Why Judaism Is Illogical

How illogical is halakha? At first blush, one would say, not very. Halakha is, almost by its very definition, logical. And certainly that was the original intent. Even laws that had no understandable reason, like shatnez, were handled by halakha in a largely logical fashion. But today one can see halakha’s original intent corrupted.

A case in point: many of the laws governing sex – and by this I do not mean biblical laws like the ban on male-male anal intercourse – have been twisted into a hardened, restrictive shell. The source for this increasingly restrictive halakha? The Zohar, that wonderful 13th century forgery beloved by hasidim, haredim and Sefardim alike. The idea that a male spilling seed is a worse sin than murder? That’s right. You can trace that line of "reasoning" directly back to Rabbi Moshe DeLeon’s creative writing project.

No serious scholar believes the Zohar is authentic; indeed, even most rabbis hold large parts of the "text" were added over centuries by various authors and is itself corrupted.

But, just for a moment, let’s put aside fact and instead accept, just for the sake of argument, the "authenticity" of the Zohar. Now, let’s ask a question: Can the Zohar be used to decide halakha?

The Zohar was "concealed" for more than 1000 years. During that time, the Mishna was redacted, as as the Talmud. Geonic codes were written. Rashi lived and wrote. Dozens of halakhic works were written and published and responsa literature flourished. All of these were written without knowledge of the Zohar.

Then, just before the turn of the 14th century, the Zohar is "discovered" by a lone rabbi who brings no verifiable proof for its authenticity. Should halakha take the Zohar’s views into account? Should it become more strict on the Zohar’s account?

Logic and fair play would say no. Unfortunately, rabbis said yes. Why did they do so? Rabbis adopted the Zohar as a quasi-halakhic text largely because of three men and their disciples: Shabbatai Zevi, The Ari, and the Ba’al Shem Tov.

The Ari lived almost 300 years after the "discovery" of the Zohar, and
the Ari made the Zohar the cornerstone of his theology. He decided law
like the Zohar and gave out mystical "tikkunim" based on it. (One of
these tikkunim was quite popular among his disciples. It was used to
cleanse onesself of the "impurity" caused by spilling seed. Another
very popular one did the same for homosexual relations.) He taught for
a very brief time and then died young in his thirties. His disciples –
a handfull of students, no more – spread his teaching across the Jewish
world. But those teachings remained non-normative until the appearance
of Shabbatai Zevi.

Shabbatai Zevi, the most influential false messiah Judaism had until the end of the 20th century, was followed by most of the world’s rabbis, and Shabbatai not only used the Zohar as a halakhic text, he used it to abrogate or radically change existing laws. After his conversion to Islam, most of his rabbi-followers went back to normative halakhic Judaism, but some went back as crypto-Sabbateans. Both groups used the Zohar as if it were halakha, and their influence was widely felt.

Indeed, the founder of the hasidic movement, the Ba’al Shem Tov came into prominence in an area of Europe that was a hotbed of both open Sabbateanism and of its crypto variety. His disciples elevated the Zohar to near-biblical status, and incorporated its views of sexual issues and ritual purity, codifying them as "halakha," and relying on crypto-Sabbatean works for guidance.

So, back to our question: Can a book of questionable provenience be inserted into  halakhic discourse after more than 1000 years and with no contemporaneous mention of it in halakhic sources of the time of it’s alleged authorship by Shimon Bar Yohai?

Logic, honesty and fair play would clearly say no, it cannot be used as a source of halakha and can play no role in halakha. Instead, the exact opposite has happened. Rabbis opted for the Zohar’s strictness, and in the process threw logic and fair play out the window.

Jews deserve better than halakha based on this 13th century "find." Too bad our rabbis did not and do not understand this.

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19 Comments

Filed under Religion

19 responses to “Why Judaism Is Illogical

  1. Ari

    “Why Judaism Is Illogical”
    Scott,
    Why do you practice Judaism if it is Illogical? Are you giving it all up? What will you do with all your free time? I think you love the “Illogical” parts of Judaism, its what you live on.

