Dor Daim

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Dor Daim, sometimes known as Dardaim, are adherents of the Dor Deah movement in Judaism. That movement was founded in nineteenth century Yemen by Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh, and had its own network of synagogues and schools. Its objects were:

  1. to combat the influence of the Zohar and subsequent developments in modern Kabbalah, which were then pervasive in Yemenite Jewish life, and which the Dor Daim believed to be irrational and idolatrous;
  2. to restore (what they believed to be) a rational approach to Judaism rooted in authentic sources, including the Talmud, Saadia Gaon and especially Maimonides;
  3. to safeguard the older (Baladi) tradition of Yemenite Jewish observance, which they believed to be based on this approach.

Today there is no official Dor Dai movement, but the term is used for individuals and synagogues within the Yemenite Jews community (mostly in Israel) who share the original movement's perspectives. There are also some groups, both within and outside the Yemenite community, holding a somewhat similar stance, who describe themselves as talmide ha-Rambam (disciples of Maimonides) rather than Dor Daim.


Background: Baladi and Shami rituals

Since the early Middle Ages the Yemenite Jewish community generally followed the teachings of Maimonides on all legal issues, and their prayer book was substantially identical to the text set out in his "Laws of Prayer". This is attested by the writings of several well known Rabbis such as the Ramban, Rabbi Obadiah ben Abraham and the Yihhyah Salahh [1]. The Yemenite tradition is therefore separate from both the Sephardic Judaism and the Ashkenazi Jews streams in Judaism.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the teachings of the Kabbalah, especially in the form advocated by Isaac Luria and his school, became increasingly popular in Yemen as in other countries. This did not always mean a change in the liturgy: Luria himself held that it was essential to keep to the form of prayers inherited from one's ancestors, so that one's prayers reached the gate in Heaven appropriate to one's tribe. However, many individuals and communities round the world (principally Mizrahi Jews but also Hasidic Judaism) discarded their ancestral rites in favour of the modified Sephardic Judaism#Lurianic Kabbalah used by Luria and his immediate circle, on the reasoning that this form of prayer reached a "thirteenth gate" for those who did not know their tribe.

This division was reflected among Yemenite Jews. Some retained the ancestral liturgy, while others adopted the Lurianic-Sephardic liturgy. This did not necessarily reflect a disagreement about Kabbalah as such: many Yemenite Jews believed in the Kabbalah but considered that retaining their ancestral liturgy, as recommended by Luria, was the Kabbalistically correct thing to do.

In the 18th century Rabbi Yihhyah Salahh, known as the Maharitz, introduced a new edition of the Yemenite Jewish prayer book which he created in order to lessen the schism between the two groups. This substantially followed the traditional Yemenite (Maimonidean) ritual, but made some concessions to the Kabbalists, for example by incorporating the hymn Lekhah Dodi. This new standard became known as Baladi (meaning "of the country", i.e. Yemen). The Lurianic-Sephardic ritual by contrast was known as Shami (literally "northern", meaning Palestinian or Damascus). The distinction also affected questions of Jewish law, the Baladi community following Maimonides almost exclusively while the Shami community also accepted the Shulchan Aruch.

Over time more and more Kabbalistic practices became popular among the Yemenite Jews to the point that the Baladi community became localized as a significant population only around the area of Yemen's capital city, Sana'a. Today, with the majority of Yemenite Jewry being outside of Yemen and in closer contact with Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, it could be perceived that the proportion with which the Dor Daim perspective is spreading (though in a milder form than the original) is not much different from the rate at which Yemenite Jews as a whole are giving up their unique traditions and assimilating into mainstream Judaism.

Formation of movement

Dor Daim emerged as a recognizable force in the early part of the 19th century. The Dor Daim movement was formed by individuals who were displeased by the influence of Kabbalah which had been introduced to Yemen in the 1600s. They believed that the core beliefs of Judaism were rapidly diminishing in favor of the mysticism of the Kabbalah. Displeased by the direction that education and the social development of Yemen was taking, they opened their own educational system in Yemen. They were also unhappy with the influence that Kabbalists (mystics) were having on various customs and rituals (e.g. the text of the prayer-book), in addition to a strong superstitious influence, which they saw as working against social and scientific improvement in Jewish Yemen.

