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The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India (Plus) Paperback – August 21, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Kamenetz, a poet and professor of Eng-lish, accompanied a group of eight Jewish leaders to Dharamsala in October 1990 for a Jewish/Tibetan Buddhist interfaith dialog that reinspired him both spiritually and as a Jew. The narrative reveals interesting parallels, thorny problems, and profound mystical insights as Kamenetz relates his encounters with Tibetan leaders, including the Dalai Lama, and with Jewish rabbis and cultural leaders. Highly recommended for all libraries.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Kamenetz, a poet and a Jew, was invited to attend and write about a historical meeting between a delegation of American Jews and a group of Tibetan Buddhists that included the Dalai Lama. This interfaith get-together was inspired, in part, by the increasing number of Jews who have become Buddhists as well as the Dalai Lama's perception of Jews as "survival experts." The Dalai Lama felt that the Jews, experts in exile and the preservation of faith and practice, would offer advice and comfort; participating rabbis were intrigued by the surprising similarities between the two religions, including esoteric traditions and a profound awareness of suffering. Kamenetz not only chronicles the resultant discussions, which proved to be enlightening and emotional, but also profiles a number of Jewish Buddhists, including Allen Ginsberg and Ram Dass. As his investigation throws his own beliefs and assumptions into high relief, Kamenetz is amazed and humbled by the intensity and altruism of Buddhism. Kamenetz defines and comments upon these complex matters with skill, personableness, and a welcome dash of levity. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Plus
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Updated edition (August 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061367397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061367397
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rodger Kamenetz is an award-winning poet, author and teacher. Of his eleven books, his best known is The Jew in the Lotus, the story of rabbis making a holy pilgrimage through India to meet with the Dalai Lama. His account of their historic dialogue became an international bestseller, prompting a reevaluation of Judaism in the light of Buddhist thought. Now in its twentieth year of publication and its 35th printing overall, The Jew in the Lotus is a staple of college religion courses. The New York Times called it a "revered text." A PBS documentary followed, and a sequel, Stalking Elijah, won him the National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Thought.

Kamenetz's six books of poetry include To Die Next To You and The Lowercase Jew. He has been called "the most formidable of the Jewish-American poets." His memoir, Terra Infirma was described as "one of the most beautiful books ever written about a mother and a son."

When The History of Last Night's Dream appeared in 2007, Oprah Winfrey interviewed him on her "Soul Series" program, saying, "What's so exciting about this book is that it talks about how there's a whole other life that we are living when we sleep and that our dreams are there as offerings and gifts to us if we only recognize what the dreams are there to teach us."

Kamenetz's latest work of non-fiction 2010's Burnt Books, in Schocken/Nextbook's Jewish Encounters series, once again crosses boundaries, between literature and religion. It begins as a dual biography of Franz Kafka and Rebbe Nachman, who each asked his best friend to burn his books. It ends with Kamenetz on his own pilgrimage to Kafka's Prague and to the rebbe's grave in Ukraine.

Born in Baltimore, Rodger Kamenetz has degrees from Yale, Johns Hopkins and Stanford. At Louisiana State University, he held a dual appointment as a Professor of English and Professor of Religious Studies and founded the MFA program in creative writing and the Jewish Studies minor. He retired as LSU Distinguished Professor and Sternberg Honors Chair Professor. He lives in New Orleans where he devotes himself now to his work with clients who seek spiritual direction through dreams.

For more information about Rodger Kamenetz, visit his website at, or meet him on Facebook, or follow him on twitter at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

