The Printing of Zohar in Mantua, Daniel Abrams, Beit Ha Zohar
Zohar Schoken

The printing of the Zohar in Mantua

Daniel Abrams

The Self-Awareness of the Printers in Producing a Standardized Text

Paper by Daniel Abrams

The printing of the Zohar in the sixteenth century was overdetermined. The success of the Italian printers in concurrently producing two printed editions derailed other ongoing and future Zohar projects in manuscript and compelled the Safedian kabbalists and their students to amend and react to the print as the canonical text instead of producing an alternative product for widespread consumption. For the study of the Zohar and the critical acceptance of the detailed study of the multiple versions found in manuscript, the timing and all that is specific to these editions, allow us to say that the printing of the Zohar was a tragedy. The printing of the Zoharic texts beginning in 1557 forced the kabbalists off track in their study of the Zohar particularly from manuscript witnesses and in many senses they never recovered. The characterization of it being a tragedy is based upon a value judgment offered in the hindsight of the historical study of Kabbalah and based upon an appreciation of the critical value of the textual study undertaken by these kabbalists.

My claim is that some editorial work on the Zohar was never completed or published because of what the print edition offered. Some editions were printed hundreds of years later precisely because a different textual product gained prominence and became canonical. Moreover, the text of the Mantua edition was both different and artificial as a standardized text. The Safedian kabbalists were compelled to react to what they knew was an inferior textual product relative to the texts they possessed in manuscript and other edited works. Their critical-textual work as a reaction to print added another layer of complexity, and the quality of the unrealized projects would then never have reached without reinventing its form and establishing a new base-line of a different edited version. Suffice it to say, that it is not a stretch of the imagination to suggest that Cordovero’s magnum opus, Or Yaqar, was not printed because of the widespread acceptance of the Mantua edition.

Given the immediate success of the Mantua edition in Safed and other major reading communities, no scribe or kabbalist even bothered to extract the edited text of the Zohar from within his voluminous work Or Yaqar. It should be recalled that Cordovero’s text was ordered differently and based on other manuscripts and so no matter how valued, then as now, for both the kabbalists and modern academic scholars, it became functionally irrelevant for most readers who restricted themselves to the printed editions. Moreover, given the commercial success of its distribution in Italy and the Land Israel of Israel where Lurianic kabbalah was taking hold in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Cremona edition which gained a foothold in Ashkenaz, namely Eastern Europe, lost out on having much influence on the majority of kabbalists for generations to come. In all, if the Mantua edition had been realized later or not printed at all, a different trajectory of the career of the Zohar would have taken place. Obviously no one Zohar ever existed so the success of single editing suppressed the textual complexity from earlier times. It is the story of Zoharic text study before and after the Mantua edition that will offer the context for evaluating this edition.1On the history of printing of the Zohar see Gershom Scholem, Bibliographia Kabbalistica, Leipzig 1927, pp. 166-184; Meir Benayahu, Hebrew Printing at Cremona, Jerusalem 1971, pp. 121-137; Marvin J. Heller, The Sixteenth Century Hebrew Book: An Abridged Thesaurus, Leiden 2004, pp. 461 [Tiqqune Zohar] 485 [Zohar Mantua] 503 [Zohar Cremona]; [Tiqqune Zohar] 485 [Zohar Mantua] 503 [Zohar Cremona] Jan Doktór, ‘Sefer haZohar: the Battle for Editio Princeps’, Jewish History Quarterly (Kwartalnik Historii Żydów) 2 (2012), pp. 141-161; Moshe Idel, ‘Printing Kabbalah in Sixteenth- Century Italy’, Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe’, Essays in Honor of David B. Ruderman, ed. R. I. Cohen, N. B. Dohrmann, A. Shear, and E. Reiner, Pittsburgh 2014, pp. 85-96..

The success of the Zohar prior to the sixteenth century can be attributed in no small part to the lack of any stable and clearly defined literary form, which allowed its texts to disseminate in different versions and configurations. This added no doubt to the air of mystery surrounding this purportedly ancient work, just as it created an expected practice for its use, namely the textual performance of collecting and editing its parts. Even if a Book of the Zohar were written at the end of the thirteenth century, many other Zoharic texts were also written within a short time span to produce a family of texts and works that further challenged later copyists and editors who sought to collect various sources into one physical site, a process which was realized in a single volume only recently.2I refer to the 2013 edition (reprinted later with additional indices and notes) of Sefer ha-Zohar Mennuqad she-hibber ha-Tanna ha-Eloqi R. Shimon bar Yohai, zechuto yagen ‘aleinu (np nd). Not only does this single tome include Tiqqune Zohar , Zohar ‘al Ha Torah and Zohar Hadash , but the Hashmatot and Tosafot were moved from the end of each of the three volumes and inserted into the various periscopes of the commentary to the Torah.. However, this literary phenomenon also presented a rich opportunity of interpreting across a corpus and gave further impetus for later anthologizers and printers to sort through these texts and construct the works that would be printed as books.

The dynamic character of the early history or career of Zoharic texts is what demanded decisive action in editorial practice in a later period. The sixteenth-century printers thus invented Tiqqune Zohar and Sefer ha-Zohar ‘al ha-Torah as the books which we know today since nothing similar existed in this form in the prior centuries. But these books as works, and the texts that were seen as works so they could be printed as books, were already coming into form in the sixteenth century in multiple regions and by many figures for different reasons. Its eventual printing was inevitable and not only for the efforts of any one printer, even if two Italian printing houses were rushing simultaneously to be the first to realize this in the 1550s. We might even be better off speaking of the super-redundancy of editorial practice of the Zohar in the sixteenth century given the many manuscript projects of the period. Tiqqune Zohar was indeed first printed in Mantua, but its printing should not be seen as separate from their efforts to print Sefer haZohar, the Zohar as a commentary on the Torah. So too, one should not separate out the transmission history of the manuscripts of Tiqqune Zohar from the other Zoharic texts as many contain multiple texts. Thus when we consider the cumulative project of what was printed in Mantua, we must consider the magnitude of what preceded it and the forces that were in motion in manuscript reproduction and various types of editing that came to a standstill when it was printed.

Is such a negative characterization necessary? Evoking the work of Hayden White, Metahistory, we could construct mutually exclusive historical narratives using the same evidence. We could see the printing of the Zohar in Mantua as the glorious achievement of a long line of development, namely the fulfilment of a cultural dream and an answer to the struggles of countless compilers and editors. Moreover, one could argue that here we have the kabbalists overcoming their own esotericism and embracing the technological advances of print to participate in the dissemination of their classic text and become part of the canon for a wider readership. Alternatively, we could see the Mantua editions of the Zohar as a catastrophe, where publishing established a single text and curtailed the dynamic activities of its practitioners and killed off many other Zoharic projects that were already under way. Evidence of this claim exists both in contemporary projects and the massive amount of critical attention that was subsequently devoted in textual criticism to these printed volumes and the creation of additional study aids that were produced in its wake. Indeed, historians study what was and not what could have been, so I will mention in passing Judah Masud, who edited and translated the Zohar into Hebrew in Egypt and relied at least in part on the Mantua edition, 3 Joseph Avivi, Lurianic Kabbalah , Jerusalem 2011, pp. 876, 911 [hébreu] ; cf; Ms. Ramat Gan Bar Ilan 1064; Ms. Jerusalem, private collection 17. Moses Cordovero, who edited the Zoharic corpus from multiple manuscripts in order to write his massive commentary to the entire text he established and the Zohar edited by Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter found in Mss. Munich 217-219.4.4See the forthcoming article in the journal Kabbalah by Maximilian de Molière, ‘Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter’s Recension of the Zohar’.

To be sure, historians will forever construct narratives of cultural context and muster up documents as evidence that shows that the Zohar was printed due to a historical change in the views about elitism and kabbalistic esotericism. Others will point to literary conventions of the time and the mentalities that emerged in the Renaissance and the Early Modern period and the effects of the technological revolution of print on the new ways kabbalists viewed textual reproduction. My inclination is to resist explaining everything as the product of cultural factors and to the comments of individuals in search of their self-awareness. Even so, I also resists surface readings of an editor’s declarations, particularly in a printer’s introduction, reading such demonstrations with suspicion, as even overt claims may better be read rhetorically rather than as proof of causation. This is true particularly with respect to the comments in the introductions to later reprintings.

Contributing causes though they may be, the collection and editing of the Zohar began to develop inertia from as early as the thirteenth century, and as a point of fact, not opinion, the greatest and more erudite efforts to refine the text with textual comparisons based on the best manuscripts was already being undertaken in Safed, not Italy, when these volumes were realized. Print was disruptive to kabbalistic practice since it undermined and obscured long-term continuities of the production and circulation of manuscripts, borrowing this locution from Yaacob Dweck. 5 The Scandal of Kabbalah , Princeton 2011, p. 20.. The kabbalists shifted their efforts to accommodate the existence and proliferation of the printed edition and resumed their manuscripts efforts around and literally upon the printed page, transforming the Mantua edition into a detour of a much larger journey of the Zoharic texts.

When considering the importance of the Mantua printing of the Zohar we should be asking both what and why. What is the material text which was produced as an object for commercial sale and cultural consumption and what is in the editing, in the textual version and layout, that negotiated some form of compromise with the select sources utilized by these sixteenth- century kabbalists in making this multi-volume book? Who was the intended audience if there even were such a definition in the minds of the printers? Was the standardization of the text based on a prior view of its literary form and an attempt to purge it of errors or remove complexity and inconsistency as an obstacle for the intended, wider readership? Finally, one could entertain the possibility that the printers may have expected of themselves to produce a uniform text of a singular textual version and quality as the necessary demands of the printing process, decidedly different from the culture of handwritten manuscripts. To borrow Anthony Grafton’s term 6Anthony Grafton, The Culture of Correction in Renaissance Europe , London 2012. does the 16th century mark the entrance of the kabbalists into a culture of correction, when to a certain degree at least the dynamics of copying and commenting on handwritten manuscripts gave way to different medium that changed the relation to reading, editing and written commentary?

Standardization and Variance in the Printed Copies of the Mantua Zohar

In what follows, I will focus on the various self-aware moves of the editors and their stated intentions in standardizing the text of the Zohar from manuscript witnesses which they knew differed one from the another. They were also painfully aware that they had access to the smallest representatives of manuscripts that existed throughout various communities of readers with which they were in contact. Moreover, they were aware that another printing house, in Cremona, was simultaneously rushing to implement the nearly exact same project. With this in mind, as it was in theirs, we must modify the key in which we read the printer’s remarks. No doubt that every editor, printer and proofreader boasted that the product produced was refined and better than anything that proceeded it or could be obtained elsewhere. If such remarks of printers were even sometimes true, the professional lives of scholars today would be made quite easy. So not only must we read with suspicion regarding the self-interests of the executioners of this project and their economic interests, but in the case of the Mantua printing, we must also read rhetorically keeping in mind various pressures and self-interests. We can therefore detect quite plainly within their stated sentiments that this is a book of inadequacy, inadequacy of resources and the inadequacy of the time available to them to produce their desired result. The edition presents itself as the product of their success and indeed there is much to be praised about the product, in their time and an in our own. The self-adulation does not mask a general disappointment, neither theirs nor ours. Rather, the exaggeration belies a tension between the real and the ideal, between what was produced and what they imagined could be produced, and should be produced, had they had more time and resources.

