Rachel Elior served twice as the head of the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has been a member of the university’s faculty since 1978 and is the John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Philosophy in the Department of Jewish Thought. She received her BA (1973) and PhD (1976), both summa cum laude, from the Hebrew University.
Prof. Elior's research interests include the history of Jewish mysticism – early Jewish mysticism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Heikhalot literature; Kabbalah – the early modern period, Messianism, Sabbatianism, Hasidism, Frankism; the presence and absence of women in Jewish culture and religious tradition, and the history of freedom; traditional sources of secular Judaism – identity, knowledge, criticism and creativity.
Prof. Elior has taught at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, Doshisha University at Kyoto, Tokyo University, Yeshiva University and Case Western University, the Shalom Institute at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Oberlin College and University College London. She has also been a research fellow at the Oxford Center for Jewish Studies at Oxford University.
Prof. Elior has written eight books on various periods of Jewish mystical creativity, six of which have been translated into English, Spanish and Polish. She has edited eight books, transcribed from manuscripts, edited and annotated three books and authored some hundred articles on this subject. She has received many awards, among them the Friedenberg Award of Excellence of the Israel National Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Beracha-Yigal Alon Prize for Academic Excellence, the AVI Fellowship – Geneva award, the Warburg Prize, the Federman Foundation award, the State University of New York Research Foundation award, The Littauer Fund award, the Oxford Jerusalem Trust Visiting Fellowship, the Wolfson Foundation award and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Studies Fellowship. In 2006 the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities awarded her the Gershom Scholem Prize for Research in Kabbalah, and in 2016 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and Jerusalem. On International Women's Day in 2017 she received the WIZO Jerusalem award for pathbreaking women in recognition of her work on behalf of Israeli society. Her book Israel Ba’al Shem Tov and His Contemporaries: Kabbalists, Sabbatians, Hasidim and Mitnaggedim was published in 2014 in Jerusalem by Carmel Publishing House. Her most recent book is titled Grandmother Did Not Know to Read and Write. On Learning and Illiteracy: On Slavery and Liberty (Jerusalem: Carmel, 2018).
Prof. Elior is a member of the international council of the New Israel Fund, the Council for Secular Judaism and the Tag Meir forum.