The Dor Daim consider(ed) the Kabbalists to be irrational, anti-scientific, and anti-progressive in attitude and felt that they were thereby contributing to a decline in the social and economic status of the Yemenite Jews. The above-mentioned issues led Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh to spearhead the Dor Daim movement. Among its goals was the revival and protection of the original tradition as transmitted by the Sanhedrin through the chain of ordination which started with Moses at Sinai, one generation after the next.

The movement was not well received by some scholars in Yemen and Israel. Especially controversial were the views of the Dor Daim on the important book of Kabbalah known as the Zohar. These views are put forth in a book called Milhamoth Hashem (Wars of the Lord) [2] which was written by Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh. A group of Jerusalem rabbis published an attack on Rabbi Qafahh under the title of Emunat Hashem (Faith of the Lord), and measures were taken to ostracize members of the movement.

From this time Yemenite Jews may be classified as Shami, mainstream Baladi and Dor Dai or "Rambamist". A term frequently used by Dor Daim for Yemenites who accept the Zohar is Aqashim, meaning "obscurantists".

An important later Yemenite authority was Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh's grandson, Rabbi Yosef Qafih, who edited many important works by Maimonides and Saadia Gaon as well as issuing two new editions of the Baladi prayer book.[1] Unlike his grandfather he avoided expressing any opinion on the Zohar, beyond saying that it was preferable to draw one's spiritual sustenance from the works of Maimonides. There is therefore some doubt about whether Rabbi Qafahh junior should be regarded as a Dor Dai or as a mainstream Baladi. His intention was probably to reconcile the two groups, in the same way as the Maharitz tried to reconcile traditionalists and Kabbalists.

Dor Daim today

There is no official Dor Dai organization, and no watertight test for distinguishing who is a Dor Dai: many individuals are reluctant to identify themselves by that name for fear of persecution. Some of the original Dor Dai synagogues in Israel survive, but have moved nearer to the mainstream Baladi tradition in the same way as Rabbi Yosef Qafahh. Similarly there is no universally recognised leader for the movement. The successor of Rabbi Yosef Qafahh as leader of the Yemenite community as a whole is generally considered to be Rabbi Ratzon Arusi of Qiryat Ono.

Today there exists a tendency with views similar to the original Dor Daim, but, while its adherents have great respect for the Yemenite tradition in general and the Dor Daim in particular, they are not exclusively Yemenite in origin and generally describe themselves as "talmide ha-Rambam" (disciples of Maimonides) rather than as "Dor Daim". In 2005 there was a widely publicized gathering of hilltop Israeli settlement of Yemenite descent describing themselves as "Dor Daim", but it is unclear how far these represent the historic Dor Dai movement.



Dor Daim place particular importance on the Jewish doctrine of the absolute unity of God, which they believe has been compromised by the popular forms of Kabbalah prevalent today. In support of this, they appeal to the Jewish philosophy writings of various Geonim and Rishonim such as Saadia Gaon, Rabbenu Bahya ibn Paquda, Rabbi Judah Halevi and Maimonides. The following points concerning the Almighty's Unity are emphasized in particular:

  • He is Incomparable to any created thing
  • He is neither male nor female, but due to the limitations of human speech we must use certain terms allegorically and metaphorically to some extent in order to convey the fact that He DOES exist
  • His existence is qualitatively different from all other existences, and all other existences depend upon Him and are sustained by Him, while He remains infinitely and unfathomably distinct and independent from all creation
  • He is ONE Unity unlike any unity in creation; His Oneness is not a unity which can be divided or which is composed of parts, both of which could only be the case with a unity that is subject to time/space; Nor is His Oneness a one in the sense of a species or type.
  • No quality of creation applies to Him: not space, not time, not change, no concept of a body, form, or image, no concept of filling a body, form, or any location, nor any other factor of creation - for He is Perfect and Sufficient in Himself and has no need for any of these. He is not a force or a power which possess or fills something else, nor is there any aspect of multiplicity in Him - as would be the case were the world literally to be within Him. Any Biblical or Talmudic phrases which seem to imply that any quality of creation applies to Him must be understood as having some meaning other than its literal meaning, for He transcends all aspects of creation. None of them are applicable to Him.
  • The Splendor of the Reality of His Being is so great that no mind can grasp even the smallest part of it, for He has no parts, as it says, "..and to His Greatness there is no investigating." (Psalms 145:3) Therefore one must always be aware that the sublime Truth of His Being transcends anything we can ever express, but that all references to Him are either by speaking of what He is not or by way of literary tools such as metaphor.

