Vol 4.1 (2006): 35-52 © 2006 Sage Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA, and New Delhi) DOI: 10.1177/1477835106066034 http://as.sagepub.com
Hebrew and Aramaic as Languages of the Zohar*
(translated by Daphne Freedman and Ada Rapoport-Albert)
The Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies, Faculty of Humanities, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Apart from a few Hebrew sections, most of the Zohar is written in a unique language: an idiosyncratic Aramaic that cannot be classiﬁed within the standard division of Aramaic dialects and which was never a spoken language. On these grounds the scholarly literature has labelled it ‘artiﬁcial’. The present article challenges this label, arguing that the Aramaic of the Zohar is completely natural. Aramaic was traditionally used for mystical purposes, and the Zohar’s preference for this language as the best vehicle for advancing its own mystical purpose has been vindicated by the work’s quality and lasting effect.
Keywords: Hebrew, Aramaic, Zohar, Kabbalah, mysticism
* This is the English version of a Hebrew lecture, delivered to the plenum of the Israeli Academy of the Hebrew Language on 29 November 2004, and adapted from an ealier seminar paper, originally presented by the author to the international Zohar research group of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Jerusalem on 7 May 1999. It is due to be published in the original Hebrew in the Records of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. We are grateful to the author for allowing us to publish the English version of the lecture in advance of its publication in Hebrew.
in theory and practice. 163: ‘The Aramaic of the Zohar is a purely artiﬁcial affair’.2 Language therefore comprises the whole world of the Zohar and anyone who wishes to understand the Zohar must begin by studying its language in depth. ‘Zohar and Eros’. On the creativity of the Zohar. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem. Except for a few Hebrew pages. where Aramaic was no longer a living language. 64. According to the sections of the Zohar known as the Idras. but in Palestine at the time of the tannaim. I. has the numerical value of twenty-two. 67-119 (Hebrew). Scholem. and that it is as innovative in its language as in other respects. they believed. other Lords but thee have been our masters. 3.5 Nevertheless. 2.36
Aramaic Studies 4. See Gershom G. 26. meaning ‘by thee’.1 alluded to by the word thee. ‘Linguistic analysis and a comparison of the language of the Zohar with known Aramaic sources show that this Aramaic is an artiﬁcial language drawn from speciﬁc literary source material’.
. It is true that the Zohar was written in medieval Spain. 9a) to mean that in exile the forces of evil have dominion over the Jewish people and only a remembrance of God remains with them. namely. in medieval Spain where the author lived.3 According to the previous generation of scholars. the Zohar is written in Aramaic. 1941). However. in order to create the impression that the Zohar was not written when Aramaic was no longer a living language.13). but thee alone do we invoke by name’ (Isa. on which see below. were interpreted by the Zohar (II. rather it was a product of literary sources with a recognisable substrate of medieval Hebrew. 1994). and betrayed the inﬂuence of other languages spoken in Europe at that time: Spanish and perhaps also Arabic. including. in my opinion. This language was invented. p.1 (2006)
The words of Isaiah. The Wisdom of the Zohar (London. the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. 5. pp. 4. this Aramaic is artiﬁcial4 because it was not the author’s natural language or the language spoken in his environment. Alpaim 9 (1994). p. The Hebrew word . the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet correspond to the restorations of the divine countenances. Isaiah Tishby. zoharic Aramaic was formed as part of the natural development of an entire
1. the language of the Tibonite translators from Arabic. for example. see Yehuda Liebes. namely. that the language of the Zohar was not part of the organic development of Aramaic and did not conform to its standard classiﬁcation into Western and Eastern dialects. I wish to dispute the characterisation of the Aramaic of the Zohar as artiﬁcial. ‘O Lord our God. thirteen restorations of the Ancient of Days and nine restorations of Zeir Anpin. These pages are found in the Midrash Hane’elam on Genesis (Zohar part 1 and Zohar Hadash) and in the Zohar on Exodus. the evident artiﬁciality of his Aramaic seemed to them to prove precisely the opposite.