  2. Moshe

    Although the Zohar says that spilling of the seed is more serious than all other sins, and that statement is incorporated into Halacha by Rav Yosef Karo in E”H 23, it is nevertheless understood by the commentaries Bais Shmuel & C”M to not mean literaly all sins as they point out that it would be the less of two evils to spill the seed rather than have relations with a married woman or a Niddah.
    The Talmud Niddah 13a says that it is as if one committed murder, the implication being that murder is worse.(The Talmud many times compares a much lesser sin to a more serios sin in some sense, such as the statement that getting angry is like worshipping idols.)

  3. Neo-Conservaguy

    Posken from Zohar = go directly to cherum, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 from local businesses to support your great leader’s latest project.

  4. Kool-Aid Puker

    And what of “Lurrainic” Kabbalah? and the tanya, that was clearly pulled out of the air.

  5. Kool-Aid Puker

    *and it’s not even remotely based on anything prior. Just a bunch racist, illogical bullshit

  6. Yochanan Lavie

    Maybe the Karaites have a point. I used to believe in that kabbalistic mumbo-jumbo, but I don’t anymore. There is none of it in the tanach (unless you do a tortured misreading to find “proof”).

  7. Rowan Berkeley

    It seems to me, as a non-Jew who studied Aristotle’s logic before encountering the principles of exegesis used in Talmudic debate, that the latter are very illogical indeed.

    Incidentally, the Muslim world would be extremely pleased and impressed if a neo-Karaite movement not totally beholden to zionism were to emerge.

  8. yehud

    Actually Yochanan, Anan, the leader of the Karaites back in the day, believed in reincarnation and taught this concept, even though its not mentioned anywhere in the tanach explicitly. And Rowan, if you read a book called, “The Dynamics of Dispute” by Zvi Lampel, you will see that the seemingly disorganized logic shown in the talmud actually has a very logical set system to it. You have to have a very thorough depth to fully understand whats going on.
    BTW, the hell with what the Muslim world wants. They would also be pleased if Israel was destroyed and its inhabitants exiled or killed, G-d forbid.

  9. Anonymous

    Shmarya, you say, “But, just for a moment, let’s put aside fact and instead accept, just for the sake of argument, the “authenticity” of the Zohar. Now, let’s ask a question: Can the Zohar be used to decide halakha?” If you were to have answered this question, the answer would have been, yes! the zohar could be used to decide halacha if we, “accept, just for the sake of argument, the “authenticity” of the Zohar.” But you never follow this line of reasoning. Regardless, I have read some very interesting articles defending the zohar, and showing many faults in Scholem and Tishby’s analysis of it. I think it is somewhat logical to assume that if we had prophets in the time of Ezra, that knowledge would not just be done away with, but would pass through the generations just like the halacha of how to do the sacrifices. I dont know that hashem would let that knowledge be forgotten, and if it is still in existence, the zohar would likely be the way it was transmitted.

  10. No, it could not be used. Why? Because even if “authentic,” it was removed from halakha for 1500 years. Further, it clearly was a minority view even in Bar Yochai’s time.

  11. Anonymous

    The Karaites used the Talmud and Rabbinics a lot more then they would care to admit. For example, the Ketubah is nowwhere found in Tanach yet the Karaites insist on using one when married

  12. Anonymous

    Shmarya, if you havent already read it, I think you might enjoy the following article
    http://www.maqom.com/journal/paper22.pdf

