Rewriting Judaism Haredi Style

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyahiv, the titular head of Lithuanian haredim, brokered a political deal that made Yona Metzger, an unqualified rabbi without experience as a religious judge and a man who had been censured by the chief rabbinate for behavior inappropriate for a rabbi, chief rabbi. The Jerusalem Post has a Q & A posted with Rabbi Metzger. Here is one "highlight":

Liza Zimmerman, Budapest: Dear Rabbi, my question is about the Kabbalah. Is there any stream in Judaism that doesn’t accept it? Is the Torah, which has been given direct from Hashem not enough?

Rabbi Metzger: There is no stream in Orthodox Jewry – the original Jewry – that does not accept the Kabbalah, the Kabbalah is a secret Torah and is one of the deepest layers of interpreting the Torah and understanding the Creator’s way in running the world.

1. There is a section of Yemenite Jewry that rejects Kabbalah. 2. There is a section of MO that rejects Kabbalah. 3. There is a section of old line Ashkenazi Jewry (as opposed to the followers of the GRA) that rejects Kabbalah. 4. The Zohar is clearly a forgery. 5. Implicit in Metzger’s response is that the Torah is not enough, and neither is the Torah combined with the Mishna and Gemara. 6. The Rambam clearly knew nothing about Kabbalah. 7. The further back in history one goes, the fewer communities and rabbis one will find who follow or endorse Kabbalah. 8. Orthodox Judaism is not the "original" Judaism. It is a reaction to the Haskalah (Enlightenment) and the early Reform Movement.

To tell anyone they must follow or believe in Kabbalah is wrong. All a believing Jew must do is believe in God and follow the Law to the best of his ability. No incantations are necessary.

An important note: The Kabbalah that preceded the Ari (and does not make use of the Zohar) is really a completely different animal. That Kabbalah, the "original" Kabbalah, to borrow a phrase from the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, is the Kabbalah that mentions a very old world, 15 billion years old, and much of the other cool things kiruv workers teach recruits. This is the stuff the gedolim, led by Metzger’s master, banned and labeled "heresy" during the Rabbi Slifkin Ban. Lurianic Kabbalah, as filtered through the prisims of Shabbatai Zvi and the hasidic movement, is the Kabbalah practiced and endorsed today. It is Zohar-based and worried excessively about demons and un-holy spirits. It is Voodoo without dolls and pins.


Filed under Haredim, Israel, Jewish Leadership, Religion

28 responses to “Rewriting Judaism Haredi Style

  1. Anonymous

    Mr self styled scholar Shmarya makes more sweeping statements with no proof. Can we have a source that some Taimani, MO and others reject Kabbala? There may be a rejection of some sections of Kabbala or other items like gilgul, but everyone agrees there is both nigla & nistar and that Parde”s stands for pshat, remez, drush, sod.

    Shmarya was at least somewhat interesting when he just stuck to bashing Chabad. He’s turning into the bitter old man that’s mad at everyone & everything.

  2. YUGUY

    But there are definitely peices of kaballah that people don’t believe. The adaptations from other religions….gilgul as you mentioned and other things, seem not be totally accepted. I don’t accept many parts of Kaballah, although I haven’t heard it all. So for any rabbi to make a blanket statement that noone doesn’t follow or accept kaballah that is still considered orthodox is crap.

  3. Ma Rabbi

    First you posted incorrect Halacha.Now you post about Kabbalah which you clearly know nothing about.”The Rambam knew nothing about Kabballah.” Ha Ha ha.
    Change it to “Shmarya Knows nothing about Kaballah.”

  4. Yochanan Lavie

    I used to believe in Kabbalah. Now I don’t. It’s not in Tanach (although one can read anything into Tanach with ingenuity).

  5. Anonymous

    “To tell anyone they must follow or believe in Kabbalah is wrong. All a believing Jew must do is believe in God and follow the Law to the best of his ability. No incantations are necessary.”
    I agree. But to read a well written defense of the zohar, try

  6. Moshe Miller is an old friend of mine. He believes the “core” of the Zohar is authentic, and that many layers have since been added to that core. He does not believe the Zohar we have today was written in total or in large part by Shimon Bar Yochai.