9. See Moshe Idel. The use of Aramaic for this purpose did not begin with the Zohar. who maintained that it too was written in ‘artiﬁcial Aramaic’. 116-44. p. Peter Schäfer and Shaul Shaked. as can be seen in the magical writings from the Cairo Genizah published by Schäfer and Shaked. ‘The Beginnings of the Kabbalah in North Africa? A Forgotten Document of Rabbi Yehuda ben Nisim ibn Malka’. 1993). e. 13. 8. Numerous compositions and citations from the writings of the earliest Kabbalists have been preserved in Aramaic. Magical literature was also written in part in Aramaic. Jewish Palestinian Poetry from Late Antiquity (Jerusalem. ‘A Dictionary of Foreign Words in the Zohar’.LIEBES Hebrew and Aramaic as Languages of the Zohar
spiritual movement in medieval Judaism.10 but particularly in their esoteric writings. 122 n. pp.g. Gerschom Scholem. pp. 1975 [Hebrew]). The Secular Poems of Solomon ben Judah Ibn Gabirol (Jerusalem. attributed in one manuscript to Yehuda ben David the Pious. 10. 4 (Hebrew). See Boaz Huss. 2004 [Hebrew]).9 As a written language. Those who read the Aramaic of the Talmud and the targumim did not refrain from also writing Aramaic. Peamim 43 (1990). 25 Scholem infers that the Aramaic of this
. On p. ‘to weigh’. 7. The author of the dictionary introduces his explanation of the zoharic term butsina dekardinuta with the words: ‘I heard from a certain Chaldean’. 1994–99). such as those found in the popular verse published by Yahalom and Sokoloff. Magische Texte aus der Kairoer Geniza (Tübingen. 11.6 In the Aramaic of the Zohar we can detect a continuation of certain elements that existed in the spoken language but were not transmitted through normative literary sources. Aramaic was still alive amongst the Spanish Jews in the Middle Ages. Studies in the Zohar (Albany. p. See Yehuda Liebes. We ﬁnd this both in their legal works and in their poetry. ‘How the Zohar was Written’. thereby preserving its ancient traditions. Ars Poetica in Sefer Yetsira (Tel Aviv. published by Scholem. See. Kabbalah 1 (1996). 85-138. Jerusalem. pp. 4-5 n. pp. 2001 [Hebrew]). the use of the root tkl. 12. Yahalom.12 or the Great Magical Formulary (Sidrei de Shimusha Raba). 50. 155-59.8 It may also be appropriate to mention here the testimony of the earliest dictionary of zoharic Aramaic. in the metaphorical sense of to wed a woman. See Yehuda Liebes. 316 n. Sokoloff and J.. M. who was one of the last members of the zoharic movement.11 and certain elements and phrases in Aramaic were incorporated into the Hebrew of the Bahir giving it its distinctive character. in idem.). poem 84 in Dov Jarden (ed. 2004 [Hebrew]). Esther Liebes. 174 (Hebrew).7 for example. Demons Spirits and Souls (ed.13
‘to decipher’. ‘they accompanied him for three miles’. meaning ‘the most’. it should be considered completely natural. See Yehuda Liebes. 18. including the most ‘living’ of languages. and many more. such as the epic of Homer whose language was composed of various Greek dialects to form the Homeric dialect. ‘robbers’. ciality. See Menachem Zvi Kadari. See Scholem. ‘in spite of’. which concerns the 18 Nevertheless. See Yehuda Liebes. See Scholem. In this the Zohar joins a long line of illustrious works. 14. for example. in an extension of the meaning of the Aramaic root . ‘Athens’. the author intended to refer to Pentecost. 17. 48. I do not consider this a sign of artiﬁlending of monies. in my opinion. 389 n. The naturalness of a language is apparent from a synchronic description without taking its lineage into account. 1975). . . 15. my mother tongue and that of most of my colleagues (and who would say that we are speaking an artiﬁcial language?). meaning ‘collection of books’. p. or . Major Trends. 45a. 1971 [Hebrew]). 17-18. in In Memory of Ephraim Gottlieb (Jerusalem.17 as well as the sense of ‘lap’. no less so ordinary words. 388 n.15 Scholars have noted words that have been absorbed into the zoharic literature through misunderstandings of literary sources. p. ‘Sections of the Zohar Lexicon’ (PhD thesis. Everyday conversation is not
treatise is not genuine from the fact that the author uses the term to refer to the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles rather than to Pentecost. 16. A Grammar of Zoharic Aramaic (Jerusalem. its own grammar14 and distinct lexical characteristics. ‘kit bag’.38
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It is true that the language of the Zohar is not an organic development of a single Aramaic dialect but absorbed elements from various sources. Major Trends. such as the phrase . . pp. ‘The Use of Words in the Zohar’. However. The Aramaic of the Zohar has its own distinctive linguistic traits. Literature and culture (as well as misunderstandings) are among the sources from which most languages draw.16 Aramaic words whose meaning was inﬂuenced by Hebrew.
. This is certainly true of modern Hebrew. such as . the modern Hebrew words . 1976 [Hebrew]). If a language is ﬂuent and better adapted to the needs of its speakers than any other language. Even terms that belong to the grammatical structure of the language are sometimes derived from mistaken interpretations or incorrect spellings as. Jerusalem. See the editor’s comments and references in the same note. such as in .
One may serve as the language spoken in the home. Studies in the Zohar. At that time.
. 19 So too the Aramaic language: the Zohar is written in Aramaic because the nature of the work demands it. This was indeed the case in medieval Europe. in idem. the language of the tannaim. In my studies on Simeon bar Yohai and his companions in the Zohar. The Kabbalists of Spain did not content themselves with Spanish (or Arabic) and Hebrew but also added Aramaic. In the Middle Ages these were living. 1-84. Aramaic is the natural idiom of the Zohar. the Zohar sounds less
19. such as Sanskrit. natural idioms which did not have to be acquired in a conscious and methodical manner. as it is customarily called. See Yehuda Liebes. and from the function that Aramaic effectively fulﬁls in the Zohar. This pretence was unlikely to succeed. This can be concluded both from the explicit remarks made by the Kabbalists. which was not a spoken language. not Aramaic. and a similar situation exists in many other cultures. In Hebrew translation. does not simply serve to transpose the work from its actual time and place but has a profound signiﬁcance in the spiritual world of the Zohar in its own right. and so on. I attempted to demonstrate that the ‘narrative framework’. and the words of Simeon bar Yohai are quoted in the Mishna and the Talmud in Hebrew. where the language of culture and religion was Latin. we do not hear about Hebrew language studies or of any particular praise for those who knew Hebrew. another as the language of secular culture. Gez or Hebrew. yet another as the language of prayer and another as the language of government. which reveal their attitudes to Hebrew and Aramaic. pp. Classical Arabic. A natural situation is one in which several languages are used for different levels of education and culture. The natural condition is a plurality of languages where culture and religion are conducted in a separate tongue. not least for the simple reason that in the time of the tanna Simeon bar Yohai. as in the Jewish Diaspora today. Hebrew was the language spoken in Palestine. The number of languages employed together is not limited to two. The Aramaic of the Zohar ﬂows naturally and in several places it seems that the words should be spoken out loud to appreciate the profundity of the passage. The Aramaic of the Zohar represents a genuine linguistic need and is not merely camouﬂage employed to give the illusion of the time and place of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. ‘The Messiah of the Zohar—On Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai as a Messianic Figure’.LIEBES Hebrew and Aramaic as Languages of the Zohar
the sole purpose of a natural language and it need not be the only vernacular used by the speaker.