Attitude to Kabbalah

In the book Milhamoth HaShem, one finds that possibly the most fundamental issue the Dor Daim had (and have) with the popularly accepted understanding of Kabbalah concerns the absolute transcendent Singularity/Oneness of the Creator and the laws against avodah zarah (forbidden forms of devotion/idolatry). The Dor Daim believe that the popular forms of Kabbalah prevalent today are contrary to the absolute and incomparable Unity of the Creator and violate various laws against idolatry and polytheism.

The issue is not the existence of Kabbalah as such. The word "Kabbalah" is used in older Jewish sources to mean simply "tradition" and need not refer to mysticism of any kind. Furthermore, Dor Daim accept that in Talmudic times there was a secret mystical tradition in Judaism, known as Maaseh Bereshith (the work of creation) and Maaseh Merkavah (the work of the chariot); and Maimonides interprets these as respectively referring to something similar to Aristotle physics and metaphysics as interpreted in the light of Torah. They simply reject the notion that this tradition is represented by the ideas popularly referred to as Kabbalah in our days.

Similarly a Dor Dai is not bound to reject the theory of the ten Sefirot: these figure in a respectable book of ancient Jewish mysticism called the Sefer Yetzirah, which was commented on by Saadia Gaon. In the Sefer Yetzirah, however, unlike in later Kabbalah, there is no question of the Sefirot being Divine entities or even attributes: they are simply the numerals, considered as the dimensional parameters used in the creation of the world, and the theory probably goes back to Pythagoras.

What they view as the problem comes in with the Bahir and the Zohar, where the Sefirot have become hypostatized as Divine attributes or emanations, and it seems that religious devotions can never be addressed directly to the En Sof (the Absolute) but only through one or other of the Sefirot; and in modern Edot ha-Mizrach prayer books each occurrence of the Tetragrammaton is vocalized differently in a kind of code to show which Sefirah one should have in mind. This problem is compounded in the teachings of Isaac Luria as found in the writings of Hayyim ben Joseph Vital, where it is held that as a result of some catastrophe in Heaven the Sefirot have fractured and re-formed into three, or possibly five, personalities within the Godhead known as partzufim (from Greek προσωπαι, faces), and that the purpose of each religious observance is to assist in their reunification. This is felt as being uncomfortably close to the Christian Trinity, or indeed to Greek polytheism. More specifically, it violates the prohibition against Ribbuy Reshuyoth (worshipping or conceiving of a multiplicity of reigns) referred to by Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah.

The original Dor Daim, such as Yihhyah Qafahh, condemned the Zohar as an outright forgery and as filled with idolatry, and even organized ceremonial public burnings of the book. Today's Dor Daim usually take a somewhat more moderate stance, and allow that the Zohar may contain elements of authentic Midrash together with a great deal of later interpolation. They still consider the Zohar in its present form to be an unsafe guide, both to theology and to practice.

Other segments of Orthodox Judaism which share this perspective of the Dor Daim, while not necessarily rejecting the Zohar itself, include most talmide ha-Rambam (disciples of Maimonides) and some followers of the Vilna Gaon, as well as portions of the Modern Orthodox community and others. Those among these groups who do not reject the Zohar assert that the Kabbalah as popularly taught today represents a distortion of the Zohar's intended teachings. However, the specific issues identified by the Dor Daim remain in all current and older editions of the Zohar.

Reincarnation; invocation of saints

Another matter of dispute between Dor Daim and the Kabbalists concerns the Dor Daim's rejection of reincarnation. It should be pointed out that as early as Saadia Gaon (892-942), reincarnation had already been rejected as an authentic Jewish belief. This perspective is shared not only by non-Dor Dai disciples of Rambam (Maimonides) but also by many in mainstream Orthodox Judaism.

