Kabbala vs. Torah: Reason & Tradition


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Reader: After reading your 1/20/2006 JewishTimes “Letters”, I am very confused on where you stand regarding your answer to the reader who inquired of the acceptability or recognition of Kabbala and Zohar. Your answer, I quote: “The correct question to be posed is which ‘ideas’ are true. For this is all that God desires: that you follow truth – not people, and not movements.” But then you contradict your self with the next statement, “the bottom line to all your questions is this: follow the Torah [Tanach]”. Here is the contradiction: Talmud is a man-made, and you say to follow it. But you also say not to follow man. Please explain.

Thank you, Greg


Mesora: Greg, Good question. Talmud is comprised of conflicting positions. It is replete on every page with one Rabbi who disputes another. Thus, all of the Talmud cannot be truly ‘correct’ in the sense that it reflects God’s knowledge, for two opposing views cannot be correct. God knows the right position. The very fact that one Rabbi disputed another means he did not accept the other’s view as truth. These types of disputes must exist, when we have lost much knowledge, and now must discern for ourselves. Simultaneously, both Rabbis in every Talmudic dispute are functioning as they should, regardless of the outcome, or their ideas. All we have is our best capabilities, and whatever knowledge we can amass and understand. Man must err.

However, it must be understood that Talmud study is not about finding our what God knows as truth, which we cannot without prophecy. Rather, Talmud it is about understanding the analysis of the Rabbis. The theories of all Talmudic Rabbis are equally worthwhile, and deserve our study. And what they discuss in Talmud, is the Oral Law, which is directly from God.

When I say to follow the Talmud, as opposed to later works, I mean to follow it for Halacha, for its theoretical beauty, and its aid in learning how to think. This work alone is written in such a fashion. For it is from Talmud, and no other source, that the Shulchan Aruch – code of Jewish law – was derived. The Talmud is also a direct result of the Oral Law, by those who received the Oral law with no break in its transmission. Talmud qualifies as true Oral Law. And the analysis of these brilliant sages is unparalleled for sharpening our minds and conceptualizing ideas.

Conversely, Kabbala according to Maimonides, no longer exists. What is written down is not Kabbala, by definition. Kabbala requires verbal transmission man-to-man, and not in written form, in order to retain its status as true Kabbala. It is for this reason that I differentiate Kabbala on one hand, from Talmud and Torah. The latter alone are traced directly back to God’s words at Sinai. I don’t mean that everything found in today’s “Kabbala” is false, for any idea proven true is valid. But it certainly is not true Kabbala. The word Kabbala, means “receipt”, as in what was received from one’s Rabbi. But no one today can claim to possess verbal transmissions directly back to Moses and God. Therefore, no one today has authentic Kabbala, or rather, authentic Torah directly traced back to God. Only the Torah, Prophets, Writings and Talmud possess this status.

Thus, I remain firm that we must judge ideas, and not people, such as those who claim Kabbala is beyond reproach. The only sources beyond reproach are those divinely given, such as the Torah, Tanach, and the Oral law, or that which was received man-from-man, in a unbroken chain back to Sinai: back to God. The only criteria defining a matter as beyond reproach, is verification of its origin with God’s word. God is the only One beyond reproach. So only God’s works or divinely inspired words maintain this level of reverence.

Today’s Kabbala and Zohar have no validation of an unbroken transmission, linking directly back to Moses, and God’s words. Therefore, we do not claim as we do with the Torah, that all found in today’s Kabbala is from God. This is why I say; “follow reason, and not people or movements”. For reason and proof are the real and only methods for uncovering what are in line with God’s will, when we are not dealing with authentic Torah, which we know reflects God’s will true through tradition.

What oath did God make? “...and the words that I placed in your mouths will never be lost from your mouths, your childrens’ mouths, and your grandchildrens’ mouths, so says God, from now until eternity.” (Isaiah, 59:21)

Radak quoting his father says that which will never cease from us refers to the Torah. From here we distinguish the Torah, from everything else, in that only Torah is secured throughout time.