Joel Hecker, Ph.D., associate professor of Jewish mysticism, is among today’s most prominent scholars of kabbalah. Against a backdrop of popular trivialization of this subject, he strives to help students grasp the true theological gravity and multi-layered beauty of these mystical texts.
Currently, Hecker is one of only two academics in the world invited to join distinguished scholar, Daniel Matt, Ph.D., in the monumental task of writing the first unabridged English translation of and commentary on the Zohar. The original texts in Aramaic and Hebrew—nearly 2,000 pages of commentary on Torah and Talmud and other material designed to draw readers into participation in a mystical drama—have been virtually impenetrable to untrained readers.
As chair of the Department of Modern Jewish Civilization, Hecker savors the freedom he finds at RRC as an Orthodox Jewish professor. "The opportunity to ask any and all questions in an unfettered yet deeply engaged Jewish learning environment offers great satisfaction," he says.
How does Hecker negotiate this back-and-forth with masorah, the chains of tradition? He is invigorated by the viewpoints students bring to the classroom, and by the fact that he is teaching Jewish leaders who will then teach others in synagogues or in community settings.
"The students are engaged—mature, idealistic and often wrestling with profound material," Hecker says. “Everything brought to the table is Torah."
Read more about Hecker and The Zohar Project in this article from RRC's 2010 Annual Report.