As the world continues to hurt and heal, the need for guidance and advice becomes evermore vital. While some have turned to political leaders, many have sought support from their spiritual traditions. And although there are those who may not have full access to or understanding of the texts and principles of these traditions, there are others who have dedicated their lives to showing the way.
As a scholar of Jewish mysticism, translator, and educator, David Solomon has spent most of his life guiding his fellow Jews to realms of greater knowledge and understanding. His current project, the first full-length English translation of Tikunei Hazohar (TZ), a fundamental kabbalistic text comprising 70 chapters (tikunim) on the opening word of the Torah, Beresheet, is a perfect illustration of this commitment.
“While the Zohar has been translated several times into English,” Solomon explains, “the tikunim have never really been translated into any Western language.” When he identified this “amazing opportunity,” he took it upon himself to fill this gap in Jewish textual scholarship.
“Some might say my decision to translate TZ was naively ambitious,” he admits, describing the tome as “an enormous, complex, and profoundly important” kabbalistic text. “Perhaps it was, especially for someone who at the time was moving back to Australia from Israel, but circumstances proved it to be a rewarding and fortuitous decision.”
Solomon says there has been a “significant increase in scholarship on the tikunim over the past decade,” which he suggests has also led to a rise in interest in an English translation.
A seventh-generation Australian, Solomon counts among his ancestors a founder of the first synagogue in Melbourne. His late father, Geoffrey Solomon, was a dentist and talented singer who sat on multiple shul boards in different cities and served as president of two of them. His mother, Dr. Julia Solomon, was a psychologist and literacy expert who was actively involved in promoting and providing Jewish education. David’s brother, Rabbi Marcus Solomon, was recently appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, becoming the first Orthodox rabbi to be appointed to a superior court anywhere in the world.
As for his own accomplishments, David has been teaching Jewish history and Tanach as well as Kabbalah for years and offering lectures – including his popular talk “The Whole of Jewish History in One Hour” – all over the world. More than 100 of his lectures have since been published on his podcast, “Collected Talks of David Solomon” (https://davidsolomon.online), which is produced by his wife, Marjorie. He has also taught Hebrew for decades and believes that it, along with Jewish history, is of “fundamental importance” in Jewish education.
“Jewish history and Hebrew are the two most important areas of learning for the majority of Jewish people in the world today,” Solomon declares.
Of the former, Solomon sees its purpose as providing “a context and a framework” by which Jews can understand their place in the world.
“It helps people comprehend the incredible role and destiny of the Jewish people,” Solomon says, “past, present, and future.”
Therefore, he adds, the more we understand Jewish history, “the more we realize that we are part of a continuum,” and the more we can find meaning and purpose in both the Jewish and also the larger world.
With this “context” established, Solomon maintains that people can use Hebrew to “take responsibility” for their own Jewish education.
“Hebrew is the language of God, of the Torah, of the Jewish people and of the land of Israel,” he observes “It is the concrete that binds all of the fundamental elements of our Jewish existence.”
Perhaps this is why Solomon has dedicated so much of his life to studying and sharing lessons from sacred Jewish texts and has committed the past few years to this latest translation.
A scholar of kabbalistic literature for many years, Solomon was commissioned to work full-time on translating TZ to English by Neshama Life in 2012. Two years later, he had already finished a first draft. After completing a PhD in translation theory that focused on Jewish sacred texts (including those related to TZ), he was commissioned by a second sponsor to continue his work on the translation of the tikunim and to begin an additional new book on Kabbalah. (Another of David’s translations, Isaiah Tishby’s The Doctrine of Evil in Lurianic Kabbalah, is soon to be published by Cherub Press.)
While the interest in this project has been significant enough to garner two sponsors, David says that finding the right publisher was a challenge. After negotiations with a number of potential publishers regarding what is now a seven-volume work that features a bilingual poetic presentation of the full text of the Qushta (Constantinople) 1740 edition along with a parallel, line-by-line translation that includes transliterations, indexed references, structural and thematic summaries, as well as Solomon’s own commentary, he eventually reached an agreement with Sefaria, an online publisher of freely-accessible sacred Jewish texts.