So much has been written on the cultural and social polemics surrounding printing of the Mantua Zohar, such figures as Isaiah Tishby, Ephraim Kupfer, Meir Benayahu and more recently Boaz Huss and Moshe Idel.7 Ephraim Kupfer, ‘ New Documents Concerning the Polemic over the Printing of the Zohar ‘, Michael l (1972) pp. 302-318 [Hebrew]; Meir Benayahu, Hebrew Printing at Cremona , Jerusalem 1971, pp. 121-137; Boaz Huss, Like the Radiance of the Sky: Chapters in the Reception History of the Zohar and the Construction of its Symbolic Value , Jerusalem 2008, pp. 227-235 [Hebrew]; Moshe Idel, “ Printing Kabbalah in Sixteenth-Century Italy ‘, Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of David B. Ruderman, ed. R. Cohen, N. Dohrmann, A. Shear, and E. Reiner, Pittsburgh 2014, pp. 85-96. . These discussions emphasized the status of Kabbalah in the era of print as a change in the function of esotericism. Perhaps this is all true but it may also be functionally irrelevant for the questions being asked in the present inquiry. My interest lies elsewhere, and in-line with earlier studies, I shy away from cultural reception and a history of impressions about books and instead focus on the textual moves of what was put on paper, when texts were manually reproduced or set in print. Certainly, there is an interface between the two and either methodological extreme is ill-advised. For my purposes here, I am less interested in why the Zohar was printed at all, but rather why was this edition of the Zohar produced, or rather, why did these printers create the Book of the Zohar in the particular form and textual version that they did.

I would like to flag two themes in evaluating the editorial practices of the kabbalists as philologists and evaluate their ideological predispositions in light of traditional expectations. Much to my chagrin, I am forced to note that many kabbalists displayed more critical acumen and self-awareness regarding the agile editorial decisions they made in inventing literary forms, and their textual choices, than in the work of some modern-day scholars who dismiss printing history altogether in order to reconstruct, as it were, something they believe is close to the original work of the Zohar composed in Castile. That is, since Scholem, Zohar scholarship has until recently all but given up on manuscript research, relying exclusively on readily available twentieth-century printings only to reopen manuscript study in recent years but at the expense of burying the printing history of the Zohar even further underground. To be fair, I should say that the Mantua printers maintained the tension between recovery and invention when producing a book they were knowingly creating. Once again, the Kabbalists and printers knew what many academics today still resist, that the printed Zohar is not the Zohar, the single and only version of the Zohar which was composed in the thirteenth century, nor is it the printing of the manuscript witnesses copied in previous centuries that revert in some approximation back to the lost original. I trust that by now one or two sentences is sufficient to dispel such notions. All this is to say that the printed Zohar is a new object, a material object, a commercial object, a cultural artefact and a new literary form that was intended as an agent of change for the dissemination of knowledge, in this case as the classic text of Jewish esotericism.

But before we continue with the intended and actual uses of this material object and the commercial product of the sixteenth century, it is necessary to first dispel a common assumption, namely that a single item was produced with hundreds of identical copies which equally represented the same object to all who acquired it. So, let us begin by saying that there are many differing copies of the Mantua Zohar and no uniformity in its material platform.8 For this question see Isaac Yudlov, ‘On the History of Hebrew Printing in Mantua in the Sixteenth Century ‘, Qiryat Sefer 49 (1974), pp. 236-24 [Hebrew] . Some of these differences do not affect the editing of the text but rather only the physical medium and some additional text was included, while other differences are more substantive.

First, I have seen and heard of additional copies of the Zohar printed on vellum or blue paper.9 Brad Sabin Hill, ‘ Hebrew Printing on Blue and Other Colored Papers ‘, Treasures of the Valmadonna Trust Library, London and New York 2011, pp. 84-111. This is important because it shows a certain fluidity or multiplicity in the different intended consumers of the product. The printing on blue paper is more commonly known from later printing houses in Eastern Europe, but the printing on vellum is only known from the first generations after the invention of print and speaks to the changing status of the material text, between manual reproduction in manuscript and the printed book. This is to say that a book was in some sense considered a manuscript. On this point precisely, the later life of the book, as a manuscript, was included within the intention and physical medium of the printed copy. One such example is the spectacular copy of the Mantua printing of Sefer ha-Zohar ‘al ha-Torah in the library of the Schocken Institute in Jerusalem. This copy, printed on paper, and bound incidentally in six volumes (Genesis divided into two), displays magnificent margins which were copiously filled in with marginalia of textual glosses and excerpts from existing commentaries by Zerachia ben Mordechai.

Zohar to Torah, Mantua 1558, vol. 1, fol. 15a, Schocken Library, RE-7-10
Zohar to Torah, Mantua 1558, vol. 1, fol. 15a, Schocken Library, RE-7-10

The binding of the Schocken exemplar proudly displays the fourth title page for the Book of Numbers, even as it displays the absence of a title page for the Book of Deuteronomy. This may suggest that the initial plan of the Mantua edition was to produce a five-volume edition, even if ultimately released only as three. This suggestion sits well with the changing plans and the interaction with the competing press in Cremona.10 Yakov Meir shared with me his as yet unpublished theory, against Benayahu and Abrams, which the alternate pages at the start of Bereshit , including the title page and additional pages at the end of the book of Exodus in the Cremona edition is best explained by their change of plan in the printing of a single volume instead of a two-volume set. Using a similar theory applied to the Mantua edition, we could also assume that they were planning a five-volume edition to compete with the Cremona printers, and having received a copy sometime after the printing of the second volume, they decided to bind all the remaining notebooks together in a third and final volume of the set. Of course there are other explanations for the absence of the fifth title pages, such as the absence of Zohar for the pericope Devarim , but they could have printed a fifth title page nonetheless, but no other explanation addressed the issue of dropping four title pages in the third volume). . The massive marginal commentary and extensive notes in this exemplar in the Schocken library is but one of many scribal reactions to the Mantua edition on the printed page, showing a degree of protest, commentary as engagement with it. But the production of such a copy with such forethought might also suggest that there was no presumption of finality in establishing the text of the printed edition and this we shall see as central to an evaluation of the standardization of the Zoharic text.

Some copies also include printed text in Italian on the verso of the title page while in other copies this page remains blank. 11See for example the copy of the Bodleian 4º I. 23 Th. Seld. . The copies of Scholem and Schocken of the second volume of the Mantua Zohar has the verso of the title page blank, whereas in all other copies I have viewed it contains a polemic of the printer against.12 See Ephraim Gottlieb, Studies in Kabbalistic Literature, Jerusalem 1976, p. 218 n. 6 [Hebrew] .. It seems clear that the text was added and not removed, such that Scholem’s copy is one of a few, or perhaps the only copy to survive the initial printing of this volume. We can therefore narrow the time frame in which the Mantua printers received a complete volume of the Cremona edition, sometime after printing the quires of the second volume but before it was bound.

Zohar to the Torah, Mantua 1558, volume 1, fol. 1b (in selected copies)
Zohar to the Torah, Mantua 1558, volume 1, fol. 1b (in selected copies)
Differing copies of the Zohar to the Torah, Mantua 1559, volume 2, fols. 1b-2a
Differing copies of the Zohar to the Torah, Mantua 1559, volume 2, fols. 1b-2a

אמרו המגיהים הנזכרים נשער גם כי הלמו עקבי סוף מדהרות דהרות אבירים. ומקול צעקת הרעים ויללת אדירי הצאן כמעט נטיו רגלי הולים זהב מכיס הרודים בעם העושים במלאכה. והשמים הקדרו עבים אדירים משברי ים המבוכות יסערו להפיצנו עד עד כי רבים אמרו אבדה תקותנו נגזרנו לנו ח”ו. יתברך האל המאזרנו חיל לא כהתה עינינו ולא נס לחנו ככחנו אז כחנו עתה לרדוף אחרי המלאכה היקרה הזאת ונפשנו חכתה ליי’ שעל הארץ יריקו גשם נדבות טל אורות אור יקרות כאשר בתחלה ולא יבאו לראות בלע את הקדש. ויהי באנו אל המקום אשר עמדנו שם מצאנו ראינו ספד הזהר יגורו עליו עזים בעלי אסופו’ קצת מאמרי ספר הבהיר ומדרש רות. גם מאלמים אלמים בתוך השדה בפרשת בראשית מאמרים מספר התקונים. גם שמו בכליהם מאמרי רעיא מהימנא נפוצים בין הפרשיות פעם בכתיבה גסה פעם בדקה פעם בנו מהם פרשיות ולא יזכרו בשם רעיא מהימנא כאשר שמענו כן ראינו נבהלו נחפזו לשים המאמרים כאשר העתיקו אותם מספרים משבשים ולא עמלו בוניו בו לתקן את אשר עותו הנסחאות המשבשות ההן. ובמקום מה שחשר בהעתקתם בסוף פרשת בא אל פרעה שמו רעיא מהימנא ובמקים מה שחסר אליה ‘מן הסבא בתחלת פרש’ משפטים שמו שני מאמרי׳ אשר מצאו בפרשת בהר סיני וכאלה רבות עשו. ואנחנו ואותי נדעוי י בפרשתו בפרשת בהר סיני וכאלה רבות עשו ואנחנו דוי ראש בראותם מה עשו. אמנם מיראתנו פן ישיחו בנו יושבי שער שאין להם כל כך עסק בחכמה הזאת או יפתו הקונים בפיהם כאשר הם עושים גם עתה ובלשונם יכזבו להם לאמר כי הזהר ו ו אנחנ. לכן בשבטי ישראל נודיע נאמנה כי לא צוינו ולא דברנו ולא עלתה על רוחנו לשים בין מאמרי הזהר מאמרי הבהיר ומדרש רות לפי שכבר נדפסו בספר הגאון כמהר”ר מנחם מריקנטי זצ”ל בפי ‘התורה ושם יראה הרואה אותם ומאמרי ספר התקוני’ שהוסיפו הם בפרשת בראשית כבר נדפסו בתקון ס”ט מספר התקונים. וספרא דצניעותא ימצא כתוב בזהר שלנו בפרשת תרומה כי שם ביתו ומאמר ת”ח כמה אית לון לבני נשא וכו ‘שהוא מאמר נמצא בשולי התקונים בלתי נשלם יובע במקו. אבל פקודי רעיא מהימנא אע”פ שהיה בדעתנו להדפיס ‘כלם על הסדר כאשר סדרם המחבר האלדי אשר חברם עתה שראינו את אשר כבר עשוהו הסכמנו גם אנחנו בדעתנו לשים אותם אל ו ו י ו ו ו ו ו ו ו בסוף בע”ה ומלבד מה שטרחנו לכוין ההעתקות גם עתה אנחנו נחלץ חושים להיות עינינו פקוחות על המלאכה להכין אותה לסעדה במשפט ובצדקה הפך מה שעשו הם כי המצא ימצא בו מאמרים קצוצי פאה ושורות ותיבות חסרות ויתרות כאשר יראה בא ‘זהר משלהם שתקנתי ומשכיל על דבר ימצא טוב ויהיה בינינו מוכיח יי ‘ישלח עזרנו מקדש יגדיל תורה ויאדיר

Presented here for the first time in a scholarly study is the text found in some copies of Zohar ‘al ha-Torah, Mantua 1559, volume 2, fol. 1b. Note the criticism of the placement and identification of texts in the Cremona edition as compared to those in Mantua. The printers also noted that the editors in Cremona lifted texts out of Recanati’s Commentary to the Torah, printed in Venice 1523, noting that it is not necessary to reproduce texts already printed. Further the printers critiqued the inclusion of texts from the Tiqqunim which had already appeared in their own edition in 1557.

