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The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  986 Ratings  ·  87 Reviews
While accompanying eight high–spirited Jewish delegates to Dharamsala, India, for a historic Buddhist–Jewish dialogue with the Dalai Lama, poet Rodger Kamenetz comes to understand the convergence of Buddhist and Jewish thought. Along the way he encounters Ram Dass and Richard Gere, and dialogues with leading rabbis and Jewish thinkers, including Zalman Schacter, Yitz and B ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 21st 2007 by HarperOne (first published April 28th 1994)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,967)
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Skylar Burris
I generally read books about religion for two reasons: one, to educate myself with general background and historical knowledge of the world’s primary religions and, two, to gain deeper insight into my own religion and enhance my own spiritual journey. The Jew in the Lotus satisfied both of my hopes for religious nonfiction.

I found my second motivation for reading such works to be especially well described by several participants in the interfaith dialogue depicted in this book, including Omer-Ma
Oct 21, 2009 K rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K by: Dena Udren
“The Jew in the Lotus” is a true account of a delegation of Jews from a wide range of religious denominations who visit the Dalai Lama in 1990. The Dalai Lama, whose people and way of life are threatened, would like to learn about Jewish survival. The Jewish delegates each come with their own unique perspective on Judaism, which they plan to share. The author, Rodger Kamenetz, documents this journey in full, including the group dynamics, the intra-group tensions, and the dialogue with the Dalai ...more
Jun 25, 2010 Jake rated it liked it
Shelves: buddhism, travel
"The Jew in the Lotus" is the archetypal JuBu book, and since I am of Jewish extraction and interested in Buddhism, I felt I should read it. I was surprised to find that this isn't a story of one man's personal conversion from one religion to another. Instead, it's a fairly journalistic retelling of the first embassy of Jews to the Dalai Lama, in 1990. Kamenetz is a famous poet, and his writing is frequently lyrical- so much so that by the end I kind of had a headache from all the high-minded se ...more
Jun 15, 2009 Catherine rated it it was amazing
I adored this book - the tale of a group of Jewish rabbis and intellectuals who travel to Dharamsala in India to converse with the Dalai Lama, all told by a poet.

The Jew in the Lotus is many things - a travel narrative (there's much about India, in here - snapshots built word-by-word of markets, temples, shrines, hotels, and the result is as vibrant as a color photograph); a personal journal (Kamenetz went to India as a secular Jew with some suspicion about Buddhism, and returned a spiritual Jew
Sep 25, 2007 Nomy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: jews
this book is about a group of jewish leaders who go to meet with the dalai lama to talk about spiritual survival in exhile. it was really moving for me. i think it's really effective because the author didn't go there on his own spiritual quest, he went as a journalist, to document the event, but ended up having this really transformative experience. it speaks a lot to why so many jews have a hard time relating spiritually to our own religion, and unearths some really compelling stuff that has b ...more
Oct 05, 2014 Drew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Worthwhile read. The book is an account of the meetings between a delegation of Jews and the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala, India. As a Christian, it was fascinating to be a bystander to their fascinating conversation. The Temple was destroyed in 70AD and the Sanhedrin were sent into exile not to be heard of again. The Dalai Lama has been expelled from Tibet and the Tibetan Buddhists are now having to reimagine their religion, just as the Jews had to after 70AD. There is much about the conversations t ...more
Apr 14, 2014 Marcy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book would be quite different if it were written today instead of 20 years ago. For one thing, as he roams around trying to figure out why so many Jews turn to Buddhism he would have to look more clearly into the disease that is Zionism. But as a Zionist perhaps his ideology blinds him so he is unable to see that. The book could have been an interesting comparison of two religions. Instead, it is written in the voice of a Jew who clearly sees himself as a chosen person and this superiority ...more
What an amazing book!

I'm not entirely sure how to even describe it. Kamenetz is a phenomenal writer and is able to articulate and discuss the actual events as they occurred during the meeting with the Dalai Lama, the thoughts and philosophy behind both Judaism and Buddhism as they were discussed (even the esoteric parts), and his own ideas/opinions/thoughts/feelings as they occurred with truth, compassion, love and such authenticity parts of it made me want to cry.

