Rabbi Ben Tsion Uziel’s Compassionate but Pragmatic Approach to Halacha

There is a tendency among most Jews to think that Halacha by definition must always lean toward conservatism. However, the historical facts do not support this hypothesis.

Modern Halacha examines an interesting question: Should we go out of our way to attract potential conversions?  There are serious circumstances where we should openly encourage conversion whenever possible– specifically when we have an intermarried couple. There is every valid Halachic reason to go out of our way to welcome the non-Jewish spouse and their offspring to Judaism. We have already examined Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman’s attitude and he certainly was not alone (see the previous thread for examples). Another great rabbinic scholar reflecting this liberal approach comes from Rabbi Ben Tsion Meir Hai Uziel, who later became the Chief Sephardic Rabbi Of Israel.

In 1943, the following case came before him requiring an important Halachic decision. The Chief Rabbi of Istanbul once wrote to Rabbi Ben Tsion Meir Hai Uziel, who was at that time the Rav of Rishon LeTzion. The Chief Rabbi asked Rav Uziel whether conversion for the sake of marriage is valid. Rav Uziel opened his Responsa with a citation from the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 268: 12) which states we must examine a potential convert to see whether his motives for accepting Judaism are sincere. Obviously, it would be wonderful that the potential convert for purely sincere reasons and certainly, the ideal is not to convert those who are insincere. Rav Uziel then goes on to state how intermarriages are common in the civil courts, and that we ought to convert the non-Jewish partner in order to free the Jewish partner from the problem of intermarriage. We should also do so that their children should not be lost to the Jewish fold.

But what do we do when the situation is less than ideal?

If we are faced with de facto case of mixed marriage, we are permitted to convert the non-Jewish spouse and the children whenever possible. If this is true when the couple is already married, it is certainly true before they have begun their forbidden marriage! Such a conversion could prevent future transgressions and religious difficulties. Continue reading “Rabbi Ben Tsion Uziel’s Compassionate but Pragmatic Approach to Halacha”

Using Compassion in Determining Halacha: An Early 20th Century Example

Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman was a most unusual rabbi for his time. His attitudes toward a perspective convert was pretty liberal–especially when compared to the positions taken by numerous Modern Orthodox and Haredi rabbis living today. It is unfortunate the past generations of rabbinic scholarship expressed far more imagination and creativity than the newer generations of rabbinic leaders we have today.

R. Hoffman was born in Verbo, Hungary in 1843, and he died in Berlin in 1921. His great erudition encompassed all branches of Torah knowledge: Bible, Talmud, Midrash, and Halacha. He was the type of quintessential scholar who could critically discuss various theories concerning biblical criticism and the history of rabbinic thought while still remaining a loyal and devoted son to his sacred tradition. Rav Hoffman also served as rector of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, he educated generations of rabbis and communal leaders. His collection of responsa, Melammed Le- Ho’il, deals with a wide range of modern problems.

In this specific case, Rabbi Hoffman deals with a Jewish woman who marries a gentile man and later discovers she is pregnant by him. It is unclear whether the woman’s family exerted pressure on the gentile husband to convert; or alternatively, he chose to do so for the sake of his wife. Rather than sending the couple away, Rabbi Hoffman found a way to welcome the woman’s husband to the Jewish fold. He explains:

“The Code of Jewish Law states, ‘We refuse any convert who comes to be converted because he desires a certain Jewish woman.[1] However, the school of Tosfot disputes this opinion in BT Yevamot 24b based on the well-known rabbinic story concerning the Gentile who appeared before Hillel and wished to convert so that he might become a High Priest. Obviously, the man had ulterior motives for converting. Nevertheless, Hillel still converted him. Another Talmudic story relates how a certain woman who came before Rabbi Hiyya and wanted to convert to Judaism so that she could marry a young Talmud scholar (BT Menachot 44a).

In both cases, Hillel and Rabbi Hiyya felt confident that these candidates would eventually become sincere in their motivation. [2] From this principle, rabbinic tradition teaches that the court has the right to make special waivers when it sees fit to do so. Ergo, it is permitted to accept him as a convert. Continue reading “Using Compassion in Determining Halacha: An Early 20th Century Example”

We’ll Be Watching You–Big Brother and the Haredi Rabbis

“The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.”

