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Into the Mystic

October 5, 2016

The Zohar is one of the most influential and impenetrable works of Jewish mysticism in the entire Jewish canon. Joel Hecker, an RRC professor who is also trained as an orthodox rabbi, has played a key role in a landmark scholarly effort to produce an authoritative English translation.

The Zohar, a mammoth collection of medieval writings, forms a large part of what is called the Kabbalah: the body of literature that explores hidden meanings behind Biblical texts and more elaborate descriptions of the divine. Published by Stanford University Press, the Pritzker Edition is a 12- volume set that is expected to be the definitive, scholarly translation for decades to come.

Hecker has spent six years working on the project. He authored all of volume 11, which will be published on October 5. He also translated more than half of the final installment, which will be published next spring. His sections included commentaries on Biblical works such as the Song of Songs, Ruth and Lamentations.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of the nation’s premier daily newspapers, recently featured Hecker’s contribution.

The Jewish Exponent offered its own take on the story.

Check out this in-depth interview.

For another dive into the project, and Hecker’s scholarly career, check out this interview he did with our communications team.

“It opens up a whole new universe of what Judaism might be about," Hecker told the Inquirer. "I have little doubt this will be one of the highlights of my scholarly career, and probably the most lasting."

For centuries after it first appeared, the Zohar exerted an enormous influence on Jewish religious development. Hecker explained that this project pertains not only to scholars, but will potentially interest Jews – and many non-Jews- who are spiritual seekers and open to ways of exploring big questions about God and the universe.

“This is not an easy text. But I think that for Jews who are serious about their spirituality, who are looking for ways of thinking about God, holiness, and self-growth, the Zohar and Kabbalah afford a grand system to pursue it,” explained Hecker. “There is an excitement and a fecundity in the Zohar that is simply remarkable.”

The Zohar, “reflects the deepest religious desires we have—to be truly known by God, to truly know God, and to be able to transcend our normal limitations to achieve peak levels of consciousness and connection: connections to other human beings, to the world, and to the divinity that pulsates through the entire universe.”


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