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Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka (Jewish Encounters Series) Hardcover – October 19, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Whether he’s writing about Judaism and Buddhism or prayer and dreams, Kamenetz’s mission is to discern connections. In his most delving book, he traces the hidden links between a literary nineteenth-century Hasidic rabbi and a quintessential modern secular Jewish writer. Rabbi Nachman, a “Jewish shaman” and a contemporary of the Brothers Grimm, smuggled the kabbalah into fiction to extend the reach of his teachings. Kafka, concerned about the spiritual cost of modernity, “nourished himself with the tales of Hasidic rebbes.” Both men were ascetics; both died young of tuberculosis; both questioned “the seeming absence of divine justice”; and both asked trusted intimates to burn their work after their deaths. Kamenetz’s dramatic and revelatory double portrait is built on a solid foundation of elegantly explicated Jewish thought and deepened by the story of his journey to Ukraine to visit Rabbi Nachman’s grave. Here is a whole new slant on Kafka, a unique and affecting portrait of a creative holy man, and a radiant inquiry in celebration of how both sacred texts and great literature are open to “infinite interpretation.” --Donna Seaman

Review

Praise for Burnt Books

“The lives, works, and achievements of Franz Kafka of Prague and the far-less-well-known nineteenth-century Jewish mystic Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav would seem at first glance to have nothing in common. It is only the first of the many virtues of this engrossing and wonderful book by Rodger Kamenetz, a highly experienced and masterful writer on Jewish mysticism, that the truly eerie parallels between their lives, drives, and visions become clear.”
The Washington Times  

“Kamenetz’s dramatic and revelatory double portrait is built on a solid foundation of elegantly explicated Jewish thought and deepened by  the story of his journey to Ukraine to visit Rabbi Nachman’s grate. Here is a whole new slant on Kafka, a unique and affecting portrait of a creative holy man, and a radiant inquiry in celebration of how both sacred texts and great literature are open to ‘infinite interpretation.’ ”
—Booklist

“Two yearning souls face each other and touch in this remarkable encounter, both deeply imagined and fastidiously researched. And when, forever questing, Rodger Kamenetz adds his own journey to the mix, what he gives us is so fascinating I read it hungrily.  Kamenetz makes a case for the kinship of these brother storytellers that is more than irresistible:  it feels inevitable.”
—Rosellen Brown, author of Civil Wars

Praise for The Jew in the Lotus

"A book for anyone who feels the narrowness of a wholly secular life or who wonders about the fate of esoteric spiritual traditions in a world that seems bent on destroying or vulgarzing them. It is a narrative about an extraordinary moment in history, of course, but it is also the chronicle of Rodger Kamenetz's discovery of what he says is a more nourishing Judaism."
The New York Times Book Review

"Splendidly written from beginning to end, this is a book that might and should be read for the simple pleasure of watching an honest intellect confront its own image . . . A book that should be read and discussed by those interested in the marvelous complexity and resilience of the human soul."
—New Orleans Times-Picayune
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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Encounters Series
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; First Edition edition (October 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805242570
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805242577
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #792,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Miha Ahronovitz on January 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rodger Kamenetz book is about my life too. And I did not write this book. But his observation that Kafka used a Talmudic thinking to write is documented brilliantly. His observation that Kafka lived an eternal Yom Kippur, being obsessed whether he is judged by every word he said, stemming from a perfectionism impossible to achieve, it's about me and others like me. Kafka never crossed the door of the Law, he never reached the Castle, he does not know the reason why K dies in the Trial. Yet these questions are part of his life, much beyond the oversimplification of Kafka as a scribe about an absurd world, where each time we have an argument with a boss, a teacher and a parent we feel identified.

Kafka has no answers, but an "unending analysis", same as Talmudic, Midrashic, and Mishnaic commentaries. Kafka's "The Trial", for example, embodies the particular techniques of rabbinic hermeneutics. These are dry words.At a personal level, the three levels of soul perceived by the humans, Nefesh (the animal soul), Ruach, the wind towards Nesahama, the spiritual soul, must be visible. Most people relate the word "soul" with Nefesh. If you listen to soul jazz music, you feel the Neshama

I never understood the Kafka's Metamorphosis, until my mother had a stroke trying to get a bottle of milk from the fridge. She became an insect-like and many people started treating her as an insect. "There must a treatment" she said to me. "I can not stay like this, for the rest of my days" It is this treatment that I was unable to find for her than haunts me even today.

Joseph Roth wrote, when in stress, we do not seek the knower, we seek the believer. My mother had a good medical care, but she had no hope, something that those miracle- rabbis . not the doctors, can give us.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Rodger Kamenetz has a thourough understanding of jewish mysticism and kabbalah.
He is an outstanding writer and succeeded in this book to explain to the reader the secrets
Of kabbalah.
His style of writing is easy to understand,even to a non English reader.
Rodger Kamenet is the best jewish author in modern times.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I originally wanted to read it because I was interested in Reb Nachman ... then he turned me on to Kafka. I first read the book borrowed from the library and now have purchased a copy for my library. There are many similarities in the complexities of life for Jews in Kafka's Europe with American Jewish life today. His analysis of the past takes us beyond our present into the future. A skillfully crafted narrative. Thanks!
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Format: Hardcover
Rodger Kamenetz, of The Jew in the Lotus fame, takes on Kafka and Rebbe Nachman in Burnt Books. Kamenetz sets a course to show us the similarities and differences between both men, and most importantly, the points of contact and departure of their respective fiction and stories. Both use parable to advance their own spiritual agendas. Both burned books and manuscripts they felt missed the mark (Kafka) or revealed esoteric secrets (Rebbe Nachman). Both were questioners, doubter, seekers and mercurial.

Kamenetz does a good job plotting these intricate courses, but sometimes gets lost and the narrative get tangled. We go from Kafka to the Rebbe to Kementz's trip to Uman with no apparent sense. There is a great deal of repetition that could have been eliminated, and in the end, the sheer weight of Kafka's and Rebbe Nachman's unbending personalities make us wonder if there really is a connection between these two men worth extended investigation.

With that in mind, Kamenetz has still written a book that raises interesting questions about faith, doubt, and the art of writing. He just takes a while to get us there.
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Format: Hardcover
Rodger Kamanetz's BURNT BOOKS: RABBI NACHMAN OF BRATSLAV AND FRANZ KAFKA comes from a teacher who for many years taught a course in Prague on Franz Kafka. His consideration of the unexpected connections between Hasidic master Rabbi Nachman and Kafka - which includes spiritual connections and even their co-invention of new forms of storytelling that explore the search for meaning in an unjust world - makes for an outstanding survey any Jewish studies collection should have!
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