Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Yale Library

Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism): Zohar (Mysticism)

Primary and secondary sources for the study of Kabbalah


Image of the ten sefirot from Breathing Mud: The Legend of the Golem by Lynne Avadenka

Kabbalah is the name applied to the whole range of Jewish mystical activity. While codes of Jewish law focus on what it is God wants from man, kabbalah tries to penetrate deeper, to God's essence itself. The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought. It is written in Aramaic in the form of a commentary on the five books of the Pentateuch.  Its scriptural exegesis can be considered an esoteric form of the rabbinic literature known as midrash, which provides exegesis on the Torah.  The Zohar first appeared in Spain in the 13th century.  Most modern scholars believe that it was written by the mystic, Moses de Leon (ca. 1250-1305).  De Leon ascribed the work to Shimon bar Yochai, a rabbi of the 2nd century during the Roman persecution who, according to Jewish legend, hid in a cave for thirteen years studying the Torah.