Critiques of Zohar & Kabbalah
Most "Baalei Tshuvah" (returnees to Judaism) today may not be aware that there exists a quiet subculture of traditional Orthodox rabbis who question the origins of "Kabbalah". Recently I had some interesting discussions with two different non-Chassidic senior rabbis and Torah scholars about the origins of "Kabbalah". The rabbis indicated to me that there are almost no ancient traditional Torah sources (ie Chazal) for most or much of what is being taught as "Kabbalah" nowadays. As I see it, this is a serious issue that Orthodox Jews, especially "Baalei Tshuvah", must be willing to face honestly.
Today there are many "popular" Kabbalah teachers who claim that the Zohar was written by Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai about 1800 years ago, so therefore the Zohar has the same status as the Talmud, and we must accept the Zohar's theology and practices.
I am presenting here some good sources expressing critiques and valid alternate viewpoints on the origin of the Zohar and the validity of various Kabbalistic beliefs and practices. My purpose is not to tell Jews what they must believe, but I do believe it is important for all Jews to hear alternate opinions (which are normally ignored) besides those presented by Chabad, Kabbalists, and "kiruv" activists.
By citing these sources I am NOT claiming that none of the Kabbalah is true or that none of it has any value.
1) In this video, the famous rabbinic historian Rabbi Berel Wein cites various great Torah authorities disputing the claim that the Zohar was written by Talmudic sages.
2) In the book Mitpachat Seforim by Rav Yaakov Emden zt"l, Rav Emden rejects claims that the Zohar was authored by Chazal, and denounces certain statements in the Zohar Rav Emden considers heretical.
3) In the Jewish law code, Shulchan Aruch, on Lag Ba'Omer practices, there is NO mention of making bonfires, shooting arrows, or the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, etc. How authentic are those customs?
4) Rav David Bar-Hayim cites a manuscript from a close talmid of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook zt"l that the Zohar was written during the Middle Ages, and it was NOT written by Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai (about 1800 years ago), as is often claimed.
5) Tohar HaYihud - A rather strong but scholarly critique of certain concepts presented by the Kabbalists which appear to be contradicting the monotheism of the medieval rabbis. I am not claiming this treatise is the final word on this very complex subject, but this treatise does identify some essential theological issues.
6) "Maaseh Merkava" is the term used by the Talmud to describe the secret Torah theologies known by the ancient Torah Sages. However the Mishnah6 in Chagigah 11b prohibits teaching these secrets publicly, so what exactly is the "Kabbalah" being taught for the last few hundred years? How could any prohibited teachings become mandatory public halachic practices?