    The following is a quote from the article:
    “Epstein lays out the principal for using the Zohar’s practice as precedent in Chapter
    25.29: The Poskim established a general principle in this regard. If the Gemara and the Poskim disagree with the Zohar we follow the decisions of the Gemara and the
    Poskim. But if the Zohar is more stringent [than the Gemara and the Poskim] then
    who ever wants to be more stringent as is the Zohar can be. If the matter is not
    stated in the Gemara, it is certainly proper to do as the Zohar states, but we do not force one to do so. [Magen Avraham (A commentary on the Shulchan Aruch
    written by R. Abraham Abele Gombiner, 1637-1683) in the name of the Radbaz
    (R. David ben Zimra (1479-1589), one of the Ari’s teachers). Nevertheless, I
    received a tradition that the Zohar can never disagree with the Gemara unless the
    Gemara also has an internal argument. In a case where the Gemara decides the
    law the Zohar also accepts the decision. In places where the Zohar does not seem
    to agree with the Gemara, they did not understand the Zohar correctly and one
    must explain the opinion so that it is in accord with the Gemara]”

  13. Anonymous

    Yochanan, I ask you though, does anything the karaites teach have authority? I feel much more comfortable with the fact that we can scholarly trace rabbinic Judaism pretty far back. I haven’t seen any solid evidence of the karaites tracing back their history, which makes me wonder if they didn’t just interpret the torah randomly, as they saw fit.

  14. Yochanan Lavie

    Good question, anonymous. Actually they do have their own interpretive traditions, sefarim, and chachamim. Some of it has been translated into English. See “Karaite AnthologY” (availible on amazon), and their website: http://www.karaitekorner.com. I don’t agree with them on everything, but on tefillin on tzitzit they’re probably right, for example. (Their position on those things is NOT what the rabbis tell you it is).

    Once again, I don’t want to totally reject the rabbinic tradition, just to question it and bring the karaite p.o.v. into the conversation.

  15. lookitup

    The abominations known as masterbation and sodomy are explicitly prohibited in Levitcus and Deuteronomy……and NOT the Zohar.

    P.S. —->

  16. Nether are. Bring your “sources.”

  17. lookitup

    sodomy:

    Leviticus 18:22
    “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”.

    masterbation:

    Gen. 38:8-10

    According to the Jewish Virtual Library, masturbation is strictly forbidden.

    Jewish law clearly prohibits male masturbation. This law is derived from the story of Onan (Gen. 38:8-10), who practiced coitus interruptus as a means of birth control to avoid fathering a child for his deceased brother. G-d killed Onan for this sin. Torah forbids any act of ha-sh’cha’tat zerah (destruction of the seed), that is, ejaculation outside of the vagina. In fact, the prohibition is so strict that one passage in the Talmud states, “in the case of a man, the hand that reaches below the navel should be chopped off.” (Niddah 13a) (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/sex.html)

  18. Sodomy:

    1. anal or oral copulation with a member of the opposite sex.
    2. copulation with a member of the same sex.
    3. bestiality (def. 4).

    Halakhicly:

    1. is permitted.

    2. Forbidden for two males if there is anal penetration. If not, it is not (at least not under the same law as male-male anal intercourse).

    3. Forbidden under a different law.

    Masturbation is forbidden by most poskim in most circumstances. However there are specific times when it is allowed by some poskim.

  19. lookitup

    Shmarya:

    your article is entitled:

    “Why Judaism Is Illogical”

    This title shows that you have big problems
    with the Authority of Torah itself.

    Some Torah is indeed beyond our logic.

    So what?

    Obedience may lead to understanding the
    depths of most Torah.

    But without obedience you can’t even begin
    to understand…..


    “….the ban on male-male anal intercourse –
    ….”
    …The source for this increasingly restrictive halakha? The Zohar….

    The Zohar is not a source for Halacha.

    So why bring it up?

    Leviticus 18:22
    “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”.

    You have big issues with Torah & Rabbinical Authority.

    you need to do tshuva….and fast.

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Why Judaism Is Illogical

How illogical is halakha? At first blush, one would say, not very. Halakha is, almost by its very definition, logical. And certainly that was the original intent. Even laws that had no understandable reason, like shatnez, were handled by halakha in a largely logical fashion. But today one can see halakha’s original intent corrupted.