Haim Nahman Bialik. 186b-87a. These pages contain additions printed in brackets whose origin is in the writings of Moses de Leon. 1608). this nocturnal vision of the Hebrew nation. the Hebrew sounds less ﬂuent and it is difﬁcult and more awkward than the Aramaic. Aramaic was accorded an intermediary status between Hebrew. 22
Bialik’s words complement the Zohar’s own perception of Aramaic. Through savants such as Bialik this ‘daughter-inlaw’ continued to accompany even modern Hebrew and inﬂuence it with its unique qualities. from the unwieldy expression . Bialik goes on to compare the relation between Hebrew and Aramaic to the bond between Naomi and Ruth the Moabite. 22. Dr Melila Hellner-Eshed directed my attention to this. therefore. her [Aramaic’s] heart did not sleep nor was her light extinguished. ‘The Role of Aramaic in Modern Hebrew’. whom many consider to be the author of the Zohar. In this connection.
. which continues a long tradition that accords the Aramaic language a dialectical role in relation to Hebrew. e. Midrash Hane’elam on Genesis.23 Even before the Zohar. §13. for example. 14-74 (Hebrew). Ars Poetica. which is very different from the Aramaic of the Zohar. 123 nn. less natural. On this expression. which was printed at the end of his The Wise Soul ( ) (Basel. p. ‘The Hebrew Book’:
Even at night. Nor does the Aramaic of the Zohar give the impression that it is a translation of de Leon’s Hebrew.21 Aramaic. 1959). On Literature ( ) (Tel Aviv. see Liebes. 182 n. This can be veriﬁed from a section of the Zohar which contains an Aramaic version of a passage written in Hebrew by Moses de Leon. who left her foreign gods to follow Naomi and remain with her (Ruth 1.40
Aramaic Studies 4. and a comparison of zoharic Aramaic with the Hebrew passages of the Zohar does not grant the Hebrew any advantage of naturalness. in The Development and Renewal of the Hebrew Language (Jerusalem. ‘desiring songs’.g. and p. Zohar Hadash 5d. See Zohar I. The Mystery of Levirate Marriage ( ). p. 23. pp. was created in her language and her spirit. like the pale light of the dead moon for the dreamer.16). 35. 21. 20 and 21. 1. Perhaps for this reason it was appropriate for the mysterious. 47. the holy tongue. it is worth remembering the beautiful lines written by Haim Nachman Bialik in his essay.1 (2006)
assured. and all other
20. Zohar does not in the least resemble the Hebrew of Moses de Leon. The wonder of it is that in the days of the Zohar the Aramaic language was already completely dead in the speech of the Jewish people. meaning 20 The language of the Hebrew sections of the creatures that desire to sing. See Moshe bar Asher. On the contrary. f. The classic book of the Kabbalah.. as can be seen. is natural to the Zohar. 1996).
. Fuerth. Wiesbaden. Budapest. 27. 1984). 28. Coudert (ed. 26. interpreted in this way the fact that in biblical Aramaic only in this root was the letter lamed found instead of the letter yod amongst the auxiliary letters used to form the future preﬁxes). At times. 76b. Particularly Rabbi Yehuda ibn Koreish in his Risala (ed. 1895). 323. even the Tetragrammaton is at the present time written in Aramaic.25 The warnings of the Babylonian Geonim against the tendency to stop using the Aramaic translation of the Bible. 59-62. 84. Moshe Idel. p. See b. for instance. 306-33. pp. 1839). attributed to Rashi (ed. The four-letter name of God is composed of the letters used to form the verb ‘to be’ in Hebrew. This is a complete name whose pronunciation is not forbidden and which will be used in the
24. 2: ‘Many have claimed that the Aramaic language is primordial’. G. According to one source. a time when the name of God was incomplete. 1999). Safah Brurah (ed.H. considered to have been handed down at Sinai. The Hebrew equivalent of the Aramaic form of the Tetragrammaton is .27 and for this reason it is not revealed and cannot be pronounced28 (I recollect that my teacher. The Language of Adam (Wolfenbütteler Forschungen. in Sefer Mitsvot Gadol. Thus. since in Aramaic the verb ‘to be’ takes the form not as it does in Hebrew. are well-known. pp. See also Midrash Peliah (Warsaw. Haim Jehuda Ehrenreich. in Alison P. Some considered Aramaic to be the ﬁrst human language after the fall of the ﬁrst man. The honour of the deity is not well served by the fact that its defect is recognised in Hebrew. JJS 49. the kadish is recited in Aramaic in order to restore the name of God to completion. In their opinion. in the name of Rav Amram and Rav Natronai.24 Others noted vital Aramaic elements in the holy tongue. Lipman. a language that is known to the angels (on which see below).2 (1988). §166. and the Aramaic form more closely resembles the spelling used in the Tetragrammaton. 1924).). 25. Tel Aviv. Sanh.LIEBES Hebrew and Aramaic as Languages of the Zohar
languages.26 which had acquired a ritual status and given its name to the language that from then on was known as ‘the language of the translation’. ‘The Infant Experiment: the Search for the First Language’. See Sefer Hapardes. Milka Levy-Rubin ‘The Language of Creation or the Primordial Language: A Case of Cultural Polemics in Antiquity’. the late Professor Ezekiel Kutscher. Abraham ibn Ezra. Dan Becker. 38b: ‘The ﬁrst man spoke Aramaic’. This can be compared to Philo’s view of the status of the Septuagint. This view can be found in the works of the ﬁrst Kabbalists and even earlier. Aramaic was considered holy in the degree that was deemed appropriate for the time of exile. positive commandment 19.
