Category Archives: Judaica

Books and movies of interest to the Jewish community

“The Limits of the World” by Jennifer Acker— Coming to America

Acker, Jennifer. “The Limits of the World”,  Delphinium, 2019.

Coming to America

Amos Lassen

The Chandaria family came to America from the Indian-enclave of Nairobi and have done very well in this country. Premchand, the father, is a doctor who has worked very hard to grow his practice and provide security for his family ; Urmila, his wife,  has a business importing artisanal Kenyan crafts; Sunil, their son, who was studying pre-med changed his mind about his studies and was  accepted to a PhD program in philosophy at Harvard. Sunil’s parents have kept a very important secret from him and that is that his cousin, Bimal, is actually his older brother. When this previously hidden history is revealed by an accident, the family is forced to return to Nairobi. Then we learn that Sunil has his own secret: his Jewish-American girlfriend, who accompanied him to Kenya, is, not his girlfriend but his wife.

Jennifer Acker takes us through four generations of the Chandaria family and to three different continents as we examine cultural divisions and ethical considerations that indeed shape (but should not) the ways in which we judge one another’s actions. There is something to be gained here and I believe it has to do with two explosive secrets in one family. We certainly see how we do not allow ourselves to understand those we are the closest to.

I am amazed that this is Jennifer Acker’s first novel, everything just flows beautifully. I remember those great novels like “Call It Sleep” and the works of Shalom Asch that were studies of families over time that were all the vogue when I was younger. I love imagining that I was part of the family I was reading about. What Acker does here is empathize with her characters. We see codes of morality as well as family cultures that are both thrilling and endearing. While, quite basically, this is the story of a family, it is also a look at how we miscommunicate. We look at what is considered to be ethical behavior and find that there are holes in what is considered ethical. Here is a look at belonging—to a country, to a people, o a family and to a lover. To truly understand this, we need strong characters and that is what we get here. Acker has drawn amazing characters and an original story and it is only natural for us to feel we are part of their world.
Since the world we live in is now global, we see that the only borders that we have are ours; the ones that we impose on others and ourselves. In looking at generational conflict, culture clashes, and immigrant assimilation here, we are also looking at ourselves, whether we want to admit it or not. The limitations of the world today are those that we put there. Being a philosopher by career, I found so much to think about here and it does help that the prose is beautiful and sublime.

“Unlocking the Haggada” by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin— Renewing the Seder

Goldin, Rabbi Shmuel. “Unlocking the Haggada”, Gefen, 2019,

Renewing the Seder

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin is the former president of the Rabbinical Council of America and in “Unlocking the Haggada”, he renews the traditional guide to the Passover Seder service placing emphasis on the big picture. First we must ask these questions—“What is the Seder really all about? What are the overall goals of this richly textured service? How does the Haggada, step by step, enable the realization of these goals? What are the connections between each paragraph of the Haggada and the next? Why do the rabbis structure the evening as they do?” 

The book addresses these and other fundamental questions in a clearly defined experience of learning that reaches from the beginning of Jewish history to today’s Seder table. The rabbi’s language and style makes this a book for any reader, from the scholar to the novice. Rabbi Goldin speaks to us as if we are sitting across from him and he takes each of us  by the hand through two journeys—- one is the journey of the Seder and the other is a journey to understanding. 

As often as we have read the Haggada, it is a safe bet to say that we do not necessarily understand it all. Rabbi Goldin’s looks at the underlying nature of the Haggada and poses questions that bring us into the most important themes and messages of the Haggada. He focuses on the big picture by looking at the way the Haggada is structured and by doing so, he enriches our understanding of the kaleidoscope of details that make up the Seder experience. He has taken a text that has been analyzed and probed for more than a millennium and gives it new meaning, original insights and thoughtful perspectives. Goldin s commentary focuses on the step-by-step details of the Seder while at the same time, emphasizing its overall structure. Through primary material and original thought, his overview of the structure and flow of the Haggada toward its overall goals along with the relevant messages of each passage of the Haggada make the Seder  an experience that is intellectually, emotionally and spiritually fulfilling.  

