An Aspiring Mekubal

The confessions of a Rabbi and would be mystic

Kedushat Yitzhak: The Private Notebooks of Rav Kaduri book review

Kedushat YitzchakI’ve been asked for my thoughts on these several times, and my response to date is that Rav Ades could be trusted not to release anything that shouldn’t be released.  Mostly, because despite them being released nearly four years ago, and myself getting a set not long after that, I had not spent sufficient time with them to be able to give a fully thought out answer.  To date I have inched my way through them once, and I am going back for a second turn through with a notebook, pen and a lot of checking references.  So here goes my attempt to discuss them intelligently.

First let’s talk about what they are.  In short they are photostats of the pages of the personal notebooks of Rav Kaduri bound together in six volumes.  This has its benefits, namely you know that what he writes and says hasn’t been tampered with in anyway to make it conform to their own ideas.  It also has its detriments.  First of those is that Rav Kaduri ZTzUK”L used a wildly different form of Hebrew script than the average modern Israeli, so one is left with needing to learn how to decipher his writing.  Second, Rav Kaduri didn’t seem to use a consistent size notebook.  He seems to have used everything from oversized spiral bound notebooks to the small 10 for 5shek pamphlet style notebooks.  Which means that at times his handwriting appears rather large on the page, and at other times leaves you reaching for a magnifying glass.  Did I mention that these were photostats?  They are not high quality scans, more like photocopier quality(older photocopier quality) which leaves some of the pages a bit hard to read.  Especially to eyes that are accustomed to the laser printing revolution in sefarim.

As you can see in the caption they are rather large volumes.  Each one containing 200-300 pages of Rav Kaduri’s notes with occaisional explanatory notes of Rav Yaakov Ades put in here and there.  Despite having read Rav Ades’ introduction, and suggested methodology to studying the books several times, I have to figure out what criteria Rav Ades used in determining when he would place his elucidations.  Though I do often find them helpful, if in nothing else tracking down the various sefarim or specific pages within sefarim that Rav Kaduri is copying over.  Something the Rav himself seems to mostly have neglected to do.

Now as far as content, which is usually what I get the questions about.   While several news sites have said that they contain lachashim, and other bits of fanciful Kabbalah Maasit, that is simply not true.  Yes there are thousands of segulot, and kameot, and even a few curses(though most have been expunged as can be readily seen) they conform with the parameters of acceptable Kabbalistic practice with Rav Kaduri wrote about in his haskamah to Rav Yaakov Hillel’s book Faith and Folly.  Admittedly I have a passing interest in those things, but without an index(which the books lack) it is more a curiosity than a readily usable text(see above statement about a notebook).  While there is a large amount of space dedicated to those things, they hardly make up the entirety of the six large volumes.

There are also large portions dealing with various topics from the Kitvei HaAri, Kavvanot, growing in Devekut, and numerous other subjects that deal with one’s Avodat HaShem.  Usually this comes in the form of Rav Kaduri ZTzUK”L copying over large portions of various sefarim and writing a running commentary on them.  If you are not Baki in the specific text, at times it is hard to know when the words of the author end and the words of the Rav begin.   At times it is pretty seamless, other others it is a bit more obvious.   To me this is the real value of these books, and would be worth publishing on its own.  There are some pretty tough sugiout that the Rav tackles and elucidates.

The biggest downside of these sefarim is their price.  They are currently going for 8000 shekel for the set($2100USD, yes you read that right).   Which prices them well out of the range of the average avereich.   There doesn’t seem to be any sign of change in that department, at least not positive change.  When they first came out they were 6500 shekel and they have only gone up in price.  Getting through the interview to get them is one thing, getting the cash is another.  All together I would say that the intention is to keep them as much as possible out of the hands of the public at large.

PS  There all the margins are visible and there are no crosses to be found.

No Rest for the Weary…

????????????????????????Yom Kippur is tiring…  Scratch that.  Yom Kippur is downright exhausting.  In a Kabbalistic Yeshiva 20 of the 26.5 hours are spent in prayer.  Most of that on your feet.  Personally I think it is a miracle that we have a minyan the next morning at Netz.  However, in years past there has been a bit of a break after, which allowed one to recuperate and prepare for the upcoming holiday of Sukkot.

