This is such a great and a "meh" book at the same time. The nondual religious perspective will be no surprise to anyone with a background in the pract...moreThis is such a great and a "meh" book at the same time. The nondual religious perspective will be no surprise to anyone with a background in the practice or study of eastern traditions like Buddhism or Hinduism. I have that background, and I ended up a Jew-by-Choice because at one point my inner sense of a somewhat intercessionary Deity no longer jibed with the God-absent (or at least, intercessionary God-absent) nondual perspective.
From my point of view--which I still hold to be a nondual view, it's entirely possible for everything in the universe--including us--to be part of God. That's the classic nondual perspective that the universe is, basically God's mind and everything and every being is just a solidifying of a small piece God's own conscious awareness. Meaning, we're not the discrete individuals we think we are, but we really all are "echad"--one.
Radical nondualist perspectives like Michaelson's and the more esoteric teachings of Buddhism and Hindusim take that to mean we are absent of any reality, merely the product of external causes and knee-jerk behavioral programming from interacting with other essentially unreal beings. Michaelson finds this a comfort--if everything is God and we don't really exist, then there's no one really to cause or experience pain, and ultimately no one to blame. This can cause a well of compassion for our other, fellow beings to arise, as well as a sense of love for those beings and for God, of which we are all a part.
Michaelson is pretty strident about this. Much like the rock-solid surety about "the way things are" that atheists often profess, Michaelson lays down the law--this is who we are and the way the universe works, and that is that. I always find attitudes like that suspect, and that kind of surety totally undermines Michaelson's arguments for me.
For me, if God is infinite and we are part of God, not only can't we be sure about the nature of God--we can't be sure about the nature of us, either. My sense is that we may be only concretized thoughts of God's, but that we exist that way for a reason, not by accident. There is a thing (a pleasure? a sense of companionship?) experienced by God from reflecting a bit of God-stuff into creating us and letting us think we're separate. It's an easy out to say "we should be good to each other because, how sad, we don't really exist," like Michaelson does. But the other side of that coin is the compassion and love that can flow from supposing that we actually exist for a reason--and maybe we don't know as much as we think we do.
In terms of an easy out, Michaelson's own words betray him here. He labels dual-perspective Judaism (i.e. humans have some reality and God is more than a mere force of nature)a "patronizing allegorization of myth and narrative" (p 143), says that he doesn't "like rules, morals, and oughts," and "can't will [himself] to be compassionate or patient" (p 157.) So much of this book to me seems like Michaelson rationalizing his way around his own personality flaws.
He also misreads Torah while justifying the nondual emotional "ecstasy" that he believes Jewish tradition may really mean by "avodah sh'balev", or service of the heart(p 173). At the time of the writing of the Torah, humans considered thought to reside in the heart, not emotions. This phrase really means intellectual devotion, not emotional devotion, but Michaelson is unaware.
Overall, this is a good introduction to the non-dual perspective. But it's also a closed-minded, overly sure-of-itself take on both Judaism and the nature of God and reality.
My sense is, if given the chance to rewrite this book 10 or 20 years from now, when Michaelson has a better handle on his lack of natural compassion and love for his fellow humans--and perhaps works on those issues in more ways than just meditation retreats, he might write it a bit less self-servingly.(less)
I went into this book expecting a balanced debate between the Reform rabbi and the Orthodox rabbi, with the Reform rabbi defending elements of my own...moreI went into this book expecting a balanced debate between the Reform rabbi and the Orthodox rabbi, with the Reform rabbi defending elements of my own liberal Judaism. I ended the book with far more empathy towards the Orthodox rabbi and more than a little embarrassment about the Reform rabbi.
Throughout the book, Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Reinman describes an Orthodox Judaism that is more loving and less strident or closed to the world than we often hear our Reform rabbis tell us from the bimah. He did stick to his guns about central Orthodox teachings about Jewish law and the status of non-Orthodox Jews, which was absolutely as it should have been. He was extraordinarily graceful throughout his writings to Reform Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch.
In response, Rabbi Hirsch wrote one bitchy, obnoxious, goading email after another to Rabbi Reinman, denigrating and criticizing Orthodoxy directly--all of which Rabbi Reinman never once does regarding liberal Judaism. Rabbi Hirsch's parts of the book read like he's writing to his expected liberal Jewish reader, not to Rabbi Reinman, and it got very trying to have to put up with by the end of the book.
