The Zohar

Pritzker Edition, Volume Eleven

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Joel Hecker
Joel Hecker
  • Palo Alto, CA: 
    Stanford University Press
    , October
     800 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This volume in the Pritzker Zohar Edition comprises two sections. The first part is a continuation of texts from the Midrash ha-Ne’lam—the commentary on the Torah was published in the previous volume of this series. This present volume continues with the Midrash ha-Ne’lam’s commentary on three Scrolls: the Song of Songs, Ruth, and Lamentations. Like the Torah commentary, these texts were published in the Zohar Hadash, a supplement to the Zohar published a generation after the first publication of the Zohar. The second part of the volume, entitled “Zoharic Compositions,” consists of four small treatises that are published in the standard three-volume editions of the Zohar. They are interspersed in specific locations and are printed in parallel columns in the body of the main text.

The Midrash ha-Ne’lam included commentaries on these Scrolls given that they are considered an integral part of the Jewish Liturgical Bible; those parts of the Bible that are part of the synagogue service on specific occasions. The Song of Songs commentary shares many of the characteristics of the Midrash ha-Ne’lam on the Torah, with the exception that, unlike the Torah commentary, it is primarily in Aramaic. It is a fragmentary work that may have been an Introduction to a larger work. The commentary on Ruth is more comprehensive, interpreting a substantial portion of this Scroll. Interspersed in the commentary are teachings and discussion on a wide variety of topics, including discussion of liturgical innovations, the afterlife, and a threefold method of Torah interpretation, which is a precursor to the better-known fourfold method of biblical interpretation. Lamentations comments on the anguish of Israel in the wake of the destruction of the Temple. It describes the feelings of the children of Israel, abandoned and orphaned by their divine Father (Tiferet) and Mother (Shekhinah). This familial imagery is contrasted to the Christian Holy Family of God, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus. The form and style of these texts is similar to the Midrash ha-Ne’lam on the Torah.

The first treatise of the second section, Song of Songs on the Zohar, is different from the Midrash ha-Ne’lam on Song of Songs that appears earlier in this same volume. The core of the text is an exchange of homilies between Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai and the prophet Elijah. Rabbi Simeon’s homilies are concerned with the ascent of the Sefirot, and the soul of the individual. Elijah, on the other hand, seeks to overcome human transgressions and the dark forces of the Other Side (Sitra Ahra). The goal for both of them is to restore the original divine unity. The two sections of Matnitin [Our Mishnah] and Tosefta [Additions] are also similar in style and message. They call upon humanity to awaken and study the truths of God and His Torah. The style is terse and sometimes rhythmic, leading to the suggestion that they may have been chanted in order to raise mystical consciousness. Sitrei Torah [Secrets of the Torah], the last section, is a collection of passages primarily connected to the Book of Genesis. A central focus of this text is the power of the demonic Other Side.

As with previous volumes in this series, the translation is lucid and accurate. There are many allusions in the text to earlier rabbinic texts, and the language is replete with symbols and metaphors. The comprehensive commentary masterfully guides the reader through the thickets, and illumines the underlying sources and ideas. Joel Hecker’s translation and commentary continues the highest standards of scholarship that are a hallmark of this series. It is an indispensable resource for the study of the Zohar which achieves the golden mean of accessiblity to the non-specialist, but also as an invaluable resource for the specialist.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Morris M. Faierstein is a research associate at teh Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland.

Date of Review: 
July 7, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Joel Hecker is a leading academic scholar of The Zohar and Jewish mysticism. He is professor of Jewish mysticism at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Yeshiva University. He is the author of Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah (2005), and does research on ritual and mystical experience in The Zohar and its contemporary literature.


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