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Throughout history, there were Orthodox Jewish Rabbis who were against Kabbalah, the doctrine of reincarnation, etc. Are there still today Jewish movements that are anti-Kabbalah?

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    Can you define what you mean by "movements"?
    – Double AA
    May 5, 2019 at 19:07
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    @AlBerko , the Gra, Rav Chaim Volozion!!!???
    – sam
    May 5, 2019 at 20:20
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    I recall a comment somewhere on this site accusing Mi Yodeya of being anti-kabbalah. Not sure if that's a "movement" though.
    – Alex
    May 5, 2019 at 20:28
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    Actually, the number of Rabbinic authorities who were "anti-Kabbalah" were pretty low, though there were some prominent figures who doubted the authenticity of the Zohar. Although the Zohar is a major Kabbalistic work, it is not the only one out there. I don't know for sure, but I even think the Dor Daim accept some Kabbalistic ideas, they just don't think the Zohar is a legitimate work. I think you should edit your question and clarify if you mean Kabbalah as a whole or the Zohar in particular. @DoubleAA
    – ezra
    May 6, 2019 at 6:14
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    @ezra the number that were kabbalisticly agnostic (like: don't know and don't care) was pretty high though. Most Jews in fact over the years hadn't a clue or a care about some of these esoteric things and were accepting of nearly all philosophies. That's why you don't see lots of ardent antikabbalists. Those who weren't ardent kabbalists were usually just like Ok, interesting idea, if you say so, whatever, not for me (like the Rivash said). You had to have been an expert philosopher to be explicitly anti.
    – Double AA
    May 6, 2019 at 11:15

1 Answer 1

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There are several contemporary (or recently deceased) rabbis, with followings, that express anti-kabbalistic attitudes and ideas. I'm not so sure that I would go quite so far as to call them formal "movements" as such, but such ideas are definitely still in circulation within the Orthodox world.

Rabbi Israel Chait, the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Bnei Torah in Far Rockaway, NY has a long history of advocating on behalf of a rational approach to Judaism. You can learn more about the specifics of his perspective by scrolling down to the section titled "Kabbalah" on the Fundamentals page and listening to those shi'urim.

One of R. Chait's talmidim, R. Moshe Ben-Chaim started a site and organization called Mesora, that is very active on this front. You can read various entries on Kabbalah, the Zohar, reincarnation, etc. on the philosophy page. There is also an 78 page volume available for download titled Tohar ha-Yihud that attempts to demonstrate the propriety and antiquity of such views within Judaism.

Rabbi Yihyeh Qafih was the Hakham Bashi of Yemen and founder of the Dor Deah movement in the early 20th c. He faced tremendous institutional opposition from those that condemned his Maimonidean anti-kabbalistic views, he was persecuted greatly. His grandson, Rabbi Yosef Qafih (who was raised by R. Yihyeh), perpetuated his grandfather's legacy of Maimonideanism but was very reticent to publicly express any views on Kabbalah and generally avoided making statements on the matter. Some speculate that this was intended to foster reconciliation, others speculate that he did not want to arouse against himself the type of persecution his grandfather faced. After R. Yosef Qafih passed away, a volume titled שיחת דקלים was posthumously published in which R. Qafih in the form of a dialogue deconstructs various Kabbalistic ideas (such as the Ten Sefiroth). R. Yosef Qafih's students, such as Rabbi Dr. Rason 'Arusi (Chief Rabbi of Qiryath Ono) very delicately sidestep all such questions in public and attempt to redirect questioners (for examples see his responses to questions on the topic of קבלה ותורת הסוד here). Many students of this school avoid public discourse on the topic, though in private feel more comfortable expressing their views. Other students of this school today are quite a bit more publicly vocal and unhesitatingly lambast anything Kabbalah related. Rabbi Dr. Adir Dahuah-Halewi, started an organization and site Ohr HaRambam, that takes this approach.

R. Nathan Slifkin (currently director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh) has publicly expressed his skepticism of the authenticity of the Zohar and all things mystical. He has circulated this anonymous (purportedly by a Haredi author) analysis of the question of the text's authenticity: An Analysis of the Authenticity of the Zohar discussed it further here and authored a book titled Rationalism vs. Mysticism; Schisms in Traditional Judaism

Hakham Yosef Faur (who was a rabbi of the Syrian community in Brooklyn for many years, and a professor of Talmud at several academic institutions), has expressed views critical of Kabbalah and Kabbalah based mysticism. He wrote an essay A Crisis of Categories: Kabbalah and the Rise of Apostasy in Spain exploring this and in Section 5 of his book the Horizontal Society, he has many subsections dedicated to this topic. His views on the topic are well known and discussed by his students. His son Hakham Abe Faur, and other students of Hakham Yosef Faur such as Hakham Aharon Halewa do not deny that there is a mystical aspect to Judaism, however they affirm in the Maimonidean tradition that it is of a post-rational variety and unrelated to what is popularly known as "Kabbalah".

Rabbi Dr. Norman Strickman (rabbi of Merkaz Yisrael in Marine Park, Brooklyn) has long been vocal on the topic and has translated and published several of the Ibn Ezra's writings to English and written a book titled Without Red Strings or Holy Water exploring the topic through a Maimonidean lens.

Rabbi David Bar-Hayim, founder of Machon Shiloh, has lectured and written on the topic of Kabbalah and sees it as a regressive product of exile that is preventative of the redemption. You can listen to a lecture he gave on the topic here: How the Galuth Influenced Kabbalah, and search the Machon Shiloh site for terms such as Kabbalah, Zohar, reincarnation, etc. to find more content.

I'm sure there are others that are escaping me currently, and if anyone would like to add any in the comments, I would be glad to add them to my answer.

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  • Nice answer and +1. But the question (to a large extent) and the answer (maybe as a result) suffers from a lack of definition. Does "anti Kabbalah" means "doesn't believe in Kabbalistic concepts such as sefirot, tzimtzum, the multiple world, etc." or "against people learning things far beyond their level until they have learned enough traditional sources and halakha"? The introduction to Shomer Emunim by Avinoam Fraenkel has a fascinating list of all the significant traditional "rationalistic" rabbis who agreed with kabbalistic ideas
    – mbloch
    Jul 1, 2022 at 3:01
  • I would also note that the Ramchal translated many kabbalistic ideas for "the rest of us" (e.g., in Derech Hashem, or Daat Tvunot) without much of the kabbalistic language. To my knowledge he is accepted by all strands of Torah Judaism. Last, R Slifkin's book is not anti-Kabbalah, he simply explains and contrasts the mystical and rationalist perspectives on a number of topics
    – mbloch
    Jul 1, 2022 at 3:03
  • Besides Dor Deiah, I don't think any of these qualify as a movement. Even if you add them all up together, you still only have a super tiny minority compared to those who do accept Kabbalah.
    – N.T.
    Jul 1, 2022 at 6:26
  • @mbloch "Does "anti Kabbalah" means "doesn't believe in Kabbalistic concepts such as sefirot, tzimtzum, the multiple world, etc." Yes, that is how I understood the question. None of the above-mentioned accept such concepts as being indigenous to or compatible with Judaism. As for Slifkin, I have honestly not read that book. His orientation when it comes to such issues however is clear. Jul 1, 2022 at 11:52
  • @N.T. all of the abovementioned have students or followers that are similarly influenced by such beliefs. I don't think there is any standard definition that determines what number of people comprise a "movement". As for adding up people for or against, that is irrelevant to the question (and IMHO irrelevant to truth). Jul 1, 2022 at 11:55

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