Sunday 25 March 2018


Page 1 of the document.


While many believe the Zohar to have been authored by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai during the second century CE, the fact is that authorship of the Zohar has been disputed by many Torah scholars over the centuries. Some believe the Zohar to have been written around the 13th century.    

In this article, we will look at a hitherto unknown document which was discovered relatively recently in a library in Jerusalem. It apparently gives unprecedented insight into Rav Kook’s (1865-1935) position on the issue of the authorship and age of the Zohar.

Page 2 of the document.


Rabbi David Bar-Hayim describes how some thirty odd years ago, while looking through the National Library in Jerusalem - which contains a smaller library, specializing in matters relating to Kabbalah and known as the Gershom Scholem Library – he came across what appeared to be a nondescript file.

This file contained just three photocopied pages which had been stapled onto a piece of cardboard. The title read “Meyuchas leRav Kook” - attributed to Rav Kook.

R. Bar-Hayim got permission to copy the three pages and immediately identified the handwriting as belonging to the foremost student of Rav Kook, R. David Cohen known as the Nazir.


R. David Cohen (1887-1972) was a fascinating individual known as the Nazarite of Jerusalem. He never drank wine, ate grapes or cut his hair. He was to become the editor many of Rav Kook’s writings, including the well-known Orot haKodesh

He had studied under R. Israel Meir Kagan - known as the Chafetz Chaim (1838-1933) who authored the Mishna Berura - as well as studying in Volozhin and Slabodka Yeshivot.

In addition to his Torah studies, he was accepted into the University of Basil in Switzerland where he studied philosophy and classical literature for seven years.

He met Rav Kook when the latter got stranded in Switzerland during the unexpected outbreak of the First World War. After initially being disappointed that Rav Kook only wanted to talk about Greek philosophy, he was won over when he heard him daven - and he writes in the Introduction to Orot haKodesh that at that moment: “I had found for myself a Rav.”

This was the person whose handwriting appeared on those three pages.

Page 3 of the document.


R. Bar-Hayim records that in all the many years he spent in the shadow of the students of Rav Kook, he had never heard or seen the likes of what was contained in those three pages, and believes that few - if any – were aware of its contents or even of its existence.

The Nazir had written that while two specific sections of the Zohar, namely the Tikkunei Zohar and the Raaya Mehemna[1], emanate - in principle[2] - from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Moshe Rabbeinu[3], however, in actual historical terms they were not recorded nor received from either of them.

Rather, they were written by holy people, namely Sephardic Rabbis who lived much later in Spain around the 13th century. 

This is because the style and the language match that of the Sephardic Chachamim of that time. The literary style clearly precluded these texts from being authentically ancient as many belied they were.

The Nazir goes on to say that this issue was already addressed by R. Yaakov Emden (1697-1776) in his little-known work Mitpachat Sefarim. This book was suppressed and deliberately hidden away over the last number of generations.

It is important to remember that in this document the Nazir is not referring to all of the Zohar but only to the two sections Tikkunei Zohar and Raaya Mehemna. Traditionally the mystics have always regarded these two sections as the ‘purist’ and ‘highest’ form of Zoharic literature.

This is further evidenced by the fact that the Vilna Gaon wrote a commentary on the Tikkunei Zohar and not on the rest of the Zohar.

Similarly, R. Nachman of Breslov is recorded as having expressed surprise that people mention the Zohar and Tikkunei Zohar in the same breath, because of the loftiness of the latter.

This being the case, it follows that if the Nazir believed these two texts to have only been written in the 13th century, then certainly the other sections of the Zohar cannot be more ancient (which would have granted them even more importance). -Rather, according to him, all the Zohar must only have been committed to writing at a much later time than generally believed.

Explosively, the Nazir writes that he received this information from his teacher, ‘Maran shelita’ - which can only refer to his teacher, Rav Kook!

This is ‘explosive’ because up till now, no one – not even those within the camp of Rav Kook - would have imagined Rav Kook the mystic, to have taken such a surprising stance.