Allan Bloom – The Closing of the American Mind

As I have mentioned in previous articles I have posted, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe raised the issue of “Who is a Jew?” and made it one of the most explosive issues affecting Israeli politics. The spillover effect galvanized the Haredi world, who have created new walls separating Jews of all denominations from one another. In the past, it was only Conservative and Reform converts who were rejected by the Haredi Israeli rabbinate–but this has all changed. Now Orthodox converts are affected.

In today’s Israeli news, Rav Nachum Eisenstein, a leading Haredi leader in Israel, is challenging the Israeli courts who insist on recognizing the Orthodox conversions of candidates who have already gone through the process in Israel, while under Orthodox auspices. The Haredi leadership in Israel insists upon a total separation between the Haredi rabbis and the State of Israel. Eisenstein went so far as to say that the majority of converts today—including those converting through the IDF—are not ‘converts’ in accordance with Halacha, and many do not accept living a lifestyle of kiyum Torah and mitzvos, invalidating the process.”

Of course, this position is totally outlandish and reflects the civil war that is taking place between the Haredi and the Modern Orthodox communities. In some respects, it is difficult to feel sorry for the Modern Orthodox, who repeatedly supported the Haredi and the Habad communities’ attempt to isolate and delegitimize the Conservative and Reform converts. Now that their ox is being gored, suddenly the Modern Orthodox are yelling, “Gevalt! (Unfair!), how can they do this to our converts?”

By supporting draconian policies championed by some of the most retrograde forces of contemporary Judaism, they are now experiencing the same kind of rejection “Jews by Choice” have experienced for decades. I would add that when a Chabad institute or a Haredi yeshiva solicit  Reform, Conservative–and now Modern Orthodox–“Jews by Choice,” no person with a conscience ought to give a nickle to underwrite these institutions’ exclusionary positions regarding, “Who is a Jew?” Money talks, so make your money talk by just saying, “No!” to Judaic discrimination.

Let us examine the substance of the Haredi concern. What if an Orthodox  “Jew by choice” chooses to not follow Orthodoxy down the road, does Jewish law give any rabbi the right to retroactively revert such a person to his former non-Jewish status? Of course not! Such behavior has never been historically done–even during the most oppressive periods of Jewish history.

What exactly does Jewish law say about a convert who abandons his observance of Jewish law? Consider the Shulchan Aruch:

סעיף יב שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות גרים סימן רסח

כג כו] כשיבא הגר להתגייר, בודקים אחריו שמא בגלל ממון שיטול או בשביל שררה שיזכה לה או מפני הפחד בא ליכנס לדת. כז] ואם איש הוא, בודקין אחריו שמא עיניו נתן באשה יהודית. ואם אשה היא, בודקין אחריה שמא עיניה נתנה בבחורי ישראל, ואם לא נמצאת להם עילה מודיעים להם כובד עול התורה וטורח שיש בעשייתה על עמי הארצות, כדי שיפרשו. אם קיבלו ולא פירשו, וראו אותם שחזרו מאהבה, מקבלים אותם. ואם לא בדקו אחריו, (ט) או שלא הודיעוהו שכר המצות ועונשן, ומל וטבל בפני ג’ הדיוטות, ה”ז גר אפי’ נודע שבשביל דבר הוא מתגייר, הואיל ומל וטבל יצא מכלל העובדי כוכבים, וחוששים לו עד שתתברר צדקתו; כח] ואפילו <טז> חזר ועבד עבודת כוכבים, הרי הוא כט] כישראל מומר שקדושיו קדושין. כד (ישראל מומר שעשה תשובה, א”צ לטבול; ל] רק מדרבנן (י) יש לו לטבול לא] ולקבל עליו דברי חבירות בפני ג’) (נ”י פ’ החולץ).

Shulchan Aruch Y.D. Hilchot Gerim 268:12

When a candidate comes to convert, we investigate the matter, for perhaps his motivation is because of pecuniary gain, or he wishes to attain respect within the community, or because he is motivated by fear. If the candidate is male, we investigate whether he might be interested in marrying a Jewish woman; the same applies if it is a female candidate, for perhaps she is converting because she is interested in a Jewish man.

If the court determines that s/he is sincere, the court informs the candidate the weightiness of the yoke of Torah, and the difficulties that are involved in its practice among the peoples of the lands. This is done in order to give the candidate the opportunity to change his (or her) mind and walk away. If, after this disclaimer has been given, he still accepts the precepts and refuses to separate, and the court sees that he  is responding out of love—we accept him wholeheartedly.

