Dor Daim - Similarities and Differences With Other Groups - Spanish and Portuguese Jews

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 16th and early 17th centuries they adopted a certain number of Lurianic observances in a piecemeal fashion, for example 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 Leone di 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 Sephardi Jews of many other backgrounds, there would be no bar on individuals regarding Kabbalah more positively. In particular, the Lurianic Kabbalah had a following in the Jewish community of Livorno, which falls within the Spanish and Portuguese group but was the main point of contact between it and the Levantine Sephardim. The Spanish and Portuguese group'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 Spain. 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, subject to certain liturgical customs peculiar to themselves. It could even be argued that they follow Caro more closely than any other group, as many other Sephardim, especially the eastern communities influenced by the Ben Ish Chai, 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, in particular among the followers of José Faur and Yaakov Oliveira, a more purist and principled attitude has evolved, which does place considerable emphasis on the Mishneh Torah; however they too accept the Shulchan Aruch as their authority on practical Jewish law.

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