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Elior is the John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Jewish Mystical Thought at the Hebrew University, where she has taught since 1978. Currently she is the head of the Department of Jewish Thought. She earned her PhD Summa cum Laude in 1976. Her specialties are early Jewish Mysticism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Messianism, Sabbatianism, Hasidism, Chabad, Frankism and the role of women in Jewish culture. She has been a visiting professor at Princeton University, UCL, Yeshiva University, the University of Tokyo, Doshisha University in Kyoto, Case Western University in Cleveland, in the University of Chicago and at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Criticism and controversy
On her primary field of expertise, Hasidism, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Professor at Northwestern, states “Elior uses a rather outdated concept of the [hasidic] movement to cement her narrative. She leaves aside theories, ideas, insights, and data amassed by scholars who have long departed from the thinking patterns of Dinur or Scholem.” And that Elior, among others, “should revisit [the early writers of hasidic stories'] conceptual framework, in which sources coexist in a nontemporal fashion and freely talk to one another, as ideas in the Platonic world of forms.”
Dead Sea Scrolls
Her theory of the origins of mysticism in the priestly class has been challenged by Prof. Yehuda Liebes of the Hebrew University, and her understanding of the ancient calendar was rejected by Sacha Stern. Eibert Tigchelaar noted that her examples have a "lack of historical specificity that are disturbing and frustrating." She has been defended by Joseph Dan. Princeton professor Peter Schaefer says she blurs distinctions between texts and periods, and is not sensitive to important nuances. He also notes that her views of angels at Qumran and the calendar are wrong. Prof Martha Himmelfarb finds Elior's work "simply untenable". Himmelfarb says that Elior creates tenuous links, historical connections without a basis, and sees things that just are "not there."
Elior claims that the Essenes, the supposed authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls never existed. She contends (as have Lawrence Schiffman, Moshe Goshen-Gottstein, Chaim Menachem Rabin, and others) that the Essenes were really the renegade sons of Zadok, a priestly caste banished from the Temple of Jerusalem by Greek rulers in 2nd century BC. She conjectures that the scrolls were taken with them when they were banished. "In Qumran, the remnants of a huge library were found," Elior says, with some of the early Hebrew texts dating back to the 2nd century BC. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest known version of the Old Testament dated back to the 9th century AD. "The scrolls attest to a biblical priestly heritage," says Elior, who speculates that the scrolls were hidden in Qumran for safekeeping.
James Charlesworth, director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, said there is "significant evidence for the Essenes’ existence." and “It is impossible that Josephus created a group already mentioned by Philo, who had visited Jerusalem.” Princeton religion professor Martha Himmelfarb said she doesn’t think Elior’s work is as “historically informed” as other research on the Scrolls, saying, “[Elior] does not tend to engage the historical nitty-gritty that other scholars’ work does.”
- Gibson, Etta Prince (24 December 2004). "Hear me roar". Jerusalem Post.
- "Prophecy Now". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 24 September 2000.
- Radoszkowicz, Abigail (24 June 2004). "Decade after rebbe, Chabad alive and well". Jerusalem Post.
- REVIEW ESSAY HASIDEI DE’AR‘A AND HASIDEI DEKOKHVAYA’: TWO TRENDS IN MODERN JEWISH HISTORIOGRAPHY By Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern AJS Review 32:1 (2008), 141–167, http://www.tau.ac.il/~dassaf/books/thicket/caught-in-the-thicket-Petrovsky-Shtern.pdf
- Liebes, Yehuda (6 April 2003). "Children of the sun vs. children of the moon".[unreliable source?]
- "Review of Books". Journal for the Study of Judaism 36 (1): 84–145. 2005. doi:10.1163/1570063054012132.
- Dan, Joseph (2003-02-03). "Varieties of religious experiences". Haaretz. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
- Schäfer, Peter (2006). "Communion with the Angels: Qumran and the Origins of Jewish Mysticism". In Peter Schäfer, Elisabeth Müller-Luckner. Wege mystischer Gotteserfahrung: Judentum, Christentum und Islam. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag. pp. 17–66. ISBN 978-3-486-58006-8.
- Himmelfarb, Martha (2006). "Merkavah Mysticism since Scholem: Rachel Elior's The Three Temples". In Peter Schäfer, Elisabeth Müller-Luckner. Wege mystischer Gotteserfahrung: Judentum, Christentum und Islam. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag. p. 36. ISBN 978-3-486-58006-8.
- Himmelfarb, Martha (2006). "Merkavah Mysticism since Scholem: Rachel Elior's The Three Temples". In Peter Schäfer, Elisabeth Müller-Luckner. Wege mystischer Gotteserfahrung: Judentum, Christentum und Islam. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag. pp. 19–36. ISBN 978-3-486-58006-8.
- McGirk, Tim (16 March 2009). "Scholar Claims Dead Sea Scrolls 'Authors' Never Existed". Time. Retrieved 17 March 2009.
- Memory and Oblivion: The Secret of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Van Leer Institute and Hakibutz haMeuchad, 2009
- The Dybbuk and Jewish Women, Jerusalem and New York, Urim Publications, 2008
- Elior, Rachel; Yudith Nave and Arthur B. Millman (2007). Jewish Mysticism: The Infinite Expression of Freedom. Portland, Oregon: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. ISBN 1-874774-67-6. OCLC 76184139.
- Elior, Rachel (2006). The Mystical Origins of Hasidism. trans. Shalom Carmy. Portland, Oregon: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. ISBN 1-874774-84-6. OCLC 65978708.
- Heikhalot Literature and Merkavah Tradition Ancient Jewish Mysticism and its Sources, Tel Aviv: Yediot Ahronot; Sifrei Hemed: 2004 (Hebrew) ISBN 978-965-511-145-3
- Elior, Rachel (2004). The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism. Portland, Oregon: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. ISBN 1-874774-66-8. OCLC 53223716.
- Herut al Haluhot – Studies in the Mystical Foundations of Hasidism, Tel Aviv: Broad Cast University: Defense Ministry Press 1999.
- Paneiah ha-Shonot shel ha-Herut -Iyunim be-Mistika Yehudit (Alpayim 15, Am Oved 1998)
- Elior, Rachel (1993). The Paradoxical Ascent to God: The Kabbalistic Theosophy of Habad Hasidism. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-1045-5. OCLC 24378568.
- Torat HaElohut BaDor haSheni shel Hasidut Habad, Jerusalem: Hebrew University: Magnes Press 1982 (Hebrew)
- Heikhalot Zutarti: An Early Mystical Manuscript of the Mishnaic Talmudic Period, Jerusalem: Hebrew University: Magnes Press 1982 (Hebrew)
- Galia Raza: 16th Century Kabbalistic Manuscript, Jerusalem: Hebrew University 1981 (Hebrew)
- Yehudah Liebes, "Children of the sun vs. children of the moon" Haaretz 4/6/2003
- Sacha Stern, "Rachel Elior on Ancient Jewish Calendars: A Critique" Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism - Volume 5, 2005, pp. 287–292
- Peter Schaffer, Critical edition of Heikhalot Zutarti, Tarbiz 54 (1985)Hebrew, critical review of her work
- David Tamar, Critical review of her edition of Galia Razia Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 2 Hebrew (1983)
- Prof. Elior's homepage at the Hebrew University
- Dead Sea Scrolls’ origins spark debate
- Rabinovich, Abraham (2009-05-07). "From the sun to the moon". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2009-05-12.http://jhvonline.com/default.asp?smenu=147&sdetail=8421