Hirhurim calls attention to a new journal called Covenant. Menachem Kellner has an article called Maimonides Agonist: Disenchantment and Reenchantment in Modern Judaism.
In it he raises an issue which is not new, but he raises it well.
For traditionally oriented Jews, an important religious issue rests upon a bibliographical question: who wrote the Zohar?
I will get back to that.
Meanwhile, he also makes a notable concession
For years I have been convinced that the notion of da'at torah was a haredi innovation, a politically expedient if Jewishly questionable response to the challenges of modernity. However, I have been forced to change some of my cherished opinions. While it is clear that the term da'at torah is a late nineteenth-century innovation, the notion actually reflects forces that existed earlier in Judaism.
As far as I can tell this is basically all that proponents of Daas Torah have been saying all along. "We didn't make this up. It's how Jews were governed by their spiritual leaders." The difference, of course, is that Kellner isn't saying that this is how Jews were always governed and that its definitely the 'Torah opinion.' So let us say that Kellner is now a Daas Torah minimalist in that he recognizes a central claim of proponents of Daas Torah: it isn't new.
My own take on Daas Torah is to essentially agree with the notion that Jews were long governed by their spiritual leaders. However I disagree as to the import of this fact. In pre-modern Jewish society the spiritual leaders were also secular leaders (along with leading laymen). This was so not because knowledge of hilkhot treifot imbues one with 'Torah opinion,' but because the spiritual leaders were educated and they were worldly. Spiritual leaders didn't only decide religious questions, but that is a descriptive phenomenon.
One of the leading theoreticians of the Daas Torah ideology made the case that spiritual leaders have more Daas Torah the more Torah learning they possess and the less worldy knowledge. In other words, a saintly ascetic will have more 'Torah opinion' at his disposal than a scholar of equal Torah knowledge who is more worldly. Practical experience, personal knowledge, 'street smarts'--all of it lessens Daas Torah.
As far as I can tell that is the innovation of Daas Torah as a prescriptive ideology: the idea that a rabbi who spends the bulk of his time teaching Torah to 20 year bachelors is inherently better suited to practical leadership of the wider community than a rabbi who has street smarts, even if their Torah scholarship is otherwise equal.
A few months ago it was shown that a leading chareidi godol, viewed as an exemplar of Daas Torah didn't know how a credit card worked until it was explained to him. Putting aside whether this is true or not--the publication which made the claim is known to spread tall tales, but the import is that it firmly believes that his prior lack of knowledge of what a credit card is is not embarassing, but awesome--a rabbi who didn't know basic worldy information 400 years ago could have been many things; a tzadik, a hasid--but he would not have been the one making political decisions.
So this is new. My take.
Getting back to the Zohar, Kellner continues
Many of Maimonides' writings are best understood not only as an attempt to harmonize Torah and what he considered to be science, but also as an attempt to counteract the influence of what I have called "proto-kabbalistic" elements in pre-Maimonidean Judaism. In this, I believe (but cannot prove), Maimonides followed in the footsteps of those editors of the normative rabbinic writings who kept certain texts and allied literature out of the canon of Judaism. But the widespread acceptance of the Zohar as the work of the second-century CE Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai doomed this millennium-long attempt limiting the mystical elements of Judaism to failure. The Zohar is the central problem.
For traditionally oriented Jews, an important religious issue rests upon a bibliographical question: who wrote the Zohar? If the Zohar represents the work of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai and a circle of colleagues and students, then the teachings of the Zohar must be seen as part of the body of normative rabbinic Judaism, carrying at least as much authority as other midrashic compilations such as the Mishna and the Talmud. No Jew today, believer or scholar, would think of claiming that the ideas and values of, say, midrashic compilations do not represent ideas and values at the heart of rabbinic Judaism. There may be questions about how to express these ideas and values in a modern idiom, how to understand them, and, for the most traditional, how to apply them, but there can be no doubt that they constitute an integral part of "classical Judaism."
If the Zohar, on the other hand, is the brilliant work of the Spanish kabbalist Moses de Leon (c. 1240--1305) and his friends, if the anonymous mystical work Sefer bahir, attributed to first century sage Nehunya Ben Ha-Kanah, is in fact a clumsy forgery, then the ideas and values embodied in these works have much less normative import for subsequent Judaism. Moses de Leon did indeed live during the period of the "rishonim" (early authorities), but had no particular credentials as halakhist or exegete that we know of.
So, putting the question rather tendentiously, is Judaism the sort of religion found in the Bible, Mishna, Talmud, and Maimonides, or is Judaism the sort of religion found in the Bible, Mishna, Talmud, and Zohar? These are very different sorts of religions and the answer to the question depends on the answers to the question, who wrote the Zohar and when?
To all intents and purposes the question has been settled in Jewish history if not by Jewish scholarship. Scholars such as Gershon Scholem accept that these works are the invention of Moses de Leon, but in Orthodox circles, the Zohar is almost universally seen as the work of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, with all that implies. That being the case, it is no surprise that what might be called, anachronistically, Maimonides' anti-Zoharic reform had little chance of success. In the rest of this paper I want to indicate how very little of Maimonidean Judaism can be found in the contemporary Orthodox world.
The question of how a work without a tradition can appear and be considered authoritative is one that should concern Orthodox Jews given that they place a premium on tradition. If the Yerushalmi Kodashim wasn't met with skepticism then would it not have been incorporated into the Shas? Of course the obvious response is that the Zohar was met with skepticism, but unlike the Yerushalmi Kodshim, investigation authenticated it. Nu, nu. You say Zoyhar Haqodoysh, I say Book of Enoch.
*My personal apologies to him for using a sensationalist title, but I couldn't resist. If it is brought to my attention that this is unappreciated by the author, the title can be changed in advance of Google indexing.