The most important variant known between the copies of the Mantua printing of the Zohar ‘al ha-Torah is in the different copy from the Es Hayyim Library in Amsterdam, once on loan to the National Library of Israel. In an ironic twist of fate, this copy serves as the virtual exemplar of the holdings for the Mantua Zohar at the Jerusalem website. Either way, this copy may be viewed online from a scan of the microfilm that was made years ago. This copy contains a different text for the first signatures at least of the Zoharic text in volume one. I published an article on the so-called ‘Introduction to the Zohar’, Haqdamat ha-Zohar, some 25 years ago to show that it predates the other known copies. 13Daniel Abrams, ‘ When was the “Introduction” to the Zohar Written, and Changes within Differing Copies of the Mantua Printing ‘, Asufot 8 (1994), pp. 211-226 [Hebrew] . My conclusion was that they literally stopped the presses in Mantua when they viewed the Cremona edition, or part of it, and reset the plates to offer a text that was revised in light of what they viewed. A second copy of this unique version is found in the holdings of Christ Church in Oxford (MA.7.11).

Further work is required to determine the extent of the changes, namely to what point in the text modifications were made. It should be noted that the introductory material makes reference to page numbers in the printed volume and so these pages were printed at a later date, so the investigation needs to focus on the so-called introduction to the Zohar and Parashat Bereshit. Finally, I would like to mention the pirated edition of the Mantua Zohar apparently printed in Venice as a Mantua forgery14 See Zeev Gries, Conduct Literature (Regimen Vitae): Its History and Place in the Life of Beshtian Hasidism , Jerusalem 1990, pp. 73-75, See Gila Pribor, ‘ Domenico Yerushalmi’s Sefer ha-Ziqquq ‘, Italia 18 (2008), pp. 139-140 [Hebrew] These copies were intended to be identical reproductions of the Mantua edition for sale in the Ashkenazi communities outside of the regions where the Mantua printers were selling their wares. Maybe these printers thought they wouldn’t get caught and indeed the existence of this edition came to be known only because of the repeated citations of an inferior text, corrupted transcriptions from the Mantua edition in the typesetting of the pirated version that were consistently found in citations of various works that referenced the Mantua edition. It is my hope that a copy of this unauthorized edition will be discovered soon, perhaps sitting now on a shelf of some major library and miscatalogued as the Mantua Zohar.

Differing copies of the first volume of the  Zohar 'al ha-Torah  , folios 14b-15a
Es Hayyim  copy displayed on the right.
Differing copies of the first volume of the  Zohar 'al ha-Torah  , folios 14b-15a
Es Hayyim  copy displayed on the right.
Differing copies of the first volume of the Zohar ‘al ha-Torah , folios 14b-15a
Es Hayyim copy displayed on the right.

Self-Awareness and Editorial Practice in Mantua

The printing of Sefer ha-Zohar ‘al ha-Torah was not the beginning of printing revolution, neither of Jewish printing nor of kabbalistic books. It is commonplace to declare what has become a dogma of historians and scholars of Jewish booklore that the Zohar replaced or stood in for the Talmud whose printing was banned by the church at the time. No doubt that this view aligns itself with traditional views that the Zohar was composed by the Tana, R. Shimon bar Yohai. And while this explanation sits well with those who construct historical narratives, it is only part of the story. Many kabbalistic books were being printed around this time in Mantua and at other printing houses and not all were pseudepigraphic. Another major issue, which historians need to contend with is the duplication of publishing efforts in the same years in Italy. II refer for example to the printing of Ma‘arekhet ha-’Elohut in Mantua and Ferrara in 1558.15See the observations of Isaiah Sonne, From Paul IV to Pius V, Jerusalem 1954 pp. 127-128 [Hebrew]. The two editions are nearly identical including the commentaries which surround the text. It therefore begs the question why the Mantua printers were engaged in two different projects to produce kabbalistic books at the same time that others were seeking to realize the same volumes. Further, the results are so similar that we must ask if they had access to the same manuscripts or possibly whether one of the editors worked for two printing houses. My charge is therefore to reverse the methodology of a comparative study and ask not how any two editions differ one from another, but why are they so similar ?

Either way so much needs to be done. The Zohar has now been the topic of academic research for a hundred years now, since the work of Adolph Jellinek and Gershom Scholem at the beginning of the twentieth century It might be best to frame the matter more broadly to critical inquiry that interrogated the quality of the text and posed historical questions based in part upon comparison of sources and challenges to ideological assumption. I refer to the critical works of Jacob Emden 16Oded Yisraeli, ‘ The Controversy on the Antiquity of the Zohar in Its Sabbatean Context: The purposes of “Mitpachat Seforim ” of R. Jacob Emden ‘, El Prezente 10 (2016), pp. 61-71 [Hebrew] . and Elyaqim Milzahagi17Daniel Abrams, ‘ Nineteenth-Century Precedents of Textual Scholarship of Kabbalistic Literature: Elyaqim Milzahagi’s Zoharei Raviah (Ms. Jerusalem, NLI 4 ° 121) ‘, Kabbalah 31 (2014), pp. 7-25. whose ideological investments allowed them to identify problems and conclusions that were reached by others of different strong ideologies that determined certain views about the Zohar and its text. And even if we were to fill in this list with many other great minds, still no serious research has been accomplished on the Mantua print of the Sefer ha-Zohar ‘al ha-Torah , Mantua 1558-1560. To be sure, one-page descriptions have been offered as part of the history of printing or the printer’s introductions cited as part of a discussion of the debate about publishing esoteric works of the Kabbalah. Nothing much has been done in research since then with the noted exception of Boaz Huss’ study of the reception of the Zohar and his detailed studied of the Sulzbach printing. 18Boaz Huss, ‘ The Text and Context of the 1684 Sulzbach Edition of the Zohar ‘, Tradition, Heterodoxy, and Religious Culture; Judaism and Christianity in the Early Modern Period, ed. C. Goodblatt, H. Kreisel, Beer-Sheva 2006, pp. 117-138. .

Here, I would like to offer an analysis of the declarations and the actual execution of the program of printing of the Zohar in Mantua. There is a necessary gap between rhetoric and reality. Most have relied on the Mantua edition as better than the Cremona edition, while in general the opposite is true. Most have relied on the Mantua edition as better than the Cremona edition, while in general the opposite is true. Whatever the differences between the two editions, the number of common features is surprising. Future scholarship might benefit more from explaining why there are so many shared editorial decisions. Was there common access to various manuscripts or was someone advising both printing houses? We know so little of what they possessed and how they used their texts. Nevertheless, note Tishby’s summary which is perhaps the only extensive discussion:

lt was Rabbi Immanuel of Benevento who established the text of the Mantua edition, and according to one of the printers, Rabbi Jacob Hacohen of Gazolo, quoted at the end of the Tikkunei ha-Zohar, he used ten manuscripts. First of all he picked out two whose texts seemed to him to be the most reliable, as the corrector says in his preface to the Zohar: ‘to correct and establish the text of his version with two copies that the knowledgeable could see were good and reliable’. Subsequently, he acquired a manuscript from Safed, and he used this as a basis for establishing the final text. lt would seem that Rabbi lmmanuel, in comparing the different manuscripts, put in some serious and responsible philological work. ln general he produced just the finally selected text on its own, but in a few places he notes alternative readings. The Cremona edition was based on six copies, as stated in the preface, ‘two of which we used as our main guides (lit., were like eyes to us)’, one from Egypt and one from Palestine. Doubtful readings were examined by experts, and if they approved the text common to most of the manuscripts, then just the single version was printed. . But if they preferred a minority reading, this was also cited in ‘a small Spanish type’. There are important and obvious differences between the two editions, both in the text and in the order of various passages. There are also several passages that occur in one edition but are missing in the other. A detailed scientific comparison has yet to be done, but generally speaking one can say that the Mantua text is the better of the two.

Isaiah Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar , tr. D. Goldstein, Oxford 1989, p. 98.

The quantity of manuscripts, namely citing a particular number on its own, is of little importance since we know that most manuscripts contains only certain texts or works of the Zohar and many may still be partial witnesses of any work, not to mention their unknown textual quality. Tishby’s interpretation further suggests that they discerned the appropriate text based on a democratic review of the statistics, favoring the reading that appeared in the majority of cases. This is no doubt poor philology and I am sure that both Tishby and the Mantua editors knew better.

Before turning to an analysis of their methods, I will cite Moses Zacuto’s praise and preference for the Mantua edition over that of Cremona from his Iggerot ha-Remez. His comments are relevant here if only as an early marker for the unsubstantiated privileging of the Mantua edition which continues for similar reasons till today.

First and foremost, it should not be established practice to follow the Large Zohar (Cremona) but rather one should use the small one, printed in Mantua First because the large one is not found except with very few people and also because it is full of errors and one cannot benefit from the marginal glosses of the Rabbi, may his memory be blessed[Isaac Luria] [Isaac Luria] which I printed in Sefer Derekh Emet, because the print is not arranged according [to these pages].[de ces pages] Therefore, because the large Zohar is replete with mistakes you will not be able to correct them according to the glosses of the Rabbi.

Moses Zacuto, Iggrot ha-Remez , Livono 1780, fol. 2a.

We see here the Italian kabbalists absorbing the Safedian tradition following the total absence of these resources amongst the efforts of the Italian printers nearly a century earlier. Zacuto was upgrading the importance of the Mantua edition because of its pervaisiveness in Italy and because he wished to promote the additional tools he had printed in Italy. He therefore integrated, after the fact, Safedian sources with one of the two editions printed in Italy and so wished to dismiss the Cremona edition which served the communities in Ashkenaz. Let it be said that Zacuto was wrong. The Cremona edition has many better readings and is less polished than the Mantua edition which seems to have been intentionally prepared more as a commercial project and therefore sought textual uniformity. We are now prepared to focus on the printer’s introduction from the Mantua edition which was printed and bound into the volume last.