Lest one thinks that this is an anti-mystical approach or conspiracy, R. Bar-Hayim is quick to point out that all the three players in this scenario - the Nazir, Rav Kook and R. Emden - were great Kabbalists in their own right and were certainly not opposed to the mystical tradition.

R. Bar-Hayim says:

There are many people who are associated with Rav Kook and his writings, who either are not aware of this text...(or) there may be some who have seen it...but would be very very displeased if this information were to get out...

And we know for a fact that there still are in existence today, many writings of Rav Kook that have never been published – because there are individuals...Rabbanim...who make it their business to deny access to these writings of Rav Kook...

They seem to think that it is better that people do not know what Rav Kook thought and wrote...

Some of the 120-year-old manuscripts have reached the point where they are nearly illegible...

- I believe this is a misguided approach and therefore I choose to make this information (concerning this obscure three paged document) public.

For more on the general censorship issue, see THE CENSORED WRITINGS OF RAV KOOK.

[1] The Zohar is not just one book, but instead is comprised of about fifteen separate texts.
[2] I am not sure that I understand exactly what the Nazir means by ‘in principle’: If there were surviving texts from R. Shimon bar Yochai, he would have surely said ‘based on some texts’. If there was some type of spiritual visitation, he would have surely said ‘based on some form of revelation’. Or did he added this because without some connection to R. Shimon bar Yochai this view would not have been acceptable to the mainstream who held on dearly to this belief?
[3] Tikkunei Zohar is often attributed to R. Shimon bar Yochai, while Raaya Mehemna is often attributed to Moshe Rabbeinu.

Sunday 18 March 2018


Shaar Gan Eden, by R. Yaakov Koppel Lifschitz.


In order to understand the milieu into which the Baal Shem Tov was born, one must take into consideration the widespread - yet devastating - success of the false messiah, Shabbatai Tzvi who had died just two decades earlier.

Shabbatai Tzvi and his followers, known as Sabbateans, managed to engineer one of the biggest movements in Jewish history, with estimates that more than half of Jewish population at that time believed him to have been the Messiah.

These followers included many scholarly rabbis and even kabbalists. After Shabbatai Tzvi died in 1676, the Jewish world was permeated with secret Sabbateans, many of whom presented a facade of Halachik observances to hide their messianic agendas and aspirations. See Shabbatai Tzvi – Roots run Deep.

In this article, we will look at the question of whether or not R. Yaakov Koppel Lifschitz was such an individual:

(NOTE: R. Yaakov Koppel Lifschitz must not be confused with R. Yaakov Koppel Hager, who was an early follower of the Baal Shem Tov and also his Shaliach Tzibur.)


R. Yaakov Koppel Lifschitz is best known for his Shaar Gan Eden which he wrote in Volhynia in the early 1700’s and which was printed posthumously in 1803.

In the preface to Shaar Gan Eden, R. Yaakov Koppel writes strongly against Sabbateanism. However, the actual contents of his book show subscription to much of Sabbatean ideology. This disavowal was a common technique used frequently by many secret Sabbateans during that time.
[See Chemdat Yamim.]
Shaar Gan Eden, by R. Yaakov Koppel Lifschitz.

In one section of Shaar Gan Eden, R. Yaakov Koppel writes:

At the end of the sixth millennium the light which precedes the cosmic Sabbath will spread its rays, swallowing death and driving the unclean spirit from the world. Then many commandments will be abrogated, for example, those relating to clean and unclean...

(and) ‘A new Torah will go forth’...the letters of the Torah will combine in a different way, according to the requirements of this period, but not a single letter will be added or taken away.”[1]

These, as well as other references, lead some to believe that R. Yaakov Koppel may have been sprouting aspects of Sabbatean ideology. The original Sabbateans (and I am certainly not implicating R. Yaakov Koppel with this) were known to have been quite promiscuous, and the notion of the ‘abrogation of clean and unclean’ was distorted to allow for such behaviour in an era believed to be preceding the Messiah. In other words, these rules of ‘clean and unclean’ would fall away and no longer be applicable.