A case in point: many of the laws governing sex – and by this I do not mean biblical laws like the ban on male-male anal intercourse – have been twisted into a hardened, restrictive shell. The source for this increasingly restrictive halakha? The Zohar, that wonderful 13th century forgery beloved by hasidim, haredim and Sefardim alike. The idea that a male spilling seed is a worse sin than murder? That’s right. You can trace that line of "reasoning" directly back to Rabbi Moshe DeLeon’s creative writing project.

No serious scholar believes the Zohar is authentic; indeed, even most rabbis hold large parts of the "text" were added over centuries by various authors and is itself corrupted.

But, just for a moment, let’s put aside fact and instead accept, just for the sake of argument, the "authenticity" of the Zohar. Now, let’s ask a question: Can the Zohar be used to decide halakha?

The Zohar was "concealed" for more than 1000 years. During that time, the Mishna was redacted, as as the Talmud. Geonic codes were written. Rashi lived and wrote. Dozens of halakhic works were written and published and responsa literature flourished. All of these were written without knowledge of the Zohar.

Then, just before the turn of the 14th century, the Zohar is "discovered" by a lone rabbi who brings no verifiable proof for its authenticity. Should halakha take the Zohar’s views into account? Should it become more strict on the Zohar’s account?

Logic and fair play would say no. Unfortunately, rabbis said yes. Why did they do so? Rabbis adopted the Zohar as a quasi-halakhic text largely because of three men and their disciples: Shabbatai Zevi, The Ari, and the Ba’al Shem Tov.

The Ari lived almost 300 years after the "discovery" of the Zohar, and
the Ari made the Zohar the cornerstone of his theology. He decided law
like the Zohar and gave out mystical "tikkunim" based on it. (One of
these tikkunim was quite popular among his disciples. It was used to
cleanse onesself of the "impurity" caused by spilling seed. Another
very popular one did the same for homosexual relations.) He taught for
a very brief time and then died young in his thirties. His disciples –
a handfull of students, no more – spread his teaching across the Jewish
world. But those teachings remained non-normative until the appearance
of Shabbatai Zevi.

Shabbatai Zevi, the most influential false messiah Judaism had until the end of the 20th century, was followed by most of the world’s rabbis, and Shabbatai not only used the Zohar as a halakhic text, he used it to abrogate or radically change existing laws. After his conversion to Islam, most of his rabbi-followers went back to normative halakhic Judaism, but some went back as crypto-Sabbateans. Both groups used the Zohar as if it were halakha, and their influence was widely felt.

Indeed, the founder of the hasidic movement, the Ba’al Shem Tov came into prominence in an area of Europe that was a hotbed of both open Sabbateanism and of its crypto variety. His disciples elevated the Zohar to near-biblical status, and incorporated its views of sexual issues and ritual purity, codifying them as "halakha," and relying on crypto-Sabbatean works for guidance.

So, back to our question: Can a book of questionable provenience be inserted into  halakhic discourse after more than 1000 years and with no contemporaneous mention of it in halakhic sources of the time of it’s alleged authorship by Shimon Bar Yohai?

Logic, honesty and fair play would clearly say no, it cannot be used as a source of halakha and can play no role in halakha. Instead, the exact opposite has happened. Rabbis opted for the Zohar’s strictness, and in the process threw logic and fair play out the window.

Jews deserve better than halakha based on this 13th century "find." Too bad our rabbis did not and do not understand this.

20 Comments

Filed under Religion

20 responses to “Why Judaism Is Illogical

  1. Ari

    “Why Judaism Is Illogical”
    Scott,
    Why do you practice Judaism if it is Illogical? Are you giving it all up? What will you do with all your free time? I think you love the “Illogical” parts of Judaism, its what you live on.

  2. Moshe

    Although the Zohar says that spilling of the seed is more serious than all other sins, and that statement is incorporated into Halacha by Rav Yosef Karo in E”H 23, it is nevertheless understood by the commentaries Bais Shmuel & C”M to not mean literaly all sins as they point out that it would be the less of two evils to spill the seed rather than have relations with a married woman or a Niddah.
    The Talmud Niddah 13a says that it is as if one committed murder, the implication being that murder is worse.(The Talmud many times compares a much lesser sin to a more serios sin in some sense, such as the statement that getting angry is like worshipping idols.)

