I've seen and heard a lot of controversy about the authorship of the Zohar, but it isn't quite clear to me that it matters. The nearest theory I can come up with is that if the Zohar is by Rashbi, then it's Tannaic, but if it's by de Leon, then it's Rishonic, which would obviously affect the way of poskining. Yet, I cannot think of a single example of halakha that would be affected by this: but this is of no consequence, since I'm not exactly the most learned person. Therefore, my question is twofold:

  1. What hilchos would be affected by the authorship question?
  2. Is there some other angle I'm missing here about authorship and why it matters?
  • Why would it obviously affect the way of Paskining? We don't paskin like lots of tannaim and rishonim
    – Double AA
    Apr 7, 2014 at 8:30
  • I don't think any halachos would be affected since we don't pasken directly, only what's brought down from achronim (generally.) And even if they were "wrong" in their assumption it wouldn't matter in most peoples minds.
    – Yehoshua
    Apr 7, 2014 at 11:11
  • Well, if you have the Tannaic Zohar, you can question Gaonic and Rishonic rulings that would otherwise be set in stone, right? But more generally, it seems like there has to be a practical reason why people get so angry about this question...
    – Tatpurusha
    Apr 7, 2014 at 16:43
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    My first guess is that this argument pertains to our Torah, which is so important to us. When discussing the canonical status of works that claim to comprise a part of our very core, things get emotional.
    – Baby Seal
    Apr 7, 2014 at 17:33
  • @Baby The discussion is about authorship.
    – Double AA
    Apr 7, 2014 at 20:29

3 Answers 3



First of all, the question of authorship doesn't necessarily affect the Zohar's importance in halakha; I'm not sure why you think that this it would "obviously affect the way of poskining". The question of how Kabbalah affects Halacha is not a simple one, and does not really depend on the Zohar's authorship, because even if it were written by a Tanna, we don't just hold like any Tanna in halakha (after all, how many Toseftas are there that we don't hold of!). This is discussed on this site, by this audio shiur and in the book העד הגל הזה, where R. Yaakov Hillel has a great chapter on the topic.


However, there is more to Judaism than halakha. The way that we understand certain views or 'hashkafos' to be 'Jewish views' or 'Jewish values' has a lot to do with the understanding of earlier Jewish sources. 'Jewish sources', though, are both vast in number and can vary widely vary in their positions, and equal weight isn't given to every Rabbi who happen to have written a book. There are a couple of factors, therefore, that would cause one source to be more 'weighty' than another, authorship and age being two of the major ones.

If a particular person is a great Torah scholar or known to have a much deeper knowledge of Judaism, than his opinion of what the Torah's position is on a particular issue should be given more weight than that of a lesser scholar. Thus, the Tanna R. Shimon bar Yochai is well known to us as well as to the members of his own time period as a great scholar, a very high-ranking Talmid Chacham, so to speak, as well as an incredibly righteous person, so much so that the authors of the Gemara felt that it was fit to record (in Sukkah 45b) that R. Shimon bar Yohai felt that if there are only two great people at all, it would be himself and his son. The other contender for authorship, R. Moses de Leon, is not nearly as highly regarded, and therefore if the Zohar reflected his opinions, they wouldn't carry as much weight.

Additionally, for whatever the reason, when it comes to evaluating the importance of a given viewpoint among the sea of Jewish authors, earlier sources are given more weight than later ones. This rule is fairly well-accepted to in halakha, though of course there are exceptions, and so many[who?] apply the rule to hashkafa or theology as well[citation needed]. Thus, even disregarding the discrepancies in the scholarship level, then all else being equal, the relative importance of earlier sources is higher than that of later sources.


Finally, there is the secondary issue of what it would mean for kabbalah that R. Shimon bar Yochai did not write the Zohar. The word kabbalah means 'a recieved [tradition]', and the general authority (or authenticity, or general value) to kabbalah, as opposed to any other theosophic system that would be attributed to it by religious Jews is because it represents a received tradition that traces itself back to something revealed by God, which is why we value the Torah and deem it authoritative. Hence, while it's true that some have denied the Zohar's tannaitic authorship while maintaining it's essential nature as a text of authentic Jewish/divine presentation, (such as R. Eliyhu ben Amozeg, and to an extent, R. Yaakov Emden) overall, to say that a work of kabbalah which is so vast and attributes so many ideas to Tannaim is actually of a much later composition is anathema to the whole spirit of kabbalah, which is supposed to be grounded in 'received traditions'.

Incidentally, R. Chaim Kanievsky is quoted as saying that someone who doesn't believe that the Zohar was actually authored by R. Shimon bar Yochai - seemingly, even if he believes in its authority as a Jewish text - is a heretic (Vayichtov Mordechai pg. 340). For further reading, I'd suggest this article which details many Rabbinic opinions regarding the Zohar's authorship, without actually discussing any arguments for or against, while touching on these questions indirectly. Note especially footnote 8, where the point is made that disputes about the Zohar's authorship are really made against the backdrop of it's acceptance as an authoritative Jewish position.