 

“The Autobiography of Solomon Maimon: The Complete Translation” by Solomon Maimon and edited by Yitzhak Y. Melamed and Paul Reitter— An Annoyed Translation

Maimon, Solomon. “The Autobiography of Solomon Maimon: The Complete Translation”, edited by Yitzhak Y. Melamed, Abraham Sochar and Paul Reitter,  Princeton University Press, 2019.

An Annotated Translation

Amos Lassen

Solomon Maimon’s autobiography has pleased readers for more than two hundred years. Goethe, Schiller, George Eliot, Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt are known to have read it and it is considered to be one of the most crucial Jewish books of modern times. This is the first complete and annotated English edition of Maimon’s influential and delightfully entertaining memoir.

 Maimon was born into a down-on-its-luck provincial Jewish family in 1753 in Eastern Europe. He was a prodigy in learning. And even as a young child, he worried about the constraints of his Talmudic education and rabbinical training. He sought stimulation in the Hasidic community and among students of the Kabbalah and he shares rare and often very funny accounts of both. After a series of misadventures and things going wrong, Maimon got to Berlin, where he became part of the city’s Jewish Enlightenment and received and achieved the philosophical education he so desperately wanted and winning acclaim for being the “sharpest” of Kant’s critics, as Kant himself described him.

This new edition restores text that was cut from the abridged 1888 translation by J. Clark Murray, which has long been the only available English edition. Paul Reitter’s new. translation is sensitive to the subtleties of Maimon’s prose while at the same time, provides a fluid rendering that today’s readers will enjoy. The introduction by Yitzhak Melamed and the notes by Abraham Socher give valuable insights into Maimon and his extraordinary life. The book also has an afterword by Gideon Freudenthal that gives us an authoritative overview of Maimon’s contribution to modern philosophy.

Maimon describes his humble roots in a deeply impoverished rural Jewish community in Eastern Europe, his enlightenment, and then his strange and rough journey to find others as enlightened as he thought himself to be. He yearned for wisdom, Maimon oscillates between the mystical and the skeptical, with the skeptical side gaining influence as his life (and the book) progresses. He eventually arrives in Germany and surrounds himself with the urbane intellectuals he’d always hoped to join, but he never quite feels at home. He sinks into depression and drink, having chosen his career and status over a path with more heart and having left his family and roots behind.

Maimon is a joy to read even though his philosophical writings can be very abstruse. He’s neurotic, but self-aware and honest. He never loses sight of a faint glimmer of hope in spite of all his tribulations.

This is an autobiography of a troubled genius. We become aware of the differences in cultures and temperament between Jews in Poland and Jews in Germany. Life in Poland was difficult and wretched, largely due to the fact that it had a monarchy and was mostly rural.

The autobiography itself is fascinating and fast moving. The philosophical musings are necessary to fully understanding the author and as a philosopher, I appreciate their inclusion.

I found the descriptions of the early Hasidim to be extremely interesting and we see that the Hasidim followed in the steps of earlier mystics and ascetics, and it is suggested that the Hasidim met with hostility from leading rabbis because their anti-ascetism.

Maimon’s internal criticism of Transcendental Idealism paved the way for the theories of the post Kantian Idealists. He was one of the thinkers who helped with the transformation of ‘critical’ to ‘dogmatic’ idealism. This is a concise, well written autobiography that is written with wit and humor and it recounts the memorable events of his extraordinary life. Maimon was a man of exceptional intelligence and that was obvious not only to himself but also to his countrymen whose high esteem he commanded from a young age due to his excellence in the Talmudic studies to which he grew skeptical towards and set out to seek rational and scientific enlightenment in Germany.

His story from successes to misfortunes goes from the hilarious to the tragic and reveals a personality of a genius whose naivete in social relationships and insistence never to pursue anything but knowledge kept him in almost constant destitution.

Solomon Maimon was one of the most important philosophers of the Jewish Enlightenment. Both brilliant and eccentric, he set out in 1792 to write the first autobiography ever written in German by a Jew and it is a work of literary and philosophical significance.

