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Kaddish Paperback – February 8, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (February 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703621
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #572,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Leon Wieseltier's Kaddish is a completely new kind of book. It is not quite philosophy, autobiography, history, or Midrash, but it blends all of these genres into a narrative of Wieseltier's grief during the year following his father's death. Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, is a mostly unobservant Jew whose grief compelled him to observe his religion's rituals of mourning, daily attending synagogue to recite the Kaddish (the traditional Jewish prayers of mourning). He also delved deeply into a vast range of texts describing the history and spiritual significance of these prayers. And he wrote incessantly, describing with force and clarity the process of bringing his mind and heart to bear on the grief that consumed him. Perhaps the best way of describing this moving, illuminating, hopeful, awe-filled book is to quote a stray line from the first page of the book's first chapter: "Out of tears, thoughts." --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

When his father died in 1996, Wieseltier began to observe the Jewish rituals of the traditional year of mourning, going three times daily to synagogue to recite Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. Between the prayers and his daily work as literary editor of the New Republic, he sought out ancient, medieval and modern Jewish texts in an effort to understand the history and meaning of Kaddish. He discovered that early texts dictated that the mourner's kaddish be recited only on Saturday nights, but the prayers were prolonged so that the souls of the sinners of Israel released from Gehenna would not hurry back to hell. Wieseltier reports that through his study and practice of Kaddish he realized that the past is at the mercy of the present. "The present can condemn the past to oblivion or obscurity," he notes. "Whatever happens to the past will happen to it posthumously. And so the saga of the family is also the saga of the tradition." Wieseltier provides a work of history, philosophy and spiritual memoir where he deals with the meaning of freedom and the perplexity of tradition. His book demonstrates how the practice of religion meets the needs of a troubled soul.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This "Gentile reader" (as compared to the 19th century "gentle reader") loved this oh-so-Jewish work. Mr. Wieseltier's book is meditative and beautiful, more like bedside reading (dip in a bit at a time) than a strict narrative. I have read with some bemusement the reviewers here who didn't like it. They seem threatened by an intellectual man who uses his full intellect to consider his faith, or lack of it. Personally, I found this book elegant, engaging, and full of warmth and even occasional humor. My own father is dying, and it helped me ponder his circumstances while thinking about my eventual response to his impending death. Magnificent work.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By "taboreb" on May 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I could not wait to read this book. And I could not put it down. I was filled with awe at the scholarship of Jewish people when the rest of Europe was illiterate and uncivilized. I was amazed by the compassionate (and occasionally not so compassionate) views the rabbis had towards mourners and mourning. I learned more than I had thought I could about this odd practice, which Wieseltier made odder still. I agree with all the comments about narcissism, pomposity and the like becuase the author epitomizes those traits and others like them but in my opinion the book transcends its author's limitations and was utterly fascinating in its breadth and depth. As it maddened me at times and lost me in its obscurity at others I was among those who couldn't put it down. By having slogged through this mighty tome, I felt that my kaddish for my own father was enriched.
And in the end, with all the pedantry and scholasticism and weight, the author ends in a spiritual and emotional way.
I imagined him having a relationship with his father in death, through the creation of this book, that he could not have during his father's life. And to that, amen.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's impossible to categorize this book, because it simply doesn't fit into any conventional category. I'll have to explain exactly what it is: a journal kept by the author in the year after his father's death, in which he researches, ruminates, and comments on Judaism. The book is so intense that I got the impression that he spent the entire year (a) saying kaddish and (b) sitting in a tea room poring over ancient manuscripts. It's a privelege to get a chance to peek into the results of an entire year of study -- not to mention the mind of the author, who at times is brilliant. He is not trying to apologize for anything or to prove anything: he is simply, and honestly, thinking. This is not a book to be read in one sitting; I found myself reading a few pages at a time and then thinking about them. But the book is so well-written that I was in no rush to finish.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By sdelmonte@aol.com on March 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Leon Wieseltier has created a singular work, exploring 2,000 years of Jewihs tradition and thought about death and mourning in the aftermath of his own father's death. The breadth of his knowlegde is amazing, and all the more so given that he is something of a non-believer. As a religious Jew, I found his discoveries and his re-examination of his own faith to be moving.
The work has two flaws. The first is its length. And while you can excuse its length as being a product of the vast amount of lore and law he sifted through, he occasionally rambles and jumps off the topic.
The other flaw is that I just can't iamgine too many people wanting to read this. If you're more devout than I, you might find his agnosticism offputing. If you're of a secular bent or not Jewish, why would you want to read this at all? That such a work got published is a sign that Jewish philosophy is part of the mainstream. But I wonder how many people are like myself and have the patience and curiosity to dive into this book. Maybe it should have been more accessible. Or maybe it's best that some books make the readers work to learn something, the way the author did in writing this.
If you are of the right patience and of the right religous bent, however, tead this and cherish its beauty.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Elga K. Stulman on December 8, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Kaddish is a controlled and passionately intellectual research in the origins of the mourner's Kaddish. The author uses the death of his father, and therefor the necessity of saying Kaddish, 3 times a day, for a year to inquire into Jewish practice, history, theology and philosophy. This book is neither a memoir nor a textbook for scholars. It is instead a tribute to the Jewish wisdom of the mourning process. Having heard the author speak, I understand why he did not want autobiographic material, why he chose boundaries around his privacy. He wanted intellectual pursuit, not voyeurism. Don't try to read it all at once. Pick it up at random and savor it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 13, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that you put down at times in bafflement and irritation and pick up again twenty minutes later because, dammit, it's under your skin and you can't leave it alone. Not quite like anything else I've come across but that's part of its charm. A lot of erudition, a little navel-gazing, some painfully personal revelations, some zippy one-liners. As a non-Jew, I found some of the author's assumptions about my baseline knowledge of Judaism a little over-optimistic but what else was he to do ? This is a personal book, written, I suspect, because it had to be written exactly as it is and not tailored to appeal to some hypothetical market target. And the reward for struggling through some of the more obscure passages where there are few familiar landmarks for the goyim to recognize is the humanity and wry humor of the author's examination of himself, trying to work out why he's embarked on this self-imposed devotional task and how to make sense of an world cluttered with medieval scholars and rabbis, and twentieth century atrocities, but also CD-Roms and contemporary DC, a thousand and one contradictions and very little certainty. So in the end he can't make sense of it all ? Who could ? Who can? It's still worth reading.
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