Dor Daim also disapprove of the practice of praying at the tombs of saints and sages to seek their intercession. Dor Daim, indeed all Meqoriim, consider such practices absolutely antithetical to the most essential principles of what they believe to be historical Judaism: to serve the One Incomparable Creator without joining partners or mediators together with Him in our prayers and worship. This is based on their understanding of the books mentioned above, and specificially on the laws concerning mediator (sarsur) or an advocate (melitz) mentioned in the Mishneh Torah and the fifth of the Thirteen Principles of Faith.

Jewish law

Dor Daim disapprove of what they believe to be an abandonment of a number of Talmudic practices on the part of a large portion of the Jewish world in favor of newer customs and innovations, some of which, in their opinion, are even contrary to Talmudic law. In particular this disapproval is aimed at customs derived from the Kabbalah, but it is not confined to them.

In their view, the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides is the most accurate and therefore most authoritative statement of Talmudic law, and is in itself a sufficient reference without resort to any other source. According to the arguments of Rabbi Yosef Qafih, it is unnecessary to consult the Talmud in order to understand the Mishneh Torah, as the Mishneh Torah was written to elucidate the Talmud and not vice versa. Furthermore, the current text of the Talmud is fairly corrupt with numerous textual variants; from this, coupled with Maimonides' indications that he had far more accurate and complete Talmudic texts available to him[2], they conclude that the Mishneh Torah provides the best access to what the Talmud must originally have intended.

Unlike many of the later talmide ha-Rambam, the original Dor Daim were not committed to the view that all local Minhag, whether Sephardic Judaism or Ashkenazi Jews or from any other source, is totally illegitimate to the extent that it differs from the exact views of Maimonides, so they preserved certain non-Maimonidean Yemenite peculiarities in minor matters. However they did believe, in reliance on old authorities such as Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, that the views of Maimonides ought to be authoritative not only in Yemen but also in Eretz Yisrael, Egypt and the Near East generally.

There is a link between the Dor Daim's stance on Jewish law and on the other issues, as one argument for accepting the Mishneh Torah as the best restatement of Jewish law is that most of the later codifiers, including Joseph Caro, were believers in Kabbalah and should therefore not be accepted as authorities. As against this, many would argue that Caro and the others were operating within the rigorous rules of halachic reasoning and that their conclusions were in no way affected or invalidated by their personal theological views (just as, from the opposite perspective, Maimonides' status as a halachic authority is not affected by what they think is his acceptance of Greek philosophy).


Those aspects of Jewish/Talmudic law which Dor Daim may emphasize, be particularly passionate about, and/or consider to have been cast aside by large portions of the Jewish world include:

  • laws on 'avodah zarah' (forbidden forms of worship/idolatry) which they hold prohibits any use of intermediaries or mediators between oneself and the One Creator, prohibits praying or making requests to unseen forces such as past Rabbis or Sefirot, or supplicating to any unseen being other than the One Absolute Being - Y/H/W/H, and not doing any specific acts of religious devotion to any thing other than He;
  • laws of legislation relating to the function and necessity of the Great Court (the Sanhedrin)
  • laws concerning the settlement of the Land of Israel by the People of Israel as elaborated upon in Hilkhoth Melakhim u'Milhamotheham in the Mishneh Torah;
  • certain laws concerning kashruth, such as Halita - immersing meat into boiling water before cooking;
  • laws on certain aspects of prayer such as prostration during Tachanun and the manner in which to bow during the Shemoneh Esreh. Concerning bowing during the Shemoneh Esreh there are two almost opposite views: one is that only a slight nod of the head is required, the other is that one must literally go down to the floor upon his knees and make his upper body bowed over like an arch, similar to Muslims, though not exactly in the same manner. It is hard to know the percentage of those who hold by the latter view, the likelihood being that most who accept such a view usually only do so in private or when praying among likeminded people. It is interesting to note that traditionally and even today Ashkenazi Jews bow similarly, though only during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; [3]
  • preservation of proper and exact pronunciation of all the Hebrew letters and Hebrew grammar (although there are minute differences even amongst the Dor Daim);
  • emphasizing memorization of the Humash (the Torah/Law of Moses); for example, each of the 7 individuals called up to read from a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) reads out loud the particular section of that week's parasha (section) upon which he said a blessing;
  • that one should strive to wear a Tallit Gadol and or Tefillin as much as permitted by Talmudic law whenever possible. In various areas of Israel, including Jerusalem, one may see individuals wearing the Tallit Gadol during 'Erev Shabbat' (Friday night) hanging over or wrapped over their shoulders in a manner distinct from the majority custom, when almost no other Jews would be wearing a Tallit Gadol. Even children under 13 can be seen wearing a Tallit Gadol among them.

