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A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice

4.4 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1580232470
ISBN-10: 1580232477
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"'Shwer Tzu zine a yid,' our parent's generation used to say: it's hard to be a Jew. But we Jews living today are so lucky," writes Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. "Being Jewish is safer now than at any other time in history."

But that still doesn't mean it is easy. "Our challenge today," he continues is to be Jewish in a way that fills our lives with meaning. We want to be Jewish with awareness, 'to do Jewish' in a way that satisfies our souls. We want our Yiddishkeit to enrich the world in which we live."

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, who became famous as one of the coauthors of The Jewish Catalgue in the 1970s, takes a more handbook type of tone in his A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice. This was published in hardcover by Schocken Books in 2002, but is soon to be released in paperback by Jewish Lights ($19.99).

The book resembles many, other introduction-to-Judaism books in covering personal behavior, holidays, and so forth. But his goal is similar to Schachter-Shalomi's.

"Rituals should not be observed because we are 'supposed to' observe them, but rather because they help us achieve the real goal: awareness," he writes. "A spiritual practice of Judaism strives for awareness of the moment, every moment, helping us to live life to the fullest."

"Doing Jewish with awareness" certainly includes intellectual awareness as well as sensual or spiritual awareness.

(Leon Cohen The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle)

From Publishers Weekly

The author of this outstanding book is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, the New York synagogue where Mordecai Kaplan started the Reconstructionist movement in 1922. He is also one of the authors of The Jewish Catalog, the bestselling handbook for Jewish practices, first published nearly 20 years ago. This follow-up is a far more sophisticated and comprehensive guide that adds meditation to traditional Jewish rituals. As he explores his thesis that "Judaism is meant to be a spiritual discipline," Strassfeld displays his considerable erudition by providing explanations based on Talmudic and Midrashic texts as well as Hasidic and mystical stories. Appropriately, the book opens with Jewish behavior prescribed for the beginning of the day and continues with prayers for the rest of the day, along with proposed meditations. After a thorough discussion of Shabbat rituals (to which Strassfeld suggests adding an environmental orientation), he analyzes Torah study, prayer and deeds of loving-kindness the three pillars on which the world rests, according to Judaism. This is followed by a detailed survey of Jewish holidays in which Strassfeld acknowledges differences among the Jewish denominations, as he spells out the customs and processes associated with each festival. He offers an ingenious and global examination of the life cycle, placing it in the context of the five books of Moses. Strassfeld writes clearly, making complicated matters comprehensible. This valuable book needs to be read and reread by all Jews, and by non-Jews who want to understand their Jewish neighbors.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Jewish Lights (January 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580232477
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580232470
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 3.4 x 22.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #708,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is, quite simply, a wonderful, wonderful book. You might think that a book subtitled "Judaism as a Spiritual Practice" might focus dogmatically on the narrow realm of "how can everything be relevant for me", but the author--steeped in knowledge of traditional sources and practices AND himself a spiritual seeker and teacher--has produced a book which is eminently readable, is full of both information and inspiration, and successfully weaves together ancient and contemporary insights. His gentle teaching approach is very accessible and "real".
Whether you are long-time committed Jew who is looking for "something more"--a way of finding more meaning in the Jewish life you are living--or someone who is looking for a way into a deeper Jewish life that is both authentic and personal, this book is for you. (It is also a great book for people simply looking to learn about the wide range of Jewish practice--throughout the day, the year, and the lifetime--including both traditional and contemporary perspectives.) I know of no other book quite like it. I am so glad I bought it!
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Format: Hardcover
I am awed by the depth of this book.This is a book for the serious seeker.It presents the traditional thinking from the Torah, Midrashim and Talmud,but it has the added spiritual dimension which has become so important in our contemporary Jewish life.
The author takes us through the day from dawn to dusk,through the three paths of Judaism,Torah study,prayer and the path of loving kindness.giving us the traditional laws and customs for each of these and also the method by which to enhance these practices.He does the same for the holidays and also the Jewish life cycle.
Just as Strassfeld's editorship of the Jewish Catalogues,met the needs of the Jewish people of the seventiles."A Book of Life
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rabbi Strassfeld is a Re-constructionist who has written a book that can be read by most people looking to learn about various facets of Jewish life. He covers many facets of the Jewish faith and the viewpoints of the major streams of Judaism today. Worth reading for a beginners' look at Jewish life and the faith traditions.
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By jamesrd_17 on October 11, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book tells it like it is. You don't need a rabbi, you have to attend every event at the synagogue, and you don't have to have every blessing memorized to be a good Jew. This really highlights the spirituality of the Judaism and helped me when I was disappointed with the politics/nonsense going on at the synagogue, etc. I recommend it to anyone - and it should be required reading for anyone who is thinking about or in actually converting to Judaism.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I must be open and upfront by letting you know that this review is not by a Jew. But that really. Doesn't matter when you begin to read such profound truth. To me it is so reassuring to read about things that are ancient and go beyond modern philosophy, which is situational and diluted. I wish I was jewish, but we can have everything.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A well-written, comprehensive introduction to Judaism. Stassfeld manages to respect tradition while allowing for innovation and greater inclusiveness. It covers the fundamentals of Judaism in a way that is inspiring, including what it means to live a day in a truly Jewish way, the three paths of study, prayers, and loving-kindness; the holy days; an effective survey of the five books of Torah; and what it means to live in the Promised Land.
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By Brit on December 1, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was one of the books required for my conversion class but even if it hadn't been required reading, I would've read it. It has information about many aspects of Jewish life, including holidays and the reasoning behind them. I bookmarked the pages with blessings on them. Definitely a book I come back to time and time again. I even really enjoyed the little blurb things at the bottom of the pages to go along with the reading.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Since I am in the process of converting to Judaism, I have purchased many books for my studies. This, by far, is my favorite book because it gets right down to a discussion of how to lead your life every day by incorporating the principles of Judaism.
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