Much of what I saw in this book
Adam Glantz
Feb 18, 2016 Adam Glantz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The captivating account of a dialogue between Jewish scholars and the Dalai Lama in 1990. The Dalai Lama wants to know the secret of Jewish survival, so he can ensure the future of a beleaguered Tibetan Buddhism. The secret appears to be Judaism's involvement of the entire family, which makes every person a bearer of Jewish spirituality. Most forms of Tibetan Buddhism, by contrast, are the preserve of a monastic elite, leaving laymen cut off from tradition. At the same time, the Dalai Lama provi ...more
Feb 29, 2008 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The fascinating story of a group of Jewish religious figures who go to visit the Dalai Lama.
Kamenetz does a great job of outlining the various flavors of and splits within Judaism, while also giving an impressive overview of Tibetan Buddhism.
The really amazing parts, though, are the various sections that discuss where the two religions intersect. And there are a lot more than I thought.
Kamenetz wraps up the book with a call to arm for the increasingly broken American Judaism to fix itself, and
May 17, 2007 Joel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though this book is from over ten years ago, the pieces of it that are timeless are great. There are fantastic and poignant nuggets (can a "nugget" be poignant? I feel like the word nugget means at best somethings dense, at worst, juicy. Anyway...) there are moments of the book which are beautiful, thought-provoking, and fun.

The story of a group of Jews from across the ideological spectrum going to Dharamsala for the first ever dialogue between Jewish thinkers and the Dalai Lama. The story prov
May 13, 2007 Greg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: jews, buddhists, JUBUs
Shelves: religion
What do you get when you cross a group of Jewish scholars (I believe they are all Rabbis) and the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people?

- Lots of bickering about what it means to be a Jew
- Some perspectives on similarities between Buddhism and Judaism
- An inquiry into Jewish values that seeks to explain why Jews gravitate towards Buddhism much more than other members of other religions
- A strong desire to go travel in India (or travel in India again)
- Plenty of wisdom from the Dalai Lama, which
Dec 04, 2008 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in religion
It was fascinating to learn that traditional Jewish mysticism has many concepts and practices similar to those in Buddhism. Maybe all deeply developed mysticisms have such similiaries. However, when Kamenetz seems to argue that what will "save" Judaism in the contemporary world is a new infusion of mysticism... well, I don't know. This seems both simplistic and extremely unlikely to occur (mainstream Judaism becoming highly mystical), and are we so sure that Judaism, which has many varied and vi ...more
As a Jewish American, I can identify with his description of Jewish identity, but having experienced the Renewal movement, I can say whole-heartedly that I prefer Reform. The rabbi who followed Renewalism ( is it a movement? A manifesto?) was so out of touch with reality that it was difficult to believe anything he told you.

I've always felt a strong connection to Judaism; my reference has always been this wonderful Reform synagogue in Tennessee that my family belonged to until we moved away. It'
Kimberly Burnham
Reincarnation, Life Before and After This Physical Existence

Replay of the Journey to Judaism audio review and discussion at

How to you think about reincarnation?
Do you have to do it all now or do you have a thread of lifetimes?

pg 88 (The Jew in the Lotus)

What determines whether an angel in the next rebirth will be a bird or an animal? What is the main factor? Buddhists call it karma." - The Dalai Lama on how rebirth works in Jewish Doctrine.

Why do bad t
Susan Richards
Jul 28, 2015 Susan Richards rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spiritual
I originally read The Jew in the Lotus when it was first published in 1995. I just re-read it because of having attended a program on July 5, 2015 sponsored by ALEPH, The Alliance for Jewish Renewal, called "Living the Legacy: Tracing Reb Zalman's Vision From Dharamsala to the Future" which commemorated the 25th anniversary of the visit of the Jewish delegation to Dharamsala recounted in The Jew in the Lotus. It was the weekend of the 1st anniversay of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's death as wel ...more
Geoff Glenister
May 11, 2015 Geoff Glenister rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is a fantastic book, and it would do Christianity a world of good to learn from the lessons within. "The Jew in the Lotus" is the true story of a group of Jews - coming from Orthodox, Reformed, and secular, as well as JUBU (Jewish-Buddhist) traditions - who go to visit the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama was interested in learning how Judaism survived in exile for so many centuries, considering that Tibetan Buddhism was now in a similar position after their own holocaust and exile at the hands o ...more
Jen Helfand
Very disappointing. Made me want to read a book about the cultural histories of Jews in the us and buddhism. This books most glaring weakness was a lack of pointed intersectional analysis of 'Jewishness' - by omission, this book centers a cis male, Ashkenazi, able bodied, middle class 'Jewish experience' very much of the baby boomer age. Anyone have any recommendations about more contemporary, intersectional analysis of Jewish Buddhists/ Buddhist Jews?
Apr 24, 2010 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book, and it makes me look forward to studying with Zalman Schacter-Sholomi next month. I enjoyed the discussion of angels. According to the Talmud, each blade of grass has a team of angels cheering it on to grow. And each human is preceded by a relay of angels saying "Look out, the image of God is coming!" I wonder how my life would be different if I could be mindful of the angels?
Nov 13, 2015 Jacqueline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found I learned more about Judaism from this book than Buddhism which surprised me a little since I picked it up to learn more about eastern religion. However, the descriptions of meeting the Dalai Lama were fascinating. According to this book, the Dalai Lama was interested in learning tips for survival from the Jewish people. His people were in exile and Jews, as a people who have existed through centuries of persecution were recognized as having something to share on this topic. Kamenetz wri ...more
Pamela Klint
Read this while "working" in Maui. Literally... I was at the counter reading it at work, in Maui :)
Susan Richards
I originally read The Jew in the Lotus when it was first published in 1995. I just re-read it because of having attended a program on July 5, 2015 sponsored by ALEPH, The Alliance for Jewish Renewal, called "Living the Legacy: Tracing Reb Zalman's Vision From Dharamsala to the Future" which commemorated the 25th anniversary of the visit of the Jewish delegation to Dharamsala recounted in The Jew in the Lotus. It was the weekend of the 1st anniversay of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's death as wel ...more
Jun 02, 2009 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in hopes of re-kindling an interest in learning and reading about Judaism. I turned to this book after I could no longer stomach reading God is a Verb, a book on Jewish mysticism. There are certain aspects of Buddhism that are appealing and I thought that reading a book about a conversation between Jewish and Buddhist scholars would be interesting.

