Thursday, October 18, 2007

Immortality, Resurrection, And The Age Of The Universe: A Kabbalistic View

Aryeh Kaplan, KTAV/AJOS, 1993

Kaplan, the celebrated author of some 50 books, as also a physicist of some renown, which is evident in this posthumously-published collection of his essays. As the title suggests, the subjects are hardly light reading, but Kaplan’s outstanding ability to make complex subjects accessible to the layman prevails, and the work is a pleasure to read. The essays deal with: the age of the universe, longevity and immortality in Judaic sources, the concept of resurrection, astrology and what he calls ‘male and female’. The first is of special interest (it’s material that I’ve used on many occasions) as it tackles a difficult subject head-on, using a candid and (at least in some circles) unpopular stance and quoting some vital and little-known sources to support his theory. The second half of the book is a translation of the ‘derush ohr hachayim’, written some 166 years ago. It addresses the discovery of fossils, other scientific developments of the time and a Jewish approach to these and other key matters. It was intensely controversial at the time of its publication and after, and a worthy text with which to conclude a remarkable book.

Immortality, Resurrection, And The Age Of The Universe

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect And Find It's Not Bad to Be Good

Wendy Shalit, Random House, 2007

This is Wendy Shalit’s second book on the theme of modesty and women reclaiming control in the rapacious sexual environment that pervades much of the contemporary American student and work worlds. Her first book, ‘A return to modesty’ was written when she was interested in, but not committed to Jewish observance; this one post-dates her Teshuvah. She explores the issues of commitment-free relationships, casual sex, the claim in some segments of society that pornography empowers women, and, most significantly, the pressures placed on women to behave ‘badly’ to satisfy contemporary expectations. She claims that many women would prefer not to be promiscuous, but are unable to resist expectations, with the resulting damage to their ability to form happy relationships and self-esteem. She also suggests that aggression and rudeness have become desirable traits in much of society, with calamitous consequences. The book is thorough to the point of being tedious, but offers some interesting and thought-provoking observations.

Girls Gone Mild

Friday, September 07, 2007

Finding The God Of Noah: The Spiritual Journey of a Baptist Minister from Christianity to the Laws of Noah

J. David Davis, Ktav, 1996

This unusual (and not all that well-written) book is amply described by its subtitle: ‘the spiritual journey of a Baptist minister from Christianity to the Laws of Noah.’ It is an autobiography of a man who would now call himself a Noachide. Davis, who understandably has become a figure of considerable dislike among some Christian groups in the USA began his quest towards observance of the seven Noachide commandments very gradually. When researching into the origins of baptism he discovered that it was ‘borrowed’ from the Jewish mikveh practice. Little by little, he abandoned Christianity in favour not of Judaism, but of the little-known Torah code for gentiles – the seven Mitzvos of the Noachides. He eventually removed the steeple (which he now understood to be a pagan phallic symbol) from his church and converted it to a place of Noachide worship, losing about half of his constituents in the process. He invited rabbis to give classes and began a Noachide movement. His highly unusual life makes a most interesting study.

Finding The God Of Noah

Friday, August 31, 2007

Jewish Mysticism: The Infinite Expression Of Freedom

Rachel Elior, Littman Library, 2007

Rachel Elior, professor of Jewish Philosophy at the Hebrew University has produced a masterpiece: it addresses the most esoteric areas of Jewish thought in an accessible, sensitive and highly readable way. Some idea of the complexity of the work is conveyed by the translators’ introductory note: ‘we were particularly interested in translating this book because of the extraordinary challenges it presented and because of the importance of its inclusive cultural message’. The book has four section, the first of is a fascinating tour of the literature and objectives of Jewish mysticism. The other three sections deal in turn with the limitless levels of meaning in sacred Jewish texts, the boundless numinous life of the mystic and the mysteries that Kabbalistic sources detect within the Hebrew language. The appendix is also an excellent resource for historical and literary figures of the world of Jewish mysticism and, like all of Professor Elior’s books, it is thoroughly indexed and resourced.

Jewish Mysticism