 

“Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma” by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone— Ethnic Trauma

Firestone, PhD. Rabbi Tirzah. “Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma”, Adam Kadmon Books, Monkfish Publishing, 2019. Ethnic Trauma Amos Lassen I doubt that anyone will deny that members of the Jewish religion suffer from ethnic trauma. New research in neuroscience and clinical psychology shows that even when they are hidden, trauma histories (from persecution and deportation to the horrors of the Holocaust) leave imprints on the minds and bodies of future generations. In “Wounds Into Wisdom”, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone “makes a compelling case that trauma legacies can be transformed and healed.” She brings together contemporary neuroscience, psychology, and ancient Jewish wisdom and values, to give us a roadmap for Jews, and all individuals and groups with trauma history, who wish to find and use the power to change their lives. We have case studies and interviews with trauma survivors and their descendants (from Berlin to Shanghai, Cairo to Colorado) to demonstrate what Viktor Frankl called, “the uniquely human potential to transform personal tragedy into triumph.”  Rabbi Firestone is both a rabbi and a psychotherapist and she has studied and counseled many Jewish families and individuals for over 30 years and here she shares how these people have been able to deal with  their tragedies. We all learn something here. We see the ways that past trauma influences and shapes the present regardless of the nature of that trauma. Out of the testimonies she has received, Rabbi Firestone draws seven principles that contain traditional Jewish wisdom and give way to the freedoms we have today. Rabbi Firestone builds on the work of traumatologists that have come before here including Drs. Rachel Yehuda, Bessel van der Kolk, and Yael Danieli. We see how people can transform the residual effects of their families’ painful pasts and change their long-term futures. It is important for us to remember and to be reminded that we have the capacity to rise above whatever devastation comes our way because of our innate wisdom and inner freedom. Collective trauma has impacted the world today and we see this in entire populations being dislocated by war, us with a template for people everywhere to emerge from their tragedies and reshape their destinies. This is relevant not only to the tragic past, “but to the world of turmoil and displacement we live in today”. This is a book for everyone and especially for anyone who has suffered trauma, either directly or in a family whose generational trauma is buried. Reading this helps us  It uncover pain and suffering in order to heal. Humanity has had to deal with death and trauma as a result of the Holocaust and it remains a horrendous event to think about but it is part of history and as Jews it has become an integral part of who we are. Rabbi Firestone shows us how to embrace empathy and compassion which in turn leads us to a “spiritual voice that heals and lifts our souls.” Tirzah Firestone shares ‘resonant truths that hold meaning for today.’ I might note that I do not agree with everything in the book but I am moved by much of what it says. We know that what is happening in the world today opens old wounds and brings new ones and these are issues that we must face but do not always know how to do so. If you have ever wondered if it is possible to come out of a tragedy as a stronger person, then you need to read this book. Not only can we learn to deal with trauma but we can become wiser as a result. Because trauma is painful we tend to try to bury it rather than face it head on thus causing it to enter the unconscious, and it can be passed unknowingly from generation to generation. We read the stories people who’ve suffered extreme pain, faced it head-on, and found a path to healing. These stories mellow our hearts and inspire gratitude and compassion for our fellow humans,. It is also from these stories that we find the tools to make sure the trauma stops. From the rabbi we gain the wisdom of a compassionate therapist and the spiritual perspective of a rabbi who has found her way to the deeper currents of Jewish understanding. We read of Firestone’s own family’s trauma and it is powerful in itself and empowering. We can feel how the rabbi has herself lived through trauma and has even found her way to become a great healer and teacher. While the book is addressed primarily to the Jewish experience of trauma in the twentieth century but I think it can be profound help to anyone seeking to navigate the path to healing from trauma and that is really all of us.

“The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky” by Susie Linfield— “The Very Nature of Modernity”