New York. I (London. It is clear from the language. Joseph Caro. 1994). as light is visible from darkness. and the devious boasters changed the language of truth and obscured the meaning and intention of the author for they did not understand it and did not know how to construe the language properly. This is particularly noticeable in the section on Exodus. 211b)
The movement to and fro between these languages can also be gauged from the Zohar passages which appear in both. 13. where the relation between the two languages differs in the various printed editions and manuscripts. p. 30. one in favour of Hebrew. p. 1960). the Hebrew appears to be the original version which was later translated into Aramaic.. 4 vols.29 In truth. See the letter reprinted in Isaiah Tishby. as yet unpublished. written partly in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic. Enelow. There appear to have been rival tendencies or factions within the Zohar circle. 1391). to this question. we also have quite a few Hebrew versions of passages originally written in Aramaic that were translated by members of the Zohar circle. Israel al Nakawa (d. which follow the Mantua edition (1558– 60). before a passage whose style attests that it does not belong to the main body of the Zohar:
Said the editors.1 (2006)
messianic future. It is our opinion that this is from the Midrash Hane’elam and it was written in the holy tongue. appear in Hebrew in the Cremona edition (1559–60) and in subsequent editions. Maggid Mesharim (Jerusalem. 32
29. Some of the passages that are in Aramaic in the standard editions. Evidence for this can be deduced from the testimony of Isaac of Acre in his famous letter on the composition of the Zohar that relates the warning he was given not to accept as genuine Hebrew sections of the Zohar since the authentic Zohar was written entirely in Aramaic. This is also the opinion of Ronit Meroz who has devoted a detailed study. 1929–32). as it is written in Zech 14. 32. Rabbi Joseph Caro thinks that the Kadish is recited in Aramaic to show that in future Aramaic will be equal to Hebrew. 21. the other of Aramaic. (Zohar I. 31. that this is not from the Zohar.9. the views of the Zohar on this question are not unequivocal. E.
.31 On the other hand. ‘On that day the Lord and his name shall be ( ) one’. Menorat Hama’or (ed. The Wisdom of the Zohar. On the other hand.30 An echo of this struggle can perhaps be discerned in the words of the editors printed in the Zohar at the beginning of pericope vayehi. In these passages. such as the writings of David ben Jehuda the Pious and the Zohar passages that were included in Israel al Nakawa’s The Lamp of the Tabernacle.42
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This statement would appear to negate the mystic status of Aramaic by distancing it from the angels. the Shekinah has a more intimate side for which Aramaic is more appropriate and it is precisely this intimate side that is needed in the case of illness. the Shekinah. the bat kol. . ‘The ministering angels do not respond to anyone who requests his needs in Aramaic because they do not recognise that language’ (b. such as the tale about Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai who. “The young men who went to wage war against Antioch have been victorious”. This we learn from other places in the Talmud. he replied. ‘A voice from heaven is different’. Shab. according to religious sensibility of the Zohar. 34. JJS 47 (1996). heard a heavenly voice issue from the Holy of Holies announcing. Like the Shekinah. Is Hanina greater than you are? No. 33a) which sets out the above-mentioned principle that. Sanh. and see Joseph Yahalom. it is preferable to use Aramaic. asked Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa to intercede for him when his son fell ill: ‘His wife said to him.LIEBES Hebrew and Aramaic as Languages of the Zohar
All this should be attributed to the dialectical relation that exists between Aramaic and Hebrew. Ber.
. This emerges from the continuation of the passage in the Talmud which justiﬁes the actions of one who prays for a sick person in Aramaic: ‘An invalid is different because the divine presence is with him’. the voice from heaven. The celestial voice differs from the angels in that it also understands Aramaic. it is reported. : ? : ’ ‘ . 33-44. 12b. This can be learnt from a parallel passage in the Talmud (b. See t. 43b: . This relation is attested long before the Zohar and emerges from the famous Talmudic statement that features prominently in the Zohar:
The ministering angels do not respond to anyone who requests his needs in Aramaic for they do not recognise Aramaic. is also fond of Aramaic. What is the difference between the Shekinah and the angels? The angels are apparently formalistic masters of ceremony who only use the ofﬁcial language. So . pp. However. but this is not the whole truth. does. See b. but he is like a servant to the king and I am like a minister to the king.’34 When an intimate servant will be more effective than a minister. and it spoke in Aramaic!’ The answer given is. ‘Angels Don’t Understand Aramaic’. Although the angels do not understand Aramaic. 99a) and then appears to challenge it: ‘But we have learned that Rabbi Johanan. the divine presence.