Dor Daim usually use Yosef Qafih's edition of the Baladi Siddur#Yemenite Jews (Teimanim). This is on the lines of the prayer book of the Maharitz, and it does not contain any Kabbalistic insertions or additions. The song welcoming the Shabat "Lecha Dodi" does not have its orgin in the Zohar, but in the Talmud, BK 32a. What stems from Kabala is the way of saying it with one's back turned to the Holy Arch as one faces the entrance of the synagogue, and the Dardaim do not turn their backs to the Ark containing the Torah scroll.

Similarities and differences with other groups

Mainstream Baladi Jews

Outwardly the practices of Baladi Jews and Dor Daim are almost identical, apart from some Kabbalistic insertions to be found in the Baladi prayer book. However most Baladim, while holding that the Mishneh Torah is the best interpretation of Jewish law, are content to preserve it as the particular custom of their group and do not seek to delegitimize the customs of other Jewish communities.

Several of the above-listed distinctions between Dor Daim and the majority of world Jewry are shared by all traditional Baladi Yemenite Jews, and not just by Dor Daim. Aside from possibly the first few in the list, the only difference between Dor Daim and the rest of Baladi Yemenite Jews appears to be the level of zeal in preserving the above listed practices, although exceptions do exist.

Talmide ha-Rambam

Dor Daim are regarded as part of a wider trend within Judaism known as talmide ha-Rambam (pupils of Maimonides), not necessarily confined to the Yemenite community. It is important to note that although Dor Daim always identify with the Rambam's legal and theological perspectives on Judaism (hashkafa), Dor Daim and talmide ha-Rambam are not necessarily one and the same. That is, a disciple of the Rambam may or may not be a Dor Dai; however, a Dor Dai will always be (in a broader sense) a disciple of the Rambam.

Today's talmide ha-Rambam differ from the original Dor Daim in two ways.

  • Talmide ha-Rambam do not necessarily reject the Zohar. However, their interpretation may differ more or less drastically from the Lurianic school or the currents of thought popularly referred to as "Kabbalah" today.
  • Talmide ha-Rambam tend to hold that the Mishneh Torah is the sole binding codification of Talmudic law, and that every divergence from it is logically inferior if not actually illegitimate. On points not explicitly covered by Maimonides, such as the exact mode of prostration during prayers, there is considerable competition to unearth the most authentic mode from among the various Yemenite practices found in recorded history. Dor Daim, by contrast, do retain some current Yemenite practices, even when (according to the talmide ha-Rambam) these diverge from the views of Maimonides. For example, they do not follow Maimonides' recommendation to eliminate all prayers prior to the Kaddish and Shema in order to avoid 'unnecessarily burdening the congregation'.

In short, talmide ha-Rambam are less extreme than Dor Daim about the Zohar and more extreme about "Maimonides-only" jurisprudence. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two groups, as expressed in the list of beliefs and practices above, overwhelmingly outnumber the differences.

Many members of the small and slowly growing Dor Dai community claim a fear of persecution and therefore maintain an almost secret existence. It is very likely that the entire movement of Dor Daim, together with some of their well-known leaders, has helped, and continues to help, fuel the rapidly growing community of talmide ha-Rambam. It is undeniable that, while there are sometimes differences between Dor Daim and talmide ha-Rambam as a whole--over certain details of practical Jewish law and the issue of the Zohar--the two communities continue to have strong links.

