Zohar, what should we do with it?I should begin with something I have learned over the past 10 years. For many people when you say the Zohar it means very different things. There are those who have learned about the Zohar from the likes of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, whom have been exposed to only the good parts of the Zohar. There are those who have learned the Zohar only through the Arizal. There are those who have learned the Zohar only through Chassidut, and there are those who have learned the Zohar because by looking at the original. And then there are those who only know of the Zohar because other people quote it, or speak of it highly, but have never actually seen any of the words of the Zohar themselves. Each of these groups of people, I believe, are thinking about very different sorts of things when the Zohar is mentioned. It is mainly those who have been introduced to the Zohar through reading the original, through more recent summaries such as R. Aryeh Kaplan, and those who have never read of word of the Zohar themselves, that I have in mind while writing this post.
Without a doubt, for better or worse, the Zohar is the most influential book on Jewish practice since the Rambam, especially because of it's influence on the Arizal, and then the Arizal's influence on the Shulchan Aruch.
The Zohar without a doubt helped bolster Judaism during the late middle ages, when superstition and Christianity were dominant world forces.
However, since the enlightenment period, the Zohar has also been the biggest threats to Jewish life and continuity. The Zohar was directly responsible for Shabbatai Tzvi, who's false messianism, almost completely destroyed Sephardic Jewish life, and who caused a sort of "red scare" type of environment within Ashkenazi Jewish life.
Although there has always been a sort of split, between what might be called the more rationalist, and more mystical schools of thought , since the 15th century, the Zohar has made that split even worse. Before the Zohar, the Talmud was the only source of Halacha within the Jewish community. Debates might exist, over what the Talmud ruled, or how to apply the Talmud to 'modern' life, however there was no question that the Talmud was the final say. However, beginning during the Renaissance, parts of the Jewish community doubled down on the Zohar and declared that it, rather than the Talmud could be the final say in Jewish law and practice.
The truth of the matter however, is that many Jews are pushed away from Judaism because of what they believe to be the superstitious nature of Judaism, due to the Zohar's influence. For many centuries, global and sometimes vicious antisemitism kept the Jewish community together, because even if Jews wanted to leave and find another path in life, they could not.
It is my contention, that we have to go back to a time where the Zohar is seen as yet another post-Talmudic philosophy, assuming it does not violate any clear halachot, which Jews may adopt as they desire, or reject as they desire. Ideally, the Zohar would not be used as proof for a Talmudic statement, nor a lone statement in the Zohar would be convincing to anyone regarding what proper Jewish practice should be. That should be left to the realms of the Talmud, Mishna and Tanach. Presumably, this will help unite the Jewish people, and bring back the 30-60% of the Jewish people, who just are unable to believe in a national culture which is dependent on the affects of 'magical practices', 'demons', and superstitious remedies.
While it is obvious that many find a religion which is devoid of magical practices, demons, and superstitious remedies, to be a religion which lacks spirituality, or is lacking in some area*, these people, we can see around us are in fact a minority. They are a large minority, but a minority never the less, and so for their sake, the Zohar should not be expunged or declared heretical or any such thing, but rather it needs to be there for those who need it, and absent for those who find it inauthentic.
*Gd and time permitting, I hope to write about why this is not correct, and propose a means of feeling spiritual without rejecting the basic realities of cause and effect in our world. It should hopefully, also not require one to intellectualize the world, but would rather work with a person's emotions. I would love to hear ideas from others, on how to do this.