In another section of Shaar Gan Eden, Moshe Rabbeinu is described as being both human and divine:

It is said about Moses that he is an ‘ish ha-Elokim (a man of G-d). But if he is a man (‘ish) then he is not G-d (Elokim)?!

- Rather, Above (i.e. in Heaven) he is called G-d (Elokim) and below he is called a man (‘ish).”[2]

According to Shaul Magid:

This is so striking rejects, even subverts, the more common euphemistic rendering of the passage (i.e. Moses is a “godly man”) opting for a rendition that enables Moses to be both human and divine simultaneously.”[3]

Thus “Moshe” or any corresponding leader would assume a type of role of G-d incarnate!

We know that Sabbateans did give divine-like reverence to their leader, which correlates with this ‘precedent’ of ‘Moshe’ being ‘both human and divine’.

According to Gershom Scholem:

"Although the book was regarded with some suspicion by orthodox Kabbalists outside the Hassidic camp it enjoyed a wide reputation with the Hassidim. But only recently it has been proved conclusively...that the author was an outstanding crypto-Sabbatian and based his doctrine to a very considerable extent on the Sabbatian writings of Nathan of Gaza (the prophet of false messiah Shabbatai Tzvi)." [4]


R. Yaakov Koppel also produced a prayer book with Lurianic and Kabbalistic meditations, entitled Kol Yaakov[5], which followed the rite of the Ari Zal; as well as a Kabbalistic commentary on the Haggadah. His prayer book was to form the basis of later Chassidic prayer books:

Kol Yaakov Siddur with reference to Shaar Gan Eden.

The Kol Yaakov Siddur contains the approbation of R. Asher Tzvi of Ostroh, who writes “I heard that the Baal Shem saw this siddur and it pleased him”:

In the siddur there is a clear reference to his other work Shaar Gan Eden - so it is likely that the Baal Shem Tov was aware of the existence of the book:

According to the title page and the approbations, when the Baal Shem Tov saw the manuscripts of Shaar Gan Eden and Kol Yaakov, he "hugged and kissed them...and used a lot of energy to hug with his arms the author's writings".

The approbations include R. Efraim Zalman Margoliot, as well as R. Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, who wrote that the author "was a loyal Kabbalist and all his words were said with divine inspiration...This is the gate to approach the inner hall, the inner sanctum of the holy writings of the Ari Zal."


Professor Joseph Dan writes in no uncertain terms:

Jacob Koppel...was influenced by the Shabbatean movement in Poland, and he himself influenced Ḥasidism.

Besides (Shaar Gan Eden and Kol Yaakov)...he apparently wrote Naḥalot Ya'akov, an extensive commentary on the Zohar, which has been lost.

Jacob denounces the followers of Shabbetai Zevi and messianic speculation in general in a few scattered remarks. However, it has been proved that he was the brother and pupil of a known Shabbatean, Ḥayyim of Ostraha (Ostrog), who influenced his writings.

A close study of the kabbalistic doctrine of Jacob proves conclusively that his works included at least one part of a "credo" of Nathan of Gaza, the prophet of Shabbetai Ẓevi... his descriptions of development within the realm of the Sefirot (the divine emanations), Jacob uses a series of extremely radical sexual symbols found only in Shabbatean writings...

Finally, some scattered hints (which were fully developed in at least one of his works) allude to a heretical, antinomian concept of the Torah and the mitzvot, following the Shabbatean distinction between the laws governing the world before the coming of the messiah, Shabbetai Ẓevi, and the new laws following his appearance.

Jacob and his writings were highly praised by the early Ḥasidim, who published his works and used them extensively.

A reliable ḥasidic tradition even quotes some words of praise attributed to Israel b. Eliezer Baal Shem Tov.