Linfield, Susie. “The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky”, Yale University Press, 2019. “The Very Nature of Modernity” Amos Lassen Susie Linfield’s “The Lion’s Den” is an intellectual history that explores how prominent midcentury public intellectuals approached Zionism and the State of Israel itself and its conflicts with the Arab world. It is an intense look at the political Left that investigates how eight prominent twentieth-century intellectuals struggled with the philosophy of Zionism, and then with Israel and its conflicts with the Arab world. It comes to us as a series of interrelated portraits that bring together the personal and the political and it includes includes philosophers, historians, journalists, and activists including Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler, I. F. Stone, and Noam Chomsky. It. Does not shy from controversy or radicalism. In their engagement with Zionism, influential thinkers also wrestle with socialism, nationalism, democracy, colonialism, terrorism, and anti‑Semitism. In looking at Zionism, they confront the very nature of modernity and the often catastrophic histories of our time. By examining these leftist intellectuals, we begin to understand how the contemporary Left has become focused on anti‑Zionism and how Israel itself has moved rightward. Wherever one stands on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is a fascinating read. If you are like me and change positions constantly, this is a must-read. Have you even wondered why some of the greatest minds in the American and European Left are unable to understand Jewish nationalism? You probably won’t find that answer here but you will find plenty to talk about.  The book comes to grips with “both the tragedy of Zionism and the way in which anti-Zionism became a touchstone for the global Left.” We get a commentary on eight intellectuals who wrote about the Israel/Palestine conflict. We find ways to deal with both the tragedy of Zionism and the way in which anti-Zionism became a touchstone for the global Left.

“When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation” by Paula Fredriksen— Christianity’s Jewish Beginnings

Fredriksen, Paula. “When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation”, Yale University Press, 2018. Christianity’s Jewish Beginnings Amos Lassen Paula Fredriksen gives us a compelling account of Christianity’s Jewish beginnings. I worry a lot and often about things that I have no part of. I have often wondered and worried how a group of charismatic, apocalyptic Jewish missionaries who were working to prepare their world for the realization and acceptance of God’s promises to Israel, bring about a movement that would grow into the gentile church? Because they were so committed to Jesus’s prophecy of “The Kingdom of God is at hand!”, they were, in their own eyes, history’s last generation but in history’s eyes, they became the first Christians. Paula Frederiksen gives us the social and intellectual history of the by reconstructing the life of the earliest Jerusalem community. Her account comes out of this group’s hopeful celebration of Passover with Jesus and takes us through their bitter controversies that fragmented the movement’s missions, to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. She paints a vivid portrait both of this temple‑centered messianic movement and of the convictions that animated and sustained it. We see the early Christian movement firmly within Judaism and as “radically eschatological, variegated, evolving – and far less critical of ancestral customs and norms than is traditionally imagined.”  We get correctives to a number of prevailing views of Jesus, Paul, and the Gospel writers.   Fredriksen traces the first generation of Christians  with empathy and shows their changing perspectives as events unfolded in unanticipated ways. Fredriksen’s basic thesis is that Jesus was a fairly conventional apocalyptic prophet. He preached the coming of God’s kingdom for an unspecified number of years and was well-known to the authorities in Jerusalem. Jesus’s preaching of the coming of the Kingdom put the people in a state of high expectation during Jesus’s last visit to Jerusalem. Hence Pilate had his guard arrest Jesus and then then had him crucified to send a message to the crowds that Jesus was most definitely not their expected king. Quite simply this meant that Jesus would not be re-establishing the Kingdom. During this time, they reinterpreted Jesus’s message to include the destruction of the Temple and gave Jesus an ancestry from the House of David. Paul sees Jesus as a lesser divine being, but does not radically divinize Jesus as being one with the Father. Paul, importantly, never claims that Jesus is a god but he did say that Jesus was “in the form of [a] god” before he appeared “in the likeness of men.” Fredriksen crafts her narrative in some surprising ways. For example, she favors John’s gospel on a variety of issues. Thus, Fredriksen accepts the Gospel of John’s testimony to the number of years that Jesus was active and the number of trips he made to Jerusalem. She also accepts at least John’s version of the timing of the statements that Jesus made concerning the moneychangers in the temple.
It is important that Pilate and the temple priests knew that Jesus was not really a rebel and not a threat to the established order. Thus, the temple priests had no real reason to seek Jesus’s death, and they were too involved in Passover activities to be able to spend any time in all the back and forth of trials and crucifixion. This puts the blame on Pilate, who knew that Jesus was a peaceful teacher and not an agitator. Moreover, because Jesus’s teachings were known from his prior trips to Jerusalem, Pilate and the High Priests did not have to try Jesus and there was no opportunity for the crowd scenes that are attested to in the gospels.