  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/23303/…
    – Yishai
    Jul 16, 2014 at 12:56
  • @Yishai thanks I can't believe I didn't see that question before. That is exactly what the linked article is addressing Jul 16, 2014 at 13:22
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    I think the authority of the theosophic system is the main point. The energy expended on the question of attitude to the Zohar is not mainly about Halakha, it's about theology, about whether the ideas of the kabbalists about God, sefirot, the purpose of the mitzvot, etc., are legitimate/commendable/constructive or not.
    – paquda
    Jul 16, 2014 at 16:23
  • @paquda hence, footnote 8 in the above article. I believe you are correct in general Jul 16, 2014 at 16:30
  • Does the idea that if it was written in the 14th century, but is written as if it is a "lost Talmudic work", this would make it disingenuous? Are there any opinions that this disingenuousness is not a problem and it should still be accepted as a valid Jewish work, if not a Tannaic one? What's the reasoning if so because generally, deception is not a good place to start from when writing a holy work!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 12, 2023 at 17:31

The argument about the "authenticity" of the Zohar is usually part of a broader argument against the validity of kabbala. The teachings of Kabbala, as presented in the Zohar and related works, are generally accepted as an intrinsic part of Jewish tradition by the broad mainstream of Jewish tradition. As such it has had a profound impact on Jewish thought, as well as on Jewish practice (which is broader than just halacha).

The role that kabbala in general, and the Zohar in particular, should play in halacha is also a matter of great debate, for reasons that have very little to do with their authenticity, which is generally accepted by both sides. This is similar to the debates over the halachic role played by many, unquestionably authentic works, such as the Jerusalem Talmud and the midrashim, and even the aggadic passages in the Babylonian Talmud.

Given the great importance that kabbala, and the Zohar in particular, has in the world of Jewish thought, it is unsurprising that challenges to its authenticity are highly controversial.

  • 1
    I assume your concern is with the quotation marks I used the first time I used the word authenticity. As should be obvious, that was not intended intended to indicate a quote but to indicate that the the issue of authorship is not quite identical with the issue of authenticity per se. If you feel that the quotation marks are confusing, I can certainly remove them. Beyond that, I believe I have responded effectively to the question, especially the latter part. (I am not ready to provide a list of halachic issues where the status of the Zohar plays a role.)
    – LazerA
    Jul 9, 2014 at 16:10
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    @DoubleAA The question, in a nutshell, is why do people care enough about the authorship of the Zhar to argue about it. My answer directly responds to that question.
    – LazerA
    Jul 9, 2014 at 16:26
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    @DoubleAA I'm not following your point. Are you saying that there is a debate over the authenticity Zohar that is somehow distinct from the debate over its authorship? Are there two different debates going on?
    – LazerA
    Jul 9, 2014 at 17:21
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    @DoubleAA I was using authenticity primarily in the latter sense that you referred, which is how it is commonly used in discussions of this topic. (The fact that it could be used in the former sense is precisely the ambiguity I referred to earlier that caused me to use the quotation marks.)
    – LazerA
    Jul 9, 2014 at 18:50
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    @DoubleAA I am getting really confused as to what your objective is in these comments. The debate over the "authorship" of the Zohar, and the specific role that R' M. Deleon played, is wide ranging and includes many different possibilities. It is far more than whether he was an "effective transcriber" (itself a rather ambiguous phrase). My answer is not intended to provide a summation of the different views, nor is the question asking for any such thing. The question is why the controversy matters so much. Other works of uncertain authorship, even major ones, attract very little attention.
    – LazerA
    Jul 9, 2014 at 19:04

There is also the matter of accepting the conclusions of academic scholarship when they conflict with standard Jewish tradition. It is not just the authorship of the Zohar (and the Bahir, and the Sefer Yetzira, etc.) which have been called into question, even books in Tanach such as Yeshayahu HaNavi have, by academics, been proposed to have multiple authors to say nothing of the Chumash itself.

Even if not a single halacha changes, to accept the various techniques proposed by academics to determine authorship as valid is not in keeping with the vast majority of orthodox Jewish authorities (with obvious exceptions such as Leon Modena, Shadal etc.). Once the door is opened to adopting such techniques it would be very hard to argue why they should be applied to certain accepted works and not to others.

  • 1
    This isn't even a academic debate with academic techniques. Nobody argues as far as I know that the Zohar basically just "appeared" in Leon's hands back then. There's no tradition past Leon as far as I know. Whether you think it appeared in a vault, or was a oral tradition down to Leon who was the first to right it down, its agreed he's the first person anyone heard it from. About a 1000 years after Rashbi died.
    – Orion
    Oct 17, 2018 at 5:24

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