As stated, talmide ha-Rambam differ from Dor Daim in that they are not confined to the Yemenite community and need not be committed to specifically Yemenite customs. Nonetheless Yemenite scholarship and practice are still a major resource for them. Two good examples of this are seen in the works of the Rabbi Mori Yosef Qafih (Kapach) and of

  • Rabbi Yosef Qafahh has made various contributions to Dor Daim, talmide ha-Rambam and the Jewish world as a whole. Examples of his contributions include his encyclopedic commentary to the entire Mishneh Torah set to the renowned Yemenite text of the Mishneh Torah, his translation of all of Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah from Arabic into modern Hebrew, as well as translations of the Guide for the Perplexed, Duties of the Heart, Sefer Kuzari, and a number of other works.
  • has produced Torah databases for learning the Humash, Tanakh, Mishna, the Talmudic texts, as well as the Mishneh Torah based on "most" manuscripts, using Frankel's scholarly version rather than the "Dardai" Qafah's version. The website's "About" section states that most participants in the work of Mechon-Mamre are Baladi Yemenite Jews, although some of the more impacting individuals of are not Yemenite or Dor Daim at all, but merely promote observance of Talmudic law as codified in the Mishneh Torah.

Dor Daim and "Rambamists" are most easily recognized by the manner in which their Tzitzit are tied (according to the Rambam, despite slight variations in understanding). Temani/Rambam Tzitzit can be distinguished from those of the many 'knitted kippa' youths who have adopted the same style, but have added Tzitzit#Tekhelet. Rambamists and Baladim are also noticeable by the fact that they wear their Tallit in a different manner from other Orthodox Jews, and even wear it on Friday nights/Erev Shabbath, which is unheard of in the Orthodox world (apart from a handful of Hasidic Judaism in Jerusalem, referred to as Yerushalmis, who wear it very discreetly so as to not look arrogant).


Dor Daim as well as non-Yemenite or non-Dor Dai students of the Rambam all find a certain level of commonality with individuals who sometimes call themselves Gaonists. Gaonists aim at applying Jewish law in every day life according to the writings of the Geonim as a whole without singling out any one particular Gaon or codification of Jewish law over another. The commonality between all of these groups is sourced in their shared pursuit of living according to their understanding of Talmudic law as much as possible with as little influence from the effects of almost 2,000 years of exile as possible. These groups together are sometimes referred to as Meqoriim (originalists/followers of the originals).

Mitnaggedim and followers of the Vilna Gaon

In many respects, the dispute between Dor Daim and Aqashim is similar to that between Misnagdim and Hasidic Judaism, with the Vilna Gaon standing for strict Torah observance and rational scholarship in much the same way as Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh. It is doubtful, however, whether the Vilna Gaon in fact rejected Lurianic Kabbalah in toto, though he was accused of this by the Hasidim: see in particular the letters of the Shneur Zalman of Liadi.

Those of the Vilna Gaon's successors who were associated with the Volozhin yeshiva, such as the Brisk yeshivas and methods group and in particular Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, had a very high regard for the Mishneh Torah and regarded it as the best tool for the theoretical understanding of the Talmud and of Jewish law generally. When however it came to practical Posek, an activity of which they steered clear when possible, they adhered to the normative Ashkenazi Jews version of Jewish law, as set out in the Shulchan Aruch and the glosses of Moses Isserles. On the whole they accepted the Zohar, but had a distinctive "intellectualist" understanding of it.[4]

There are various groups in Israel today which claim to follow the Vilna Gaon: these may be found in places as diverse as the Neturei Karta and the fringes of Religious Zionism. In some ways their perspective is similar to that of the Dor Daim.

Some Modern Orthodox thinkers of a mitnagged cast of thought, such as Yeshayahu Leibowitz, also reject Zoharic Kabbalah and praise the work of Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh.[3]

Spanish and Portuguese Jews

Dor Daim and other Yemenite talmide ha-Rambam like to compare themselves to the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, and think of them as "the other Rambam Jews". This is largely because of their shared scepticism about the Zohar. The resemblance has however been exaggerated.

