from On the Main Line, which was citing my blog, which brought up this very position from Rav Tzadok...

    there is no purpose in arguing here. you won't convince, and there will be a ready answer for everything. and the arguments can go back and forth forever.