33. the High Priest.
which does not reveal that which is concealed in its depths. but not to my external limbs. 1993). in the Zohar. 38. pp. which understands Aramaic. 39. . When I ascended to the Chariot a heavenly voice issued from beneath the Throne of Glory speaking Aramaic. §12. the language the angels do not understand. I have revealed it to my heart. the voice from heaven speaks in Aramaic. 36. the close association between the heavenly voice and the conscious and even the sub-conscious of the author is evident. It appears that this heart. as in Hekhalot Zutarti:
Rabbi Akiva said. On a few occasions. Rachel Elior. ‘De Natura Dei: On the Development of the Jewish Myth’. ‘What is meant by “the day of vengeance is in my heart”?35 Rabbi Johanan said. Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish said. Isa. Eccl. the celestial voice deals with the impending day of judgment. see Yehuda Liebes. For here. sometimes even with the inclusion of a speciﬁc reference to the fact that the words were spoken in Aramaic. conversely. probably because. and here too they speak Aramaic. Sanh. The reading ‘ladder’ is conjectural. 1982 [Hebrew]). a suitable place to nurture feelings of vengeance. Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought supplement. I revealed it to my heart but not to the ministering angels’.
. on the other hand. in this. either to the mouth or the limbs. See n. is identiﬁed. the heavenly voice is not only identiﬁed with
35. 23. a ladder39 was erected to the heavens to ascend and descend. a subject which it is more appropriate to speak about in Aramaic. since we have learned. What did it say? Before God created the heavens and the earth. 40. based on the editor’s note. See b. : ? ’ ‘ . R. therefore. The heavenly voice also speaks Aramaic when it proclaims the abilities of the mystic. Perhaps these voices also inﬂuenced the language of the human speakers. man is superior to the angels and may arouse their jealousy. p. rush too precipitately to execute the imprecations. 1-64. 63.36 and according to a parallel statement: ‘the heart does not reveal to the mouth’. The angels. Hekhalot Zutarti (ed. 37. On the rationality of angels.40
Heralds and heavenly voices are often heard in the Zohar. 40 below.37 The heavenly voice or the Shekinah. 1. with God’s heart.4. in Studies in Jewish Myth and Jewish Messianism (Albany. or the mouth and they might object to vengeance on rational grounds. 99a: .10. since.1 (2006)
Elsewhere in the Talmud and in the Hekhalot literature. represent the conscious mind. : .38 or. resembles the divine subconscious. or the limbs.44
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“All the herdsmen used to gather there and roll away the stone”’. 42. Gen. It is possible that an earlier Hebrew version was integrated into the exegesis in the Zohar (this is the opinion of Ronit Meroz in her study mentioned in n. Zohar II. 12b: ‘ … ’. Lurianic Kabbalah. See Yehuda Liebes ‘ “Two Young Roes of a Doe”: The Secret Sermon of Isaac Luria Before his Death’. 151b: ‘ ’.45 for Rabbi Simeon said.47 in the Hebrew words of the verse (Isa. 13a: ‘ : ’. Song 8.).
The celestial voice is so comfortable speaking Aramaic that it sometimes rewrites biblical verses in Aramaic. 45. both during his life and after his death. Zohar III. In another passage we even ﬁnd a biblical verse that Aramaic has conquered half of: ‘As it is written. pp. Zohar II. 31 above). 43.3: ’ ‘ . 14a: . I have devoted a long and detailed study to this statement. 51. in a parallel passage spoken by a human. 44. but also. sometimes put in the mouths of celestial heralds): ‘Listen to me all who seek justice’. 46. in Yehuda Liebes and Rachel Elior (eds. full of pathos.LIEBES Hebrew and Aramaic as Languages of the Zohar
the Shekinah. like a gazelle or a hart. in which I attempted to explain its meaning and as far as possible to determine the identity of the speaker.41 Simeon bar Yohai’s son heard a voice coming from his cave saying: ‘Two young deer gave me pleasure fulﬁlling my desire’.46 However. Zohar I. a celestial voice emerged from behind the curtain in the house of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai and quoted his precise words (also on the subject of the gazelles and the harts in the Song of Songs). as in a passage in the matnitin (the name given in the Zohar to anonymous passages. to some extent.
. with the protagonist of the Zohar.49
41.1). í " " ë .44 All the longing of Israel is for the Lord. 48. The italicised section of the verse appears in the Zohar in Aramaic48 even though the biblical verse was originally written in Hebrew. Zohar II. “Listen to me all who seek justice”’. 47. the words of the heavenly voice are in Aramaic while Rabbi Simeon’s statement is in Hebrew:43
Flee my love.14. Interestingly. ‘Israel longs for the Lord neither to leave nor to distance himself but to ﬂee like a gazelle or a hart’. Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 10 (1992). 49. Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. 29. 113-69. In one passage. 55b: ‘ ’. we ﬁnd: ‘Rabi Eleazar said.42 In another incident.
51. lasting long enough to be seen by man and no longer.' . 54. e. 72a (Sitrei Torah):
. in fact.1. here describes the nature of the transgression. which in the Bible serves as background and as an introduction to the sin of the generation of Babel.53 The verse. which insisted on speaking Hebrew. possibly also because the numerical value of the letters of . 11. equals that of . ‘the holy tongue’. The ‘one language’ that they wished to speak was Hebrew. the counsel of wisdom. it is Aramaic that is the language of the forces of evil.
53. since the actions of demons are momentary.
