Eitan Fishbane

Eitan P. Fishbane is associate professor in the Department of Jewish Thought of The Jewish Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in the literature and history of Jewish mysticism, from medieval Kabbalah to modern Hasidism.

Professor Fishbane's research focuses on the nature of mystical experience, theories of selfhood in kabbalistic thought, and the intersection of literature and religion in the study of mysticism. His first book, As Light Before Dawn: The Inner World of a Medieval Kabbalist, was published in June 2009 by Stanford University Press to great acclaim. Leading Zohar scholar, Professor Daniel Matt, has called As Light Before Dawn "a dazzling, erudite analysis" and "a superb work of scholarship"; Professor Bernard McGinn, a preeminent scholar of Christian mysticism at the University of Chicago, has hailed the book as "a major contribution both to the study of Jewish mysticism and to the wider world of comparative mystical research."

Professor Fishbane is presently at work on a new scholarly monograph, provisionally titled The Poetics of the Zohar, a study that seeks to advance a new literary approach to the masterpiece of medieval Jewish mysticism, to consider the lyric and narrative dimensions of the Zohar with the critical tools of modern literary studies. Over the last few years, Professor Fishbane has delivered invited lectures on this topic at UCLA, JTS, Harvard University, the Association for Jewish Studies Conference, and at a gathering devoted to the Zohar in Prato, Italy. For calendar year 2011, Fishbane has been awarded the prestigious Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies to support full-time research and writing for this book project. Further scholarly work has been published in leading academic journals, including the Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy; Jewish Quarterly Review; Journal of the American Academy of Religion; Journal of Religion; Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History; and Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts.

In accordance with the mission of JTS, and as a reflection of his own priorities, Professor Fishbane is also committed to bridging his scholarly work with service to the Jewish community. This takes the form of lectures and classes in nonacademic settings, but is also expressed through his contemporary theological writing. Essays in this vein have been published in Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility and CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism; in the fall of 2011, Jewish Lights Publishing will release Professor Fishbane's latest book, entitled, The Sabbath Soul: Mystical Reflections on the Transformative Power of Holy Time. Other books outside of his traditional scholarly work include two edited volumes: Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life: Classical Texts Contemporary Reflections (Jewish Lights)—coedited with Lawrence Fine and Or Rose—and Jewish Renaissance and Revival in America (Brandeis University Press), coedited with Jonathan Sarna (forthcoming in fall 2011).

In addition to text-seminars on these topics of research, Professor Fishbane teaches a range of courses in the textuality of Jewish thought and theology, including a source-based survey of medieval Kabbalah, and a course on the literature of Hasidic mystical homiletics (see below for a list of specific courses). He mentors and advises PhD students in Kabbalah and Hasidism, as well as in the interdisciplinary program in Medieval Jewish Studies.

Professor Fishbane is a regular scholar-in-residence and guest speaker at congregations across North America. The recipient of many honors and awards (including research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture), Professor Fishbane holds a bachelor of arts, summa cum laude, and a PhD from Brandeis University.

Dr. Fishbane's Speaker's Bureau Bio

Published Works

Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life: Classical Texts, Contemporary Reflections. (Dr. Fishbane is a co-editor), Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010.

As Light Before Dawn: The Inner World of a Medieval Kabbalist. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.

"Perceptions of Greatness: Constructions of the Holy Man in Kabbalistic Literature," forthcoming in Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts.

"Representation and the Boundaries of Realism: Reading the Fantastic in Zoharic Fiction," Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts 23 (2010): 105–119.

"The Scent of the Rose: Drama, Fiction, and Narrative Form in the Zohar," Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History 29 (2009): 324–361.

"The Zohar: Perspectives on the Masterwork of Jewish Mysticism" forthcoming in Frederick Greenspahn, ed., Jewish Mysticism: New Insights and Scholarship (New York: New York University Press, 2011).

"Opening to the Mystery," Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility, October 2009.

"God as the Breath of Life," CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism, Fall 2009.

"Revelation and Creativity in the Life of a Medieval Mystic," Text/Context Supplement to the New York Jewish Week, May 2009.

"A Chariot for the Shekhinah: Identity and the Ideal Life in Sixteenth Century Kabbalah," Journal of Religious Ethics 37:3 (2009): 385–418.

"The Speech of Being, the Voice of God: Phonetic Mysticism in the Kabbalah of Asher ben David and his Contemporaries," The Jewish Quarterly Review 98:4 (2008): 485–521.

"Wisdom, Balance, Healing: Reflections on Mind and Body in an Early Hasidic Text." In Healing and the Jewish Imagination, edited by William Cutter: 63–74. Woodstock, VT, 2007.

Review of Joel Hecker, Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah, AJS Review 31 (2007): 388-391.

"From the Hidden to the Revealed: Kabbalah as a Spiritual Resource in Our Day," CCAR Journal (Fall 2007): 86–98.

Review of McAuliffe, Walfish, and Goering, eds., With Reverence for the Word: Medieval Scriptural Exegesis in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). Jewish Quarterly Review 96:2 (2006): 268–271.

"Jewish Mystical Hermeneutics: On the Work of Moshe Idel," Journal of Religion 85:1 (January 2005): 94–103.

"Authority, Tradition, and the Creation of Meaning in Medieval Kabbalah: Isaac of Acre's Illumination of the Eyes," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 72:1 (2004):59–95.

"Tears of Disclosure: The Role of Weeping in Zoharic Narrative," Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 11:1 (2002): 25–47.

"Mystical Contemplation and the Limits of the Mind: The Case of Sheqel ha-Qodesh," Jewish Quarterly Review 93:2 (2002): 1–27.

Recent Courses

  • Hasidic Mystics on the Meaning of the Holidays
  • Jewish Philosophical Texts: Thought and Theology in Medieval Times
  • The Literary Craft of the Zohar
  • Medieval Kabbalah
  • Jewish Mysticism in the Twentieth Century: Sefer Netivot Shalom
  • Self, Identity, and the Ideal Life in Sixteenth-Century Kabbalah
  • The Spiritual Meaning of Shabbat in Hasidic Mysticism
  • Perceptions of Greatness: Constructions of the Holy Man in Jewish Mystical Literature

Recent Public Lectures

  • Library Book Talk on Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life
  • "What is Jewish Mysticism? Understanding the Kabbalah"
  • "Shabbat as Spiritual Transformation in Jewish Mysticism"
  • "Entering the Word, Opening the Heart: The Mystical Experience of Prayer"
  • "The Layers of Torah: A Path to God in Jewish Mysticism"
  • "The Virtue of Humility and the Pursuit of Wisdom: Mysticism and Ethics in Judaism"
  • "Mystical Theology: Ideas of God in the Kabbalah"
  • "The Zohar: Reading the Masterpiece of Jewish Mysticism"


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