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In Jewish history, when did the Zohar become the near universally accepted Sefer it is today? Was it shortly after it was re circulated by Moshe de Leon? Or was it in a later century?

What is the general history behind it becoming as accepted in the Orthodox Jewish community as it is today?

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    Most people had no reason to comment on it and/or doubt it, even if they had access to it and/or heard about it. Hence this is a pretty hard question to answer precisely. Think what you would do if someone here quoted an obscure midrash from manuscript that you didn't know much about (assume you couldn't look it up on Wikipedia)
    – Double AA
    Dec 28, 2023 at 0:32
  • More importantly, when did it start becoming acceptable to quote the Zohar to help explain things in the Torah? (Remember that the Apocrypha or other works outside the approved canon cannot be used for that purpose.) Dec 28, 2023 at 1:53

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I've heard or read (don't ask me where) that it didn't really take off (or fully take shape for that matter) till after the Jews were tossed out of Spain which was considered the biggest upheaval since the churban bayis and Jews were looking for a more immanent God than the transcendent God of the rationalist rishonim coupled with Ari's new kabbalistic twist that basically asserted that God Himself is in galus and that it's our job to redeem Him and us in the process which really resonated with the newly displaced nation

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  • That sounds like an interesting theory of what was going through their minds, but we do know that at the time there was a big movement of "Moshiach is coming soon", and it was connected with the expulsion from Spain and the harships that surrounded it, and many of the teachers of that movement were also ones trying to make Kabbalah more accessible at the time. The people at ktav wrote about this in their introduction to Or Neerav. The ideas that Hashem is in Galus go all the way back to R Akiva and beyond, and represents a school of thought in competition with that of R Ishmael (Heschel)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Dec 28, 2023 at 11:08
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    It is interesting to note that the school of R Shimon Bar Yochai was effectively the inheritors of the school of R Akiva, and the Zohar is from that school.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Dec 28, 2023 at 11:10
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From the Encyclopedia Judaica (1971), Vol 16, pg.1213-1214,

In the 15th century, manuscripts containing most of the portions of the Zohar were already compiled, but sometimes they still omit whole sections, e.g., the Idrot, the Sava. etc.(...) From 1400 onward the sanctity of the Zohar became more widely acknowledged in kabbalistic circles, and the criticisms of it which was heard here and there in the 14th century (e.g., in Joseph Ibn Waqar who wrote: "the Zohar contains many errors of which one must be wary. to avoid being misled by them") died down. At this time the spread and influence of the Zohar were confined mainly to Spain and Italy, and it was very slow to reach the Ashkenazi lands and the East. The great elevation of the Zohar to a position of sanctity and supreme authority came during and after the period of the expulsion from Spain, and it reached its peak in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Encyclopedia Judaica offers a very lengthy treatment of the history of the Zohar which I consider as first rate. Thanks.

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  • Also, good question!
    – BID
    Dec 29, 2023 at 21:46
  • "The great elevation of the Zohar to a position of sanctity and supreme authority" Wait, what?
    – MichoelR
    Dec 31, 2023 at 1:10
  • @MichoelR this is a reference to the esteem certain Jews began to offer to the Zohar. Sorry if I am misunderstanding your question. :)
    – BID
    Dec 31, 2023 at 2:19
  • I was just wondering what "supreme authority" means. It didn't sound correct.
    – MichoelR
    Dec 31, 2023 at 3:19

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