Yeah, sure the Sukkah needs to be put up and the arbah minim need to be acquired, but honestly you had three days to only worry about that, with nothing else going on.  Well that changed this year.  The ministry of education has decided that the children shouldn’t begin their break on Erev Yom Kippur like in years past, but rather on Erev Sukkot.  So instead of having three days to just worry about getting ready for Sukkot, there is now school drop off and pickup, homework, ect… all the tircha that goes into getting the kids successfully off to school.

I know the government isn’t happy with Israel’s overall educational standing(it’s ranked 10th overall in the world).  Especially since Finland who copied our educational system is in a rather better educational ranking(5th overall, for reference to the English speaking audience the US is 37th and the UK is 3rd).  However I have to ask, is three days, especially these three days going to make that much difference?

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel on Yom HaKippurim 5775

Finding Balance

finding balanceThe Simhat Kohen, the 9th Rosh Yeshiva of Beit El, writes in his sefer the issue of milah(siman 67, I believe) that we should pour the wine into the cup between the cut and the tearing of the Periah.  Kabbalistically, this is where this step belongs in the various tikkunim that are taking place during the act of milah.  He even brings a source from the Gemarra for this.  However, he goes on, and says that we do not do this, again quoting a gemarra, because it would cause the child unnecessary suffering.

Essentially until the operation is complete and the child is bandaged, things hurt.  There is actually Youtube footage of British Royal Marine, who did a show called Going Tribal.  In one episode he underwent what we Jews call haphrada(where a metal instrument is used to separate the mucus membranes between the glans and the foreskin) and mahzikah(were we grasp the foreskin in such a way as to force the penis back into the body).  He passed out from the pain in mid attempt, and they weren’t evening cutting anything.  So make no mistake, circumcision hurts.

So according the Simhat Kohen when our holy sages were faced between arranging things in their proper order according to the metaphysics that are taking place, and causing a few more seconds of suffering to newborn, they chose to alleviate the child’s suffering and allow HaShem to worry about the flow of spiritual energies.  There is a most profound lesson to be found in that.

Meet my newest son….

Rav Morgenshtern on the Parasha

Rav Morgenshtern

Living in Two Worlds: Rabbi Yaakov Hillel on the Parasha


The Origins of the Zohar: Rabbi Mendel Kasher

Open book magic on blackIf you have been around this blog at all, or have read any of my, shall we say spirited, defenses of Kabbalah over at DaasTorah, you would have heard me mention Rabbi Mendel Kasher. Rabbi Mendel Kasher wrote an amazing essay on the origins of the Zohar, where he essentially sets out to investigate the claims of many of the academics such as Gershom Scholem, and find the truth.

In my personal opinion he takes a very circumspect and novel approach at examining the evidence and comes up with a fairly solid hypothesis of the origins of the Zohar.  It is well worth the read.  However, it has until recently only ever been available in Hebrew.  Now a fellow blogger, follower of this blog and somewhat frequent commentor has translated the article into English.  His blog is called Ohr Ganuz and by following this link you will find the translation of the above mentioned article.  I give you here as a teaser the first two pages from the Forward:

In the year 5701 [1941] a book entitled Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism was published in Jerusalem, by professor G. Scholem, in which he treats at length the question of the Zohar and its author. He takes the position of those who attribute the work to R. Moshe de Leon and not of those who fix it at an earlier date.

Scholem’s student, Y. Tishby, in his Mishnath ha-Zohar (Jerusalem, 5709/1949), also maintains that the Zohar’s principal parts were written by R. Moshe de Leon, and that no part of the work preceded him. In the introduction to his book he declares that we must accept the conclusions of his teacher [Scholem] as “the final word in the great dispute concerning the composition of the Zohar and its author, which spanned several generations of Judaic scholarship.”