Printer's Introduction to the Zohar to the Torah, Mantua 1558, volume 1, fol. 4a
Printer’s Introduction to the Zohar to the Torah, Mantua 1558, volume 1, fol. 4a

They did not succeed in completing a copy of the five books. Therefore, we were forced to dedicate funds to acquire what we desired, new and old copies, which have been hidden away in different places. For we said that multiple copies would bring about wisdom for [us in] [nous en] publishing the correct version [le-hotsi la- ’or ha-girsa ha-nekhonah]. And in all of the efforts of our complete teacher, Rabbi Emanuel Benevento to proofread his copy-text and bring it in-line with manuscript witnesses that are considered by experts to be accurate and faithful [u-le-kavven girsat ha-ataqato ‘im shnei ha-‘ataqot yesharim u-nekhonim le- motsei da‘at], which are found today with the leaders of the people, those who have the Lord’s Torah in their hearts: [The copies are found with] [Les copies se trouvent avec] the honorable men, the leader [ha-adonim ha-nikhbadim, ha-nasi הנשא ה”ה], our teacher, Rabbi Judah Blanes, the master doctor, may God protect him and may he live [long], [longtemps]son of our teacher, Rabbi Moses, the master doctor, may his memory be blessed, and the exalted, his honor, our teacher Rabbis Elyaqim, may the Lord protect him and may he live long, son of the honorable, our teacher, our Rabbi, Isaiah, may his memory be blessed, of Macerata, in addition to all of the other copies scattered across the north of Italy. Even so, we were not content until we found another old copy which came from Safed, may it be built and rebuilt. And when it came into our hands we relied upon it and added it [to the pool of sources] and we scrutinized its text just as one purifies gold, in to order to establish the text as was fund appropriate according to the matters that arose from it. And to the best of our understanding we sought to purify edible food from amongst the waste and from this we ate. The other readings which were like the peel [enveloppant le fruit comestible][encasing the edible fruit], we discarded them, lest they become an obstacle for the scrutinizing reader who would see his book[comme approprié pour servir] [as appropriate to serve] as a staff that guides the lay reader. And it a few places we place two[différentes] [different] readings. We knew that there would be others who would lay waste [to our efforts] [nos efforts] and plot with hatred, and they should cover their upper lip [Leviticus 13:45], and the confusion of textual readings they would hand over and this would be for them as if they were ‘sinking in the slimy deep’ (Ps. 69:3) and did not know how to find their way out.19 See comments on this passage from Tishby, ” Polemics about the Printing of the Book of the Zohar in the sixteenth century ” , Peraqim 1 (1968) 143 reprinted in: Studies in Kabbalah and its Branches , Jerusalem 1982, p. 91 [hébreu] . in the printer’s remarks on the verso of the title page to the second volume it says: שטרחנו לכווין ההעתקות,.

This is a very dense passage that is telling of their self-awareness as editors, and whose meaning should be placed somewhere between what they intended or actually achieved and the rhetorical presentation of what they wished their reading audience to be convinced they had achieved. The passage begins with their stated understanding that they knew of no good or complete text of the Book of the Zohar and that they needed to compile various witnesses from the North of Italy to even construct a full text for their project. The late acquisition of a manuscript from Safed should probably be taken at face-value, even if the authority of Safed has its obvious importance for the credibility of their edition. And so, it seems that they created a new copy-text from various Italian sources and then found it necessary to alter it in important ways so it would fall in line with this old manuscript from Safed. Here I would like to note that Kabbalah scholarship has recognized what the printers inadvertently expressed in their comments, that the study of the Zohar should not be conducted from a literary perspective of ‘the work’ into which the manuscripts feed information. Rather positioning the manuscripts geographically along the historical lines of their transmission and reception as signposts of their editing and evolution better appreciates the changes in how the Zohar formed and was refashioned.20This is the basis of the inquiry of Amiel Vick in his doctoral research of the manuscripts of Tiqqune Zohar. Another example of this turn in Zohar scholarship is Avishai Bar-Asher, ‘ The Earliest Sefer ha-Zohar in Jerusalem: Early Manuscripts of Zoharic Texts and an Unknown Fragment from Midrasha-Neʿelam [?] ‘, Tarbiz 84 (2016), pp 575-614 [Hebrew] . .

There is an important tension in their theory of editorial practice which is new to the sixteenth century. The passage speaks of establishing the correct version, ha-girsa ha-nekhona, not just a better text or one free of errors, but seemingly the singular version which should be, or which once existed prior to its contamination in the vicissitudes of the Zohar’s transmission history. This tension arises out of the self-awareness of engaging in both recovery and invention. We see that they understood that sources were approximate, and they relied on access to manuscripts of differing scope and quality and their own ability to sort through them and discard poor readings. And yet, they were also aware that even if they wished to be final in their textual determinations, and present a clear text, they nevertheless felt compelled at certain junctures to offer secondary readings in brackets, as an alternative possibility.

The unanswered questions about the Mantua edition are, what were there goals, what sources did they use and how did they use them? Was the Mantua edition of the Sefer ha-Zohar ‘al ha-Torah prepared in a now lost manuscript which was then put to press or did they progress volume by volume, typesetting directly from the manuscripts in the printing house? Were there two teams working on Tiqqune Zohar and the Zohar simultaneously, or one after the other? Why was Tiqqune Zohar prepared first and why, as Amiel Vick has pointed out, is its text and layout not found in any surviving manuscript? As noted by Tishby in his article on the polemics of printing the Zohar, Abraham ben Meshulam continued alone with the editing of the third volume of Sefer ha-Zohar ‘al ha-Torah. Apparently, Emanuel Benevento died after the editing and publication of the first two. Therefore, it would be important to compare the editorial practices and differences between these volumes, not to mention a comparison between Tiqqune Zohar and Sefer ha-Zohar ‘al ha-Torah.

When scrutinizing their methods and declarations, I distinguish between (a) their stated self-awareness in print which might amount only to rhetorical statements that are directed at the reading audience, and (b) my assessment of what their self-awareness was based on the editorial decisions and textual moves in the printed edition. The editor or proofreader (magiah) inserted some notes throughout the text aside from occasional bracketed alternative readings. I will now turn to these comments which are telling of a degree of intervention, their voiced critical observations they wished the readers to view. Perhaps their silent editorial decisions are more meaningful for an evaluation of their project, especially when compared to manuscripts of the Cremona printing. A cataloging and analysis of these is a first and basic step to the massive project of understanding the Mantua edition

Perhaps the most important statement is the editor’s note at the end of the Mantua edition of Tiqqune Zohar:

The proofreader says: This is all that I have found and maybe these eleven tiqqunim are part of the seventy, just that no one has put his hand to marking them [correctly]. [correctement] ]. I have already [kevar, alternatively ‘just now’] found more collectanea [of tiqqunim]. And [puisque][since] my heart tells me that they are not part of the tiqqunim, just scattered passages from Sefer ha-Zohar, I set them aside for safe keeping until I know what will be. . And if God will stand by my and guide me in the way of truth I will supplement [my efforts here] and print these precious and awesome words which have not been seen and revealed till this day. And blessed is the Lord who has not turned my prayer away and his grace from me, and offered me the privilege.

Here we have evidence of an unsettled view of the literary boundaries of the work and its relationship, its inter-textual relationship, with what he understands to be the Book of the Zohar that would be printed in Mantua shortly. The addition of eleven tiqqunim and the embarrassment or confusion of there not being precisely seventy tiqqunim was further disturbed by the discovery of even more manuscript material of this style. To be sure, the editor realized both that the additional collectanea were of the same character, penned by the same author or at least in the same style as the tiqqunim, but he also demonstrated sufficient literary sense to realize that it is not part of the same literary program or work.

Tiqqune Zohar  , Mantua 1557, fol. 146b
Tiqqune Zohar , Mantua 1557, fol. 146b

In the pericope of bereshit to the Zohar on the Torah, a large section of text from the Tiqqunim was printed as an integral part of Zohar, but this is apparently not the texts discussed here and there are precedents in earlier manuscripts of this textual placement such as Ms. Toronto. It seems more likely that he was referring to what would later be known as the Tiqqunim
he-Hadashim since they were printed in the volume later to be known as Zohar Hadash. Amiel Vick’s research on the manuscripts of Tiqqune Zohar will be the first major step in actually combing through the manuscript evidence from the end of the thirteenth century until its printing.

The Mantua printers for the most part produce a polished product in the textual consistency and organization of a running commentary to the Torah. However artificial, it succeeded in its goals. Nevertheless, there are a number of times that the printer’s broke from the silent presentation of an edited product and revealed their discomfort with their own editorial decisions, showing their struggle to the reader. These comments are:

אמרו המגיה ‘מתוך הלשון נכר שאינו מספ’ הזהר והאור נכר מתוך החשך. (ולדעתינו כי הו ‘ממדרש הנעלם ובלשון הקדש היה והמתחכמים להתהלל שנו שפת אמת והפסידו כונת והבנת המאמר כי לא ידעו ולא הבינו לעשות הלשון על מתכנתו והנה יהיה בעיני כל מעיין כדברי הספר החתום וכבר היינו משמיטין אותו כי בהעתקה שבא מצפת תוב”ב לא מצאנו אותו. אלא מפני הרואים שלא יתפארו עלינו לאמר כי מלאכתנו חסרה הדפסנו אותו אוי נוי נוי נוו

In the beginning of Wa – Yehi 1 211b21
see Huss, The Zohar: Reception and Impact, p.103 103.

Zohar 2: 52a, they describe the arrangement of the letters in a graphic which they don’t print. Late editions would include the graphic arrangement of letters in 269b-270a.

אמרו המגיהים מתחלת הפרשה עד מעשה ידי
.להתפאר קי”ד א ‘הוא מן הסבא ויגענו ומצאנו הנסחא מדויקת תל”ת

Zohar 2, 94a (Mishpatim)

אמרו המגיהים מצאנו ראינו הפקודי ‘האלה בהעתקות הנמצאו’ עמנו היום מועטים לכן אל נא ישיתו המעיינים עלינו חטאת. ועם העתקו ‘מדויקו’ יתקנו .המעו ‘וישימו העקוב למישור

Zohar 2 148a

אמרו המגיהי ‘כך מצאנו בכל ההעתקות אשר היו לפנינו ומהלשון נראה שחסר כאן

Zohar 2 121a

Later editions from Constantinople (1735) and on, would include the passage as in the appendix as copied from Zohar hadash 68a

אמר המגיה מצאתי כתוב כאן זה המאמ ‘ויען שכבר הודפס בפרשת ויקרא דף ו עמוד ב ‘ שורה כ”א ומסיים בדף ח ‘עמוד א’ שורה כו. לא רציתי להדפיס פעם שנית

Zohar 3 86a

אמר אברהם המגיה להסיר מכשול מדרך המעיין

Zohar 3 127b which includes a rather long comment about anthropomorphism

Zohar 3:150b and later editions add to this note that they were printed at end of second volume, namely in the Constantinople edition and later editions.