102 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
In 1990, Rodger Kamenetz, a secular Jew and English professor at Louisiana State University, accompanied a group of eight Jewish leaders to Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile. This book, published in 1994, describes that interfaith dialog as well as his many interviews later with Jews who practice Buddhism, including Alan Ginsberg and Ram Das.
The Dalai Lama was particularly interested in how the Jews survived as a people in Diaspora during their thousands of years in exile. Tibetan Buddhists, now expelled from their homeland are facing the same dilemma.
The Jews were particularly interested in what the attraction was for modern Jews in Buddhism because there have been so many who have seemed to abandon their Jewish heritage.
The author writes well, so well in fact that he took me deeper into concepts than I have ever been before. There are a lot of facts in this book and a lot of theology. I have no background in philosophy, theology, mysticism, meditation or any spiritual practices. And yet I was able to follow most of it.
The Jews and Tibetan Buddhists have some things in common. Their monks study sacred texts and practice debate. There are some ancient words that are common to both religions. And on a deep spiritual level, they both practice meditation and visualization.
The differences are vast though. The Jewish tradition is rooted in the family. The Tibetan in a monastic tradition. The Jews believe there is one lifetime. The Tibetans believe in reincarnation.
When the question of the holocaust came up, the Tibetan answer was that it was karma for something bad they did in their past lives when they might or might not have necessarily been Jews. The Jews were shocked by this.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
At first I couldn't get into this book. I'm Jewish by culture and ethnicity, but never saw much of spiritual value in the Jewish religion I had been raised in. And while I like much of what the Dali Lama does and says I couldn't see spending hours reading about his meeting with a bunch of Rabbis. Dull. It seemed like the author was just a middle aged Jewish intellectual with an identity crises -- and I have better things to do than hang around with people worrying about "who they really are."
To make a short story shorter, I'm delighted I hung in there to see what happened.
It's about the interchange that took place (about 7 years ago) when a group of Rabbis were invited to visit the Dali Lama. He wanted to hear from them how Jews had managed to preserve their religion and culture during thousands of years of exile from their homeland and despite persecution. The paralells to his people's current situation are obvious, and why he'd be interested is therefore obvious. What wasn't obvious was how the interchange effected the Jews who participated -- nor the conflicts between the flavors of Judaism (which I never expected could be interesting or enlightening.
I have more appreciation for Judaism, Buddism, and the author than I ever expected. It turned out to be a can't put down read.
Alex Censor
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Esther Nebenzahl on October 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
In 1990 Kamenetz, Marc Lieberman (a Jewish Buddhist - JUBU) and a group of distinguished personalities from the spectrum of Jewish religion (Reconstructionist and Orthodox rabbis, rabbis active in Jewish renewal, and professors of religious studies) went to Dharamsala for a four day meeting with the Dalai Lama. The latter had made the invitation in order to better understand the Jewish faith and learn the techniques of survival in Diaspora.
This book must be viewed from three different perspectives. First there is the dialogue among the Jews, which clearly points out the discrepancies between the different denominations. Second, the dialogue between the Jews and Tibetan Lamas and monk with the objective in mind of exchanging information, getting to know each other, pinpointing differences and similarities. And last, but not least, the interaction between the author and the two sets of dialogues, which will open a new perspective in his life: rediscovering his Jewishness through mysticism.
The participants were able to find areas of common interest such as practice of meditation, visualization, the intensive use of debate and study of ancient texts, the Kabalah as a parallel of Buddhist mysticism, the mandala and the sephirot. There are also significant differences: Buddhism does not accept the concept of a Creator, and God is viewed as Trugh, Reality or Emptiness; for Buddhism there is reincarnation, in Judaism it is a one-life-time-experience; Judaism is family-oriented, Buddhism is monastic.
The author comes to the realization that modern Judaism has been drained of its ancient spirituality by means of increasing secularism.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Elliot Fein on March 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
Roger Kamenetz, a poet and professor of English Literature at Louisiana State University appeared at the Borders Bookstore in my neighborhood. To prepare for his visit, I re-read perhaps his best book, The Jew in the Lotus.
The book is a journal about his travels with six prominent American and Israeli Jews to Dharmsala, India to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama. As I perused the eloquently written text, a key question kept entering my mind.
Why are so many individuals from North American Jewish backgrounds interested and involved in Tibetan Buddhism?
The persons whom Kamenetz meets and observes in Dharmsala are impressive people. They are not "flakes" looking to join a cult. They are educated and intelligent individuals searching to live a more authentic spiritual life.
They speak respectfully, often affectionately about Judaism and their Jewish upbringing. They did not find answers, however, to their spiritual quest within their own ancestral faith. They found answers, or at least a direction to search for answers, within Tibetan Buddhism.
In interviews with JUBU's (the vernacular term used for Buddhists from Jewish backgrounds,) Kamenetz hears repeatedly that "Judaism is not an accessible faith tradition."
The JUBU's acknowledge the profundity of wisdom found in Judaism. Many even talk on a sophisticated level about how compelling certain teachings found in Jewish texts and observances can be. They find Buddhist teachings, meditations, and practices, however, easier to learn and integrate into their lives.
Buddhism and Judaism are each religions that posses a sacred literature that is written in a language foreign to English speaking people. Both ancient literatures speak of events that occur in a historical context that also is foreign.
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