In the event the court did not investigate the candidate’s motivation, or alternatively, and they neglected to inform him about  the full gravity of his decision to embrace the faith, and the convert underwent ritual circumcision and immersed himself in the mikveh, in front of three commoners—this candidate is still considered as a full-fledged Jew, even if it is known he had an ulterior motive in wanting to convert.

Once that candidate already underwent  ritual circumcision and immersion, he permanently  loses his gentile status; however, we remain cautious of him [ the person who converted without disclosing his true intent to the court] until his integrity becomes evident. Should such a person revert to paganism, Jewish law still regards him as an Israelite in every respect; even as an “apostate Jew,” his act of betrothal is legitimate [However, even in the case where the convert to a pagan faith, he still has to undergo a ritual immersion–as a rabbinic precaution–Rema] and accept the precepts in front of three commoners. Continue reading “We’ll Be Watching You–Big Brother and the Haredi Rabbis”

Maimonides’ famous Responsa on “Converting for the sake of marriage”

Maimonides once wrote in his Responsa about a certain Jewish man who was living with a non-Jewish maid-servant. The man was suspected of having a sexual liaison with this woman.  The Beit Din found out about this–what was the man to do? Remove the woman from his house?

In response to this question, the Rambam stated that technically according to the law, the woman should be forced out–period. After it learned of his wrongdoings, the beit din was required to exert all its power to have the Jewish master free her and then marry her. However, the Talmud tells us that if a Jewish man has an immoral affair with a gentile woman, he must free her and not marry her (Yevamot 24b).   Maimonides  arrives at a different conclusion from the Talmud and judged in such cases that the man should free her and marry the maid.

What is the reason given by Maimonides?

“Such a position,” maintained Maimonides, “is Halachicly warranted since it is necessary to make things easier for repentents  (Takanat HaShavim).” Maimonides then cites the verse: “It is time for the Lord to act, for your law has been broken.” (Psa 119:126). In other words, there are times when it is necessary to relax the halacha for the greater good of the Jewish people. The Rambam concludes “May the Lord forgive us of our sins.”

Haredi Politics and the British Chief Rabbi’s Moral Quandary

The British conversion crisis in Britain illustrates why a separation between Church and State is vital for everybody involved. The job of being a Chief Rabbi is not without its politics and intrigue.

Yet, in the everyday politics of the job, even the Chief Rabbi occasionally yields to the intransigent forces that define the Haredi community of Great Britain.

It was the year 2005; two women, who had undergone an Orthodox conversion in Israel, apply to get their children enrolled in the prestigious Jewish Free School of London. Rabbi Sack’s Haredi beth din, however, refuses to admit the children.

Political rivalry between Israel and Britain goes back a long way; back in the 1970’s, even the Chief Rabbi himself, Rabbi Shlomo Goren discovered that his conversions were not recognized by the London Beth Din. In rabbinical terms, this amounted to a public humiliation to the Israeli Chief Rabbi!

Rabbi Sacks realizes that he cannot succeed in his job without placating this radical element in his community—even if he must violate the very liberal principles regarding pluralism that he has endorsed in his books.

Unfortunately, the Chief Rabbi buckled under the pressure. He refused to certify either woman as Jewish. As the issue is examined, we discover that there are certain “procedural irregularities” in the conversion of Helen Sagal, he said; and Helen Lightman — herself a teacher at JFS — could not have been a “sincere” convert, because her husband, whom she married under Orthodox auspices in New York soon after her conversion, was a kohen. Jewish law requires that a kohen not marry a convert. However, if such a marriage occurs, the marriage remains intact, but at a loss of the kohen’s personal status in the community, e.g., he would not be able to receive a special honor being called first to the Torah when it is read.

To enforce its standards, the Jewish Free School initiated a litmus test to test the religious attitudes of its students—standards that are not really required by the Halacha itself—as the rabbis attempt to micromanage the families involved. For example: each family had to have a mezuzah on their door; students and families had to attend at least four services a year at the synagogue. During the High Holy Days, shuls of every denomination placed a box at the entrance, into which parents could slip a card with their names, proving attendance. Continue reading “Haredi Politics and the British Chief Rabbi’s Moral Quandary”

Augustine and the “Mark of Cain”

What is the significance of the “mark of Cain” (Gen. 4:15)?