I'm a liberal Jew but I'm a Jew first and foremost, and I believe we have a lot to learn from each other's different approaches to Judaism. (For example, I'm a big fan on ritual, non-ethical mitzot.) I find jingoistic Orthodox-bashing from Reform rabbis needless and tiresome. Especially when we (Reform Jews) spend so much time complaining about being treated the exact, same way by the Orthodox.
I was considering rabbinical school when I read this book. (I still am.) I ended the book concerned that I didn't want to end up a Reform rabbi like Hirsch, and having doubts about choosing a rabbinical program in my own denomination.
I'm going to file this into my "Read" category although it's really more of a workbook, anyhow. I'll continue to use it and return to it to learn and...moreI'm going to file this into my "Read" category although it's really more of a workbook, anyhow. I'll continue to use it and return to it to learn and perfect my cantillation. That said, it's an amazingly easy workbook/CD pair that lays out and guides you through the different categories and individual tropes and trope markings so that, slowly but surely, you learn how to decode cantillation marks and musically chant from the Torah at worship services. It's better taken in small bites consistently over time, but I don't see how learning cantillation could be made any easier than it is here.(less)
I'm almost halfway through this book, but it's my last-resort book when I'm tired of the other books I'm reading at the same time. It's not that it is...moreI'm almost halfway through this book, but it's my last-resort book when I'm tired of the other books I'm reading at the same time. It's not that it isn't a good read. It mostly is, though it's written in a pretty basic, I-wrote-this-in-college-English-class kind of style. The real problem is if you've read one I-escaped-ultra-Orthodox-Judaism book, you've kind of read them all. Unchosen (Hella Winston) was this book about a male Satmar Hasid done much better. And it's kind of a shame the message of these books is that ultra-Orthodox life is, for the most part, negative and toxic. For some, perhaps. But I don't think generalizing from the awful experiences of a few people can paint an accurate picture. A devout Hasid would probably find my devout liberal Jewish life distasteful. That would be a totally fair opinion on their part.(less)
This isn't really a book I've "read" as much as a book I use. It's the compact edition of the Reform Movement's full-size new siddur (prayerbook), Mis...moreThis isn't really a book I've "read" as much as a book I use. It's the compact edition of the Reform Movement's full-size new siddur (prayerbook), Mishkan T'filah. It contains almost the exact same two-page spreads as the full-size hardcover version, including Hebrew, English transliterated, and English translated text, but with a different pagination. So anyone familiar with the larger siddur will have to re-familiarize themselves with the layout of this book. It took me all of five minutes, so it isn't difficult to do.
I read a blog review that questioned why Reform Jews would need a "traveler's" siddur. The blogger assumed that Reform Jews only pray on Friday night or Saturday morning in synagogue, and so should always be in a synagogue--and provided with a siddur, anyway--whenever we're praying. It was a very myopic blog post and a very myopic view of Reform Jews.
There certainly are Reform Jews who daven in a more traditional manner, beyond Shabbat, right up to praying three times a day, everyday. I'm one of those traditional-minded Reform Jews, and I LOVE this compact siddur. It always me to daven on a tradition schedule with a Reform liturgy--without having to lug around a heavy, hardback Reform siddur everywhere I go.
If you're a Reform Jew looking for a compact, lightweight siddur to let you pray a Reform liturgy on weekdays at home or at work, this is exactly the book you're looking for. It's hard to find. It's a special-order even at Judaica stores where I live in the Chicago area. I purchased mine online directly from CCAR Press, the publishing arm of CCAR (the Central Conference of American Rabbis), the Reform Movement's rabbinical body.