“Hitler’s Pawn: The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust” by Stephen Koch— A Forgotten Seventeen-year-old

Koch, Stephen. “Hitler’s Pawn: The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust”, Counterpoint, 2019. A Forgotten Seventeen-Year-Old Amos Lassen A forgotten seventeen-year-old Jew, Herschel Grypszpan,  was blamed by the Nazis for the anti-Semitic violence and terror of Kristallnacht, the pogrom seen as an initiating event of the Holocaust. It seems that
after learning about the Nazi persecution of his family, Grynszpan,  an impoverished seventeen-year-old Jew living in Paris, bought a small handgun and on November 7, 1938, went to the German embassy and shot the first German diplomat he saw. When the man died two days later, Hitler and Goebbels made the shooting their pretext for Kristallnacht and it is still understood by many to be the  initiating event of the Holocaust.

Overnight, Grynszpan, who has been a bright but naive teenager and a political nobody became front-page news and a pawn in a global power struggle. When France fell, the Nazis captured Grynszpan and flew him to Berlin. The boy became a privileged prisoner of the Gestapo while Hitler and Goebbels plotted a massive show trial to blame “the Jews” for starting World War II. Grynszpan understood Hitler’s intentions and waged a battle of wits to sabotage the trial, knowing that even if he succeeded, he would certainly be murdered. Let me say here that this is not the only book written about Grynszpan. There are here at this website three other reviews of three other books about him. What makes this one different is the Stephen Koch’s research and storytelling. Koch’s account reveals how this fragile yet steadfast young man devised a plan that outwitted Goebbels. After shooting the Nazi official with a tiny handgun, Gryszpan surrendered himself and he survived several prisons and concentration camps before dying under unknown circumstances. Koch’s storytelling talent gives us the story and provokes us to ask why they haven’t heard about him before. Herschel Grynszpan was one of some 18,000 Ostjuden living in Germany who with his own family, had been rounded up and deported across the Polish border and left to fend for themselves in the bitter winter weather. He could not have known that Hitler and Goebbels would use this assassination to rally the SS to begin Kristallnacht and then use Grynszpan to mount  huge show trial, where it could be proven that this boy was the pawn of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to murder Aryans. Grynszpan was not going to allow himself to be used a second time, and Koch shares his complicated plans while highlighting the rise of fascism in the Nazi period and telling us about the opportunists and their power plays, the crafting of the “big lie” and the staging of pogrom in ways that allow us as readers to think about the parallels to today’s world politics.