נדפס בהקמת בראשית דף י ע׳׳ב

Zohar 3, 269b

This is remarkable comment since the passage at the end of Parshat Pinhas, which was originally composed as part of this pericope, migrated into manuscripts of the so-called introduction. What this tells us about Mantua is that they printed as they progressed, and did not possess either an older manuscript of the whole Zohar to the Torah nor an edited document which they prepared in advance from which they worked.22 See, however, Zohar 1: 214b כולי כדאיתא בפרשת אחרי מות. On the above cited passage and the Introduction to the Zohar see Yakov Z. Mayer, ” The introduction to the Zohar: Text, Structure and Editing », Kabbalah 33 (2015), pp. 153-182 [hébreu] . The study of duplicate passages at Cremona has already been treated by Asher Zelig ben Moshe in his Hibbur Amudei Sheva , Krakow 1635. A similar examination needs to be undertaken for the Mantua edition of Sefer ha-Zohar al ha-Torah for similar or repeated passages as an indicator of the history editing the Zohar edition from different manuscripts. See for example Zohar II: 64A II: 207a and Matt’s commentary, The Zohar, Stanford 2007, vol. 4, p. 346 n.20. The editors of Tiqqune Zohar in Mantua were aware that such duplication would be inevitable due to overlap in the various manuscripts they consulted in editing their edition. See the note in Tiqqune Zohar , fol. 107a: אמר המגיה זה התקון מצאתיהו מפור ומפרד ומטעה והרבה עלמתי וטרחתי להגיהו ולסדר הדברים פעמים מפני חלוף הנס-ח-אות

There are very few comments and notations of variant readings in parentheses in the first volume and it increases in the second volume and more so in the third volume. For example:

Zohar 1 77a (מתעטרן)

1, 112a Midrash ha-Neelam (נ׳׳א סך)

1, 121a (נ׳׳א תשרי ידא בדוכתא)

I note that there are additional comments blocked off in text boxes on 1:60b and 1:62. Volume two has many bracketed variant readings and curiously the language switches from nosah aher to sefer aher (e.g. 2: 3b; 2: 4a; 2: 5a) which might be the change of editors or policy, or these might be technical terms, referring to specific manuscripts or a particular view of the text. Therefore, my assessment is that there was a progression and change in editorial practices as the three volumes progressed. Editing thus seems to have been done one volume at a time and I am not under the impression that the typesetters consulted a handwritten final draft that already been edited from the ten manuscripts mentioned that we at their disposal.

Apparently due to competition with the Cremona printers, the editors sought to enhance their edition and began at a late stage of preparation to amass additional text to be inserted into what they knew to be a more limited understanding of what is the Zohar. This is most interesting since they knowingly expanded the scope of what would be included in ‘Sefer ha- Zohar ‘al ha-Torah’, demonstrating a liberal definition or flexibility about a definition of what is or could be defined as the Book of the Zohar. Of course, one could argue, as I have, that they also knew that they were not printing the Book of the Zohar as it was originally composed, but were constructing a commercial and cultural product for public consumption in their time and so these questions were not even under consideration. Thus, the Mantua printers began to include Midrash ha-Ne‘elam in parallel columns to what was titled ‘Zohar’. They included some but not all passages of Midrash ha-Ne‘elam, demonstrating, I believe, that they were seeking to enhance the edition but not to publish the entire Zoharic corpus. This quantity of passages from Midrash ha-Ne‘elam would decrease in the second volume and be almost absent in the third volume, but not only because of the concentration of literary production of Midrash ha-Ne’elam on the earlier periscopes of the Pentateuch. Rather, it may be that once they saw how few of these texts were included in the Cremona edition, at the time of printing the first volume of the Mantua edition in 1558 or more likely with the completion of the second volume, they realized they could give up this intensive push to add Midrash ha-Ne’elam. I thus believe that the editors of the Mantua edition possessed fuller manuscripts of Midrash ha-Ne‘elam to the Torah and refrained from publishing all they had. The significance of this conclusion is great since it has ramifications for what and why certain texts were included and edited into the volume published in Salonica in 1597. Passages from the Tosefta also seems to have been added in a similar context. Note that the short passage titled Tosefta in Zohar 1:31b is actually a paraphrase of the opening section of the Commentary on the Account of Creation attributed to Asher ben David. Does this show some sense of desperation to enhance the work or is it a reflection of the misunderstanding of manuscript evidence at their disposal?

By contrast, an examination of the Cremona edition shows that they did not have any manuscripts of Midrash ha-Ne’elam and resorted to culling the passages from the Venice 1523 edition of Recanati’s Commentary on the Torah (as noted in the polemical printer’s remarks in the Zohar, Mantua 1559, volume 2, fol. 1b)23Gershom Scholem, ‘ Havdalah de-Rabbi ‘Aqiva: A Source from the Jewish Magical Tradition in the Geonic Period ‘, Tarbiz 50 (1981), pp. 244-245 [Hebrew] = Scholem, Devils, Demons and Souls: Essays on Demonology, ed. E. Liebes, Jerusalem 2004, p. 147 [Hebrew] . We should not be asking about the differences between the Mantua and Cremona editions, but rather why are there so many similarities. We can conjecture about about an editorial spies, someone working for both projects (as a double-agent), rather than assuming there were rumors that reached one press about what the other was implementing. We do know that Vittorio Eliani viewed the Zoharic texts prepared in Mantua and later worked in the prepartion of Cremona edition, as evidenced by a note on the last page of Scholem’s of Tiqqune Zohar Mantua 1557: ‘Revisto per mi Vittorio Eliano il qual non ha bisogno di corettione’ .24 These two passages were presented and discussed by Saverio Campanini, ‘On Abraham’s Neck. The Editio Princeps of the Sefer Yesirah (Mantua 1562) and Its Context‘, Rabbi Judah Moscato and the Jewish Intellectual World of Mantua in the 16th – 17th Centuries , ed. G. Veltri, G. Miletto, Boston-Leiden 2012, p. 255. Tishby, ” Polemics », Pp. 146-147 doubts that Eliano participated with Gatigno. I would like to that Amiel Vick regarding this question.

Tiqqunei Zohar, Mantua 1557, verso last folio, Scholem Library R2141
Tiqqunei Zohar, Mantua 1557, verso last folio, Scholem Library R2141

Scholem noted in the flyleaf of this same exemplar that Eliano was the grandson of Elijah Bahur and his connection to the printing was sufficient to exempt the printer’s from any (further) censorship.

Scholem's handnote,  Tiqqunei Zohar  , Mantua 1557
verso fo flyleaf, Scholem Library R2141
Scholem’s handnote, Tiqqunei Zohar , Mantua 1557
verso fo flyleaf, Scholem Library R2141

בסוף הספר כתב נכדו המומר של ר ‘אליהו בחור, ויטוריו אליאנו, כי הוא ראה את הספר (לפני ההדפסה!) ועל כן איננו זקוק לתיקון צנזורה (ולא נודע דבר זה)

More information on this is provided in the remarks by Emmanuel de Benevento in his edition of Leviat Hen , Mantua 1557, fol. 3a in what appears to be a letter to his son that along with others אני ורעי he prepared an edition of a beloved book which was burned, possibly, Zohar al ha-Torah .

Colophon of the Cremona edition of the  Sefer ha-Zohar al ha-Torah  , 1558
Note the completion of the volume in Kislev 5319 (December 1558) as proofread
by Hayyim Shmuel Gatigno and Vitorio Eliano, the grandson of Elijah Bahur
Colophon of the Cremona edition of the Sefer ha-Zohar al ha-Torah , 1558
Note the completion of the volume in Kislev 5319 (December 1558) as proofread
by Hayyim Shmuel Gatigno and Vitorio Eliano, the grandson of Elijah Bahur

Mantua Zohar and a Critical Text of the Zohar

The Mantua Zohar is not a critical text, even if it sought to process and standardize a single text from multiple witnesses. The edition did not reveal its sources nor did it wish in principle to challenge the reader with philological problems. The stated goal and final result was a standard text that could be used by many and would exempt its readership from further comparisons of manuscript sources. To evaluate how they worked, much research would need to be done to identify what may have been in their possession, but of course this might be impossible to prove since their text is a hybrid of many sources, some of which many may not have survived and similar ones may serve as false positives of any such test. As for the success of their efforts it is necessary to review the reading practices of those who used these copies and the manuscript and printed works that critically engaged the textual version of the print. Here the evidence is quite clear, that more critical work of textual comparisons was produced after its publication.

A major advance in the study of the first printed edition would be to identify the manuscripts used by the Mantua printers. This project cannot be divorced from the manuscripts that served the Cremona printing, considering the possibility of some overlap. In the first volume of his translation to the Zohar, Daniel Matt suggested that the following manuscripts resemble and perhaps underly in his wording the Mantua edition : Ms. London, BL, Margoliouth Catalogue no. 762 (= Add 17745); Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, heb. 781; Parma, Perreau 15 / A (= 2718)25 The Zohar: The Pritzker Edition , translation and commentary by Daniel C. Matt, volume 1, Stanford 2014, p. xvi, note 4. . These and others need to be sorted out carefully, but as we have seen, the printers did not follow any one, but combined them to produce their own clear text. So the question is not as simple as confirming or rejecting these candidates as part of the pool of sources that were available in the Mantua printing house, but rather the question is how were they used In fact, more important is what was rejected and what principles guided their editorial decisions than any similarity between these witnesses and the print.

Within this inquiry we should ask what were the conditions that made it so compelling for these editors to abandon their stated aim to produce a single version and insert alternative readings in brackets. My basic examination can confirm that these manuscripts are similar to the print and similar to each other which might not demonstrate the stability of the text in this family of manuscripts more so than it say anything about the Mantua edition. That is, it may demonstrate that in this collection of manuscripts, all are representatives of one branch or family that was available to them in Northern Italy, as they declared in the printer’s introduction.

