Saturday, June 03, 2023

Dr. Daniel Matt’s new book, “Becoming Elijah: Prophet of Transformation,” has been selected as the first winner of the annual Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks Book Prize awarded by the Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks-Herenstein Center for Values and Leadership. A celebratory dinner and public program was held on March 26 at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City. The timing was auspicious; the book offers a great deal of perspective on one of the star characters of everyone’s Seder.

Matt, a scholar of Kabbalah and the Zohar. has published over a dozen books, including “The Essential Kabbalah” and “Zohar: Annotated and Explained.” A National Jewish Book Award and Koret Jewish Book Award recipient, Matt received his Ph.D. from Brandeis University and for 20 years served as professor of Jewish spirituality at the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He has also taught at Stanford University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Becoming Elijah: Prophet of Transformation” is a remarkable publication in that it is both scholarly (with hundreds of footnotes and a 15-page bibliography) and very accessible. The book was published by Yale University Press as part of its Jewish Lives series. (For a review of the book, published in the Jewish Link on Feb. 9, visit https://tinyurl.com/5e2ubszz.

The evening began with an eloquent introduction by Yeshiva University President Rabbi Ari Berman, a warm welcome by Sacks-Herenstein Center Director Dr. Erica Brown, and the presence of dozens of fans of the book. The public program featured Dr. Matt in conversation with Dr. Shira Weiss, assistant director of the Sacks-Herenstein Center, about the book, the life and evolution of Elijah, and the messages they both have to inspire the community.

In his remarks, Dr. Matt noted that as Elijah’s teaching style and approach to his fellow Jews underwent a remarkable transformation over the centuries, he offers the student a model of the teshuva process. According to Dr. Matt, Elijah’s initial zealous passion for justice gave way to a more attentive approach to the scholarly and personal concerns of specific people; a form of growth that can be emulated by all.

By Harry Glazer

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