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Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.
Simeon Ben Yohai (also known as Shimon bar Yochai), a famous rabbi of the second century CE, was a disciple of Rabbi Akiba and a colleague of Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Judah, and Rabbi Jose.
Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai’s opinions in halakhah are referred to frequently in the Talmudic records of the debates and discussions among the Tannaim. He was also renowned as an exponent of Scripture and a miracle-worker.
In the Talmudic legend, Rabbi Simeon made some adverse remarks about the Roman occupation of Judaea and when this was reported to the government authorities he was obliged to flee for his life. Together with his son, Eleazar, he lived in a cave for thirteen years.
Who Wrote the Zohar?
According to the Kabbalists, Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai is the author of the Zohar, a work composed in the main during his forced stay in the cave and the bulk of which consists of mystical interpretations of Scripture by Rabbi Simeon and his chosen companions.
Recent Zoharic scholarship has demonstrated that the true author of the major part of the Zohar was Moses de Leon, who made Rabbi Simeon the hero of his pseudepigraphic work.
An annual pilgrimage is still made on Lag Ba’Omer, the anniversary of Rabbi Simeon’s death, to his supposed tomb in Meron, near Safed.
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