Spanish and Portuguese Jews preserve an early form of the Sephardic liturgy from before the expulsion from Spain, which reflected some, but only very limited, influence from the Kabbalah and the Zohar. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries they adopted a certain number of Lurianic observances in a piecemeal fashion, for example the Tu Bishvat#The Tu Bishvat Seder. After the Sabbatai Zevi debacle these observances were largely dropped, because it was felt that Lurianic Kabbalah had contributed to the disaster. The arguments against the authenticity of the Zohar advanced by Jacob Emden and Leon of Modena were also influential. At the present day the general Spanish and Portuguese attitude to the Kabbalah is one of indifference rather than hostility. As Spanish and Portuguese communities act as hosts for Sephardic Jews of many other backgrounds, there would be no bar on individuals regarding Kabbalah more positively. The community's closest resemblance would therefore be not to Dor Daim but to mainstream Baladi Yemenites.

Spanish and Portuguese Jews admire Maimonides and identify with the Golden age of Jewish culture in the Iberian Peninsula. However, they cannot be classified as "Rambamists" in the sense required, as their religious law is based squarely on the Bet Yosef of Joseph Caro. It could even be argued that they follow Caro more closely than any other group, as many other Sephardim regard Isaac Luria as having equal or even greater authority than Caro.

The above describes the attitude of traditional communities such as London and Amsterdam. In some newer communities a more purist and principled attitude has evolved, in particular among the followers of José Faur and Yaakov Oliveira [4], though they too accept the Shulchan Aruch rather than the Mishneh Torah as their authority on practical Jewish law.


1. There are those who would claim that Dor Daim and even all students of the Rambam are heretics by reason of their non-acceptance of Zohar and Lurianic Kabbalah.[5] This claim is based on the assumption that the Lurianic Kabbalah is a dogma of Judaism, binding upon all Jews. Not only the Dor Daim and talmide ha-Rambam, but many other Orthodox groups, such as the followers of the Vilna Gaon and many Modern Orthodox, would disagree with this assumption (whether or not they personally accept the Lurianic Kabbalah) because it is not sustained by any testimony in the Talmud or other sources that Shimon ben Yochai authored the Zohar.

The Dor Dai response is that whether a person or school is heretical is a question of law, to be decided according to authoritative works of halakha: one is not a heretic simply for disagreeing with a widely held Aggadah interpretation, unless the halakha specifically says so. The Mishneh Torah is comprehensive in scope and is, at the very least, one of the authoritative sources of halakha, so to follow it is authentic Judaism. Accordingly, since the Dor Daim assert nothing that is not found within the four corners of the Mishneh Torah, and the Mishneh Torah teaches laws that contradict Zoharic or Lurianic Kabbalah, they cannot be heretics - unless the Mishneh Torah itself is heretical, which is not held by any mainstream Jewish group.

2. Others believe that the main problem is not that Dor Daim do not follow Kabbalah for themselves, but that they delegitimize those who do follow it. Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh, for instance, held that one must not use parchments written by, or eat meat slaughtered by, believers in Kabbalah because they do so in a way contrary to the way dictated by the Almighty Creator. This distinct concept to which Rabbi Yihhyah Qafahh, based on certain popular Kabbalistic works, warned that such parchments etc. are dedicated is called Zeir Anpin (one of the partzufim of the 10 sephirot). Few Dor Daim take such an extreme view today, as most consider that the above reasoning makes Jewish law too uncertain in practice.

3. A third criticism is that Dor Daim take works of Kabbalah too literally: it is intended to be myth and metaphor, and to subject it to rigorous analysis as the Dor Daim do is like trying to construe a Keats sonnet as if it were an Act of Parliament. Works of Kabbalah themselves contain warnings that the teachings should not be exposed to common view or read too realistically, and that to do so is indeed to incur the danger of falling into heresy or idolatry.

