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ZOHAR . Sefer ha-zohar (The book of splendor) is the central book in the literature of Jewish mysticism (Qabbalah). It is attributed to Shimʿon bar Yoʾai, a second century tanna, but modern scholarship has concluded that it is a compilation dating from thirteenth-century Spain. Quotations from the Zohar first appear in qabbalistic writings after 1280, and analysis of the book's terminology and prose style shows that its real author is Mosheh de León (12401305), a Castilian qabbalist.

Written mostly in Aramaic, the Zohar presents an elaborate and comprehensive, though not always coherent, mystical system that employs audacious anthropomorphic and sexual imagery to express a mythical and symbolic perception of divine reality without precedent in medieval Qabbalah. The Zohar was accepted by qabbalists as an authoritative ancient work, and its influence on the later evolution of Jewish mysticism was felt principally through the impact of its mythical conceptions on qabbalistic theosophy.

The Zohar encompasses a series of qabbalistic works that can be divided into three main layers:

  1. Midrash ha-neʿelam (The hidden Midrash) is considered to be the earliest stratum. Written partly in Hebrew, partly in Aramaic, it has overt affinities with Mosheh de León's early Hebrew works and an obvious tendency toward allegorical exegesis of biblical verses.
  2. The bulk of the Zohar consists mainly of a homiletical interpretation of the Pentateuch, written in Aramaic and using symbolic exegesis. To this layer belong several shorter compositions, of which the most important are Sifraʾ de-tseniʿutaʾ (The occult book), Idraʾ rabbaʾ and Idraʿ zuaʾ.
  3. The latest stratum is formed by two large compositions: Tiqqunei zohar, which is composed of seventy interpretations of the word bereʾshit (the opening word of Genesis ), and Raʿyaʾ meheimnaʾ (The faithful shepherd), a qabbalistic interpretation of the rationale for the commandments.

Immediately after their appearance, the earlier strata of the Zohar were the subjects of commentaries by qabbalists. Yosef Angelino (early fourteenth century) compiled a commentary entitled Livnat ha-sappir on the portions of the Zohar that explain Genesis and Leviticus. In the late thirteenth century David ben Yehudah he-asid wrote Sefer ha-gevul, a commentary on Idraʾ rabbaʾ. In the second half of the sixteenth century several important commentaries were composed including, Shimʿon Lavi's Ketem paz, Mosheh Cordovero's Or yaqar, and works by Mosheh Isserles, Eliyyahu Loans of Worms, Avraham Axulai, Avraham Galante, and ayyim Vital. All subsequent commentaries extant were written under the influence of the reinterpretation of qabbalistic ideas by Isaac Luria, a fact that diminishes their contribution to understanding the text. The most important of these are by Shalom Buzaglo (seventeenth century) Eliyyahu ben Shelomoh Zalman (known as the Gaon of Vilna [Vilnius]) in the eighteenth century, and Yitsaq Eizi Safrin of Komarno in the nineteenth century.

There are several Hebrew translations of the Zohar; the earliest, dating from the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, is that of David ben Yehudah he-asid, who incorporated parts of it in his own qabbalistic works. Parts of the Zohar have been translated into Latin by Guillaume Postel and Knorr von Rosenroth. Larger translations exist in English (by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon, 19311934; by Daniel Chanan Matt, 1983); in French (by Jean de Pauly, 19061911; by Charles Mopsik and B. Maruani, 1981); in German (by Ernst Müller, 1932 and 1984); and in Italian (by L. Balducci, 1978).


Jellinek, Adolf. Moses ben Schem-Tob de Leon und sein Verhaltnis, zum Sohar. Leipzig. 1851.

Liebes, Yehudah. "Peraqim be-milon Sefer ha-Zohar. " Ph. D. diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1976.

Liebes, Yehudah. "Ha-mashia shel ha-Zohar." In Ha-reʾayon ha-meshihi ba-mashavah ha-Yehudit, pp. 83234. Jerusalem, 1982.

Liebes, Yehudah. "Christian Influences in the Zohar." Immanuel 17 (Winter 19831984): 4367.

Matt, Daniel Chanan. Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment. Ramsey, N.J., 1983.

Scholem. Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. 3d ed. New York. 1961. See pages 156243.

Scholem, Gershom, ed. Zohar: The Book of Splendor. Reprint. New York, 1963.

Secret, François. Le Zôhar chez les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance. Paris, 1958.

Tishby, Isaiah. Mishnat ha-Zohar. 2 vols. 3d ed. Jerusalem, 1971.

Moshe Idel (1987)

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