Are there any early contemporary discussions from the time of the revelation of the Zohar among recognized Rishonim about its authenticity?

I mention "among recognized Rishonim" because I am aware of Yitzchak d'min Acco discussing it, but was unfamiliar with his name outside the context of this discussion. I am looking for Rishonim of the caliber of the Ramban, Rashba, Ran, Ritva etc. who have commented on the subject.

I am also asking specifically for sources, and am not interested in a general discussion of the authenticity of the Zohar, hence this is not a dup of this question

  • 2
    The Zohar was "published" towards the very end of R Moshe de Leon's life, which ended in 1305, as we know he died while dealing with initial controversy about the work. The Ramban dies in 1287 and the Rashba in 1310.
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 13:24
  • why should there be rishonim talking about it it was hidden away?
    – ray
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 14:36
  • 1
    @ray the Zohar appeared at the end of the 13th century, hence towards the end of the period of the Rishonim. The Rishonim that flourished after it's revelation by R Moshe de Leon likely were exposed to the controversy surrounding it's revelation and most probably weighed in on one side or the other.
    – Jewels
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 17:13
  • @DoubleAA the Ramban and Rashba were given merely as examples of the caliber of Rishonim I am looking for. The Meiri and Ran perhaps would have been more historically relevant examples
    – Jewels
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 17:14
  • @Jewels I believe the Rashba actually did discuss it. I will try to find it. Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 21:24

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately, what you are requesting is not exactly possible.

The Zohar literature, including the Zohar, Zohar Hadhash, and the Tiqunei HaZohar - along with their respective books and sub-divisions - was published over the course of almost 300 years (approx. 1300-1587 CE) and straddles the periods of the late Rishonim and early Aharonim; the era of the former generally held to be during the 11th to 15th centuries, and the era of the later generally held to be from the 16th century until the present time.

Although there was much written on the subject of the Zohar and the authenticity of its content, only a minority of what is extant was authored in the narrow window between the publication of the Zohar literature and the end of the period of the Rishonim. Much of what exists in this genre was written in the period of the early Aharonim and remains very valuable.

What is available exists in two types: [1] independent works authored specifically on the subject of the authenticity of the Zohar literature, and [2] quotes from Hazal and major Geonim and Rishonim (such as Rasag, Rashi, Tosafoth, Rambam, et al) whose explicit statements in previous eras are directly contradicted by explicit statements made later by Zohar literature and its commentaries.

Works in the period of the Rishonim written disputing the Zohar and its authenticity:

  • Sefer Behinath HaDath - Rav Eliyahu Del Medigo (15th Century CE)

  • Sefer HaYuhasin, account of Rabbi Yishaq de-min Ako - Rav Avraham Zakuto (15th Century CE)

Works in the period of the Aharonim written disputing the Zohar and its authenticity:

  • Sefer Ari Nohem - Rav Yehudah Aryeh DeModena (17th Century CE)

  • Mitpahath Sefarim - Rav Ya`aqov Emden (18th Century CE)

  • Shu"T Hatham Sofer (6:59), referring to the work of Rav Emden - Rav Mosheh Sofer (18th Century CE)

  • Vikuach Al Chochmas Hakabbalah - Shada"l (19th Century CE)

  • Teshuvah Me-Ahavah (1:14) - Rav Eli`ezer Fleckeles (19th Century CE)

  • Milhamoth HaShem - Rav Yihye Qafih (19th Century CE)

These are by no means exhaustive lists, but they do comprise the majority of what is available.

Now, to list literature prior to the publication of the Zohar literature which deals with similar themes as the Zohar:

  • HaNivhar Emunoth wa-De`oth - Rav Saadia Gaon (10th Century CE), This work is a comprehensive compendium of explanations not only of the position of Torah Judaism on hashqafic topics, but also includes the arguments of detractors and the basis for their being rejected. The interesting thing about this work is that it deals with almost every major theme of the later "Qabalah" embodied in the Zohar literature and rejects it as not being authentically Jewish. These topics include the idea of multiplicity or aspects as relates to the One Transcendent God, Reincarnation, and Emanation (assiluth אצילות) among others.

  • Moreh HaNavokhim - Rav Mosheh ben Maimon (11th Century CE), a work also detailing the necessity of intellectual and rational approaches to understanding the texts of the Torah and Nevi'im, as well as explaining the meaning of many of the misswoth and the various reasons behind them. It also deals with concepts later embodied in the "Qabalah," such as "secret" mystical names of God and amulets, which are also roundly rejected.

  • Ma'amar Tehiyath HaMethim - Rav Mosheh ben Maimon (11th Century CE), In the first section, the Rambam accounts for the misunderstanding of his own teachings regarding the resurrection from the dead by bringing an example of a gross misunderstanding of God's own words in the Shema (Devarim 6:4). He refers to the "belief of the dualists" who believe that the three mentions of the Divine Name in the Shema (i.e. HaShem, Elohenu, HaShem) are three separate forces/entities/modes of the Divine (halilah wa-has) which supposedly comprise a composite unity. The Rambam of course rejects this reading of the Shema in his words there. However, the Zohar (2:53b) later espouses just such an interpretation. This rather explicit text was ironically used by later Christian Hebraicists and the Catholic church in justifying the validity of their belief in a "Trinity" from "Jewish" teachings.