The Dor Dai response to this is that, however this may be in theory, these warnings have not been observed. Kabbalah has in fact been extensively popularised, with the result that many otherwise pious Jewish groups are now permeated with superstition, so that the whole enterprise is now more trouble than it is worth. Further, the claim that these works, on their true interpretation, are harmless metaphorical imagery fully compatible with monotheism is disingenuous: the origins of most Kabbalistic concepts in pagan systems such as Neoplatonism and Gnosticism are too glaringly obvious to be ignored. (Dor Daim do not claim that Kabbalists are in fact polytheists: only that they are inconsistent.)

4. A fourth criticism is that it is a stultification of Jewish law to regard any authority, even one as eminent as Maimonides, as final. The essence of Oral Law is that it is case law rather than code law, and needs to be interpreted in each generation: otherwise the Mishneh Torah could simply have been handed down as part of the written Torah. For this reason, it is a principle of Jewish law that "Jephthah in his generation is as Samson in his generation": one is bound by the current authorities, rather than by previous authorities however objectively superior.

The Dor Dai response to this is that the acceptance of Maimonides in the Yemenite community has always been regarded as a legitimate version of Jewish law, and that they are no more stultified by the authority of Maimonides than other Jewish communities are by the authority of the Shulchan Arukh. From the practical point of view Jewish law as codified by Maimonides is as compatible with modern conditions as any later code: if anything more so, as later Jewish law has become enmeshed in many unnecessary intellectual and halachic tangles.

5. A final criticism is that the Dor Dai version of Judaism is disquietingly reminiscent of militant Islamic trends such as Salafism. Both started out as modernising movements designed to remove some of the cobwebs and allow the religion to compete in the modern world, and both have ended up as fundamentalist groups lending themselves to alliances with political extremism. Both disapprove of mysticism (Kabbalah or Sufism) and praying at tombs; both tend to dismiss more moderate coreligionists as unbelievers (see Takfir); both cut out centuries of sophisticated legal scholarship in favour of an every-man-for-himself "back to the sources" approach.

The Dor Dai response to this is that political militancy is no more characteristic of Dor Daim than of many Kabbalistically-inspired branches of Religious Zionism (e.g. the followers of Zvi Yehuda Kook). In fact the conditions for political or military action, as laid down in the Mishneh Torah, are extremely strict.

External links

  • Torath Mosha Information about Torath Moshe (Judaism) in general, but specifically students of the Rambam, Baladim, and Dor Daim.
  • Milhamot Hashem Original text by Yihhyah Qafahh. Hebrew
  • Emunat Hashem Reply to Milhamot Hashem by pro-Zohar Jerusalem rabbis. Hebrew
  • The Mamre Institute, by one particular group of students of the Rambam; includes an especially accurate text of the Mishneh Torah, as well as all of the Tanakh, Mishnah, and other Talmudic texts.
  • Believing is Knowing A blog by a student of the Rambam which expresses sympathy towards the more common practices of Ashkenazi Jews
  • Machon Mishnat HaRambam Rabbi Ratzon Arusi's Machon Mishnat haRambam (Maimonides Institute) website. Rabbi Ratzon Arusi is chief rabbi of the Israeli town of Qiryat Ono as well as head of the Israeli Rabbinate's department of marriage. Hebrew
  • Biblical Monotheism contains information on Noahide Laws and reflective of philosophical beliefs in common with Dor Daim and talmide ha-Rambam
  • Anti-Maimonidean Demons Article by José Faur on the Maimonist/Anti-Maimonist controversy
  • Maimonides Agonist: Disenchantment and Reenchantment in Modern Judaism Article by Menachem Kellner contrasting Maimonidean with Zoharic Judaism.


  1. Shivat Tziyon (1950s, 3 vols.); Siahh Yerushalayim (1993, 4 vols.).
  2. Hilkhot Ishut 11:13; Hilkhot Malveh v'Loveh 15:2.
  3. See the popular book To Pray as a Jew by Hayim Halevy Donin or Rite and Reason on pages 528 & 529
  4. Lamm, Norman, Torah Lishmah: Torah for Torah's Sake in the Works of Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin and his Contemporaries: New York 1989, hardback ISBN-10: 0881251178, ISBN-13: 978-0881251173, paperback ISBN-10: 088125133X, ISBN-13: 978-0881251333.
  5. See for example Chaim Kanievsky, Derech Emunah p.30.