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Jerusalem Scholar Melila Hellner-Eshed Shares Authentic Kabbalah with SoCal Rabbis










Jewish scholars, the rabbinic saying goes, should wait until age 40 to study the Zohar. The central text of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah is mysterious, misunderstood – and fun. On January 19, world-renowned Kabbalah scholar Melila Hellner-Eshed led a beit midrash (house of study) session on the Zohar for more than 40 rabbis from across Southern California. The seminar and luncheon at Temple Judea in Tarzana was hosted by Rabbi Don Goor and organized by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California/The Jewish Federation in partnership with the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

“Melila is the real thing – she is a Zohar teacher, a teacher of teachers,” said Rabbi Judith HaLevy, president of the Board of Rabbis, who has studied with Hellner-Eshed at the Hartman Institute.

The Kabbalah teacher, who has authored accessible books such as And a River Flows From Eden, enthralled the large group of clergy with her gentle teaching style and down-to-earth descriptions of the ancient texts as the “Jewish Lord of the Rings.”

“The Zohar is a whole universe of characters, symbols and themes,” Hellner-Eshed said. “We’re talking about this whole body of literature that appeared on the Jewish horizon in the 13th century. Sometimes it is credited to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, but scholars today think this is the work of a few generations—remodeling and reworking some midrashim.”

The reason the Zohar is so beloved by Jewish mystics, she said, is that it follows the epic story of bar Yochai (a sage) and his nine mystic disciples, based around the 1st century in ancient Israel. “Mystics are people who are looking for a more enhanced, intense, intimate presence of the sacred in their lives.”

Hellner-Eshed’s seminar was the perfect segue to a tour of Temple Judea, which opened its stunning new sanctuary, chapel and grounds on Rosh Hashana, September 2011. Rabbi Goor proudly showed his fellow rabbis around the modern, sunny campus.

On March 28, the Hartman Institute will bring back acclaimed scholar Noam Zion – also from Jerusalem – for part three of the beit midrash series with the Board of Rabbis. “The Board of Rabbis of the Jewish Federation is honored to partner with the Hartman Institute and its outstanding scholars and master teachers,” said Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis.

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