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The Aruch Hashulchan: Halacha & Kabbala Print E-mail

writingsRav Epstein lays out the principal for using the Zohar's practice as precedent in Chapter 25.29: The Poskim established a general principle in this regard. If the Gemara and the Poskim

disagree with the Zohar we follow the decisions of the Gemara and the Poskim. But if the Zohar is more stringent [than the Gemara and the Poskim] then whoever wants to be more stringent as is the Zohar can be. If the matter is not stated in the Gemara, it is certainly proper to do as the Zohar states, but we do not force one to do so. [Magen Avraham (A commentary on the Shulchan Aruch written by R. Abraham Abele Gombiner, 1637-1683) in the name of the Radbaz (R. David ben Zimra (1479-1589), one of the Ari’s teachers).

Nevertheless, I received a tradition that the Zohar can never disagree with the Gemara unless the Gemara also has an internal argument. In a case where the Gemara decides the law the Zohar also accepts the decision. In places where the Zohar does not seem to agree with the Gemara, they did not understand the Zohar correctly and one must explain the opinion so that it is in accord with the Gemara.

In this ruling the Aruch Hashulchan  follows the precedent of the Magen Avraham. He adds an important
point in the latter part of the citation by claiming that the Zohar can never disagree with formal halachic practice as stated in the Talmud.

It is important to note that Rav Epstein considers the Zohar to be tannaitic material originating with R. Yohanan b. Zakkai. As such, its halachic status is similar to Tosefta or baraita. He therefore makes the same
assumption that the Talmud does regarding Mishnah which seems to contradict other Tannaitic material or Amoraic material.

The solution must lie in reconciling the tannaitic material with later practice. The later authorities knew this material and thus would not directly contradict it because the Zohar is part of the tannaitic corpus.

This innovation is important because it allows Epstein to meld together kabbalistic and formal halachic practice since he argues that they can never truly disagree. Any contradiction is, by definition, a result of the shortcomings of the reader. This also allows him to create a formal framework for the incorporation of kabbalistic practice within halachah. He creates a hierarchy of kabbalistic sources and uses them to establish both required practice and preferred custom.

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