The text does not identify exactly what the sign was. Historically, this passage has often served as a scriptural support for Christian persecution of the Jews. For Cain, this was a mark of God’s special loving care and protection. For Jerome’s contemporary, Augustine, this idea proved to be a fertile concept for his comparison of Cain to the Jews. Curiously, Augustine, said nothing about this mark serving as a protective device; instead, he (and his contemporary, Jerome) subverted what was originally an act of grace and mercy into a fiendish excuse to treat the Jews with cruelty. In his “Reply to Flaustus the Manichean,”Augustine employed one of the most anti-Semitic tirades in his allegorical interpretation of Cain and Abel. Augustine wrote:

—Abel, the younger brother was killed by the elder; so too Jesus, head of the younger people, is killed by the elder people—the Jews.

—Just as Abel’s blood cursed Cain, so too does  the blood of Jesus accuses the Jews.

—As Cain was cursed from by the earth, so too unbelieving Jews are cursed from the Holy Church.

—As Cain was punished to be a mourner and an abject on the earth, so too are the Jews.
In one lurid passage Augustine wrote:

Then God says to Cain: “Thou art cursed from the earth, which hath opened its mouth to receive thy brother’s blood at thy hand. For thou shalt till the earth, and it shall no longer yield unto thee its strength. A mourner and an abject wanderer shalt thou be on the earth.” It is not, “Cursed is the earth,” but, “Cursed art thou from the earth, which hath opened its mouth to receive thy brother’s blood at thy hand. So the unbelieving people of the Jews is cursed from the earth, that is, from the Church, which in the confession of sins has opened its mouth to receive the blood shed for the remission of sins by the hand of the people that would not be under grace, but under the law. And this murderer is cursed by the Church; that is, the Church admits and avows the curse pronounced by the apostle: ‘Whoever are of the works of the law are under the curse of the law.’ Then, after saying, Cursed art thou from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive thy brother’s  blood at thy hand, what follows is not, For thou shalt till it, but, Thou shalt till the earth, and it shall not yield to thee its strength. . .”

Continue reading “Augustine and the “Mark of Cain””

The Halitzah Ceremony– And Its Modern Ethical Challenges

As mentioned earlier the levirate marriage takes place between a widow who’s husband died childless and his brother (known as the levir); halitzah (“removal”) is a ceremony that releases the woman from the obligation of Levirate marriage, allowing her to marry someone else.

Although Levirate marriage itself no longer is practiced, traditional Jews still require halitzah, formally releasing the widow from the biblically required union with her brother-in-law. The widow appears before a tribunal of five people–three of whom happen to be rabbis. After some initial questioning as to what the widow and levir intend to do, the court gives instructions that each must carry out.

Each participant must pronounce in certain phrases in Hebrew; the woman also is instructed to fast until the ceremony. The next day, a special shoe is removed from the levir’s foot. The woman approaches him and proclaims in Hebrew, “My husband’s brother refuses to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother unto me,” to which he replies, “I do not want to take her.” The widow then removes the shoe from his foot, tosses it away, and spits on the floor in front of him, saying, “So shall it be done unto the man that does not build up his brother’s house, and his name shall be called in Israel, the house of him that had his shoe loosened.” All present respond three times in unison, “he that had his shoe loosened.” Concluding prayers are read by the judges, and often a certificate that the widow is free to remarry is drawn up.

Even as late as the medieval era, rabbinic leaders like Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg, ruled that nowadays, no woman would ever consent to marrying her brother-in-law, and the practice of halitzah was no longer necessary. However, in the State of Israel today, the ultra-Orthodox rabbis (known as Haredim [= “Tremblers”], a.k.a.  “Jewish Quakers”) refuse scores of women from remarrying without undergoing the traditional biblical ceremony—despite the humiliation this causes both the woman and her family.

In Israel, a most perplexing problem occurred that revealed the awkwardness of the halitzah ceremony as a viable religious practice. An elderly lady—about 60—wanted to register her marriage with the rabbinate after being widowed for four years and divorced from her second marriage. A clerk in the office observed that she never obtained halitzah from the brother of her first husband. Nevertheless, the rabbis ruled that she had to obtain permission from her former brother-in-law.

But here’s the catch. Continue reading “The Halitzah Ceremony– And Its Modern Ethical Challenges”

Book Review: Why Are Jews So Liberal?

Why Are Jews Liberals?

By Norman Podhoretz

Doubleday, 337 pages, $27

Some of you may be surprised to know that shortly before Rosh Hashanah, President Obama made a conference call with more than 1000 rabbis, encouraging them to speak about the health-care reform in their sermons this year. Because of my belief in the separation of Church and State issues, I will respectfully decline. I enjoy writing my own sermons and do not require political assistance from Washington to help craft my holiday message.

