Orthodox Views On The Zohar

Here’s more about the Zohar.

Marc B. Shapiro writes:

In the next issue of Milin Havivin, I deal with Orthodox views of the Zohar. In the meantime, I was surprised to find that R. Berel Wein describes the Zohar in an unsympathetic manner. Although some may claim that Wein was only presenting the history, his less than reverential attitude towards the book comes across very clearly, even if he didn’t consciously intend this. See the video here.

For another surprising piece by Wein (called to my attention by Mel Barenholtz), see here.

Wein describes Midrash as “legend.” While this might be a term used by academics (and is in the title of Louis Ginzberg’s great work), the Yeshiva World has always rejected the word as a proper description. Wein’s entire article can be seen as a reflection on the fact that rabbis, in their sermons, quote all sorts of Midrashim as if they are historical, which they are of course not. So what value do these “legends” have, and why should we use them to fill in the “missing parts” of the biblical text? That is the question Wein deals with.

In fact, Wein’s entire article, with its demand for truth in history and the need to abandon fantasy, is the sort that in today’s day and age could generate a herem. Here, for example, is one very provocative sentence: “Many times legend becomes myth. Myth is a sense of human recognition that the story being told is not factual but it nevertheless changes legend from history or biography into literature and philosophy – sometimes sacred holy literature and philosophy.” (emphasis added). And how about this paragraph, which uses the word “mythology,” certainly knowing the knee-jerk reaction it will provoke among people.

The Torah does not deal with myth per se. Yet the Flood and Noah’s ark, the Tower of Babel, the centrality of the land of Israel, factual as they all are in the biblical narrative, nevertheless were all combined to create a basis for the holy mythology of the Jewish people. In addition, the idea that the “events of the works and decisions of our founders, the fathers of Israel, are a sure guidepost for their descendants” helped strengthen a mythology that binds the Jewish generations together and gives us insights into the values of Judaism and historical events, past and present (emphasis added).

In speaking of the Flood, Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel, Wein states that they are factual “in the biblical narrative.” Does this mean to imply that they are really not historical events, but it is only in the biblical narrative that they are regarded as factual? Since these events, Wein tells us, are among the great myths of Judaism, and he just finished telling us that myth is not factual, this seems to be what he is saying.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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