.1. For if they had spoken another language that the celestial angels did not know. This gematria is cited in the commentary of Jacob ben Asher on Gen. rather than Aramaic. Gen. Gen. This they did in order to establish their world.. 19. Zohar I. 11. I do not know the exact meaning of the opening words kumtura dehormana. the verse50 says: ‘now nothing will be beyond their reach’.51 indicates that they knew each supernal level thoroughly and did not confuse them. the language understood by the angels.1 (2006)
Aramaic is also a more appropriate language for the Zohar than Hebrew because of the nature of its doctrines.54 However. However. which is speciﬁc to the realm of the holy. as can be seen from its discussion of the sin of the builders of the Tower of Babel. 11. For this reason.52
This passage is a commentary on the verse: ‘All the world spoke one language and used the same words’.g.6. in Midrash Tanhuma on Gen. Gen. which is couched in ornate Aramaic and ascribes their transgression speciﬁcally to the use of Hebrew:
This generation spoke in the holy tongue known to the ministering angels and in no other language. 52. as we will see. ‘ . a gematria discovered and calculated by the medieval German Pietists. The language of scripture ‘[all the world spoke a single language] and used the same words’. the acts they intended would have been diminished. the Zohar’s principal innovation is found in its interpretation of the phrase
50. the world of evil. 11. For this reason they took evil counsel. the claim that the generation of the Tower of Babel spoke Hebrew ﬁrst is also found elsewhere. The Zohar displays an awareness of this. For. ‘one language’. but it seems to me that they allude to the obduracy of that generation.11. on a particularly ﬁrm foundation.46
Aramaic Studies 4.
to the seﬁrot. The association between . even though it considered Aramaic the language of evil. counsel of wisdom’.
. that each word had a speciﬁc kabbalistic interpretation. nor is it a ﬁxed doctrine. for with its help. Moses de Leon also speaks of the ‘great wisdom’ possessed by that generation. the personal and creative elements ﬁnd expression in the Zohar. 1 (Hebrew). which it called targum. and it appears that this doctrine can also be employed as a counsel of evil. and before the Kabbalah. and precisely because of the association between the Aramaic translation and the forces of evil. Wisdom here. writing in Hebrew. indicating the role that Aramaic plays in this process. . 129b. pp. as I attempted to demonstrate elsewhere. does not connect this to their language.55 The Zohar takes a different approach and does not heed the evil counsel of the builders of the Tower of Babel. F. Interestingly. but develops and alters. The punishment meted out to the builders of the Tower of Babel was directed speciﬁcally against this transgression: God confused their language and also altered the names of the angels with whose help they had attempted to act. to construct an evil counterpart. on a ratio of one to one. the Zohar took the opposite tack and established a holy world with the aid of Aramaic. Alpayim 9 (1994). In contrast to the generation of the tower of Babel who attempted to establish an evil world by means of the holy tongue.57 The later Kabbalists followed the Zohar. something that is only possible in Hebrew. See Zohar II. 67-119 (Hebrew). ‘the stoned or accursed devil’. 57. 56. Particularly surprising is the juxtaposition at the end of the passage: ‘evil consel. they increasingly
55. See de Leon. which professes to know the secrets of the upper realm. but also for magical purposes. Yehuda Liebes. derived from the same root rgm. lies the danger of hubris: insolence against heaven and the elevation of man above God. that is to say.56 without. the language of the Aramaic translation of the Bible. ‘translation’. at that time. al sitan al rajim. The Aramaic language serves as a remedy against this danger. but he. The Kabbalah of the Zohar is not rigidly systematic. as in many other places in the zoharic literature. refers to the doctrine of the Kabbalah. This property of Hebrew conceals a power which can be used not only to establish the holy realm.LIEBES Hebrew and Aramaic as Languages of the Zohar
‘the same words’ to refer to the stages or the seﬁrot which were ‘the same’. and the forces of evil may receive support from the Arabic term for the devil. throwing out sparks in every direction. that is. The Mystery of Levirate Marriage §13. ‘Knowledge is power’ as we say today. ‘Zohar and Eros’.
See Likutei Moharan part 1 §19. .62)
58. . See Koreish.60 Precisely because Aramaic is the language of the ‘other side’ it is able to serve certain religious purposes. 1975). 59.
. 108. p. The world is divided into two warring factions. prophecy rests on anyone who is worthy of it. can devise stratagems which render it much less menacing and even disposed to display pleasing and amusing traits. unlike other dualistic systems. 23 c. p. 63. Apparently Rav Kook objected to this and considered the numerological association between the Aramaic translation and sleep inappropriate. Consequently. as does Rabbi Simeon in the Zohar. 138a (the latter work discusses the merit of the targum at length). 78. ‘the other side’. since the root is common in Aramaic in 61 (Rabbi Yehuda ibn Koreish also adduces this as an the sense of ‘to see’. 1963). into the realm of the holy. 62. it was said of him: ‘The word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision’ (Gen. Menahem Azria of Fano. even if he is uncircumcised. 88b: í ’ ‘ [‘The word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision. prayer 19 (ed. 64d. part 1.1 (2006)
emphasised the importance of the ritual public readings of the Aramaic translation that served to assimilate the forces of evil known as kelipat nogah. example of an Aramaic element in Hebrew. ‘translation’. 153. Sihot Haran §109 (Jerusalem. I. p. pp. saying’. 1978). 1717). p. However. Meir ibn Gabbai. part 3 § 7 (Lemberg. The word for a ‘vision’ used in this verse is. in gematria 59 This dialectical stance is understandable in light equals . He who knows the other side well. p. 1884). of the Zohar’s attitude to evil. Bnei Brak. See Orot Hakodesh. . for surely the word . p. In this language. The Two Tablets of the Covenant ( ) tractate Shabbat (Frankfurt a. the Zohar emphasises. A vision. 80-85. Zohar I. What does ‘vision’ mean? (It means) in that revelation. 1967). a rung on which all images appear].1). not a revelation.58 Rabbi Nahman of Braslav also adds that Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai had sanctiﬁed the language of the translation that is as essential to the establishment of the realm of the holy as sleep is for consciousness when one is awake. in the opinion of the Zohar. p. Nathan of Nemirov.48
Aramaic Studies 4. 60.. the Zohar does not always take this conﬂict with unbridled seriousness. 15. The Wings of the Dove ( ). The term used by the Zohar to refer to the realm of evil. Oder. §93 (Jerusalem. See Liebes. ‘Zohar and Eros’. 61. before Abraham was circumcised. indicates a dualistic element. ‘sleep’. Isaiah Horowitz. The Worm Jacob ( ) (Jerusalem. Collected Prayers (Likutei Teﬁlot). the aspect of evil that is closest to the holy. the equivalent Aramaic form of the Hebrew word ‘revelation’. Risala.
