Passages Claimed to Be in the Zohar, But Not There

In my article, I referred to passages in the Zohar which traditional authorities had claimed were really later interpolations. There are examples of the opposite phenomenon as well, namely, attributing things to the Zohar that are not found there. The most famous instance of this that I know of is found in the Bah, Orah Hayyim 4 (and quoted from there in Be’er Heitev, Orah Hayyim 1:2) that upon waking up if you walk four amot without washing your hands you are subject to the death penalty! This Zoharic text is quoted in the name of the work Tola’at Yaakov, authored by R. Meir Ibn Gabai (1480-ca. 1543). The passage is cited over and over again by aharonim in trying to show the importance of the morning washing. Yalkut Meam Loez, Deut. 4:9, doesn’t even mention the Zohar, stating simply:

ואמרו חז”ל כל המהלך ד’ אמות בלי נטילת ידים חייב מיתה

A few scholars actually point out that this passage is not to be found in the Zohar. One of those who realized this is R. Eleazar Fleckeles, Teshuvah me-Ahavah, vol. 1 no. 14, whom we will come back to later in this post. He writes that he looked in the Zohar and didn’t find the passage referred to. With reference to the Tola’at Yaakov, whom he (falsely) thinks cited the Zohar (since that is what it says in the Bah), Fleckeles writes:

ושארי לי’ מארי’ שעשה רוב ישראל לחייבי מיתות

Because very few of the aharonim actually had the sefer Tola’at Yaakov (which is itself a little strange as the book was printed a number of times), they were unable to see that the Tola’at Yaakov never quotes the Zohar! Here is p. 9a from the Cracow 1581 edition.

If you look in the second paragraph you will see that Ibn Gabai does state that one who doesn’t wash his hands is חייב מיתה, but he doesn’t attribute this to the Zohar. How he derives this idea is worthy of investigation at a different time. For now, it is important to just note that what we have here is an independent idea of a sixteenth-century Kabbalist which for some reason was misquoted by the Bah as if Ibn Gabai was citing the Zohar. This misquotation was to be repeated again and again, down to the present day.

Marc Shapiro, “Concerning the Zohar and Other Matters”, The Seforim Blog (29 August 2012) []