I have waited many years for someone from among the faithful Torah scholars to arise and deal with this question, however, I have waited in vain. I, myself, possess material in manuscript for my [unpublished] book Midreshei Ḥazal VehaZohar in which I have dealt with hundreds of passages from the Zohar that are quoted in the [first] 17 volumes of my Torah Sheleimah, comparing them to other Midrashic works of the Sages. I have especially focused on sayings of the Sages which, though quoted by the Rishonim, are not found in extant Midrashim, but which are relevant to the literature of the Zohar and Midrash HaNe`elam. R. David Luria in his book “Kadmuth Sefer HaZohar,” anaf 2, cited a number of similar passages in order to prove the antiquity of the Zohar, and I have continued in this vein. I have principally shown [the correlation of passages from the Zohar with] Midrashim and the works of ancient scholars which have been discovered in manuscript form in recent times. I also discuss in the book many questions and inquiries concerning the Zohar and the relationship between the Zohar and the works of R. M. de Leon. Due to my many other activities I am unable at present to arrange all of the material which I have accumulated. Therefore, I have decided that it is worthwhile to clarify at least some particular points about this important topic.

First of all, I must point out that after having carefully reviewed all of the sources which Scholem and Tishby cite to draw their conclusions, I have found that those sources in fact support the exact opposite. For it is clear, without any doubt, that the contents of R. M. de Leon’s published works “HaNefesh HaḤachamah” and “Sheqel HaQodesh,” and especially his works that are still in manuscript, “HaRimon” and “Mishkan Ha`Eduth,” demonstrate that R. M. de Leon did not author the Zohar – rather, he made much use of the Zohar manuscripts in his possession and translated many passages into Hebrew. In the following chapters I will make it clear that Scholem and Tishby erred in the very foundations of their theory by comparing the works of R. Moshe de Leon to the Zohar. In general, one who carefully examines the works of R. M. de Leon will clearly see that his style, his mode of expression, his phraseology, his topical descriptions and his methods of explanation and discourse are as far from those of the Zohar as the east is from the west. The pen that wrote them is neither qualified nor competent enough to write even one chapter – let alone the one thousand seven hundred published pages – of the authentic, living Aramaic of the Zohar.

The Zohar is a gigantic, unique creation. It has a wondrous ability to arouse and enflame a person’s soul to supernalkedushah (holiness). This is the book that speaks to men’s hearts, and thus it has been loved and revered so much over the generations by G-d-fearing, elevated people. It bears no resemblance at all to the books of R. Moshe de Leon, which are ordinary books, like the other Kabbalistic works which were composed in that time period.

To be perfectly honest, I cannot understand the reasoning of the two aforementioned authors. Scholem writes that we must admit that there is a large portion of the Zohar whose Aramaic is exemplary, and which comes from the mouths of sages for whom Aramaic was a living language. And even Tishby writes that the Zohar has unique literary qualities, a sublime and lofty pathos, a style of poetic imagery, colorful and vivid constructs, et cetera. So, we must inquire: Is it possible to find even one of all these wonderful qualities in the works of R. Moshe de Leon? How could one find one of these things in the books of R. Moshe de Leon? And how, in the midst of writing these same lines, could an author disregard his own statements and declare that it is definite that R. Moshe de Leon wrote the Zohar, and that there is no section of it that precedes his era?

The Progression of the Disputations Concerning the Zohar

The first reports of the existence of the Zohar are found in many works of the Rishonim who lived in the first half of the first century of the sixth millennium [1240-1290]. In these books, parts of the Zohar are quoted in the name of “the midrash,” “Midrash Yerushalmi,” just “Yerushalmi,” or “Midrash R. Shim`on bar Yoḥai.

R. Eliyahu del Medigo in his work Beḥinath HaDath, which was authored in the year 5251 [1491], writes critically of the Zohar: “the book has only been publicly known in our nation for close to 300 years.” Even according to his statement, the Zohar had already been publicized by the last century of the fifth millennium [circa 1200].

Rav Morgenshtern on the Parasha

Rav Morgenshtern

Turning Days into Diamonds: Rav Hillel on the Parasha


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