. 32b-34a. 64.1. 71.69 This feature is easily discerned in the sin of the builders of the tower of Babel who wished to make a name for themselves70 and conducted all their activities in the holy tongue.LIEBES Hebrew and Aramaic as Languages of the Zohar
The combination of Aramaic and Hebrew is essential. for in it we address the deity in a personal and intimate way. 69. 63. 67. ‘monument’.66 Aramaic is. in the phrase ‘true and stable’ in the Morning Prayer. 65. Complete disregard for evil is also hubris. See Liebes. at the end of the Aramaic verse interpolated into the Hebrew text of Jeremiah: ‘The gods who did not make heaven and earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens’. according to one view. Peter Schäfer. according to the Zohar. as we have seen. Gen.3) and had nothing at all to do with the ‘the other side’. from the same root which carries a suggestion of Aramaic. 66. Precisely because he withdrew from evil completely (Job 1.64 The Zohar65 discovers another example of this kind of combination in the Hebrew word for ‘these’. 80-85. 11. See Zohar II. Zohar I.71 For this reason. With the help of Aramaic it is possible to destroy in one moment the entire kabbalistic ediﬁce. Jer. 372-73. See.
. that is to say. and according to the Zohar this was the fault of Job. Rivalität Zwischen Engeln und Menschen (Berlin and New York. which it considers an Aramaic word. 70. which requires harmony between the opposing elements.68 The main objective in dealings with ‘the other side’ is to avoid arousing its envy. the most degraded of languages and at the same time the most elevated. as the language of the other side. pp. 8. In this it is more elevated not only than the angels. ‘the locks and seals’. Much has been written on this topic. For this reason. or as the Zohar calls it.
See Zohar Hadash 42a. pp. but also above the seﬁrot. the Hebrew word . See. 129b: ‘ ’. ‘Zohar and Eros’. . Not only ‘the other side’ but also the angels are known for their envy of humans. since its purpose is to raise the great name of god67 above all blessings. the evil eye. 68. 1975). ‘stable’.g. Conﬁrmation of this the Zohar ﬁnds in the word . for the stability of the world. 9a-b. 2. Zohar II. who was otherwise free from sin. as is well-known from numerous statements in rabbinic sources and the literature of the Second Temple period. is retranslated into Aramaic in the Zohar as . 10.63 Interestingly. he drew the evil eye upon himself. the kadish prayer was instituted in Aramaic.4: ‘Come let us build ourselves a city…and make a name for ourselves’. e. ‘Sections of the Zohar Lexicon’. . and Liebes.11: ’ ‘ .
the author of the famous letter on the composition of the Zohar mentioned above. which was introduced in the Aramaic of the Bible translation. to forgo the mediation of the angels so that they will not have access to man’s words and will not envy him.76 This reason is known to the erudite from the kadish. Isaac of Acre. ‘I sheltered you’. ‘The Messiah of the Zohar’. but ‘Rome the wicked’ (in a Hebrew context) occurs in Mekilta. Ginzburg 775. 75. and Liebes.16).73 This discussion revolves around the verse: ‘I put my words in your mouth and sheltered you under my hand to ﬁx the heavens in place and establish the earth’ (Isa. bahodesh §9. pp. I saw what I believe to be a good reason for calling the Greek empire evil. where ‘evil’ derived from the Hebrew root . It is also possible that Isaac of Acre had before him different readings. which remains in manuscript:74
Said the young Isaac of Acre. as these terms were always liable to be emended by internal or external censorship.50
Aramaic Studies 4.-95a. ‘the evil empire of the Greeks’. 76.1 (2006)
too. 51. The envy of the angels as the reason for the use of Aramaic in the Zohar was also discussed by a contemporary witness. On the other hand. 74.72 At times it seems that the Zohar was written in Aramaic precisely for this reason. ‘Wicked’ derived from the corresponding Aramaic root . For example in the prayer [For the Miracles]. according to the Zohar. See Zohar I. and an ability such as this in the hands of man naturally invites the envy of the angels and must be concealed. from whom the Zohar must be sheltered until it has fulﬁlled its messianic destiny and created a new earth and a new heaven. see the next note. Zohar Hadash on the Song of Songs. Nor are those who envy man understood solely as angels. in the words of the scripture. I have not been able to ﬁnd this precise formulation. The exposition of the Kabbalist indeed creates and establishes a world. as appears from the discussion on the nature of kabbalistic innovation found in the introduction to the work. At times it is advisable. 69c. 75 ‘the wicked empire of the Romans’. 9b. ‘Rome the evil’ does occur. a new earth and new heavens. the sublime mystery of whose action is to hasten the rise of our allies and the downfall of our enemies. as they say. See Zohar I. though certainly they include human detractors. the language they do not employ. not wicked. 94b. 182-87. Admittedly the Zohar does not explicitly mention Aramaic in this context and the concealment it advocates may well also allude to zoharic pseudepigraphy.