Thus Jacob's Shabbatean writings form one of the links between late East European Shabbateanism and early Ḥasidism.”[6]


Fascinatingly, according to R. Dovid Sears, R. Nachman of Breslov discusses Shaar Gan Eden in his Chayey Moharan, and he is critical of the work.

And R. Natan of Breslov mentions the Introduction to the Siddur Kol Yaakov in his Likkutei Halachot and is similarly critical of it. [7]


According to Pinchas Giller, the contemporary kabbalist R. Yaakov Moshe Hillel recommends against reading Kabbalistic works which cite R. Yisrael Sarug (1590-1610), who was one of the students of the Ari Zal. He believes it was only through the other student, R. Chaim Vital, that the authentic Lurianic teachings were transmitted.

However, in the strangest of ironies:

"...some works are acceptable, notwithstanding their citation of Sarug. These include the Sabbatean work Sha'arei Gan Eden by Jacob Koppel Lifscheutz...For Hillel, the odd inclusion of occasional Sabbatean less of a problem than the appearance of Sarugian materials." [8]

According to this view, there is not even a question as to the Sabbatean nature of Shaar Gan Eden.


The possible influence of Sabbateanism on early Chassidism has intrigued me since I started translating the Letters of the Cherson Archive and found numerous references which indicated a frantic need to hide certain writings from unnamed rabbis and sources.

Considering the historical timing, it is not a big jump to speculate on the nature and content of those writings.

Sabbatean writings were very mystical and messianic - and although they distorted and often even perverted Kabbalistic teachings - in principal, they presented a worldview of mysticism for the masses, not unlike that of the Chassidic movement which followed so close on its heels.

It is possible that the early Chassidim had found a model that had proven successful in terms of disseminating mystical teaching amongst the common folk and may have adopted some of those proven and positive techniques, while leaving aside the negative aspects.

This would not have been the first time in Jewish history that various elements from contemporary popular worldviews were selected and infused back into the mainstream.

[NOTE: One needs to be careful how one interprets the above-mentioned suggestion. Chassidism is a mystical movement which undoubtedly has roots in ancient Jewish mystical traditions. Whether there may or may not have been some overlap with the popular mysticism of the time is up to the Reader to decide. Any tradition can be shown to have common overlap with another - especially with another contemporary tradition.]

To be clear: The suggestion is not that the Baal Shem Tov was a secret Sabbatean – but rather that he may have used some of their neutral mystical content and approach, after eliminating and discarding the more subversive aspects of that movement.

Besides R. Yaakov Koppel, this apparent association between both movements is particularly evident with regard to the Sefer haTzoref, by R. Yehoshua Herschel Tzoref (1623-1700).

It is this connection that may have had to be hidden away because the rest of the orthodox mainstream would not have entertained the notion that anything was salvageable from the Sabbatean movement.

Were it not hidden away, it is probable that the new movement would never have enjoyed acceptance and the extensive success it managed to achieve.



[1] Sha’ar Gan Eden by R. Jacob Koppel, Cracow 1880, p. 12c:
Interestingly, he provides a reference to Sefer haTemunah or Book of the Shape (of the Hebrew letters), written in the late 1200’s but attributed to Nechunya ben Hakanah and R. Yishmael, Tanaim of the first and second centuries.
[2] Shaar Gan Eden 44b.
[3] Hasidism Incarnate: Hasidism, Christianity, and the Construction of Modern Judaism, by Shaul Magid, p.18.
[4] Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p 333
[5] Also known as HaKol Kol Yaakov.
[6] Joseph Dan, Encyclopaedia Judaica under R. Yaakov Koppel ben Moses of Mezhirech, based on Isaiah Tishby, in Netivei Emunah u-Minut (1964), 197–226, 331–43.
[7] Breslov Center, Gates of Eden, 11 Nov 2010.
[8] Shalom Shar'abi and the Kabbalists of Beit El.