Italy and Safed: competition and influence

The Mantua printers were disconnected from the kabbalists and manuscripts of Safed and their edition suffered as a result. We learn this from the manuscript notes and critical comments of the Safedian kabbalists, foremost from the reactions of Moses Cordovero, Isaac Luria and Hayyim Vital. Indeed, they accepted the printed edition as a standard, but rejected the text as a standardized or final product. Cordovero, we know, was already, perhaps simultaneously, or just prior, engaged in establishing a full literary frame for all of the zoharic texts, Tiqqune Zohar and the Zohar to the Torah from multiple manuscripts. I have begun collecting all the passages where Cordovero referred to different or alternative readings or where he explicitly mentioned his efforts in checking manuscripts (sefarim). Elijah de Vidas, a student of Vital, makes use of the printed editions but a number of times cites various Zoharic texts from ketivat yad, some of which line up with texts from the Tiqqunim published later in Zohar Hadash.26 I have identified eleven references to manuscript citations of Zoharic texts in Reshit Hokhmah , Sha’ar ha-‘Ahavah (volume 1), ed. Hayyim Waldman, Jerusalem 1984, Sha’ar ha-Yirah ch. 1 section 37, p. 46 (Venice fol. 5b); ch. 1 section. 24, p. 359 (Venice, fol. 73a); ch. 5, sec. 10, p. 435 (Venice, fol. 91b, misprinted as 95 [b]), and four in Sha’ar ha-Qedushah (volume 2): ch. 2 sec. 11 p. 23 (Venice, fol. 192b); ch. 7, sec. 86, p. 186 (Venice, fol. 231a); ch. 7 sec. 7, p. 137 (Venice, fol. 220a); ch. 7 section 85, p. 182 (Venice fol. 231a); ch. 7 section 107, p. 195 (Venice fol. 234b); ch. 7 section 119, p. 202 (Venice fol. 236b); ch. 11 section 35 p. 274 (Venice, fol. 254a). At ch. 17 section 10, p. 505 (Venice, fol. 308b) de Vidas cites a passage from parashat Noah apparently from the printed edition, and then notes a diferrent reading from manuscript ובמקצת נוסחאות בספרים כתוב בחילא דתיובתא תקיפא . He does seem to have any consolidated listing of what is absent across the volumes nor any manuscript that would serve the collection to be published as the three parts of the volume to be printed in Salonica. His methods are similar to Cordovero in citing other textual versions, but he does not seem to have access to his teacher’s magnum opus. The conclusion is thus that De Vidas, used the Mantua edition and some manuscripts for supplemental texts or readings. He does not have a consolidated manuscript notebook of the texts which would be printed in Salonica. His work in Reshit Hokhmah should be placed in the early stage of Safedian reactions to the printed Zohar and prior to the completion and distribution of the notes and manuscript notebooks of Luria and Vital. We have here yet another chapter in the history of reactions to the Mantua print and with greater resolution we can break down the Safedian textual criticism into its various stages. 27 For interpretive glosses without textual criticism of the Zohar attributed to Vital see Ms. London Beth Ha-Din 113, fols. 175a-211a, which concludes with the following attribution ביאור על הזוהר מכל התורה והוא מה שהועתק ממה שנמצא כתוב על הגליון ובתוך ספר הזוהר של ר ‘חיים ויטאל זצו”ל.

When Luria and Vital received copies of the Mantua editions they wrote countless comments and supplement texts in the margins of their copies. An autograph copy of these notes on a Mantua Zohar ‘al ha-Torah in the handwriting of Hayyim Vital and Shmuel Vital was one viewed by Joseph Avivi in a private collection and I have viewed others in later copies. Numerous other manuscript notes exist in comments condensed into notebooks arranged by page numbers according to the print and in other copies of the Mantua editions which should serve as the basis of a new history of the later career of the Zoharic texts and I would argue that it should not be considered as its reception.

The printing of the Mantua edition was in some ways a crisis and even a tragedy for the study of the Zohar, its transmission and editing in the hands of the kabbalists. Had Mantua not been printed, it is reasonable to assume that the edition without or without the commentary of Moses Cordovero would have been printed or accepted as central in its stead. To be sure, the Mantua printing did not stop Cordovero who criticized both the editorial decisions in Tiqqune Zohar28 Moses Cordovero, Or Yaqar, Tiqqune Zohar , vol. 2, Jerusalem 1971, p. 81; Abrams, Kabbalistic Manuscripts , Jerusalem-Los Angeles 2013, p. 253. and the Zohar ‘al ha-Torah 29 Moses Cordovero, Or Yaqar, Jersalem 1979, vol. 10, p. 176 פרשת כי תשא בהא בבילבול בעובדא דינוקא ולא רציתי לבארה אלא שם כמו שנמצא בכל הספרים והמדפיסים בררו להם דרך כרצונם, ואני לא כן אדמה, שאין ראוי לאדם לעשות דבר קטון או גדול מדעתו, .אלא לא נשיג דבול עולם אשר כבלו ראשונים והמבקש אותה ימצאנה בפרשת בלק בס”ד . My point is not to bemoan the prior completion of any one project relative to another, but to note the qualitative difference in what was being undertaken by the Safedian kabbalists as the keepers and transmitters of Spanish Kabbalah who were remarkably able to isolate their textual methods from the rising creative output of Lurianic Kabbalah. The printing of the Mantua editions, or more precisely the widespread dissemination of identical copies of this printed work disrupted a textual process already underway. The crisis had to be resolved by either accepting the Mantua or rejecting it and the kabbalists chose the former, and then began to valorize the publishing effort despite any criticism. Note the comment by Hayyim Vital attributed to Isaac Luria in Sefer Mesihvat Nefesh by Jacob Tzemah, his edition of texts by Hayyim Vital.

אמר לי מורי זלה”ה כי אותו חכם יצחק דלאטש שעשה אותו הפסק להדפיס ספר הזוהר שהיה ניצוץ של צדיק וחסיד גדול וקדוש ווי לכל טוב לכןותו על ילכל ט וב לכןולכן ו

Jacob Semah, Sefer Meshivat Nefesh, Jerusalem 2012, p. 214.

Again, I would not read this .וכתב אותו הפסק כדי להוציא לאור ספר הזוהר comment at face value, meaning that I would read it against the grain as a reluctant embracing of print, even if ultimately adopted by Lurianic kabbalists. The need to offer such a comment casts it in my reading as the exposure of the nerve, a sign of their discomfort.

And while the content of these notes and their attribution to Isaac Luria, Hayyim Vital or anonymously transmitted complicates the history of critical reactions to the Mantua editions, there was apparently a standard set of notes compiled in the name of Hayyim Vital or possibly a known autograph manuscript that was received great attention and circulation. The manuscript was later mentioned by Hayyim Yosef David Azulai in his Shem Ha-Gedolim, s.v. Zohar.

וראיתי מכת׳׳י מהרח׳׳ו ז׳׳ל ספר אחד גדול מהחסרונות שיש בזהר׳ וכמדומה שיש איזה חידוש נוסף על החסרונות שנדפסו בזהר קושטנדינא

This passage was quoted by Yosef Hayyim Elijah of Baghdad in Daat Tevunah , Jerusalem 1911, fol. 4d.

And while this is not proof that all such comments refer to the same document or work, it at least demonstrates that a manuscript of the zoharic ‘hesronot’ by R. Hayyim Vital was considered a well-known item.

Here I would like to mention some early evidence not yet discussed in scholarship. I refer to a gloss from the marginalia of Menahem di Lonzano to the Mantua printing of Tiqqune Zohar from Mantua

כאן חסר הרבה-ונדפס בחסרונו׳-כ׳׳ד שם דף לו

The syntax is a little od and I do not wish to force a specific translation. He says that a lot is missing here and has subsequently been printed. He then cites the place of its printing in the volume titled Zohar in Salonica 1597 (and later reprinted under the title Zohar Hadash), fol. 24b, at which point he reverts back to the page reference in the manuscript of Hayyim Vital’s lacunae (the hesronot) where it is found on folio 36.

Marginalia of Menahem Di Lonzano to Tiqqunei Zohar, Mantua 1557, fol. 24b
Scholem Library R2141, redesignated Ms. NLI 8 ° 6562,
Marginalia of Menahem Di Lonzano to Tiqqunei Zohar, Mantua 1557, fol. 24b
Scholem Library R2141, redesignated Ms. NLI 8 ° 6562,
Zohar [Hadash] , Salonika 1597, part 3 (in some copies, part 2), fol. 24b
Zohar [Hadash] , Salonika 1597, part 3 (in some copies, part 2), fol. 24b

The claim that Vital lacunae was the impetus for the collection known as Zohar Hadash was asserted once by Daniel Frisch.3530Daniel Frisch, Hashmatot ha-Zohar, Jerusalem 2005, p. 7; Same, Sha’arei Zohar , Jerusalem 2005, p. 163, citing Shem ha-Gedolim by R. Hayyim David Azualai. . Here however, we have evidence that the Salonica printers were putting to press the textual work undertaken in Safed. Di Lonzano also refers to Hesronot ha-Zohar in his qissur seder ha-asilut , Ms. Jerusalem NLI 28 ° 7991 fol 127a (Avivi, p. 140) and in the marginal gloss of his hand in Sha’ar Derush ha-Selem , on folio 1a.

בחסרונות דפ׳ חוקת דף צ׳ב נר׳ שהגבורו׳ קודמין דאיהי אשקיאת לו בקדמיתא מההוא וכו׳ ע׳׳ש

Jordan Penkower’s magnificent study of the textual work of Di Lonzano and others of the period, included examples of these marginalia.31Jordan Penkower, Masorah and Text Criticism in the Early Modern Mediterranean: Moses Ibn Zabara and Menahem de Lonzano , Jerusalem 2014. Joseph Avivi in private correspondence remarked to me that he has doubts if this is de Lonzano’s autograph, doubts which I do not share.32 See also the marginalia of Zohar ‘al ha-Torah , Mantua 1559, volume II, RR2146, which includes countless comments by Di Lonzano..

Be that as it may, I would also like to recall that I once met a British collector who had another copy of the same. He came to research the matter in the National Library in Jerusalem, in order to corroborate his view that de Lonzano had copied out his notes in this, a second copy of Tiqqune Zohar. Setting aside for the moment the financial interests of this private collector who wished to sell his copy for a higher price, I will note that I have seen other privately-owned copies of the Mantua Tiqqune Zohar with some of these notes, even if not identical.33See the remarkable, if not whimsically sarcastic gloss on folio 9a. This comment I have also viewed in a copy in Meir Benayahu’s library ולכן נלע׳׳ד לומ׳ שא׳ מן המתחכמי׳ שלח ידי ושיבש הספר והקדים והיה כי יביאך לוהיה אם שמוע ולא היא.

Di Lonzano did pen the comments in the copy of Tiqqunei Zohar held at the National Library of Israel, but my understanding is that he was copying most of the notes from another copy.34Note the phrasing on folios 77b, 93a, 120a. אמר הכותב 39. My understanding, which I published in Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory35Daniel Abrams, Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory: Methodologies of Textual Scholarship and Editorial Practice in the Study of Jewish Mysticism, with a foreword by David Greetham, Los Angeles and Jerusalem: Magnes Press, second revised edition, 2013, pp. 503-513. was that the interpolation of the marginal notes into the text of Mantua produced the version the third printing in Orta Koj, slightly corrected in the 1740 Constantinople printing which from then on was reproduced in all subsequent editions.

