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Climbing Jacob's Ladder: One Man's Journey to Rediscover a Jewish Spiritual Tradition Paperback – May 8, 2007

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Climbing Jacob's Ladder: One Man's Journey to Rediscover a Jewish Spiritual Tradition + Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar + Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

How can a person be generous to the poor when his own bank account is almost empty? Mussar, a thousand-year-old Jewish spiritual tradition, offers answers to this and many other questions regarding the distance between religious ideals and everyday realities, as Alan Morinis explains in Climbing Jacob's Ladder. Morinis, a Canadian baby boomer who grew up to become a Rhodes Scholar, anthropologist, and film producer, discovered Mussar teachings at the low point of his midlife crisis. After he made some high-flying business deals that crashed, Morinis found reassurance in the Mussar idea that human life is holy and people can improve themselves. And Mussar, a system of ethical discipline conceived by Orthodox Jews to help them meet the demanding requirements of observant life, does seem perfectly designed for readers seeking step-by-step instruction for building or rebuilding their spiritual lives. In Climbing Jacob's Ladder Morinis tells the story of how he used Mussar to climb back up to holy life and invites readers to come along on his ascent. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This moving account of a secular Jew's search for spirituality begins with his explorations of Eastern religions in India and ends with his quest's eventual culmination in Jewish tradition. Born and raised in Toronto, Morinis won a Rhodes Scholarship and earned a Ph.D. in anthropology at Oxford. After teaching at different universities in Vancouver, he became involved in filmmaking and abandoned academia. He was successful for many years but his business finally failed. During his resulting depression, he turned to Judaism for solace since his investigation of Eastern religions had proven fruitless. He learned about Musar (ethics, morality), a little-known Jewish movement that emphasizes the study of Judaism's ethical writings and their practical application. The need for a teacher to guide him beyond his reading led him to a rabbi in Far Rockaway, N.Y. For the next three years, Morinis traveled frequently between Vancouver and New York. What he learned is incorporated in this well-written book which sets forth the teachings of Musar, often through parables told to Morinis by his teacher. These homilies make a profound connection between belief and behavior. The narrative also reveals the story of the author's life, including the impact of his studies on his relationship with his physician wife and their two daughters. The achievement of personal growth through spirituality is richly demonstrated by this touching account of the author's journey to Judaism.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Trumpeter; 1st Shambhala Ed edition (May 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590303660
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590303665
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #237,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A.Naomi Katz on May 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It's not often that one comes across a nonfiction book as smooth reading as "Climbing Jacob's Ladder." Alan Morinis has produced what might be called a spiritual autobiography, with a specific purpose, explained in the title as, "One Man's Discovery of a Jewish Spiritual Tradition." Underlying all is a searing honesty that is positively inspiring.
The tradition in question is Mussar, which has its roots in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. This so decimated Mussar practitioners that Mussar did not gain prominence in the study of Judaism as a whole. So, for Alan Morinis, after much research, it was a "find". His description of it is so impelling that it is hard to put aside. As an autobiography, the character of the author as a secular Jew comes through very clearly in all its ramifications during his journey towards spiritual fulfilment.
Also central to the book's treatment of Mussar is the character of the person who ultimately became Morinis' teacher. Rabbi Yechiel Yitzchok Perr, living in New York to where the author travelled several times from Vancouver for study. Rabbi Perr, though orthodox himself teaches without imposing orthodoxy on the learner as the writer might have expected, since he found the subject grounded in orthodoxy.
However, Mussar is not only for studying, but for practising: its basic principles emanating from the soul of every practitioner, different as they are from every other practitioner.
I found the book positively exciting because of the honesty of expression about the author's feelings at every stage of the journey. The writing is imbued with a very human quality that draws the reader into the author's soul, which is the whole point of the exercise of Mussar: to develop the soul toward spiritual perfection as far as possible.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By stan eaman on May 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book wrtten with courage, sensitivity and clarity.
The theme is a story of getting lost on life's journey and on finding a way back- no easy task in our North American culture of "materialism and self-centeredness".
Alan Morinis generously shares his "journey" which took him to the little known ancient Jewish spiritual practice called Musar.
At first through his reading and studying of obscure texts and eventually with the guidance of a wise and compassionate teacher, the author rediscovers his "true nature".
The book overflows with wisdom and ancient truths and the practices and techniques of Musar are clearly laid out at the end of each chapter.
Morinis wrestles with the question of whether one has to be a practicing Orthodox Jew to follow the path of Musar and concludes that one doesn't. In fact, I think that the path of Musar is open to all who genuinely thirst after truth and wisdom.
The author generously shares his "journey" and his discoveries in a way that enables the reader to begin an ancient practice that can be life transforming.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By nycbookreader on April 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Picking up this book, I was afraid that it would be the standard fair of criticizing traditional Judaism and replacing it with a sophmoric system. However, as the back cover contained glowing praise from both Rabbi Jonathan Saks, Chief Rabbi of England, and Rabbi Abraham Twerski, the best English language author on traditional Judaism, I immediately purchased the book.
The author who is an admitted neophyte on the book's subject, writes skillfully, respectfully and passionately. I easily absorbed the book in a single reading, feeling refreshed and inspired the whole way through. The book never becomes preachy or emotional but maintains a discipline of even handedness which is the hallmark of mussar, the book's sunject.
The book is a journey taken in middle age by Alan Morinis, a professor and movie producer whose life hits a roadblock. Searching for a way to move forward, he stumbles across some texts relating to the mussar movement, a small but highly influential school of thought within Orthodox Judaism. Mussar, which thrived in Eastern Europe during the 19th century, applies a highly introspective and self-critical approach to life.
The author locates and visits one of the great luminaries of the Mussar school, Rabbi Yechiel Perr. Perr is a traditional rabbi, dean of an orthodox yeshiva in the suburbs of New York. Far from being a strict disciplinarian, Rabbi Perr is described as a happy man with a great sense of humor and passion for life. Perr invites the author into his home and shares with him insights into ethics and life, which inspire the author.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Roger Eaton on November 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In a world where spiritual materialism is rampant, it is refreshing to find the real thing. _Climbing Jacob's Ladder_ by Alan Morinis is an up close and personal introduction to Mussar, a little known, nearly obliterated form of Jewish Wisdom which aims in the most practical way to help anyone find his soul and then to cut through the clutter to balance and strengthen that soul by various techniques. There is no quick fix here, but what this book has to say jibes with as much as I have learned. Spirituality is largely a matter of practice. God helps those who work on their technique!  
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Lionel Issen on October 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I stumbled on this book when it was reviewed in the Religion section of the Houston Chronicle. Like Alan Morinis I am a secular person. Once I bought the book I couldn't put it down. Then I reread it and started to study it. I learned to do some of the exercises. I use The exercise with the elastic band whenever I am stuck in a line anywhere. It calms me down. (You'll have to get the book to learn it.)
I find this book to be an excellent introduction to Mussar. It is almost painless but it does require effort and concentration.
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