Sunday 11 March 2018



In this article, we will highlight two very different approaches to the concept of a Rebbe. We will look at extracts from two contemporary English books which reflect, in modern parlance, the basic differences between how Breslov and Kotzk define the role of the Rebbe.

The first book, Rebbe Nachman’s Soul, is compiled by R. Shlomo Katz, and is ‘A Commentary on Sichos haRan from the classes of Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld z’l.” R. Rosenfeld (1922-1978) is credited with bringing the Breslov teachings to the English speaking world.

The second book is The Quest for Authenticity by Rabbi Dr Michael Rosen (1945-2008) and deals with ‘The Thought of Reb Simcha Bunim’, who was the teacher of Rebbe of Kotzk. Rabbi Rosen studied at Yeshivat Beer Yakov and received ordination from Chief Rabbi Unterman.

To emphasize the extreme differences in attitudes towards the tzadik, we will simply cite extracts from both books, without any additional comment or analysis.

Please bear in mind that the aim is not to have a competition between both approaches, but simply to show two very different spiritual paths.

I have intentionally chosen to use newly published English books to emphasize the ‘current’ nature of these approaches which are indeed adopted by the followers of these movements today and are quite common and widespread:


‘Above all, Rabbeinu zal (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)[2] designates this one thing - travelling to the tzaddik emes (the true tzaddik)[3] - as the definitive sign of emunah (faith)[4], because the faith of a person can only be strengthened through binding himself with the tzaddik emes...

...’tzaddik’- first seek out a tzaddik- ‘be’emunaso yichyeh’- by faith in this tzadik you will live...

Netzach means eternity, and the gematria (numerical value)[5] of netzach (148...) is Rabbeinu zal’s name (148...) (Nachman = 148)[6]. Eternal life is dependent on a person’s simple and pure faith in the tzaddik emes. If a person has that emunah, he is automatically assured of having faith in HaShem...[7]

Rabbeinu zal is the greatest expert in the true knowledge of what’s happening in Olam Haba, in heaven...

If a person repents, there is no limit to the infinite mercy of HaShem. But HaShem has mercy only while a person is alive. When the person passes away, that mercy comes to an end. Then there is HaShem of vengeance and HaShem who pays.

HaShem pays reward to the tzaddik and HaShem avenges the evil acts of the wicked. There is no mercy or kindness in the heavenly court at all; there is purely din (judgement)[8]...

In heaven there are souls who lie outside the gates of Gan Eden. They lie there screaming very bitter screams: “Give us something to eat!”

Others come to them and say, “Here is food and drink. Eat your fill.”

These poor souls reply, “No, no, this is not the food that we want. We want the food and drink of Torah and tefillah...

We have not learned enough Torah during our lifetime and we haven’t had Torah and tefillah in our life. We don’t have the food and drink that is necessary in heaven. We don’t have the spiritual food and drink that a person can acquire only through Torah and tefillah.”

These are souls lying around in heaven freezing, bare of clothes, and they scream in pain: “Give us something to cover ourselves with.”

There is no greater pain and suffering than the suffering of embarrassment. This is worse than the fires of Gehinnom...

Therefore Rabbeinu zal says: There is no way to help these people. One who is left there unclothed, bare and without food – woe is to that soul who is so embarrassed, so isolated, and suffers continuously.

No one can help that person. You cannot offer him clothes, because that’s not the kind of clothes he needs...

However, there is one who has the unusual heavenly power to help these souls. This is the tzaddik emes.

The key to it is if a person during his lifetime has had solid emunah, solid faith, in the tzaddik emes, to the point that he actually merged with the tzaddik emes.

“Merged” means they became one. This merging refers to the mind – one mind only, and that is the mind of the tzaddik.

This is when a person says, “I have no thought of my own, I have no mind of my own, I have no opinion of my own.

I accept completely and implicitly the words of the tzaddik emes, without question at all.”
This is what is meant by merging and becoming one.’


‘It is interesting to note that in Przysucha (pronounced Pesishcha, the school from which the Kotzker came)[10] they did not talk much about Olam Haba (the world to Come)...