  7. Anonymous

    But he does follow its teachings, right? What parts does he reject, if any?

  8. He’a a Chabadnik. Chabad venerates Kabbalah.

  9. Neo-Conservaguy

    “Can we have a source that some Taimani, MO and others reject Kabbala?”

    I’ve personally met a Teimani scholar who’s grandfather lead the fight against the incorporation of qabbalistic insertions (e.g. unification of the tetragramaton symbolism , Lecha Dodi era tunes, etc.) into the existing /nusach/siddurim of that time. Interestingly enough, he also had another branch of his family that was on the other side of the battle.

    As for MO, I think you’ll have a harder time finding me a quote from a MO rabbi that claims the zohar is “authentic” than I will finding one that will be too busy laughing at the question you would have me pose to offer an answer.

  10. Anonymous

    Shmarya has an old friend who is a chabadnik?! Has he read your website?

  11. YoelB

    Shmarya, from what I’ve seen so far you may be missing the ikkar of the Slifkin ban.

    Try this: there are different pre-scientific approaches in Torah that come up with ages for the universe from 5.767 kiloyears to around 15 gigayears.

    The latter figure is in the ballpark of what is currently scientifically accepted. 75 years ago, a different age would have been scientificallly agreed on.

    Now, today, scientists say that we have enough data that the current estimates are pretty close to the “real” numbers. That’s probably true, but the same thing was said when the estimate was different.

    So, in a way, the haredim have a point: Scientific estimates change, and even if they didn’t, to choose a particular Torah shita because science supports it — and where medicine isn’t involved– is a problem.
    Still, if the haredi rabbonim were sensible (a guy can dream, can’t he) they would say something like this: we hold with 5767×365.25x24hrs Greenwich. We know that there were rishonim who held otherwise, including those who held ~15 billionx365.25×24 Greenwich. So if you hold that shita, we won’t say anything.

    But what they actually say is more like: If you hold that shita because that’s what the scientists say and not what the rishonim say, or even if you’re happy that that’s what the scientists say, you’re a heretic.

  12. What they say is that, even if you hold it because a Rishon did, you’re a heretic. “They” (Rishonim) were “big enough” to say these things; we’re not.

    Further, your understanding of science and what it says is deeply flawed. Science did not claim to have emperical evidence on the age of the universe 175 years ago. It largely accepted the Church’s chronology and dating, because it had no reason – in other words, no scientific data – contradicting it. When that data turned up, things changed.

  13. YUGUY

    I love that, by the way. I hear that all the time. People say, oh, he was able to say that, he was a great man. You have no right to say that. Shmarya, on this point I will definitely nod to you. It ticks me off to no end.

  14. YoelB

    Shmarya, if I had said 175 years you would be right but I said 75. And yes, some scientist then talked like they were certain.

  15. the chassidim -and all those who claim to follow kabbalah shouldnt have a problem with the billions of years old universe (a la normative science) because isaac d’min acco and other Kabbalists long ago said as such.

  16. That’s pre-Ari Kabbalah and therefore, in their eyes, not legit enough. See here:

  17. Anonymous

    “Moshe Miller is an old friend of mine. He believes the “core” of the Zohar is authentic, and that many layers have since been added to that core. He does not believe the Zohar we have today was written in total or in large part by Shimon Bar Yochai.”

    WoW everybody of note seems to be an old friend of yours. Mention a rabbi and 9/10 he turns out to be an old chum of Scotty.Maybe you mean X friend since you are psrsona non grata in Chabad. No past no future.
    And why am I not suprised that has post for just about everybody but you??? Man you must work overtime to earn peoples hatred. Well Scotty dont forget. Be kind to your enemies, you made them.

  18. Isa

    They have found at least 200,000 years of snowfall in Greenland and THEN there is Anartica which its recorded snowfall.
    Want to argue against 15 billion years OK
    Want to argue for a Earth that is less than 6000 years old, you are on real flimsey ground

  19. Yochanan Lavie

    I have always found the idea of the earth being billions of years old more awe-inspiring than a young earth. The former reminds me how awesome God really is- that a thousand years is like nothing to Him (see Tehillim). The latter is like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat (okay, a very LARGE hat- probably black).

