The Zohar: Reception and Impact

BookThe Zohar: Reception and Impact

The Zohar: Reception and Impact

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


May 12th, 2016



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National Jewish Book Awards Finalist for the Nahum N. Sarna Memorial Award for Scholarship, 2016.

From its first appearance, the Zohar has been one of the most sacred, authoritative, and influential books in Jewish culture. Many scholarly works have been dedicated to its mystical content, its literary style, and the question of its authorship. This book focuses on different issues: it examines the various ways in which the Zohar has been received by its readers and the impact it has had on Jewish culture, including the fluctuations in its status and value and the various cultural practices linked to these changes. This dynamic and multi-layered history throws important new light on many aspects of Jewish cultural history over the last seven centuries.

Boaz Huss has broken new ground with this study, which examines of the reception and canonization of the Zohar as well as its criticism and rejection from its inception to the present day. His underlying assumption is that the different values attributed to the Zohar are not inherent qualities of the zoharic texts, but rather represent the way it has been perceived by its readers in different cultural contexts. He therefore considers not only the attribution of different qualities to the Zohar through time but also the people who were engaged in attributing such qualities and the social and cultural functions associated with their creation, re-creation, and rejection.

For each historical period from the beginning of Zohar scholarship to the present, Huss considers the social conditions that stimulated the veneration of the Zohar as well as the factors that contributed to its rejection, alongside the cultural functions and consequences of each approach. Because the multiple modes of the reception of the Zohar have had a decisive influence on the history of Jewish culture, this highly innovative and wide-ranging approach to Zohar scholarship will have important repercussions for many areas of Jewish studies.


‘Painstakingly tracks the history of attitudes towards the Zohar and the types of arguments used for and against its acceptance . . . very readable. Highly recommended.'
Daniel Schiede, AJL Reviews

'Insightfully argues that the different values posited on the Zohar . . . often reveal much about the theological agendas and the spirit of the age in which these commentators lived. Huss brilliantly addresses not only the text of the Zohar but also the different communities of its disseminators along with their politics and ideological agendas . . . a tour de force, representing some of today's best scholarship. It is recommended for all academic libraries without reservation, but lay readers will also enjoy the thoughtful content.'
D.B. Levy, Choice


‘Knowing the history of the Zohar and its reception, one can better understand the spiritual and political worlds of Judaism as they have evolved over the past 700 years . . . Huss’s detailed descriptions and his impressive expertise make this a comprehensive account of mysticism as a cultural and economic phenomenon.’
Mor Altshuler, Haaretz

Author Information

Boaz Huss is Professor of Kabbalah in the Goldstein-Goren Department of Jewish Thought at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His research interests include the Zohar and its reception, modern kabbalah, Western esotericism, and New Age culture. Professor Huss received his Ph.D. in the history of Jewish thought from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, after which he was a Fulbright post-doctoral fellow at Yale University. He has also been a Starr fellow at the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University and a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University. He is the author of two books on Jewish mysticism and kabbalah in Hebrew and editor of the English-language Kabbalah and Contemporary Spiritual Revival.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Cover 1
Half Title2
Title Page4
Copyright 5
Translator’s Preface8
Note on Transliteration11
1. The Depiction of R. Shimon bar Yohai and Moses in Zoharic Literature22
2. The Zohar as an Imagined Book47
3. The Formation of the Zoharic Canon78
4. The Authority of the Zohar123
5. On the History of Zohar Interpretation159
6. Revelation versus Concealment in the Reception History of the Zohar195
7. The History of Zohar Criticism250
8. The Recanonization of the Zohar in the Modern Era305