Przysucha did not believe in Zaddikism (the veneration of rebbes or other tzaddikim)[11] in the way Hasidism in general did. Furthermore, it was an implied critique of the Hasidic establishment which could not be ignored...

The following story is told about R. Bunim (the Kotzker’s teacher)[12] in response to the “style of prayer” of one of his students:

Our holy teacher, our master from Alexander (Hanoch Heinich), told that once when he visited R. Bunim, he recited the morning prayers in a house which was close to that of R. Bunim, and he prayed in a loud voice with a lot of movement [which was then the norm; however, this approach did not appeal to R. Bunim].
In the middle of praying, R. Bunim came in. Immediately he stopped his noise and movement.
But in a moment he settled his mind, saying: “Indeed, I am standing now before G-d, so why am I concerned at this moment with my rebbe?”
He returned to his former style of praying loudly.
After he concluded his prayers, the rebbe invited him to his house and said to him thus: “Heinich, today I enjoyed your praying.”[13]

If this story can be relied upon...then it...reflects...the relationship between a zaddik and himself (the student)[14]...

Clearly it doesn’t mean he (the student)[15] is abdicating his own judgement, nor does it even mean that he will necessarily listen to his zaddik.

Moreover, R. Bunim not only approves of Hanoch Heinich’s disregarding him because his behaviour was authentic...

It was impossible for someone who had absorbed the world of Przysucha to have a one-dimensional relationship with a zaddik: That which for the rest of Polish Hasidism was a sign of faith – namely, total reliance on the zaddik – was anathema to the world of Przysucha...

...if he does nothing but simply relies on the zaddik, then, unfortunately, the zaddik cannot help him.[16] could journey to zaddikim till kingdom come without achieving anything. Without doing the real work within oneself, the Hasid, or devotee, was wasting his time.

...their journey to zaddikim for periods of time adds nothing, and nothing will come of it.[17]

...Responsibility could not be absolved. Moreover, anything that detracted from the individual’s personal responsibility – be it the miraculous, the belief in salvation by another, or the external trappings of the zaddik’s court – was to be shunned....

The entire role of the zaddik in Przysucha was understood in such a way as not to create dependency. For dependency meant that the very quality on which everything hung – namely personal authenticity – was emasculated...

All a zaddik could do was to be a guide, a role his own spiritual integrity, the student could find his own integrity as well.

The function of the rebbe was to help people become themselves and to serve G-d in their truth.
Vicarious redemption runs counter to the most basic values of Przysucha.

(In Kotzk/Przysucha)[18] the rebbe(‘s)[19]...focus is on how to make the pupil autonomous.
Such a teacher is truly kind, unlike the one who makes the other dependent...

In Kol Simcha[20] R. Bunim says...:

...someone who has the quality of learning from everyone, even from simple people speaking about mundane matters...- such a person does not need a master at all.

The statement “does not need a master at all” could not have been made in any other stream of Hasidism...other than Przysucha...

The real concerned with making his disciple independent...
The (biblical) verse itself warns “Do not trust in princes,” the intention being to warn against...the righteous of the generation...And in truth...Przysucha...would (talk) a lot about this: that maybe it would have been better to abolish this type of leadership since the “world” relies too much on the zaddikim.[21]

[1] Extracted from Rebbe Nachman’s Soul, A Commentary on Sichos Haran from the classes of Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld z’l, compiled and edited by Rabbi Shlomo Katz, p. 186-190..
[2] Parenthesis mine.
[3] Parenthesis mins.
[4] Parenthesis mine.
[5] Parenthesis mine.
[6] Parenthesis mine
[7] Rebbe Nachman’s Soul, p. 298.
[8] Parenthesis mine.
[9] Extracted from The Quest for Authenticity, The Thought of Reb Simcha Bunim, by Michael Rosen, p. 113-122.
[10] Parenthesis mine.
[11] Parenthesis mine.
[12] Parenthesis mine.
[13] Siach Sarfei Kodesh 5:21
[14] Parenthesis mine.
[15] Parenthesis mine.
[16] Toldot Adam, eight night of Hanukkah, 100.
[17] Chiddushei haRim, hasidut, 350.
[18]Parenthesis mine.
[19]Parenthesis mine.
[20] Kol Simcha, Veyetze 35.
[21] Hiddushei haRim Hasidut, 352, 356.