Given the greater pool of textual information available today the interface between
manuscripts and print needs to be checked with a higher resolution. Moreover, a copy of the second volume of Zohar, Mantua, with di Lonzano’s notes was in Scholem’s collection, now RR126 which needs to be compared with his notes in Tiqqune Zohar. Note the remark in the later folio 47a where he commented that a passage from Zohar, Genesis, Mantua 1558, fol. 121 belongs in that place in Tiqqune Zohar. Further he notes that Zohar, Genesis, folio 132 belongs at end of Tiqqun 122 on folio 89b; Genesis, folio 148 belongs on 92b, and Genesis fol. 134 belongs on folio 98a at the end of Tiqqun 57 according to one manuscript he viewed; Genesis, fol. 154 belongs on folio 103. He also writes that the passage in Tiqqune Zohar, folios 83b-84a rightfully belongs in [Zohar al ha-Torah, Parashat] Hayyei Sarah, Mantua 1558, fol. 311. All this is to say that there was a pool of glosses that circulated and a culture and circulation of textual criticism in and around Safed regarding the printed editions of both Tiqqune Zohar and Sefer ha-Zohar ‘al ha-Torah.

The interface between manuscript and print centered around Safed. Note Tishby’s comment about the latter printing of Zoharic texts in Salonica: ‘The Zohar Hadash was not written [Tishby’s locution is possibly better translated into English as ‘compiled’, nithabber] at a later date, as is mistakenly thought by some scholars. It is a collection of pieces and complete works from the Zoharic literature that were missing from the printed editions and assembled from manuscripts by the kabbalists of Safed, first printed Salonika, 1597’.36Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, p. 105 note 3. . Tishby’s comment should be accepted and expanded. Certainly one would not wish to question the erudition and interest of the Salonica scholars in the Zohar, as has been shown in the many studies of Joseph Hacker.37 Joseph Hacker, ‘A New Letter about the Controversy over the Printing of the Zohar in Italy’, Masuot: Studies in Kabbalistic Literature and Jewish Philosophy, in Memory of Professor Ephraim Gottlieb, ed. M. Oron and A Goldreich, Jerusalem 1994, pp. 120-130 [Hebrew]; idem, The History of the Study of Kabbalah and its Dissemination in Salonica in the Sixteenth Century’, Creation and Recreation in Jewish Thought: Festschrift in Honor of Joseph Dan on his Seventieth Birthday, ed. R. Elior and P. Schafer, Tübingen 2005, pp, 163-180.. No doubt, they were impressed with the unpublished manuscript materials that reached them and answered the call to print a volume as a supplement to the Mantua editions. Nevertheless, the project was functionally already organized in Safed and by those connected to the textual work emerging from this center. And so, the weight of the phenomenon as a textual and critical reaction of manuscript comparisons to the text of the Mantua printing should be shifted to Safed and the product of textual criticism undertaken by the Safedian kabbalists. So, what this marginal comment adds to our understanding is that the Zoharic sources were not only arranged and the idea of editing the missing texts from the Mantua edition first conceived in Safed, but that Vital himself apparently completed the textual work in manuscript format in a fashion that was received as canonical according to a standard manuscript. We thus have the expansion of the canonical text in manuscript even prior to the printing of additional volumes, but also afterwards.

In a recently published volume, Ohel Ra”M, Moshe Hillel discussed a number of manuscripts of Vital’s commentaries to the Zohar. In a footnote spanning three pages, he expressed bewilderment at Avivi’s description of two different discoveries of Hayyim Vital’s manuscripts in separate troves and at different times, buried in the cemetery of Safed 38Avivi, Lurianic Kabbalah, vol. 2, pp. 600-605 . According to Hillel, Vital buried all his documents together, both zoharic and Lurianic, in 1595 before leaving for Damascus. According to Hillel, Vital buried all his documents together, both zoharic and Lurianic, in 1595 before leaving for Damascus. Qiryat ’Araba. The remaining documents related to Lurianic Kabbalah were somehow transferred in 1640 to Jacob Tzemah when Azulai was located in Jerusalem.39 Moshe Hillel, Ohel RA”M: Cataloue of the Manuscripts in the Library of the Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter of Gur, Jerusalem 2018, pp. 298-300 n. 410 [Hebrew].. My aim here is not to offer an opinion as to which theory is more sound, but to highlight how important it is today, as it was then, to sift out the Zoharic scholarship of Vital from his Lurianic writings. All this is to say that if Vital worked on the Zohar prior or contemporaneously to his writing about emanation in a Lurianic key, the projects were perceived to be mutually exclusive, and this clearly troubled both Joseph Avivi and Moshe Hillel for different reasons. In other words, the power and scope of what Vital produced in the textual criticism of the Zohar is so great that today as then, it threatens the standing of the identify of Vital as the main author of the Lurianic corpus.

I would like to point out that Cordovero’s and Vital’s work on the Zohar is excerpted in a minimalistic way in Or ha-Hamah, when Azulai subsumed all of Glanate’s Zoharei Hammah in this work. It should be recalled that Moses Zacuto reprinted Zohar Hadash in 1653 in Venice the third edition following the page for page reproduction of the Salonica 1597 edition in Cracow 1603. He also printed Derekh ’Emet in Venice 1663, which contains notes, lacunae and variants to the Mantua editions, including Tiqqune Zohar, and all attributed to Isaac Luria, but with the noted absence of all Lurianic speculation.40 This book was printed without a title page. In his own copy, R2192, Scholem copied in pen a title page from וויניציה תחי”ה according to a frontispiece he viewed in the JTS library. Voir le commentaire de Carlo Bernheimer, Catalogue des Manuscrits et Livres Rares Hébraïque de la Bibliothèque du Talmud Tora de Livourne, Livourne 1915, p. 118: «Aux dépens de Joseph Hamiz corr. R. Moïse Zacut. Tous les exemplaires connus de ce livre sont dépourvus de frontispice, en outre la première feuille porte le n° א=1 il est assez probable le libre n’était jamais eu de frontispice ce qui ne doit pas étonner, puisque le livre est la suivante ». What binds all these efforts together is a fascination with the manuscript materials uniquely available in Safed or which passed through Safed. So over against the cultural agenda of segregating the textual work of the Zohar attributed to Luria and Vital, it can be said that the authority of these two figures was in tandem, enhanced by demonstrating their separate expertise as scholars and guardians of the correct readings of the Zohar without reference to their newer view of Kabbalah. Academic scholarship has strongly emphasized the interpretive innovation of the Safedian kabbalists to the Zohar, beginning with Luria and Vital, as a strong reaction to the restorative and conservative textual practices of Cordovero. This perhaps should be reconsidered in light of the two distinct uses of Zoharic texts within the program of study by Luria and Vital.41Moshe Idel, ‘The Zohar as Exegesis’, Mysticism and Sacred Scripture, ed. S. T. Katz, Oxford 2000, pp. 87-101; Boaz Huss, ‘Zoharic Textual Communities of Safed’, Shefa Tal: Studies in Jewish Thought and Culture Presented to Bracha Sack, Beer Sheva 2004, pp. 149-169 [Hebrew]..

Here we should return to the remark of the Mantua printers that after processing the various manuscripts from Northern Italy, they needed to revise their texts in light of a manuscript that came to them from Safed. There is no indication from their remarks that the Italian printers extended any special status to the manuscript due to the cultural weight or authority of the kabbalists active there.42 On the relationship and cultural standing of the figures and sources from these two regions see Moshe Idel, ‘Italy in Safed, Safed in Italy: Toward an Interactive History of Sixteenth-Century Kabbalah’, Cultural Intermediaries; Jewish Intellectuals in Early Modern Italy, ed. D. Ruderman and G, Veltri, Philadelphia 2004, pp. 239-269.. In fact, there seems to be no awareness or contact between the two centers at this time. It was Moses Zacuto and Natan Shapira ha-Yerushalmi who would later seek to update the Italian-based editings with the authority of Isaac Luria. The trajectory is therefore Italy to Safed and back, with the later fulfillment of the Safedian reaction in the printing of Zohar Hadashin Salonica which would be expanded by Joseph Hamitz and Moses Zacuto in reprinting this volume in Venice. In a forthcoming study, I present the discovery of autograph marginalia, including Lurianic texts by R. Natan Shapira ha-Yerushalmi in a copy of the Venice edition of Zohar Hadash, which would be interpolated into later editions of this book.43Daniel Abrams, ‘Textual Fluidity of the Zohar after its Printing — A Test Case for the Understanding of the Interface between Manuscript and Print (A High Resolution Inquiry into the Marginal Glosses of R. Natan Shapira ha-Yerushalmi to Sefer Zohar Hadash, Venice 1658 from the Exemplar of the Oppenheim Collection in the Bodleian Library’, Kabbalah 41 (2018), pp. 143-242 [Hebrew]. . So, we might expand the earlier characterization as from Italy to Safed and back and then on to the adoption of Ashkenazi interpretations in Italy and then back to Ashkenaz.

I would be remiss if I were to construct any singular or linear trajectory of the Zohar’s transmission or its literary formulation. So for example, it is possible that additional manuscripts from North Africa arrived in Safed offering either a different pool of texts or offered another mix of readings.44See Moshe Hallamish, The Kabbalah in North Africa: A Historical and Cultural Survey, Tel Aviv 2001, p. 15 [Hebrew]See the request Solomon Alkabets to scholars of Fez asking for Fez qui leur Zohar manuscripts :ועוד אני מדבר בתחנה עשה עמי ועם הלומדים בחכמה הנוראה הזאת חסד גדול, והוא: להודיע הנמצא נב שם מספר הזוהר, כי יש אתנו ס’ בראשית כולו, רצוני בכל פרשה מפרשיותיו, וכן ס’ שמות, וכן ס’ ויקרא, אך מספר סיני נמצא מעט מזער בכל פרשה, אמנם מטות ומסעי אינן נמצאות כלל ועיקר, וכן מס’ דברים לא נמצא, כי אם פ’ ואתחנן ומעט מזער בפ’ וילך, ובספרים המובאים משם לא ראינו שום חדוש אולי ימצא בדרעא ובגבולותיה. וכמו כן מימרת ר’ אלאי ובריה עם רשב”י ע”ה וחביריו בג”ע של מטה, נמצא אצלנו ממנה חסר בתחלה ובסוף, וכן באמצע בכל .שיטה, וכן ס’ התקונים נד לא נמצא דבר תתקרר בו הנפשGinzei Yehudah, ed. Yechiel Goldhaber, Jerusalem 2016, pp. 28-30.. Indeed, the Zohar seems to have always been fluid even if manuscript reproduction in certain times and areas might give the impression of stability based upon the agreement of a certain number of manuscripts. The printing of the Zohar sought to end any disagreement about the multiplicity of form and textual versions. But if this were its aim, it only sparked the production of more comments and texts that sought to weave back into the singular text the many lacunae and variants that were overlooked or excluded for whatever reason. The Mantua edition of the Zohar may have achieved its goal of being accepted, the center-point of a long reception history, but ironically it also became the canonical basis of a history of cataloging differences and revising this text in numerous reprints and additional study aides.

