Chair, Department of Modern Jewish Civilization; Professor of Jewish Mysticism
215.576.0800, ext. 217
Joel Hecker, Ph.D., serves as Professor of Jewish Mysticism, and is among today’s most prominent scholars of kabbalah. He is the author of Volume 11 and Volume 12 of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, the first complete annotated translation of the Zohar, the central and canonical text of Jewish mysticism. (Volume 11 won the 2017 Canadian Jewish Literary Award in the category of Scholarship.) Though written largely in late 13th century Castile, the Zohar has exerted outsized influence on Jewish mysticism, theology, and ritual practice because its authorship was ascribed to Rabbi Shim’on bar Yohai, a prominent 2nd century rabbi who figures prominently in the Mishnah. More an anthology of mystical midrash than a unified work of theology, the Zohar has charmed and fascinated readers since its first appearance. The original texts in Aramaic and Hebrew—nearly 2,000 pages of commentary on Torah, Midrash, and Talmud—are designed to draw readers into participation in a mystical drama, and have been virtually impenetrable to untrained readers. He holds an H.B.A. in English literature from the University of Toronto, rabbinic ordination and M.S. in Jewish philosophy from Yeshiva University, and a doctorate in Judaic Studies, specializing in Jewish mysticism, from New York University.
He has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania; fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem; Visiting Instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University; and lectured at a range of universities, adult-education institutions, as well as synagogues of all four major denominations.
Hecker is also the author of Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah (Wayne State University Press, 2004), and has published widely on a range of themes in Jewish mysticism. His scholarly interests include ritual, embodiment, mystical techniques, the deployment of emotion, visual culture in the kabbalah, as well as the history of Jewish magic.