Sunday 4 March 2018




There are some interesting instances where oft-repeated ‘quotations from the Talmud’ are not found in the Talmud at all. One example is where R. Moshe Feinstein quotes a famous ‘Chazal’ (statement of the Talmud) about: ‘More than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews.’ However, that statement doesn’t exist in Talmudic literature but is instead a quote from the Zionist thinker, Achad haAm.

And there is also The Famous Midrash Which Doesn’t Exist, which lists the ‘three things’ our forefathers observed, to merit being saved from Egypt.

Let’s take a look at another famous statement and see whether it is also falsely attributed to a Talmudic source. It goes something like this:

The High Priest had a rope tied to his ankle when he entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, so that if he died he could be pulled out; because no  one else was permitted into the sanctuary.”


According to the Talmud[1], towards the end of the period of the Second Temple, most of the High Priests were unfit for the holy task. Many bought, or bribed their way to, their positions - and some, apparently, died within the first year of their appointment.

The Talmud says: 

Since they (the priests) were giving money (in order to be appointed to the High) Priesthood, they were replaced every twelve months.”

Rashi comments: 

“Because the priests of the Second Temple gave money to the Hasmonean Kings in order to buy the position of High Priest, these wicked priests did not live out a year and another had to take his place. Each subsequent priest outdid his predecessor by building a better structure and calling it after his (own) name.”

According to the Talmud[2], during the 410 years of the existence of the First Temple, there were eighteen High Priests – whereas during the 420 years of the Second Temple there were only four righteous High Priests and over three hundred[3] others who were unfit and didn’t serve out their first year in the position[4].

The Talmud does tell us that there was a very real sense of fear on the part of the other worshippers who were waiting to see if the High Priest would emerge from the Sanctuary alive.

The Talmud says: “He (the High Priest) would pray a short prayer (as he exits) the outer chamber. He would not extend his prayer so as not to alarm the (people of) Israel.”[5]
This does seem to imply that there were times when the High priest did not emerge from the Holy of Holies.

Furthermore, the Mishna says: 

After the Yom Kippur Service; "They would give him (the High priest) back his (ordinary) clothes to wear, and accompany him back to his house, where he would make a festive meal for his beloved (family and friends) to celebrate his emergence from the  Holy sanctuary in peace."

Again, this clearly shows the fear that must have existed for the possibility that the High Priest may not survive the day.


Some High Priests were apparently afraid to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur and therefore had a rope tied around their ankles lest they died while inside the sanctuary and had to be pulled out (as no one other than the High Priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies).

This last extrapolation of the rope, however, is not found in the text.

Is the statement textually and historically true?

First of all, it must be pointed out that there is no Talmudic source referencing the ‘rope around the ankle’. It’s not in the Gemora text nor the Rashi quoted above, nor anywhere else in the Talmud.

According to Dr W. E. Nunnally:

 “The rope on the high priest legend is just that. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It is just not there.[6]

So there you have it. The story appears to be a legend and a myth and nevertheless, it managed to become one of those ubiquitous fables that get widely perpetuated despite its untruth.


A particularly astute congregant of mine recently made this observation and wrote to a well-known Jewish historian who had quoted, and posted on, the story of the rope around the ankle of the High Priest. He pointed out to the historian that there was no textual basis for this myth. 

The historian thanked the writer and responded by retracting his account, acknowledged the lack of textual evidence, and set about removing the inaccurate post from a kiruv website.