“THE WANDERING MUSE”— Jewish Identity and Music

“THEWANDERING MUSE” Jewish Identity and Music Amos Lassen “The Wandering Muse” is such a wonderful title for this documentary for as the Jewish people have wandered around the world so has Jewish music. Director Tamás Wormser followed Jewish music for seven years as it is all over the globe and he saw that like identity, Jewish music is in a state of flux. His film is a series of encounters with Jewish musicians from around the world and he shares them with us by giving us seats to watch the creative minds and magic of making music that reflects who we are. If you have ever wondered if these is a stereotypical Jewish music, be prepared for a variety of answers to that question especially when we consider that a stereotype is nothing more than a commonly held lie that is based on some kind of fact. Wormser set out to change the stereotype of what is considered Jewish music.
He asked himself the question of ‘What is Jewish?’ He determined that “it is not just a religion, just a people, just a culture; it’s all these things and none of them at the same time.” He had a very strong Jewish identity in his native Hungary. My grandfathers died the Holocaust is the camps, one of my grandmothers was killed the last day of the war when the Hungarian Nazis lined up Jews from the ghetto and shot them into the Danube. It is natural that he gravitated toward music since the soul of a people is carried in its music.
I was hardly prepared for how I would be affected by the film. We see and hear Jewish music but we all see and hear varieties of the Jewish experience and, in effect, the music and the religious aspects of Judaism go hand-in-hand. I felt as if I was having some kind of revelation here. Here is Jewish expression in music, words and in the lifestyle of wandering musicians and included among these are Jews who are peripherally committed to their faith and those who are intensely devout. We meet eleven different musicians of the Diaspora and we are with them at them concerts, in their homes, synagogues and other venues on four continents. They express their Jewish identity through their music. Wormser’s family was Jewish but not religious but he wanted his kids to understand something about being Jewish. He understood that there are many definitions and endless explanations of “Jewish” and so he decided to investigate the concept of “Jewish” by exploring Jewish music and speaking with its wandering musicians.
In Tangiers, Morocco, we watch as  a synagogue is opened and that had not been done so for forty years. Musician Vanessa Paloma finds the name plaque of one of her ancestors going back four generations on the back of a wooden bench. I was stunned by the physical beautyof the synagogue. In Borough Park, New York we hear Shura Lipovsky singing a Chassidic song and see swaying Jews dressed in their streimels. In Uganda we see and hear a group of native Africans singing and dancing to the Hebrew words, “Am Yisrael Chai” (“the people of Israel live!”) with the sound of African drums. The members of the village want to enter the rabbinate and are led by an orthodox American rabbi.
Returning to the States, we hear the klezmer/hiphop fusion sound of musician “SoCalled” aka Josh Dolgin, who has an extensive collection of old vinyl recordings of Jewish singers from which he seeks to adapt Jewish melodies to create appealing new songs. He shares that his songs gave him a reason to identify as Jewish. At a summer retreat for Russian immigrants, we find the songs and philosophical thoughts of Psoy Korolenko (Pavel Lion), who did not know that he was Jewish until he was ten years old. Vanessa Paloma gives us a wonderful song in “Judeo-Spanish” and “Judeo-Arabic.” In doing so she recreates what once was. We feel the sense of soul and lament of the wandering Jew and understand that every Jew believes in a sincere and just humanity and this is what our music represents. In a bar in Argentina, two friends play tango-infused klezmer. At a party in Montreal, an artist mixes hip-hop and jazz with cantorial singing in a multilingual presentation. In a Berlin apartment, an American and a Russian friend harmonize in a rendition of an anti-Zionist song from the 1920’s. Among the musicians featured are Basya Schechter, César Lerner, Daniel Kahn, Rabbi Enosh Keki Mainah, Jeremiah Lockwood, Shura Lipovsky, Marcelo Moguilevsky, Moses Walyombe, Psoy Korolenko AKA Pavel Lion, Vanessa Paloma and Socalled AKA Josh Dolgin.
Music unites us giving us emotional ease and shelter. Chaim Nachman Bialik once wrote the lyrics to what was to become one of his most loved songs, “Take me under your wing and be mother to all my doubts and worries.” Music for us is a shelter of peace, a Sukkat Shalom.

“A Short History of German Philosophy” by Vittorio Hosle— Concise and Comprehensive

Hosle, Vittorio. “A Short History of German Philosophy”, translated by Steven Rendall, Princeton University Press, 2016, paperback reissue, 2018. Concise and Comprehensive Amos Lassen “A Short History of German Philosophy” is a concise yet comprehensive original history of German-language philosophy from the Middle Ages to today. It is written as a narrative that explains complex ideas in clear language. Vittorio Hösle traces the evolution of German philosophy as well as describes its central influence on other aspects of German culture, including literature, politics, and science. The narrative starts with Meister Eckhart, a medieval mystic Meister Eckhart and then moves forward to look at the philosophical changes brought about by Luther’s Reformation, and then presents a detailed account of the classical age of German philosophy (Leibniz and Kant); the rise of a new form of humanities in Lessing, Hamann, Herder, and Schiller; the early Romantics; and the idealists Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. The following chapters investigate the collapse of the German synthesis in Schopenhauer, Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche. Turning to the twentieth century, the book explores the rise of analytical philosophy in Frege and the Vienna and Berlin circles; the foundation of the historical sciences in Neo-Kantianism and Dilthey; Husserl’s phenomenology and its radical alteration by Heidegger; the Nazi philosophers Gehlen and Schmitt; and the main West German philosophers, including Gadamer, Jonas, and those of the two Frankfurt schools. There was a distinctive German philosophical tradition from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century and the book closes by examining why that tradition largely ended in the decades after World War II. If you have ever doubted the German contribution to philosophy, you will quickly change your mind when you read about the depths of Germany’s philosophers and their influence on the world of philosophy. It was difficult for me to realize that the Holocaust emerged from a society that was so rich in the world of thought yet chose not to speak out against the tide of Nazism. Of course there were Nazi philosophers as well. I so remember my father’s reaction when I decided to get my degree in philosophy. I was warned by him that the great German philosophers came rise to Hitler and his twisted idea. Yet even with the evil that came out of German philosophy there was also good. This philosophical history  is quite remarkable in scope, brevity, and lucidity and is an invaluable book for students of philosophy and anyone interested in German intellectual and cultural history. I found the section on Heidegger to be exceptionally well done. (Yet Arendt is missing and only briefly cited on two entries. I see in Arendt the continuation of the great German philosophical heritage which she so successful brought to and used in the United States. Like her or hate her, we do not see too many minds of her caliber. Hösle’s summaries capture the most important characteristics of German philosophers in a stimulating way and his book is a literary as much as an intellectual work. This is a survey of the full landscape of German philosophy and I believe that the reason that Vittorio Hösle can make the names come alive is because he evaluates philosophers with a light touch. Hösle wrote this book for general readers and he is both lucid and forceful mixing analysis and polemic.