The social critic and essayist Norman Podhoretz believes that the appeal to the rabbinic community may be due to the Jewish people’s penchant toward liberal causes, or what he refers to as, “the Torah of liberalism.”

In his most recent and thought provoking book, “Why Are Jews Liberal?”, Podhoretz examines why Jews have been in love with the political left. Podhoretz, you see, was originally a leftist before he moved more toward the right.

The Jewish love affair with the left can be seen in most American elections. With the exception of Jimmy Carter (which was no great surprise given his anti-Jewish and Israel attitude), the Democratic Party has received an amazing 75% of the Jewish vote. Obviously, one reason why the Jews lean toward the left has a lot to do with the fact that Jews have traditionally seen themselves as underdogs in American culture. Our memories of the past still linger with us . . .

Some of our members will certainly remember when Jews were excluded from many of the country’s finest academic schools, or were limited in terms how they could climb up the corporate ladder.  The experience of being socially marginalized has obviously contributed toward the mindset that liberal politics best serves the needs of all of Americans who feel socially or economically earthbound.

There is sadly, a dark side to this kind of devotion. For example, the commitment to the liberal establishment has often supplanted the commitment to Jewish causes and the synagogue. Jews seem to be opting for what  the  sociologist Robert Bellah describes, as an “American social religion.” Statistics seem to support Podhoretz’s premise as well. In the United States, Jews are the least religious group in America—just 16% of Jews attend services at least monthly, and 42% of Jews attend once or not at all. Continue reading “Book Review: Why Are Jews So Liberal?”

Should Yad Vashem Honor Gentiles Who Saved Converted Jews?

Sometime in the last week of April, 230 cosignatories sent a petition to Yad Vashem, requesting that they give special recognition to two particular families, the Hollebrands and the Egginks, who hid three children from the Sanders family, which had converted to Christianity before World War II.

In this tragic WWII story, the father registered the family as Jewish and sent the children into hiding with the Hollebrands and Egginks. The Gestapo arrested the father in 1943 and tortured him into divulging their whereabouts. In the end, he, his wife and children—Eline, 10, Egbert, 8 and Marie Lena, 6—were murdered that year.

Yad Vashem’s Commission for the Recognition of the Righteous among the Nations decided that the Hollebrands and the Egginks were ineligible for the title since the honor is reserved for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews in the Holocaust; since the children were not Jewish, they could not receive the award.

How would Jewish tradition and ethics respond to this kind of case? Was the Yad Vashem acting properly?

When I came across this article, I decided to look up the Shulchan Aruch, which is the authoritative Code of Jewish Law that has governed Jewish life for many centuries. The law is clear: an Israelite who has embraced another religious identity still remains an Israelite; should he get married to a Jewish woman, the act of marriage still remains intact even though he has retracted his Jewish faith. [1] Moreover, this same principle also applies to any person who officially converted to Judaism from another faith, who later relinquishes his Judaic faith–that individual is still considered a Jew [2] — contrary to the views espoused by today’s Haredi rabbinical community in Israel.

Moreover, if  that wayward Israelite ritually slaughters an animal and someone attests that his knife was adequately sharpened, the meat from the animal may be eaten [3]. There are literally hundreds of other cases in rabbinic literature that stress this point: Jewish identity does not disappear just because that person rejects his heritage. The door is always open for the possibility that he might repent and return to his ancestral faith.

That being said, in the case of the Sander children, we do not know all the facts regarding this case. It is possible the father had the family converted in order to avoid persecution by the Nazis. Such conversions gave the Jewish person(s) extra protection from the Church, but not always. Conversions under duress are nothing new in Jewish tradition and the Halacha—especially as interpreted by Maimonides—tends to be fairly liberal and compassionate. Indeed, Maimonides ought to have known, because he himself was forcibly converted to Islam in his youth.

In short, the Sander children were truly and halachically תינוק שנשבה בין הנכרים — the tragic victims of circumstances that were beyond their conscious control and as a result certainly need to be viewed with the utmost of compassion. Even though they were converted to Christianity, they still died as Jews. The two families who risked their own lives and the lives of their families deserve recognition.