  3. Neo-Conservaguy

    Posken from Zohar = go directly to cherum, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 from local businesses to support your great leader’s latest project.

  4. Kool-Aid Puker

    And what of “Lurrainic” Kabbalah? and the tanya, that was clearly pulled out of the air.

  5. Kool-Aid Puker

    *and it’s not even remotely based on anything prior. Just a bunch racist, illogical bullshit

  6. Kool-Aid Puker

    *irrational

  7. Yochanan Lavie

    Maybe the Karaites have a point. I used to believe in that kabbalistic mumbo-jumbo, but I don’t anymore. There is none of it in the tanach (unless you do a tortured misreading to find “proof”).

  8. Rowan Berkeley

    It seems to me, as a non-Jew who studied Aristotle’s logic before encountering the principles of exegesis used in Talmudic debate, that the latter are very illogical indeed.

    Incidentally, the Muslim world would be extremely pleased and impressed if a neo-Karaite movement not totally beholden to zionism were to emerge.

  9. yehud

    Actually Yochanan, Anan, the leader of the Karaites back in the day, believed in reincarnation and taught this concept, even though its not mentioned anywhere in the tanach explicitly. And Rowan, if you read a book called, “The Dynamics of Dispute” by Zvi Lampel, you will see that the seemingly disorganized logic shown in the talmud actually has a very logical set system to it. You have to have a very thorough depth to fully understand whats going on.
    BTW, the hell with what the Muslim world wants. They would also be pleased if Israel was destroyed and its inhabitants exiled or killed, G-d forbid.

  10. Anonymous

    Shmarya, you say, “But, just for a moment, let’s put aside fact and instead accept, just for the sake of argument, the “authenticity” of the Zohar. Now, let’s ask a question: Can the Zohar be used to decide halakha?” If you were to have answered this question, the answer would have been, yes! the zohar could be used to decide halacha if we, “accept, just for the sake of argument, the “authenticity” of the Zohar.” But you never follow this line of reasoning. Regardless, I have read some very interesting articles defending the zohar, and showing many faults in Scholem and Tishby’s analysis of it. I think it is somewhat logical to assume that if we had prophets in the time of Ezra, that knowledge would not just be done away with, but would pass through the generations just like the halacha of how to do the sacrifices. I dont know that hashem would let that knowledge be forgotten, and if it is still in existence, the zohar would likely be the way it was transmitted.

  11. No, it could not be used. Why? Because even if “authentic,” it was removed from halakha for 1500 years. Further, it clearly was a minority view even in Bar Yochai’s time.

  12. Anonymous

    The Karaites used the Talmud and Rabbinics a lot more then they would care to admit. For example, the Ketubah is nowwhere found in Tanach yet the Karaites insist on using one when married

  13. Anonymous

    Shmarya, if you havent already read it, I think you might enjoy the following article
    http://www.maqom.com/journal/paper22.pdf

    The following is a quote from the article:
    “Epstein lays out the principal for using the Zohar’s practice as precedent in Chapter
    25.29: The Poskim established a general principle in this regard. If the Gemara and the Poskim disagree with the Zohar we follow the decisions of the Gemara and the
    Poskim. But if the Zohar is more stringent [than the Gemara and the Poskim] then
    who ever wants to be more stringent as is the Zohar can be. If the matter is not
    stated in the Gemara, it is certainly proper to do as the Zohar states, but we do not force one to do so. [Magen Avraham (A commentary on the Shulchan Aruch
    written by R. Abraham Abele Gombiner, 1637-1683) in the name of the Radbaz
    (R. David ben Zimra (1479-1589), one of the Ari’s teachers). Nevertheless, I
    received a tradition that the Zohar can never disagree with the Gemara unless the
    Gemara also has an internal argument. In a case where the Gemara decides the
    law the Zohar also accepts the decision. In places where the Zohar does not seem
    to agree with the Gemara, they did not understand the Zohar correctly and one
    must explain the opinion so that it is in accord with the Gemara]”

  14. Yochanan Lavie

    To those who replied: A clarification.