Further research, however, reveals that Dr Nunnally is correct in everything he writes, except his last few words concerning the myth which is not found: “ any other Jewish source.”

There is indeed a Jewish source for the ‘rope around the ankle’ story!

It is from the Zohar which describes the preparation the High priest undergoes on Yom Kippur as he is about to enter the Holy of Holies:

“...he was to enter into a place more than holy than all. The other priests, the Levites and the people stood around him in three rows and lifted their hands over him in prayer, and a golden chain was tied to his leg. He took three steps and all the others came to a stop and followed him no further. He took three more steps and went round to his place; three more and he closed his eyes and linked himself to the upper world.”[7]

A second reference in the Zohar refers to a ‘golden rope’. Rav Yitzchak said: ‘A rope was tied to the Kohen’s leg when he went in, so that should he die there they could pull him out.” [8]

Thus we have two textual references to the ‘rope around the ankle’ story.


Without going into the thorny issue of who wrote the Zohar and when it was written (see Mysteries Behind the Origins of the Zohar), it must be pointed out that our only intention was to show a textual basis for the story of the rope, not necessarily to prove its historicity.

In other words, one could still argue that the practice of tying a rope around the High Priest’s ankle never happened (perhaps because of the prohibition of ‘adding to the number of priestly vestments’) – and one could also argue that we don’t draw historical (or – at least theoretically* - halachik) conclusions from the Zohar – but the fact remains that there are at least two Jewish sources which reference it.


The Talmud records that a certain Sadducee was once appointed as High Priest. During the Yom Kippur service, a noise was heard and the other priests thought he had died, and immediately “the other priests entered after him” into the sanctuary. There is no reference in this text to any rope around the leg.


There are also some Halachik difficulties with the ‘golden chain/rope’ because it meant adding an impermissible item to the clothing of the High Priest on Yom Kippur - known as ‘yitur begadim’. This is something that would have been taken extremely seriously because any deviation from the priestly dress-code would have been on pain of death. A rope worn around the foot may have constituted additional vestments.

A metal chain[9] may have created issues with the laws of purity as metal contracts impurity easily.
Gold, in general, should have been a Halachik issue on Yom Kippur when the High Priest was only permitted to wear white.

And finally, assuming a High Priest dies in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, there would be no need to haul him out by a rope, because his body could simply be removed by another Cohen, a Levi, or even a Yisrael if necessary:

As the Talmud states:

Anyone may enter the sanctuary (Heichal[10]) whether to build, to repair or to remove impurity.”[11]


Our intent was only to show that there is a Jewish source for the story. The bearing this source may have on Halacha, history or possible spiritual symbolism, is an issue for further study.

[1] Yoma 8b, and 18a.
[2] Yoma 9a.
[3] The number 300 is calculated from Yoma 9a, where we see that Yochanan served for 80 years, Shimon haTzadik for 40, and Yishmael ben Pavi for 10 years. (Some say that Elazar ben Charsum served for 11 years.) So for the remaining 279 years, there was approximately one High priest per year, due to the corruption.
[4] According to R. Dr Ari Zivotofsky: “It should be noted that although the Gemara says they did not serve an entire year, it does not specifically state that they died on Yom Kippur; while some definitely died then, others may have died under different circumstances or simply lost the position to a higher bidder.” See: Tzarich Iyun – The Kohen Gadol’s Rope.
[5] Yoma 52b.
[6] Dr W. E. Nunnally is Associate Professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Central Bible College, and also Adjunct Professor of Hebrew, The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
[7] Zohar, Parshat Acharei Mot, 67a.
[8] Zohar Vol. 16 Emor (102a), Section 34. Yom Kippur, Par. 251.
[9] The Jastrow Dictionary of the Talmud translates Kitra as a ‘knot’ or ‘band’ (which may imply a rope which alleviates the metal issue).
[10] See Rambam, Beit haBechira 7:23, where this is extended to the Holy of Holies as well.
[11] Eiruvin 105a.