Q. Is Dor Deah heretical?
A. There are those who would claim that Dor Deah, even all talmidei ha-Rambam, are heretics. The cause of this accusation is their belief that the Zohar and Lurianic Kabbalah are fundamentals of the Jewish faith. Consequently, Dor Deah’s non-acceptance of these works and the concepts that originate from them is, in their eyes, tantamount to rejection of the Jewish faith. Dor Deah and talmide ha-Rambam are not alone in their lack of accepting Zohar or Lurianic Kabbalah as essentials of the Jewish faith. There are other Orthodox groups, such as the followers of the Vilna Gaon and many Modern Orthodox, that would not claim non-acceptance of the Zohar equates to heresy, regardless of whether they, as individuals, personally believe that the Zohar has meaningful insights.
Dor Deah’s response is that whether a person or school of thought is heretical is a question of Jewish Law. The answer to this question is to be decided according to authoritative works of halakha: one is not a heretic simply for disagreeing with a widely held aggadic interpretation, unless the Talmudic halakha specifically says so. The Mishneh Torah is comprehensive in its scope of Talmudic law. At the very least, it is one of the authoritative sources of Jewish Law. It therefore follows that the Dor Deah approach must be an acceptable approach to Torah Judaism, if not a more intellectually honest approach. Since Dor Deah asserts nothing not found within Mishneh Torah, and the Mishneh Torah cannot be interpreted as actually requiring belief in anything approaching Zoharic or Lurianic Kabbalah, Dor Deah therefore cannot be heretical – unless the Mishneh Torah itself is heretical. And that would be a claim which no Orthodox Jewish group dare make.
Mesora.org recently published a book titled JUDAISM: Religion of Reason. This book promotes and argues in favor of all the same points we make concerning pseudo-Jewish mysticism. Interestingly, Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of The Orthodox Union (OU), endorses the book as well as the website! The OU, being one of the oldest and largest Orthodox Jewish organizations in the world, represents mainstream Orthodox Judaism. Would the executive vice president of the OU endorse a book or website that so overtly promotes heretical views? The Mesora website has also published the following pertinent essay, anonymous for obvious reasons: Tohar ha-Yihud (The Oneness of G-d in its Purity).
It is worth noting that R’ Ovadia Yosef, the oldest leading accepted authority in Orthodox Jewish Law, despite his disagreement with our views concerning kabbalah, does not regard our views heretical. His non-condemning view is made clear in his book M’ein Omer chapter 7 siman 93. It is halakha that inclusion of a heretic on a beth din disqualifies the beth din, and yet R’ Ovadia Yosef voluntarily appointed R’ Yosef Kapach (listed below) to serve together with him on his rabbinical councel.
We have no concern for the few who rush to condemn what they do not know, who themselves tend to espouse seriously problematic hashqafa. Should it bother a Jew that a Christian condemns him? Why then should the condemnation of a Jew influenced by Christian thought cause us trepidation?
Rabbi Saadiah Gaon wrote in his book Emunot v’Deot that Jews who believe in reincarnation have accepted a belief of idolatrous origins.
Maimonides (12th Century) discounted the mystical work Shiur Komah, with its starkly anthropomorphic vision of G-d, which is a popular kabbalistic text even in modern times. In part three of the Guide for the Perplexed and chapter 71, the Rambam is unequivical that the esoteric teachings of the Sages were never written down and that, to his knowledge – as the leader of the Jewish world, had entirely disappeared.
Abraham ibn Daud, around 1110 to 1180; rejected reincarnation.
Rabbi Avraham, son of the Rambam, like his predecessors, writes at length in his book Milhhamot HaShem that the Almighty is in no way literally within time or space nor physically outside time or space, since time and space simply do not apply to His Being whatsoever. His book is almost undeniably targeted at the forbearers of much of kabbalistic thought.
Leon de Modena rejected reincarnation.
Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven (The Ran), 1320-1380; reproved the Nachmonides (Ramban) for devoting too much to kabbalah and is said to have been “no friend of mysticism.”
Yedayah Bedershi, early 14th century; rejected reincarnation.
Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet Perfet (The Rivash), 1326-1408; he stated that Kabbalah was “worse than Christianity”, as it made God into 10, not just into three.
Hasdai ben Abraham Crescas, 1340-1410/11; rejected reincarnation.
Rabbi Joseph Albo, 15th century; rejected reincarnation.
Rabbi Leon Modena, a 17th century Venetian critic of Kabbalah, wrote that if we were to accept the Kabbalah, then the Christian trinity would indeed be compatible with Judaism, as the Trinity closely resembles the Kabbalistic doctrine of sefirot.
Rabbi Yaakov Emden, 1697-1776, wrote the book Mitpahhath Sfarim (Scarf / Veil of the Books) which is a detailed critique of the Zohar. He concludes that certain parts of the Zohar contain heretical teaching and therefore could not have been written by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai. Opponents of the book claim that he wrote the book in a drunken stupor.
The ‘Chasam Sofer,’ 1762-1839, held by many to be a major establisher of ‘Chareidi’ (black-hat) Judaism. Ironically, the Chasam Sofer denied the authenticity and authority of the Zohar.
Rabbi Samuel Strashun, 1794-1872, in Bava Metzia 107a, in his famous commentary to the Talmud, R’ Strashun (the “Rashash” of Europe) points out a Talmudic proof against gilgulim. A rebbi in Kol Torah put out a book called ‘dvar yakov’ on tractate bava metzia. In commenting on this particular statement by the Rashah, the author of the book is goes off on how the Rashash could contradict “kabbalistic masters.”
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, among other things, specified that belief in reincarnation is one of the major distinctions between what were the religious opinions (hashqafa) of the Ancient Egyptions in contrast to the religious perspective (hashqafa) of the Jewish Faith. He writes that reincarnation was central to the Egyptian Faith.
Rabbi Yihhyah Qafih, the early 20th century chief rabbi of Yemenite Jewry wrote a book called Milhhamoth HaShem, (Wars of the LORD) against anti-Torah teachings of the Zohar and “Lurianic Kabbalah.”
Nechama Leibowitz, 1905-1997; renown modern scholar and commentator to the Tanakh – avoided making use of kabbalistic works in her popular commentaries.
Yeshayahu Leibowitz 1903-1994, brother of Nechama Leibowitz; he publicly shared and supported views expressed in Rabbi Yihhyah Qafih‘s book Milhhamoth HaShem that much of popular ‘kabbala’ is idolatrious; was against allowing kabbalistic texts to influence halakhic practice.
Rabbi Yosef Kapach taught against allowing kabbalistic texts to influence halakhic practice.
Rabbi Jose Faur takes a traditional rationalist approach in understanding Talmud. He has written numerous articles on the historical Christian influences on what has now become the standard form of “yeshivish Chareidi” Judaism. He has been consistant in pointing out that these influences entered the Jewish world in the guise of pseudo-Jewish mysticism. Those who feel threatened by his research have spread baseless hatred against him, with claims that he is a member of the Conservative Movement and a heretic. Even following these unfounded accusations, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu stated the when asked concerning him: “the greatest Sephardic Hacham living in the US today is Rabbi Faur.”
R’ Yosef Eliyah
* DorDeah.com is an independent organization. DorDeah.com is not affiliated with www.mechon-mamre.org, the “Torath Moshe Society,” nor Chabad-Lubavitch. Though we are grateful for the contributions of these organizations in providing Mishne Torah resources, we do not endorse all the views espoused by these organizations.