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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 3.33:
What is The Zohar?

Answer:

The Zohar [radiance] is the greatest classic of Jewish mysticism. It is a mystical commentary on the Torah, written in Aramaic, and is purported to be the teachings of the 2nd century Palestinian Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai. Legend relates that during a time of Roman persecution, Rabbi Shimon hid in a cave for 13 years, studying Torah with his son; During this time he is said to have been inspired by G@d to write the Zohar. However, there is no real mention of this book in any Jewish literature until the 13th century.

In the 13th century, a Spanish Jew by the name of Moshe de Leon claimed to discover the text of the Zohar, and the text was subsequently published and distributed throughout the Jewish world.

However, there is a school of thought (based on the writings of historian Gershom Scholem) that de Leon himself was the most likely author of the Zohar. Among other things, Scholem noticed the Zohar's frequent errors in Aramaic grammar and its highly suspicious traces of Spanish words and sentence patterns. This is still highly disputed by most (but not all) Orthodox Jews.

Whoever the author is, the content of the book is not fraudulent. It definitely is based on older works, and it was a common practice to ascribe the authorship of a document to an ancient rabbi in order to give the document more weight.

The Zohar contains and elaborates upon much of the material found in 'Sefer Yetzirah' and 'Sefer Bahir', and without question is the Kabbalistic work par excellance.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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