“The Rabbi’s Brain: Mystics, Moderns and the Science of Jewish Learning” by Dr. Andrew Newberg and Dr. David Halpern— Jewish Neurotheology

Newberg, Dr. Andrew and Dr. David Halpern. “The Rabbi’s Brain: Mystics, Moderns and the Science of Jewish Thinking”,  Turner, 2018. Jewish Neurotheology Amos Lassen The topic of “Neurotheology” has been getting a lot of attention lately in the academic, religious, scientific, and popular worlds. Even so, there have been no attempts to learn more specifically how Jewish religious thought and experience may intersect with neurotheology at least until now, that is. “The Rabbi’s Brain”takes us into this groundbreaking area. The book is a neurotheological approach to the foundational beliefs that arise from the Torah and associated scriptures such as Jewish learning, an exploration of the different elements of Judaism (i.e. reform, conservative, and orthodox), an exploration of specifically Jewish practices (i.e. Davening, Sabbath, Kosher), and a review of Jewish mysticism.  We lookat these topics in an easy to read style that brings together the scientific, religious , philosophical, and theological aspects of the emerging field of neurotheology. We review the concepts in a stepwise, simple, yet thorough discussion, allowing us to be able to understand the complexities and breadth of neurotheology from the Jewish perspective. Issues include “a review of the neurosciences and neuroscientific techniques; religious and spiritual experiences; theological development and analysis; liturgy and ritual; epistemology, philosophy, and ethics; and social implications, all from the Jewish perspective.” Dr. Andrew Newberg is regarded as America’s leading expert on the neurological basis of religion and he brings us a fresh perspective. He summarizes several years of groundbreaking research on the biological basis of religious experience and offers plenty to challenge skeptics and believers alike. If you have ever wondered how Jewish rituals evoke a sense of awe and God’s love by activating the brain’s sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, you will find that out here or at least you will be given the tools to allow you to find your own answer.  Dr. Andrew Newberg, Director of Research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, and Dr. David Halpern, an Orthodox rabbi and resident at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, seek to answer questions through an examination of the field of neurotheology and its intersection with Judaism. This is a new field that is impacting academia, science, and religion. It comes from the intersection between neuropsychology and religion, and uses “an integrative examination of consciousness, psychology, anthropology, the social sciences, spirituality, faith, and theology” by which the authors review Judaism’s basic concepts, beliefs, rituals, and prayers, and discuss how they activate certain brain processes. The writers interview rabbis of all denomination and those interviews are included here. They recorded  the brains’ reaction to reciting the Shema prayer and through brain imaging, they found that the recitation activates more frontal lobe activity.  The importance of this book is that it is a useful primer on the core tenets and traditions of Jewish living as well as a review of its major thinkers and their teachings (including those of the rabbis of the Talmud, Maimonides, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, among others). It is also an accessible introduction to a seemingly limitless area of study. Newberg and Halpern provide brief examinations of the intersections between neurotheology and other world religions and we see that a look at Judaism and its relationship to the brain is sure to inspire expanded research both within and beyond the Jewish community.