    It seems to me besides the point to quibble over a literalist reading of Bereishit (which is unsustainable even in pshat- what does a “day” mean when the sun, moon, and stars are created later?). The torah is about righteousness. Dinosaurs shminosaurs- how can I live a Godly life?

    (Meanwhile, Hitler Jr. in Iran is planning Shoah II, while we rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic).

  20. Pseudepigraphal writings are really a special kind of religious literature and should not be considered forgeries. But the Zohar is different considering it encountered wide suspicion at its time of publication and the Kabbalist Avraham Abulafia made a special trip to verify it. I think it’s a pity that something new and creative must obscure its true nature so as to be validated by a contrived antiquity. The Zohar is special, and while details of its authorship shouldn’t be taken at face value, its importance shouldn’t be rejected either. Creativity is the soul of religious expression and as Moshe Idel explains in his scholarship, Kabbalistic literature was a fertile new world for sowing a renewed Jewish creativity in the middle ages. All of Jewish literature, from the written and oral tradition, and the whole Tanakh is creative. The question is whether we are accepting the literature on the basis of any inherent virtue, or on the basis of their antiquity.

  21. Schneur

    In this case Metzger is correct. The only organized Orthodox religious group that rejects Kabbalah are the Dor Deah(Dardoim) Yemenite group led by the late rabbi Kafah grand father and grandson. prior to his appointment to the Chief rabbinate council In Israel, Kafah was forced to swear alliegence to aminstream beliefs in a private chamber. This is described in a new pamphlet about rav Kaduri by Rav Yoel Schwartz..It is unclear if this group remains extant , and what its current belief system is . I welcome clarification on this amtter.Certainly all Ashkenazi jews acept the authority of the Kabbalah that icludes MO, Mussar, Brisk, Chassidim, Yekkes etc.
    Some German orthodox Jews had reservations about the place of the kabbalah, but Rabbiner Hirsch did not reject it.He removed some Kabalisitic pieces from the Divine Service, but did not question its authority . Of course the same is true with Rav jacob Emden.
    I very much doubt that any MO religious leaders like the RAv, or Rabbi Schachter reject the authority of the kabbalah. Perhaps they do not give it the same importance as the Sefardim and the Hassidic community.Rav Kuk was a kabbalist.
    Like it or not the Kabbalah has played an important role in the development of mainstream Judaism since the expulsion from Spain.It also was crucial in the development of Zionism.
    See Jacob katz’s book Halachah and Kabbalah for clarification on this matter.

  22. For all of those who read hebrew and are interested in the authorship and composition of the Zohar I VERY highly recommend two articles by Hebrew U professor Yehuda Liebes

  23. justayid

    1. Do the Yemenites who oppose kabbalah not sing Lecha dodi or other parts of the friday night service of Lurianic origin?
    2. According to Scholem, who proved the “forged” authorship of the Zohar (I agree with the above, that a false attribution in a case like this is rather different from a forgery) there was considerable magic in Kabbalah BEFORE Luria, and there was considerable continuity (IIUC) between early Kabbalah, and later. And much of the anti-normative radical aspect of Lurianic and Sabbatain kabbalah was implicit in early Kabbalah, and indeed, per Scholem, in any mysticism.

  24. 1. They do not sing it.

    2. Pre-Ari kabbalah is very different from Lurianic Kabbalah. And pre-Zohar Kabbalah is even more different.

  25. Neo-Conservaguy

    “I very much doubt that any MO religious leaders like the RAv, or Rabbi Schachter reject the authority of the kabbalah. Perhaps they do not give it the same importance as the Sefardim and the Hassidic community.Rav Kuk was a kabbalist.”

    Can you show me an example of any MO rabbi, or R. Kook z”t for that matter, that made a halachik ruling based upon Zohar? Suggesting such a thing got members of the chassidic movement put into cherum by the Vilna Goan back in the Good Olde Days.

  26. Anonymous

    Shmarya, where do you find pre zohar kabbalah?

  27. The Bahir is a good example. You can get Rabbi Kaplan’s trasnlation on Amazon.

  28. yoelb

    don’t forget Sefer Yetsirah.

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