    Your points are well-taken. A perfectly biblical Judaism is an anachronistic impossibility, as any intellectually honest Karaite would have to admit. Also, I cannot abide a strictly literalist interpretation of Bereishit, for example. Even Rashi, the king of pshat, said it cries out for interpretation. (He was influenced by Menachem ben Surak, a Karaite grammarian). I value Rashi, and the Rambam’s acceptence of science, etc.

    I don’t want to throw out the baby w/the bathwater. I just want to cut through the bullshit that has accumulated through the years. The Karaites are a parelle universe, with their own interpretive tradition. They don’t have kabbalah, or other superstitions.

    I want a post-rabbinic Judaism that combines the best of the rabbanite and Karaite traditions, with the insights of modern scholarship, and a true devotion to God and the Jewish people. (Non-ortho Judaism is too PC and too milquetoasty). Something that is true to the miqra w/o being simplistically literal. Something firm enough to believe in, yet not facistic.

    The rabbis started out trying to save Judaism, but they are now a self-serving, self-perpetuating bureaucracy.

  15. Yochanan Lavie

    Good question, anonymous. Actually they do have their own interpretive traditions, sefarim, and chachamim. Some of it has been translated into English. See “Karaite AnthologY” (availible on amazon), and their website: http://www.karaitekorner.com. I don’t agree with them on everything, but on tefillin on tzitzit they’re probably right, for example. (Their position on those things is NOT what the rabbis tell you it is).

    Once again, I don’t want to totally reject the rabbinic tradition, just to question it and bring the karaite p.o.v. into the conversation.

  16. lookitup

    The abominations known as masterbation and sodomy are explicitly prohibited in Levitcus and Deuteronomy……and NOT the Zohar.

    P.S. —->

  17. Nether are. Bring your “sources.”

  18. lookitup

    sodomy:

    Leviticus 18:22
    “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”.

    masterbation:

    Gen. 38:8-10

    According to the Jewish Virtual Library, masturbation is strictly forbidden.

    Jewish law clearly prohibits male masturbation. This law is derived from the story of Onan (Gen. 38:8-10), who practiced coitus interruptus as a means of birth control to avoid fathering a child for his deceased brother. G-d killed Onan for this sin. Torah forbids any act of ha-sh’cha’tat zerah (destruction of the seed), that is, ejaculation outside of the vagina. In fact, the prohibition is so strict that one passage in the Talmud states, “in the case of a man, the hand that reaches below the navel should be chopped off.” (Niddah 13a) (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/sex.html)

  19. Sodomy:

    1. anal or oral copulation with a member of the opposite sex.
    2. copulation with a member of the same sex.
    3. bestiality (def. 4).

    Halakhicly:

    1. is permitted.

    2. Forbidden for two males if there is anal penetration. If not, it is not (at least not under the same law as male-male anal intercourse).

    3. Forbidden under a different law.

    Masturbation is forbidden by most poskim in most circumstances. However there are specific times when it is allowed by some poskim.

  20. lookitup

    Shmarya:

    your article is entitled:

    “Why Judaism Is Illogical”

    This title shows that you have big problems
    with the Authority of Torah itself.

    Some Torah is indeed beyond our logic.

    So what?

    Obedience may lead to understanding the
    depths of most Torah.

    But without obedience you can’t even begin
    to understand…..


    “….the ban on male-male anal intercourse –
    ….”
    …The source for this increasingly restrictive halakha? The Zohar….

    The Zohar is not a source for Halacha.

    So why bring it up?

    Leviticus 18:22
    “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”.

    You have big issues with Torah & Rabbinical Authority.

    you need to do tshuva….and fast.

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