Kabbalah, Zohar Expert at Temple Israel For Shavuot

While it may have taken Madonna to make Kabbalah “popular”— or at least put a famous face to the 4,000-year-old spiritual movement which has its roots in Judaism—Dr. Daniel Matt, one of the foremost experts in Kabbalah, as well as the Zohar, the foundational work in the literature of Kabbalah, will be at Temple Israel for Shabbat and Shavuot, May 26-30.

“It’s going to be a full schedule,” Matt said, “and Shavuot is a special event. In a way, it’s a very dramatic moment in Kabbalah. It’s the quintessential Kabbalistic holiday.”

Matt will be speaking at Temple for a variety of sessions over Memorial Day weekend and will be the scholar-in-residence for the Tikkun Leil Shavuot. Matt recently completed an 18-year project translating nine of the 12 books of the Zohar, and said his interest in the topic came from his father, a Conservative rabbi.

“He never mentioned Kabbalah or Chassidism, but I felt such a genuine spirituality from him, it inspired me to look for that in Judaism,” Matt said from his home in Berkeley, Calif., where he will be teaching at the Graduate Theological Union after taking an 18-year hiatus to write the translations. “I went to Israel for my junior year abroad. I took Beginning and Advanced Zohar at the same time. I only had one year so I tried both. I was totally lost in Advanced Zohar, but that didn’t matter because I was totally lost in Beginning Zohar!”

Matt calls the Zohar very challenging, poetic, and symbolic texts. They were written in Aramaic in the 13th century, but in a way so they looked like the Talmud, which was written in the second century.

“I believe we may be living in a period of Jewish history that will someday be regarded as one in which Kabbalah emerged once again as a central, vital Jewish area of thought,” Temple Israel Rabbi Sim Glaser said. “We are blessed that Dr. Matt will be our teacher here at Temple.”

Matt explained the work of Gershom Scholem was crucial to the revitalization of Kabbalah in the early 1940s.

“To enter into Western European society, Jews made Judaism look more rational than it was, as Christianity did too, but they it did it very gradually,” he said. “Until the 19th century, Kabbalah was much better known [than it is today]. From 1600 to 1800, a typical, traditional Jewish home would know what the Zohar was and respect it. In the 19th century, Judaism presented a sanitized version to the West, eliminating anything that seemed superstitious.”

Matt’s nearly two-decade long project of translating the Zohar was funded by the Pritzker family in Chicago. Margot Pritzker had been studying the Zohar with an Orthodox rabbi in Chicago using an older translation that they had found lacking. The process was intense. Matt said each book is between 500 and 600 pages. The typical page is one-third translation of the Zohar and two-thirds Matt commentary.

“That version was the first translation done,” he said. “It was done in the 1930s, before the work of Scholem. I thought about it for a long time before I decided to do a new translation.”

Schedule of Professor Matt’s Visit to Temple Israel

Friday, May 26, 2017

6 p.m. Erev Shabbat Service

Daniel Matt will speak at the Erev Shabbat service on “Shekhina – the Feminine Half of God”

Saturday, May 27

9 a.m. Torah Study

Daniel Matt will lead Torah Study on “The Mystical Meaning of Torah – Zoharic Interpretations of the Portions”

6:00 p.m. Havdalah, Potluck Dinner, and Discussion at Camp TEKO

Daniel Matt will lead the discussion. “Raising the Sparks – Finding God in the Material World (An Environmental Perspective)”

Sunday, May 28, 2017

9:30 a.m. Brunch and Learn

Daniel Matt will lead the learning on “God & the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony Between Science & Spirituality”

RSVP to Wendy Schwartz by Wednesday, May 24 at 612-374-0344 or wendy@templeisrael.com.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

9 p.m. Tikkun Leil Shavuot Study Session

Daniel Matt will lead the study session “The Ripening of Torah – Discovering the Torah’s Unripe Fruit of Supernal Wisdom through Creative Interpretation and Ongoing Midrash.”

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About Lonny Goldsmith

Lonny Goldsmith is the editor of TC Jewfolk and Director of Communications for Jewfolk Media. He's an award-winning journalist who is involved in his third Jewish community after growing up in Michigan and spending a three-year stint in Chicago. He likes to write, cook and drink really good beer. He can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @lonny_goldsmith

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