Not much has changed for the Zohar from the rise of the age of print to our virtual world of hypertext and digital books viewable on the internet. The textual imagination of those engaged in print, from Mantua to Stanford, demonstrates the conviction of producing a standardized text even when the Zohar is recognized as having been produced or of having survived in multiple versions. In the introduction to the first volume of the Pritzker Edition of the Zohar, Daniel Matt wrote that he started with the base text of the printed edition since it ‘represents a relatively reliable starting point’ and to which he introduced ‘better readings’ from variants drawn from ‘several reliable manuscripts and witnesses’.45The Zohar, vol. 1, p. xvii-xviii. . The result is a revised or ‘corrected’ clear text with notes to alternative readings, just as in the Mantua edition. Therefore, in Italy and California, the editors were aware that the differences between the manuscripts were not just errors or corruptions due to problems of transmission but that at least two different qualities of the textual version existed, and they sought to provide a new and consistent product despite this fact: ‘After careful analysis, I concluded that certain manuscripts of older lineage reflect an earlier recension of the Zohar, which was then reworked in manuscripts of later lineage’.46ibid, p. xvi. . These methods have similar goals and reading audiences in mind and shows that for both editors some 500 years apart chose to construct a more readable and consistent text for the sake of their projects and intended goals, knowing full-well that the manuscript tradition does not contain a single version or layout.

This might serve as a call for work to begin once again on determining what was the Zohar in each manuscript or branch in the various periods and regions of its transmission, leading to the construction of a history of ‘what was the Zohar’, and the many Zohars that were edited and read, not the singular Zohar that became popular because of its printing. My call to scholarship is therefore to decentralize the Zoharic universe from either the first or last printed edition, and reject inquiries based on a genitive history, a reception history or the production of a single critical edition to replace prior editions. All seem more ideologically grounded projects than methodologically sound explorations of texts that actually existed.

A few words of explanation are in order to explain the historical patterns of transmission of Zoharic manuscripts and print that fashion these methods of editing to the exclusion of others. Collectanea of Zoharic passages were already being copied at the close of the thirteenth century. These were combined with others to form larger assemblages of texts, namely anthologies. The seams that demarcated the literary boundaries of passages were often lost as texts were woven together in larger compilations although some scribes did note the ending of one of the multiple sources that served their codex, fro example עד כאן מצאתי. Such notations are common in manuscripts of the Zohar, marking in a later generation copy or anthology that the text breaks off or sections are absent כאן חסר. some manuscript anthologies include the same passage twice in different locations, testifying to the absorption of materials from different sources and the lack of any accepted literary frame or program that guided the different witnesses.

In the history of the Zohar’s transmission accidentals became substantives and the text was either corrupted or enhanced, polished into a consistent style, language or spelling. As we approach the sixteenth century, and the particular case of the printing of the Mantua edition from nine
manuscripts of Northern Italy and one from Safed at the later stage of editing, it clear that textual traditions were mixed. The combination of distinct branches is known as contamination, but such contamination occurred in years prior. As the printers sought to peel away the layers of corruption, or at least of the differences or undesired readings in order to present to the reader a more perfect text. The fault in this method is that in removing the apparent contamination or interventions into the text in order to uncover what is purportedly more original, they were in fact producing a text that never existed, confusing creation with restoration, and in fact producing yet another amalgam.

The printed editions of the Zohar became canonical in some form. Instead of rejecting print or commissioning a different edition, the kabbalists made modifications to it in the form of glosses, lists of variants and commentaries. Academic scholars have followed suit and similarly did not return to manuscript forms prior to print. Instead, manuscripts are viewed through the prism of print, even when this is not stated. In both cases, print and manuscript have informed each other and no one plan was ever executed faithfully. In this history of later printings, the interpolations of glosses had been sporadic and inconsistent, so that even a corrected printed edition in the image of Luria and his followers’ vision has not been realized. Similarly, academics have sought to roll back the text from one of the late descendants of the Mantua edition, only to purge it of corrections based on multiple manuscripts witnesses. The result thus reflects no one manuscript tradition.

The fulfillment of the Zoharic project will be realized only if one of two methods is implemented: either (a) reprinting the Mantua edition revised to include the full textual criticism achieved within the Safedian school of kabbalists and amongst all the later generations who organized and expanded these comments, or (b) the preparation of editions based on discrete moments in the geographically positioned transmission history of Zoharic manuscripts. As the study of just this printed edition has shown, each edition is an edited document and includes both older histories of the text and new editorial decisions. The three categories I have promoted in the past for the study of the Zohar are most relevant here, the text’s order, its version or quality of the text the identity of the literary units. Certainly in the case of the Zohar’s history of textual reproduction and transmission, the interface between old and new editorial decision is in play in print no less than an any manuscript witnesses. In this sense at least, there is no categorical difference for the serious study of the Zohar between a Zoharic manuscript witness and a printed edition, which has become the blind spot of academic scholarship.


The Mantua printing of the Zohar is a special moment in the career of the texts known by the collective name of the Zohar. Today we can say that Moses de Leon composed a quantitively smaller book of a commentary to the Torah loosely identified by scholarship as theBody of the Zohar. The book was scattered and collected in miscellanea that included other Zoharic texts and these collections became anthologies which grew in non-uniform copies in Italy, Byzantium and Safed. The printing of the Zohar in Mantua in four volumes was an attempt to retrieve and construct the imagined lost original book, but also to establish a singular new text and version of both Tiqqune Zohar and Sefer ha-Zohar ‘al ha-Torah. In the history of the Zohar this bacme a unique moment when the multiplicity and fluidity that characterized the earlier transmission history of the texts, their reproduction and editing, came to a standstill in what the printers as editors, or the editors as printers, wished to become canonical. Their hope was to standardize the text and produce a standard edition of a product that countless readers would read in a uniform edition, thereby putting an end to different versions in the hands of different reading communities. These hopes were thwarted almost immediately because better sources and more learned readers protested the purported finality of the Mantua printing. Isaac Luria and Hayyim Vital amongst others wrote copious notes of commentary and filled the margins with missing texts they knew of from additional manuscripts.47For example, voir Ms. New York, JTSA 1015 where on the last page (143ab) an index of lacunae or hesronot attributed ultimately to Hayyim Vital is copied with the following note : אמר הצעיר… שמואל בן לאדוני אבי… כמוהר”ר חיים ויטאל…כל אלו החסרונות מהזוהר והתיקונים מהנרשם עד הנרשם הכתוב בזוהר חדש לא כתבתיו. והשאר אשר לא תמצא בזוהר חדש כתבתיו Meir Benayahu,“Mishnat ha-Met (The Treatise of the Dead)” and “Seder Rehizah Gedolah (The Order of the Great Washing)” Attributed to Hillel the Elder’, Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 1:4 (1982), pp. 122-125 [Hebrew] who identifies the copyist as, Shmuel, the son of Hayyim Vital). Note some examples for this index which includesma’amrei ze’ira, small passages, apparently additional unknown texts See Moshe Hillel, Ohel RA”M, p. 261)שיר השירים מהזוהר- בדף נח; חסרונות ממדרש רות ונעלם- בדף עד; מדרש איכה מהזוהר- בדף ע”ט; מאמרי זעירא בדף פ”ה;- קו המדה – בדף פ”ז; חסרונות מהתיקונין- בדף צ”ה; סתרי אותיות מהשי”ת בדף קכז חסרונות מהזוהר בדף קלה מאמר ואתה תחזה בדף רו In this context I should mention the manuscript of Zoharic passages not found in print,, Ms. Moscou, Guenzberg 1827, which Ezra Chwat brought to my attention and which he and I will be publishing in a special study..

Eventually some manuscript notebooks of such Zoharic texts were printed in Salonica 1597 with explicit references made there to the pagination of the Mantua edition, paying homage to its canonical status but displaying its failings. The Zoharic corpus thus began with the four volumes of Tiqqune Zohar and Sefer ha-Zohar ‘al ha-Torahand grew to become the expanded versions of the five volumes we have today which includesZohar Hadash. What is striking in the later history of the printing of the Zohar, its reprinting is that its obvious failings were acknowledged but the literary plan was never discarded and a new textual basis chosen to reinvent the Zohar. In Amsterdam 1715 and Constantinople 1736 the Mantua edition was reprinted with the addition of notes and appendices of what was made available in Safed, but keeping to the format and pagination of Mantua. Like an archeological tell which is comprised of the many layers of accretion of all who resided there, the editions of the Zohar display a mixture of different textual strands from different periods. Some layers can of course be identified, but they are not necessarily layered chronologically such that each can be peeled away sequentially 48This is actually a fascinating subject which shoud be studied on its own, textually and culturally. Namely, why and for what reasons were texts added to the Zohar, especially from other sources. Some early observations wer made by various scholars but this project remains a disderatum. Judah Zlotnick, Ma’amarim, Jérusalem 1939, p. 60. See also p. 40 note 2 where he discusses Zohar 1: 22a: בזוהר דפוס ווילנא ובההוצאה המנוקדת הנוסח: ‘דאיהו עולם הנבדלים’. והבנתי מדעתי כי אלה הבטויים המאוחרים אינם אלא הוספה חצוגית ומזה שנוי הנוסח. והנה בא ליד זוהר דפוס ראשון, מנטובה, וראיתי בי אמנם שם אין כלום מזה לא עולם הנפרדים ולא עולם הנבדלים, ודי בזה להראות בי כל הסומך ראיותיו על בטויים מקריים שבאו פה ושם .אינו אלא טועה וביחוד כל עוד שאין לנו הוצאה מדעית מגוף נוסח הזוהר. In his annotated Zohar, Sholem wrote on this passage לקטע התקונים כאן! הקטע שייך לא רחוק מתחילת תקון ע! מה שחסר בהמשך הענין לפני “ההתחלה” כאן נמצא עוד כולו בזהר חדש קיד ע”ג למטה ומתוך זה מתבארין הענינים ובדף קטו ע”ב שורה 11 מתחיל .המאמר שלפנינו (Gershom Scholem’s Annotated Zohar (Jozefow 1873), introduction by Yehuda Liebes, Jerusalem 1992). See also Scholem’s handnote Zohar III 274a לפי ר’ מנחם כשר (סיני ספר היובל תשי”ח עמ’ נא) הועתקה פיסקה זו לתוך הזוהר מס’ שלחן ארבע לר’ בחיי בן אשר . A detailed treatment of the printing history of the Zohar will demonstrate the fluidity of the editions of the Zohar after its printing, but that is part of its own story, the later history of these forms of the ‘Zohar’. Printed editions can be consulted as a late witnesses of the Zoharic texts which then opens a window that allows scholarship to look back upon the transmission history of early manuscript witnesses. However, the need to read manuscripts on their own and not through the lens of the arrangement of the Zoharic text in the printed edition, even if unstated is in dire need. Moreover, scholarship has all but ignored the printed editions of the Zohar and have failed to integrate their multiple versions into the study of the fluidity of manuscript witnesses. This study of the Mantua Zohar is a first step in the study of this edition. It should be followed by other studies, including the analysis of other editions and comparative research between the various editions and the mansucripts that informed them. Now, nearly a century since Scholem first published his studies on Zoharic manuscripts and printings, the necessary research is just beginning.

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