I think that this book was well written. It is the story of a diverse group of Jewish scholars that journey to India to speak with t
Dec 30, 2010 Meeg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What happens when the Dalai Lama invites a group of rabbis and Jewish scholars to travel to India for a dialogue between the two faiths? One reason his holiness called for this meeting was to find out what secrets the Jews had that allowed their religion and culture to survive in exile for two thousand years and how these secrets might be applied to preserve the Tibetan Buddhist tradition given its current situation. Along the way we also learn about the similarities between the two religions' e ...more
Carol Ascher
This is a surprising book, as judged by the title, because it is actually the true story of a trip taken by half a dozen American rabbis (two are women) to Daramasala to visit the Dali Lama, and the resulting exchange between the rabbis and Buddhist monks, including the Dali Lama, on differences and commonalities between Judaism and Buddhism, as well as the need by both faiths to develop a way to sustain the faith even when its members are living in exile.
Alethea Hammer
May 21, 2015 Alethea Hammer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The basis of this book is an account of an 1990 trip to Dharamsala, India by a group of Rabbis, the interfaith dialogue that was initiated with the Dalai Lama. In the course of the dialogue they discuss the similarities and differences in faiths, the importance of tradition and the difficulties of keeping a culture alive in exile. They also meet people there who have left the Jewish faith for Buddhism, some who have returned and the personal reasons people have for leaving their original religio
A group of Jewish people from diverse backgrounds organize a trip to India to meet with the Dali Lama to give him insight on the secret of Jewish survival in exile. The author joined them as a journalist with the intention of writing this book. In addition to telling about the meeting with the Dali Lama, he also addresses the question of why so many Jews have turned to Buddhism.

This book is hard for me to rate. I found the subject to be very interesting and I continued to think about the book af
Janean Vivadelli
A nonfiction about a group of Jews who visit Dharamsala in 1990 to talk with the Dalai Lama... He wants to know their secret to preserving their religion which turns out to be how they never forgot their past, especially how they have suffered... Interestingly enough is that this goes against what Buddhists believe since they preach detachment from (among other things) your past... A very interesting chapter on how both Jews and Buddhist believe in angels... Another interesting chapter on JUBUs- ...more
Aug 20, 2016 Tucker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
The true story of the journey of some knowledgeable Jewish teachers to meet the Dalai Lama who wanted to learn more about how the Jews survived so long despite oppression and exile. Told from the perspective of the Jews, it reveals their anxiety about interfaith exchange as well as their curiosity and excitement about the Tibetan culture. Some esoteric theological concepts are brought in.
Apr 10, 2016 Jenifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was exactly what I needed. Caught between the various denominations of American Judaism, and drawn to the spiritual richness (but not the Orthodoxy) of Hasidism, it was such a relief to read a well written and thoughtful account of this exact struggle.

There is a vital amount of history about the cross-pollination of traditions in here. Sufism & Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism: how they have learned from each other and the hope for how they might continue to do so. It was refreshing an
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jew in the lotus 1 6 Jan 01, 2010 06:12PM  
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“According to the Buddhist tradition,” he began, “there is no sort of conversion or missionary work. It is not good to ask someone to follow a different faith. Yet, because there are so many different mental dispositions, one religion simply cannot serve, cannot satisfy all people.” 1 likes
“The preservation of Buddhism is preserving your own internal heart. If Tibetans became terrorists they might win back Tibet, but Buddhism would be destroyed by that attitude.” 1 likes
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