“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.

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