“Publishing with Sefaria means that anyone who is interested in the tikunim will be able to read them,” Solomon says.
Though he is excited by the prospect of wide-ranging access, Solomon still wanted to get the book out in print form.
“It became clear that the best way to make this happen alongside the Sefaria agreement was through our own publishing company,” said Solomon, referring to Margalya Press, the publishing house he and Marjorie established.
As managing editor, Solomon guides Margalya’s content production, which includes other projects in addition to the TZ translation. Having come to the world of publishing from a background in writing and public relations, and having penned some award-winning Jewish fiction herself (more information is at http://marjoriesolomon.com), Marjorie understands how to write, edit, and market books and therefore makes for an effective publishing director. When not writing, editing, and producing David’s podcast, Marjorie also serves as vice president of Women’s Orthodox Tefila in Victoria, as a mentor to teenagers through Jewish Care, and as an Editorial Advisory Board member for Gesher, the magazine for the Council for Christians and Jews in Victoria.
David and Marjorie met in Perth in 1993 as English literature students at the University of Western Australia. While Marjorie went on to do post-graduate work in journalism, David was awarded a scholarship to study overseas. Enrolling at University College London, he conducted research on kabbalistic texts while Marjorie worked in government and public relations.
“I have been interested in Kabbalah since my early teens,” David recalls. “As an emerging scholar of the field, moving to London from Australia was a game-changer. It gave me access to the remarkable libraries in the UK and brought me closer to those in Israel. It also allowed me to work with other scholars of Jewish mysticism.”
In London, David taught Hebrew to British diplomats who were being stationed in Israel, where he and Marjorie moved in 2007. While there, the Solomons created an educational program based upon his lectures that engendered strong and mutually-beneficial relationships with audiences in the US, UK, and Europe.
“Our educational initiative emerged from the unexpected success of my lectures,” he explains. With Marjorie arranging and promoting his speaking tours, David was able to reach more and more people. Even after returning to Australia in 2010, he continued to teach overseas. Moving to Melbourne in 2014, David taught widely across the community and served as scholar-in-residence at Caulfield Shul, one of Australia’s largest Orthodox congregations. “Most of my teaching has focused on Jewish history and Tanach,” says David, suggesting that as these topics are “grounded in the human story,” they are “more relatable” than other topics, including Kabbalah, which, he suggests, is based on “big, complex ideas” that can be “difficult to convey to students who don’t have a background in the field without compromising the material.”
In addition to teaching students and scholars, David has also supported many conversion candidates, and was commissioned by the Melbourne Beth Din to write an entire conversion curriculum that is already garnering interest from other regions. David’s teaching of conversion candidates has been especially gratifying for Marjorie, who is herself a convert to Judaism.
“It was very meaningful for me when David started teaching conversion candidates,” Marjorie says, noting that she has also been called upon to support her husband’s efforts. “While every conversion story is different, it can also be helpful to have someone close by who has been through a similar experience.”
As partners in life and in business, the Solomons believe the success of their partnership is grounded in a shared drive to live full, enriched, and interesting lives.
“David and I have been together for almost 30 years and have worked together for half of that time,” Marjorie recalls. “It’s been fantastic to be able to share so many experiences – especially traveling to different parts of the world – and to grow professionally and personally alongside one another!”
Marjorie notes, however, that she and David are also committed to giving each other freedom to pursue their own projects and ambitions.
“We seek to find ways to make our shared enterprises fit in with our family responsibilities and with the things we do separately,” she says, noting how navigating the pandemic has added new elements to both independent and shared responsibilities. “For example, since we started Margalya Press, we’ve transitioned to walking meetings. This daily practice has ensured we keep each other informed about what’s happening in our individual parts of the business – or within our family – while also maintaining regular exercise. Sometimes, it is these little things that make all the difference.” ■