. 73. Aramaic. 5a. Dr Boaz Huss brought this to my attention. MS Moscow. and the Roman empire wicked. This is what he wrote in his Otsar Hayim. is to be preferred.
alludes also to the Pope and his cardinals. because they are concerned about the birds in the sky and the winged messengers who may repeat their words. Introduction. b. Simeon bar Yohai taught nine companions. Isaac of Acre distinguishes here between the indigenous Jerusalem Aramaic which is the language of the Zohar and Aramaic proper. and Jerusalem Aramaic is further removed from Hebrew than Aramaic. not in the sense of ‘iniquitous’ as in Aramaic. 78. 59c-60a (a passage which probably derives from the school of Joseph Angelit).79 he and his son Rabbi Eleazar and ten others who were with him in the cave80 sat and wrote the whole Zohar in Jerusalem Aramaic. The
The archangel of Rome mentioned above may be understood not only as a celestial ruler. which literally means and could refer to any ‘ruler’. not the holy tongue. although this took place not in a cave but in a ﬁeld amongst the trees. which is the science of the deity. that is. Hagiga 2.20. which equates the two accounts with Aristotelian physics and metaphysics. Jerusalem Aramaic. The archangel of Greece has already fallen while the archangel of Rome is continually on the ascendant until he and his nation shall reign under the heavens for nine months. Shab. they will not be roused to denounce us.
. but now they fear to disparage the Roman Empire in the holy tongue which is understood by her archangel and the accusers. from the ministering angels.77 Therefore the rabbis were unconcerned about denigrating the Greek empire in Hebrew. who are man’s accusers. and use only Aramaic. Zohar III. After Eccl. Simeon’s sojourn in the cave mentioned in b. This is a reference to the Idra Raba. 10. It is possible that the term. who may have acquired some knowledge of Hebrew to study the scriptures. Yoma 10a: ‘The son of David will not come until the evil kingdom of Rome has extended its dominion over the whole world for nine months’. and the account of the chariot.78 And I maintain that because Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai clearly recognised that the spiritual powers above bitterly envy those engaged in studying the account of the creation.1. where R. Isaac of Acre probably considers the envy of the angels to be the reason for the prohibition of studying the mysteries of creation and Ezekiel’s chariot. because of this lack of knowledge. Aramaic. Isaac of Acre probably identiﬁes this incident with R. which is the science of the natural world. as may be indicated by the Hebrew root . Perhaps. 79. These motifs are ﬁrst associated in Zohar Hadash. 127b. For God concealed the translation. 80. This may be another reason for using this ambivalent phrase in reference to them. which they do not understand. not in the holy tongue but in the language of the Aramaic Bible translation. See m. but certainly had no knowledge of Aramaic.LIEBES Hebrew and Aramaic as Languages of the Zohar
that is. pericope Ki Tavo. they might have interpreted the phrase ‘Rome the wicked’ in a positive sense. and when the kadish is recited in a language [Aramaic] that they do not understand. See. This is Maimonides’ deﬁnition in The Guide for the Perplexed part I. because they were not anxious or afraid of the Greek archangel and his nation. 33b.
an ideology which encouraged the revelation of secrets. This opinion was current particularly amongst the Sabbateans. Zohar III. (eds. in The Sabbatean Movement and its Aftermath: Messianism. pp. See Boaz Huss. Although the Zohar does. 80 (Hebrew). See.81 At a later period (in the Book of the Responding Angel). that the Aramaic of the Zohar was intended to bring these secrets closer to the masses who were not proﬁcient in the holy tongue. 53b-54a. I). Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 16. ‘Sometimes a pearl can be found in a poor man’s bag’. In the words of the Zohar itself. can be found in MS British Museum 776.).
. vol. for instance. and even translated the Zohar into other languages such as Yiddish. Moshe Idel. drawn to my attention by Dr Boaz Huss.52
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designation ‘Jerusalem’ applied to the Zohar is based on the work’s perception of itself. Sefunot 14 (Sefer Yavan 1). at times. namely. 83. ‘Sabbateanism and the Reception of the Zohar’. pp. this is not intended to encourage ignorance but rather to acknowledge that sometimes a man who appears at ﬁrst glance to be an ignoramus is later discovered to be a scholar. Harvey et al. 2002). ‘The Zohar’s Relation to the Land of Israel’. pp. ‘Neglected Works of the Author of the Kaf Haktoret’.83 This type of ideology is far removed from that of the Zohar. Peamim 53 (1993). ‘The Maggid of Rabbi Joseph Taitazak’. Sabbatianism and Frankism (= Rachel Elior [ed. who adopted an exoteric stance. 157b. 53-71 (Hebrew). 42-44 (Hebrew).]. 77-78 (Hebrew). 82. See Yehuda Liebes.84
81. p. pp. A good and complete version. in Z. 1968 (1978).82 We also ﬁnd the opposite view. the claim was reversed and the Zohar was said to have been written speciﬁcally in Babylonian Aramaic in order to conceal its secrets from the masses in Palestine. Zion and Zionism amongst the Jews of Spain and the Orient (Jerusalem. display a certain democratic tendency. 84. See Gershom Scholem.