You can Google for the CCAR press link. My siddur came within three business days via express UPS. Shipping was nearly the cost of the book ($13 shipping on top of an $18 book), but it was worth it.(less)
An incredibly well-researched book that lays out the history of the Hebrew language from antiquity to today, told through the lens of the invention, u...moreAn incredibly well-researched book that lays out the history of the Hebrew language from antiquity to today, told through the lens of the invention, use of, and resuscitation of the use of vowels in the written language. By the end you'll understand why the vowel marks exist the way they do, where they really came from, why they're more than likely not the same as the vowels used in Biblical times, and why modern spoken Israeli Hebrew differs from the way the language is taught both in America and Israel. Probably too dense for some tastes, and the writing takes far too many circumlocutions to get to the point throughout the book. Linguists will love the whole book. Like me, you may just like it in some parts and skim over others. But a worthy read nonetheless for anyone interested in Hebrew. (less)
The book convincingly and depressingly describes antisemitism as a natural response to Judaism, due both to the nature of Jewish thought and teaching...moreThe book convincingly and depressingly describes antisemitism as a natural response to Judaism, due both to the nature of Jewish thought and teaching and to the nature of the surrounding world. The biggest surprise comes at the end, when Prager and Telushkin call for contemporary Judaism to welcome overt proselytizing and aggressive welcoming campaigns for converts in order to help as many people as possible become familiar with Jews. I've always thought that Judaism should get over its self-damaging reticence to seek out converts. However, this is still a Prager and Telushkin book, and whenever they collaborate, there's always a healthy (and annoying) strain of manipulative melodrama. This book is no different.(less)
A surprisingly easy read, especially since it's in translation from the original Hebrew. This is a friendly yet detailed introduction to the Talmud, i...moreA surprisingly easy read, especially since it's in translation from the original Hebrew. This is a friendly yet detailed introduction to the Talmud, including the history through several eras of those who wrote it, how the Talmud is laid out, and examples of the themes and types of argument that the Talmud contains. That might not sound like enough to fill a few hundred pages but it is. When you're done, you'll understand much better what the Talmud is and how it came to be. You won't however, have a detailed understanding of what the Talmud contains. (That would take a much larger book.) Read this book to learn what the Talmud is, not to learn a lot about what's in it.(less)
Fascinating, depressing, shocking, overly important, and sometimes just boring. Fascinating to learn the machinations of how Jewish clergy compete for...moreFascinating, depressing, shocking, overly important, and sometimes just boring. Fascinating to learn the machinations of how Jewish clergy compete for pulpit jobs. Depressing to learn that large, old-guard congregations think it's ok to break the rules for their own benefit. Depressing to watch them get away with it. Overly important in writing style, as if Judaism might rise and fall on the outcome of this one, idiosyncratic book. And because of that last part, too long, too wordy, and too far between the interesting bits. 100 pages shorter and this would be a great read.(less)
Ruttenberg's story helped me let my guard down and become more at ease with PDRs--public displays of religiosity (my term.) As a Jew-by-Choice, my ear...moreRuttenberg's story helped me let my guard down and become more at ease with PDRs--public displays of religiosity (my term.) As a Jew-by-Choice, my early sense of simultaneous disorientation, fascination, and surprise at my journey were echoed in Ruttenberg's own journey from secular Jew to religious. I doubt the book will convince an atheist reader to the joy and benefits religious people find in their lives. But religious readers of any persuasion will understand where Ruttenberg is going here. On any spiritual journey, at some point you just "get it." And it's as impossible to explain that to someone who doesn't believe in Deity as it would be to explain it to yourself the day before. It's a feeling, a sensing, and at some point you just go with it because you can't not. This is Ruttenberg's story of how she did that. (Just don't look for the story of how she became a rabbi--she left that out on purpose.)(less)
I've had the opportunity to hear Jeremy ben-Ami speak in person, and he writes just like he speaks--with a lot of repetition. You'll get the point of...moreI've had the opportunity to hear Jeremy ben-Ami speak in person, and he writes just like he speaks--with a lot of repetition. You'll get the point of this book; you'll just get it a few times more than necessary. That said, Ben-Ami does a good, carefully crafted job of describing in detail how American Judaism's powers-that-be, personified by AIPAC, have spent years shouting down and censoring dissenting views about Israel from other Jews and silencing debate. I happen to agree with J Street's two-state solution, but regardless of that, I also happen to agree in the importance of free and open debate. This book champions both. (less)
Skimmed it for historical information (i.e. when and who wrote the Mishnah, the different Talmuds, etc.) But didn't read all the way through. Felt mor...moreSkimmed it for historical information (i.e. when and who wrote the Mishnah, the different Talmuds, etc.) But didn't read all the way through. Felt more like a very detailed conversation Neusner was having with himself in his head than a book aimed at helping lay people understanding what he was talking about.(less)
This is a terrific resource for learning about the entire Hebrew Bible. It goes way beyond the five books of the Torah and covers the Writings and Pro...moreThis is a terrific resource for learning about the entire Hebrew Bible. It goes way beyond the five books of the Torah and covers the Writings and Prophets in detail, and is one of the only books I've seen that does this. It also lists the 613 mitzvot one by one, with an explanation. For getting a handle on the Writings and Prophets and browsing through all the mitzvot in one place, this book is invaluable.
However, due to the nature of its focus, it's denser and less varied then Telushkin's other huge masterwork, Jewish Literacy. That huge book is a pleasure to dive into and, even for its several hundred pages, read in a few sitting. Biblical Literacy can be a slog to get through and is probably better suited to the study of specific books, chapters, writings, etc.(less)