Saving a life of a person who is facing imminent danger is considered to be one of the greatest acts of human decency. Although most texts rabbinic texts speak about the saving of a “‘Jewish’ life is considered as if one saved the entire world,”[4] one must remember that the social context this rabbinic dictum referred merely to someone who was already a member of their community; it would be analogous to laws that we have in this country that are written for the general welfare of Americans, but do not necessarily exclude the rights of foreigners. In fact, with the recent wave of immigrants coming in from Mexico, American laws across the nation have been established to protect their rights as well. Continue reading “Should Yad Vashem Honor Gentiles Who Saved Converted Jews?”

Pop Kabbalah and the other forms of McMysticism

Q. I recently started reading about other religions to find one that suits me and came upon Kabbalah. I started reading about it (through the most accessible books to find by Yehuda Berg) and started digging the whole thing he was selling. I liked the theories presented in his books and I agreed with the fact that the Bible was never meant to be something lived by so literally. Not to mention many of the other things talked about in his books. I knew that Kabbalah had something to do with Judaism (which I love my culture), but he never really mentioned that in the books.

So, I tried to find out more information on the internet and found out that Kabbalah is like a completely Jewish sect, and it is strictly based on the Torah. I found out that the ‘teachings’ of Berg are shunned by the Jewish community and they are not close to what Kabbalah actually is.

I am wondering, what is true Kabbalah and what is what I have started calling the ‘pop kabbalah’. I am intrigued by the things Berg says in his books, but now I am trying to figure out what exactly Kabbalah is.

I know that a rabbi was talking about how upset he was about Madonna being into Kabbalah because she was so openly pro‑gay, and apparently Kabbalah is anti gay. But maybe like how there are orthodox, conservative and reform Jews, the same goes for Kabbalah? And where can I find a book that will explain this stuff. Please tell me about “pop kabbalah.”

A. Rabbi Philip Berg (known by his followers as “the Rav”) is a colorful personality who quirks have angered many folks. In the past he was known to threaten critics with lawsuits, and needless to say, this type of behavior did not enhance his public image. Given the jealousy scholars have, I am not surprised to see people take pot-shots at knocking him down. Our society’s predisposition toward gossip is dangerous, and perhaps some of his critics deserved to be sued. To his immense credit, Rabbi Berg did what no other rabbi of his era could achieve: he made the Kabbalah accessible to many people who are (for whatever the reason) far removed from Judaism. I believe he serves a positive purpose in that regard, and if his works inspire you, by all means, continue reading them. While Rabbi Philip Berg’s organization may have suffered from some unusual quirks in the past, I have been most impressed with the Rav’s successful outreach program.

Today, in almost every major city around the globe, the Kabbalah Center has done more to bring people across the denominational divide to authentic Jewish spirituality than any other Orthodox movement—even Chabad. Rabbi Michael Berg, the Rav’s son is especially talented and is an excellent writer of Jewish mystical themes. In fact, on occasion, I have used some of his texts on the Zohar in my own Kabbalah classes.

Fortunately, Rabbi Berg and others demonstrate a lucid grasp of original texts.

What I dislike about the Kabbalah movement in general is its lack of historical objectivity when it comes to the actual formation of the Kabbalah. Contrary to Chabad, Kabbalah Center, or Aish HaTorah, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai had nothing whatsoever to do with the Zohar, but Rabbi Moshe de Leon (1250-1305) certainly did—at least according to his rich widow who revealed that her husband was just simply trying to make a profitable living—and attributing this work to a famous third century Sage would give it the mystique that would make him into a wealthy man!

Maybe one of the most important lessons of the Kabbala is for us to remember that the Torah is essentially a spiritual text and guide to holy living. To understand the meaning of the Torah, one must read in between the lines. To the Kabbalist, the Torah is a cosmic text that is full of spiritual metaphors. In an age where bible scholars often examine the Torah text as if it were a cadaver, I personally feel enriched with the Kabbalah’s approach. Yet, in all fairness to critical studies, the Torah must be studied on numerous and concurrent levels.

I for one, would encourage you to read other books on the Kabbalah that offer a far clearer and psychologically deep grasp of the Kabbalah; I think we need to be careful of shysters who scalp the public for a buck. See Adin Steinzaltz’s Thirteen Petalled Rose, Dr. Ed Hoffman’s The Way of Splendor as well as anything written by Daniel Matt, e.g., The Essential Kabbalah. Those are two excellent primers for a start, and you may want to read other books they have written as well.

I wish you well,

Yours,

Rabbi Dr. Michael Samuel