Monday, February 09, 2004

HERE'S A JEWSWEEK PROFILE OF DR. DANIEL MATT, who is currently translating the Zohar into English. Excerpt:

A native of upstate Troy who grew up in Metuchen, N.J., he was first drawn to Judaism's "mystical dimension" by his late father, Hershel, a Conservative rabbi. Matt studied Jewish mysticism at Brandies University, and later, privately with a Kabbalist in Jerusalem. He also was a teaching assistant to Gershom Scholem, the 20th century's most prominent academic expert on Kabbalah.

Pritzker's 1995 offer to underwrite a translation of the Zohar seemed daunting. "The project could take 12 to 15 years," he told her when they met in Chicago. "To which she responded, 'You're not scaring me.'"

To prepare for his next few decades' work, he went to Spain to look at original Zohar manuscripts, and to Safed to walk in the Kabbalists' footsteps.

Now he lives in the Zohar seven-plus hours a day. "It's a constant challenge," he says in a telephone interview. "The Zohar is intentionally cryptic. The Zohar created its own language. There is no Zohar dictionary."

So it's slow, line-by-line work. "I've probably done a month or two of Vayishlach," the Torah portion where Jacob and the angel appear.

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