  • Rashi and Tosafoth on b.Meghillah 9a (11th, 12th-13th Centuries CE), In an interesting passage about the request of King Ptolemy (Talmai HaMelekh) that the hakhmei HaSanhedrin write for him a copy of the Torah in Greek, the Gemara explains that several deliberate changes to the text were made in order to avoid polytheistic errors. Two of the notable changes were made to B'reshith 1:1 and 1:26; the former change being that instead of the text reading "B'reshith bara Elohim" they wrote "Elohim bara b'reshith," and the later being that in place of "Na'aseh adham" they wrote "E'aseh adham." In the first instance - due to syntax in the Greek language which often puts the most important noun in the sentence first and sorts out the meaning and parts of speech via case endings - the hakhamim did not want the Greeks to think that "B'reshith" was the name of one deity which created a second deity named "Elohim" (halilah) and that there are thus multiple powers in Heaven (halilah wa-has), so says Rashi. Tosafoth add to this by saying that "B'reshith eino shem kelal ela ba-tehilah" meaning that the term "b'reshith" is not a name at all, but is rather just the Torah's way of saying "In the beginning." The second change was made due to the presence of the plural form (i.e. "Let us make man"), lest again the Greeks think that the Torah promotes polytheism and that multiple gods created mankind (halilah), so says Rashi. However, the Zohar - in commenting on these very passages - adopts the mistaken and erroneous views which these changes were intended to negate. On B'reshith 1:1 the Zohar says that "Reshith" is the name of one of the partzufim/sefiroth and it creates another/emanates another partzuf/sefirah named "Elohim" which it can then inhabit. On B'reshith 1:26, the Zohar depicts two of the partzufim (faces/personalities which supposedly make up the Divine), "Abba" and "Imma," arguing whether or not they should make man - "Abba" is con while "Imma" is pro - and in the end "Imma" says that although mankind will sin against us "Let us make man" anyhow. The implications of these interpretations in light of the Gemara and its commentators are wide-reaching.

There are many more things which could be listed here, but much of it is already written in the works mentioned above.

I hope that this helps.

Kol tuv.

  • 3
    While certainly very well written, your article specifically avoids the points that I raised in my question, namely a)Rishonim and b) recognized Rishonim. And regarding the time span over which the mass of literature you mention was published, I specifically mentioned the Zohar, not the other works of Kabbala you mention like the Tikkunei Zohar, and by all accounts the Zohar itself certainly was publish by the early 1300's and hence there was plenty of time (150 years or so) for the Rishonim to comment about its authenticity
    – Jewels
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 10:45
  • 7
    No, I answered your question in the first line and then continued to expound on what IS available to you. I answered your question fine. The fact is that all I had to write to answer it was that first line because there are NO "recognized" Rishonim who discuss the Zohar. And the Zohar Hadhash and the Tiqunei Zohar ARE considered parts of the Zohar. Another VERY important thing: the world was not as "small" in those times as you would like it to be. In other words, a book - though popular in one country - would not necessarily makes its way to the rest of the world so quickly...
    – user3342
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 11:43
  • 7
    ...consider how the Rambam, Rashi, and Rabenu Tam were contemporaries an yet they did not see each other's works in their lifetimes. This is because people WALKED everywhere and copied books BY HAND. So, 150 years is not much time at all for a single book to make its way to all of the areas where "recognized" Rishonim live (whatever "recognized" means). Your question is such that it cannot be answered; the Rishonim that I cited are, according to you, not "recognized" and the Rishonim you are looking for DON'T EXIST. The "Qabalah" that the Ramban and Raavadh knew were embodied in books like...
    – user3342
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 11:47
  • 5
    the Sefer HaBahir, Sefer Yessirah, Hekhaloth Literature, and perhaps even the Shi`ur Qomah, but not the Zohar. Murmurs and unattributed quotes here and there during the first few hundred years after Mosheh DeLeon published the Zohar is all that we have. What this tells us is that most did not even hear of it, while others MAY have heard of it or they may have only had access to the works on which the Zohar itself was based (i.e. prior works that DeLeon used to construct it). So again, I DID answer your question: "What you are requesting is not exactly possible." Kol tuv.
    – user3342
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 11:52
  • 3
    @HaLeiVi There is nothing inaccurate here as you say. I have Rav Emden's sefer on my shelf and his wording is very explicit. I also have the Hath Sofer on my shelf and he likewise is clear in his statements. And many Zohar-based teshuvoth? That's funny because I also have a teshuvah from him that says explicitly that mixing kabbalah and halakhah is like creating a forbidden mixture that needs to be destroyed by burning. I understand that you are in love with the Zohar, but you need to check your facts.
    – user3342
    Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 13:10

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