The Classic Text of Kabbalah, Rendered into English in All Its Splendor

After many years of labor, Daniel Matt has completed his oversight of a twelve-volume English translation of the Zohar—the central work of Jewish mysticism. Matt translated and annotated the first nine volumes himself, while his collaborators produced the final three. In his laudatory review, Eitan Fishbane delves into the complex question of the Zohar’s authorship:

While nearly all other kabbalistic works of the [Middle Ages] were written in Hebrew and generally claimed by their authors, the Zohar was pseudepigraphic and written in Aramaic: it represented itself as the product of the 2nd-century Galilean sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai. . . .

For much of the 20th century, [however, the historian] Gershom Scholem’s conclusion that the Zohar was largely the work of a mystic named Rabbi Moses de León in late 13th-century Castile held sway over scholarly opinion. Scholem’s theory was compelling and far from unfounded. As Matt notes in the very first footnote to the opening passage, . . . there is a parallel passage in de León’s Sefer ha-rimmonim, and Scholem and others have noted many parallels of language and doctrine between the Zohar and de León’s works. In testimony quoted in a late 15th-century text, the kabbalist Isaac of Akko is represented as saying that de León’s widow told him that the work was entirely from her husband’s hand.

This consensus has been shattered in recent decades. First came Yehuda Liebes’s pathbreaking theory that a group of Castilian kabbalists including de León, not unlike the imagined circle of disciples around Shimon bar Yoḥai, were responsible for the composition of the Zohar. More recently, scholars have argued that there were likely several groups of authors in successive decades and even generations, each of whom edited and added to what we now know as the Zohar.

Thus, the Zohar in its present form—including Matt’s English edition—does not reflect any single manuscript but is the creation of the Italian publishers who first printed it in the 1550s.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Gershom Scholem, History & Ideas, Kabbalah, Translation, Zohar

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy