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Zohar Pritzker Edition

The Zohar 1: Pritzker Edition, Volume One edited and translated with notes by Daniel C. Matt (Stanford University Press)

The Zohar 2: Pritzker Edition, Volume Two edited and translated with notes by Daniel C. Matt (Stanford University Press)

The Zohar 3: Pritzker Edition, Volume Three edited and translated with notes by Daniel C. Matt (Stanford University Press)

The Zohar 4: Pritzker Edition, Volume Four edited and translated with notes by Daniel C. Matt (Stanford University Press)

The Zohar 5: Pritzker Edition, Volume Five edited and translated with notes by Daniel C. Matt (Stanford University Press)

Should be complete in 9 volumes.

See www.sup.org/zohar

Ever since it emerged mysteriously in Castile, Spain toward the end of the 13th century, the Zohar has enthralled, confounded, challenged, and enraptured readers. Composed mostly in lyrical Aramaic, the Zohar is a mosaic of Bible, medieval homily, spiritual fantasy, and imaginative commentary, or midrash, on the Torah written in the form of a mystical novel. In it a group of rabbis wander through the hills of Galilee, discovering and sharing secrets of Torah: at times they interpret the actions of biblical figures, and at other times, they take center stage themselves through their adventures on the road and their encounters with various astonishing characters. The scope of the Zohar is far greater than a single book; it is virtually an entire body of literature, whose central theme is the intimacy between human beings and God. In this lies one of the Zohar’s boldest propositions, the capacity of the human being to effect change in the divine realm. Awestruck by the profundity of its insights, symbolism, and dreamlike images, Jews in many lands over the centuries have come to accept the Zohar as revealed truth—no less sacred than the two other major texts of their religion, the Torah and the Talmud. And yet, until now, there has never been a fully reliable comprehensive, scholarly English translation of this revered work with line-by-line commentary.

In a monumental undertaking that has already stirred enormous interest and eager anticipation among scholars and various religious communities, Daniel C. Matt, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Jewish mysticism, spent the past four years in Jerusalem completing the first phase of this immense project: a 12-volume, annotated English translation of the Zohar. The first two volumes of the set have appeared and a with a new volume is scheduled to appear approximately each year.

Volume I includes the Zohar's very own introduction to the work and its explication of the stories of Creation and Noah's Ark in Genesis. In this volume there will also be an Introduction by world-renowned authority on Jewish thought and mysticism, Arthur Green, that traces the development of Kabbalah and the historical and literary significance of the Zohar; and a Translator's Introduction by Daniel C. Matt that describes how he was able to establish the Aramaic text and offers sugges­tions on "How to Read the Zohar."

Volume II consists of the next five portions of Genesis, as the wandering rabbis of the Zohar con­tinue their travels throughout Galilee, sharing their insights into the Torah (extending through Genesis 32:3)— coming upon wisdom at times in the most astonishing ways from a colorful cast of characters they meet on the road.


Translating this keystone of Kabbalah presented enormous challenges. Not only was there no complete, reliable manuscript of the Zohar in the original Aramaic in existence anywhere in the world, but in all likeli­hood, none ever existed, Though the precise history of the Zohar is still shrouded in mystery, it originally cir­culated in fragments as a series of pamphlets or notebooks. Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon is thought to be the main creative force behind the Zohar—writing much of it himself, perhaps parts in collaboration with other

Kabbalists. No complete Zohar existed until the middle of the 16th century, nearly 300 years later, when the booklets were gathered and printed as a single work in Italy Unfortunately the editors of the printed versions of the Zohar often rejected or revised original readings in the earlier handwritten manuscripts.

To prepare his translation, Daniel Matt had to pour over surviving Aramaic manuscripts and compare variant readings, seeking to restore both the content and lyrical flavor of the original, scraping away centuries of scribal errors and editorial doctoring of the text. Working from the critical Aramaic text that he recon­structed, Daniel Matt has produced the most authoritative translation we have ever had of the Zohar—a liter-al yet poetic rendering that is worthy of this mystical masterpiece,

Features that distinguish THE ZORAR: PRITZKER EDITION from all other editions:

•           It is the first translation into English of the Zohar by a recognized academic scholar.

•           It is the only English edition that goes directly to the source—unearthing many of the major sur­viving manuscripts in the original language. Working with these, Daniel Matt was able to produce, in addition to the translation and commentary, the first modern critical, authoritative Aramaic text of the Zohar,

•           It restores the sacred passion of the original, much of which was censored out of the genteel prose of the old English translation. A luxuriant garden of holy eros, the Zohar overflows with love between the souls of Israel and Shekhinah (God's lovely bride), and especially between the male and female aspects of God.

•           It is faithful to the literal content of the Zohar yet true to the lush imagery and colorful poetic voice of the original.

•           It provides a running commentary on the same page with the text that makes the mysteries of the Zohar accessible to the reader. The old English translation—composed in the 1930s—offers no running commentary, leaving the reader without any help in penetrating the Zohar's unique termi­nology, multiple meanings, cryptic connotations, and esoteric symbolism.

•           It corrects misunderstandings of the text — restoring terms and even entire sections that were omitted from the old English translation because they were unfamiliar or difficult.

In the Zohar the text of the Bible is the starting point, a springboard for the imagination, Daniel Matt notes that, in composing his commentary for THE ZOHAR: PRITZKER EDITION, he sought to elicit the meaning of the original without sacrificing its subtlety and ambiguity. "Remember that the Zohar was not intended to be easily understood, but rather to be deciphered. I want to inspire and compel the reader to strug­gle a little, to engage the text."

Daniel Matt encourages the reader of the Zohar to be open to new ways of thinking and imagining. He points to the Zohar's reading of the opening words of the Torah, traditionally rendered: In the beginning God created, but interpreted in the Zohar as: With beginning, It (Divine Infinity) created God.

"VVe all assume that the verse describes the creation of the world, but for the Zohar it alludes to something even more primal: the emanation of the sefirot (aspects of divine personality) from Ein Sof (Divine Infinity). God, it turns out, is the object of the verse, not the subject! The ultimate divine reality, Ein Sof, transcends and explodes our comfortable conception of `God.' The Zohar transforms the familiar story of Creation into divine biography."


The early years of the new millennium have seen a significant revival of interest in the Kabbalah and the Zohar, not only within Judaism but beyond it. Publication of THE ZOHAR: P TZ R EDITION restores this great work to the Jewish people and to all people. Says Geoffrey Burn, Director of Stanford University Press, "Stanford is proud to be making a work of such literary and canonical significance available to scholars and spiritual inquirers of all traditions. The visionary force behind this project is Margot Pritzker, chair of Zohar Educational Project, Inc. (ZEPI), an organization devoted to the development of this translation and its dis-semination throughout the world. The collaboration between ZEPI and Stanford University Press is based on a shared understanding of the importance of this work, and a shared sensitivity to its place in the tradition of great spiritual writing."

To anyone seeking to explore spirituality, the Bible, and the intimate connection between humans and the Divine, these books offer a limitless source of ecstatic devotion — and a glorious adventure. Daniel Matt writes: "As you undertake this adventure, expect to be surprised, stay alert. The Zohar's teachings are profound and intense. Follow the words to what lies beyond and within; open the gates of imagination."

About Arthur Green

Arthur Green, who supplied the Introduction on the Kabbalah and the literary and historical significance of the Zohar, is a leading Judaic scholar and author, and co-chair of the Academic Committee for the Translation of the Zabar. Dr. Green, the Philip W. Lown Professor of Jewish Thought at Brandeis University, has written several books and many articles on mysticism, Hasidism, Jewish spirituality, and contemporary theology. He lives in Newton Centre, Massachusetts.


About Margot Pritzker

Mrs. Thomas (Margot) Pritzker chairs THE ZOHAR: PRITZKER EDITION project. Convinced by her stud­ies in Bible and Rabbinic literature of the need for a scholarly English language edition of the Zohar, Mrs. Pritzker worked with the Pritzker Family Philanthropic Fund to undertake the development of this translation, and to assist in its dissemination throughout the world. She has a B.A. in Art History from Northwestern University, and an MA from the University of Chicago in Judaic Studies, She begins work this fall towards her doctorate in Bible at the University of Chicago.

Review: The Zohar is one the most numinous and subtle mystical texts in world literature. Its lyrical spirituality is itself a zohar, a radiant energy that has captured the minds and hearts of generations of Jews and even Christians. So much so that it is not unusual to find rabbis who know it by heart and students who chant its words even without comprehending its meaning. One can even obtain small pocketbook editions of parts of the Zohar to carry as a good luck charm.

Daniel Matt's translation of, and commentary on, the Zohar is a powerfully poetic rendition of this spiritual masterpiece. It is a book to be studied, not read. As one who has pondered and taught the Zohar for many years, I found Matt's interpretation learned, insightful, and very beautiful. Often, his translation and commentary changed my understanding of passages I thought I had already mastered. My only regret is that he has not yet reached the sections on which I am now working.

The poetics of the work are stunning on several levels. First, dealing with a text famous for its mixed metaphors and its double entendres, Matt has followed the text. Thus, we get a faithful rendering of such multiple images as "the light which enters the rose and emits seed." In doing so Matt catches very well the uncanny, numinous and lofty, rolling quality of the text, as well as its strangeness, the sense of it coming from another world.

Second, Matt has reached deep into his own poetic powers to render the Aramaic text. Thus, ba'ei le-mivrei becomes "was on the verge of creating"; dugma de becomes "paradigm of"; sheiruta de-vinyana becomes "origin of structure"; 'avira becomes "aura"; and mishkan, usually rendered "Tabernacle," becomes "Dwelling." Wonderful, too, is the rendering of avid shelimu as "consummates" and 'alma de-'atei as "the world that is coming." (I wonder, though, about the rendering of tikkuna as "arrayal.")

Third, the lapidary Semitic character of the Aramaic has been transformed into freely flowing English. This enables the reader to swim more easily in the stream of images, texts, and countertexts that constitute the Zohar.

Fourth, the Zohar is a book written on several levels, and Matt's footnotes "decode" the text into its properly zoharic, sefirotic symbolism. Thus, what looks like an ordinary midrash evoking God and Israel turns, through decoding, into a stunning explanation of the inner workings of the person of God. The art here is not only in the decoding but in resisting the urge to overinterpret.

Throughout, Matt has avoided the usual "scholarly" questions: Who wrote the Zohar? What are its main teachings? How would one systematize its ideas? How was it transmitted and canonized? How does it resonate with religious texts from other traditions? Further, Matt has not been swallowed up in the Lurianic

stream of zoharic interpretation. Rather, the structure and technique of this translation and commentary succeed in giving us primary access to this most primary of texts in several important ways.

First, Matt has created as critical an edition as possible of the original Ara­maic text, a copy of which is to be put online by Stanford University Press (www.sup.org/zohar). This has enabled him to choose the best reading for any given passage, an option long needed for this text, which has suffered so in transmission. Second, in the very process of translation, Matt has had to divide the material into sentences and paragraphs. This has forced coherence on a text that is usually published as one continuous, unpunctuated paragraph.

Third, Matt has put his learning in the footnotes, which refer the reader to an exceptionally wide range of earlier rabbinic literature including the Talmud, the midrash, the Heikhalot literature, Sefer ha-Bahir, Nahmanides, Rabbi Azriel, the other works of de León, various commentaries to the Zohar, and Scholem, Liebes, and other moderns, as well as to other passages in the Zohar where the same theme is treated. Fourth, with good theological as well as grammatical sense, Matt has rendered capital letters for pronouns referring to Shekhina as She and Herself, and he uses He and Himself for pronouns referring to Tiferet but he when referring to the Other Side (which itself should probably not, theologically, be capitalized).

Finally, Matt gives the key terms in Hebrew, in transliteration, and in trans­lation. This enables all types of readers to follow his presentation. He also uses italics for biblical verses quoted in the text, which makes it easier for the reader to follow the exegesis and midrashic expansion of the texts cited. All this makes for very rewarding study on the level of language, of exegesis, of symbolism, and of theology.

There are moments where any interpreter may miss the meaning of a text—at least as perceived by other experienced readers. Thus, I found Matt's decoding of the passage on page 220 to be less imaginative than my own. In that passage on the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the "river that spreads into the garden" seems to me to refer more easily to Bina, who spreads her energy to the realm of the lower seven sefirot (and not to Yesod, who channels energy into Malkhut, which then separates it, a reading adopted earlier by Tishby). This passage is also instructive because it enables us to compare Matt's translation and commentary with the Goldstein translation of Tishby's translation and commentary to the same passage. In my opinion, Matt's version is more accurate and flows much better.

The Zohar, however, is a book that requires more than footnotes that decode and refer. It really needs to have that as the basis, to be followed by a more expository interpretation of what is happening in the text and of why this is an important text, spiritually as well as literarily. It would have been better if, after several pericopes that seem to cling together, Matt would have inserted two or three pages explaining why this pericope is important and beautiful and what is spiritual and even revolutionary in it. The Plaut commentary to the Torah and the Speiser commentary to Genesis use this technique, though with different goals. (I, too, tried this, in a much more modest way, in my commentary to passages from the Zohar in Understanding Jewish Mysticism, KTAV Publishing House, 1982.)

For example, in the pericope dealing with the Akeda, the Zohar teaches that Hesed (God's grace) does not achieve completion until it has mixed with Gevura (God's power), and vice versa. Matt renders and decodes the passage wonderfully, but what does it mean? What does it mean to say that God's grace is incomplete without judgment and God's judgment is incomplete without unmerited love? Granted that these traits mix in Tiferet (God's compassion and mercy), what does it mean to say that, individually, they are not complete without passing through the crucible of one another?

And in the pericope dealing with Sarah's annunciation, the Zohar alludes clearly to the theme of Rosh ha-Shana—because this passage is read liturgically on the first day of the Jewish new year. That needs to be pointed out, but, more important, the reader needs to hear why this pericope is central to the birth of the world and to the Day of Judgment, both key themes of Rosh ha-Shana. The same passage in the Zohar also alludes to a major theme in all monotheistic liter­ature: the unjust death of the righteous. Just what is the teaching of the Zohar? And what is its connection to the passage and to the holiday? Just a little further on is one of the enigmatic messianic puzzles of the Zohar. Again, what is the spiritual location of this puzzle in the context of the passage and of the holiday?

Matt, who probably has studied more Zohar than any other English speaker, is in the unique position of being able to respond to these kinds of theological questions. I realize that any attempt to do this would color the reader's primary access to the text. Still, I for one would have wanted to hear his views in a more reflective genre of writing than the on-the-page commentary. Perhaps we shall yet see a series of terminal essays in the style of the grand translators or a separate book that brings together Matt's larger interpretation of the most important pericopes.

There is also no subject index for each volume. I presume that there will be an index to the whole, but, given the time it will take to issue the whole transla­tion and commentary, it might have been better to index each volume and then publish the agglomerated index at the end, as indeed was done with Goitein's magnum opus, A Mediterranean Society (University of California Press, 2000).

No matter what the possible failings of this text, Daniel Matt's new Zohar is a classic already in its first two volumes. The edition alone, or the translation alone, or the commentary alone would be a major contribution. The whole is a work of art. The Pritzker Foundation is to be commended for underwriting this enormous effort, and Matt is to be praised for his poetic and learned work.

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