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Judaism: A Way of Being Hardcover – November 24, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Gelernter means to answer four fundamental questions from a strictly Jewish perspective: How do we understand our place in the universe? Is physical creation all there is? How can we live our lives as human beings? Does life have a greater goal beyond mere survival? Culling from various Jewish sources, he answers by means of thematic images that resonate throughout a “lived Jewish life.” Those image-themes (and questions coordinate with the principal four) include separation (what is the point of Jewish religious law?), the veil (how can we be in touch with the transcendent?), perfect asymmetry (what role does family play?), and inward pilgrimage (how can Judaism reconcile a just and merciful God with evil?). In the appendix, he answers two further questions, Why believe in God? and What makes Judaism the most important intellectual development in Western history?, and offers a brief treatise on Jewish and Christian ethics. Though written for Jews unsatisfied by “usual approaches” to Judaism, the book may fascinate non-Jews interested in its questions, too, regardless of whether they agree with Gelernter’s conclusions. --June Sawyers


“Out of the uncommonly learnèd and richly imagining mind of David Gelernter comes what we may be tempted to name a new Psalter; or call it instead a Song of Songs for the contemporary temperament. Yet secreted in the sinews of these seductive images is a grounded robustness of Idea. The opening chapter alone, on Separation, reveals the essential engine of human intellect: how we think. Gelernter may well be capable of sending the most adamant secularist flying to the synagogue — or, if not that, then to a principled reevaluation of the mental universe we all inhabit.”—Cynthia Ozick, author of Dictation: A Quartet

(Cynthia Ozick)

“This book not only argues its thesis, but also enacts it. Gelernter’s prose is at once plain in its patient unraveling of knotty problems and rhapsodic in its celebration of what it knows it cannot present. Judaism: A Way of Being is a powerful answer to anyone who has ever wondered how the spiritual life can be sustained in the face of all that conspires to kill it.”—Stanley Fish, author of Save the World On Your Own Time
(Stanley Fish)

“In an exhilarating work possessing the force and grace of a mighty poem, Gelernter shows us Judaism not only as a body of beliefs, but as a way of seeing and being in the world.”—Wilfred McClay, University of Tennessee

(Wilfred McClay)

“David Gelernter is a sensitive and masterfully evocative writer whose approach yields a fascinating new understanding of themes and ideas long embedded in Judaism. For writing in a way that is both true to subjective experience and compelling for Jews of the 21st century, he deserves our gratitude.—Rabbi Norman Lamm, Chancellor, Yeshiva University

(Rabbi Norman Lamm)

"One of the most original interpretations of Judaism that I have ever read. Rich with insights for Christians trying to recover their own roots in Judaism and define their own "way of being." Gelernter is especially good at showing how Judaism and Christianity go on nourishing each other, despite the vivid parting of their ways. His brief closing reflections on God, on the supreme intellectual importance of Judaism to western civilization, and on the different angles of Jewish and Christian ethics are worth the price of the book."—Michael Novak, author of On Two Wings and No One Sees God
(Michael Novak)

Finalist for the 2009 Book of the Year Award, presented by ForeWord magazine
(Book of the Year Award ForeWord Magazine 2010-01-01)

“The Jewish experience, as Gelernter shows, echoes profoundly across the wider experience of humanity. Judaism itself is a wide-ranging book about the beliefs, practices and philosophy of the world’s first monotheistic religion--a book that Jews and non-Jews alike will find well worth reading.”—Jay Lefkowitz, Wall Street Journal 
(Jay Lefkowitz Wall Street Journal 2010-03-29)

“[Gelernter] occupies a unique spot in American intellectual life, at the intersection of technology, art, politics, and religion. . . . Judaism is a visual tour of Jewish life, an attempt to conjure ‘the grand scheme’ of the Jewish religion. It is perhaps Gelernter’s most ambitious work to date.”—Evan Goldstein, The Chronicle Review 
(Evan Goldstein The Chronicle Review 2009-11-30)

“Though written for Jews unsatisfied by ‘usual approaches’ to Judaism, the book may fascinate non-Jews interested in its questions, too, regardless of whether they agree with Gelernter's conclusions."—Booklist 
(Booklist 2009-11-15)

“Exceptional . . . unlike anything that’s been done since the likes of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Mordecai Kaplan. . . . Gelernter’s brilliant book . . . [is] never less than clear and stirring, and should be read by all those who have the slightest interest in Judaism and its many layers of meaning and beauty.”—Robert Leiter, Jewish Exponent 
(Robert Leiter Jewish Exponent 2010-01-21)

“In this brief but intellectually packed book, Gelernter attempts to present Judaism as a total structure, to begin a Torat ha-lev, the Torah of the mind and heart that can lead to understanding the pressing questions of human existence. . . . Challenging, often exhilarating, richly learned, intensely personal, and tough-minded, Judaism offers a passionate picture of Judaism.”—Maron L. Waxman, Jewish Book World 
(Maron L. Waxman Jewish Book World)

“Gelernter’s little volume offers a window into the living core of Jewish life. . . . What emerges vividly from Gelernter’s picture are the nuances, the small but definitive acts of devotion, that together make up the sum of religious Jewish life.”—Gil Student, First Things 
(Gil Student First Things)

"Gelernter creates a visual allusion for much of Judaism. . . . Gelernter's paintings . . . are prayer as they are made and as the viewer sees them. . . . As each section presents seamlessly layered images, the entire book, including the illustrations, is a seamless whole."—Ben Schachter, Religion and the Arts
(Ben Schachter Religion and the Arts)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1St Edition edition (November 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300151926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300151923
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,308,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Harold Lindy on December 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Written from a Biblical perspective, Judaism it is the eminently readable, astonishingly inspired book about Judaism, the religion, which was the beginning of monotheism and foundation of other religions. Dr. Gelernter presents it not just as a religious perspective but as a philosophy of living, therefore, the subtitle, "A Way of Being."

His first major topic, separations, is in so many ways the essence of the Old Testament. I have always thought of separations quite literally: In Creation, each day was devoted to a separate task, and then the time of work was separated by the Sabbath, a day of rest; one birthday separates a child from adult responsibilities; the time for atonement concludes with a final day and hour of judgment for the coming year.

However, Dr. Gelernter extends the concept of separation with an original and visionary perspective reflecting an extensive range of knowledge. He discusses the parting (separation) of the Red Sea, the separation of the Torah scrolls, relishing the real and symbolic meanings. It was a leap and a revelation to follow his thinking, transforming my own appreciation of Jewish law and literature to a new level.

Philosophically and religiously, it is the section "Inward Pilgrimage" that goes to the heart of Judaism, the observance that Dr. Gelernter calls a "spiritual map." It is easy to see that this belief structure lends itself to a positive, moral, orderly, and purposeful life. One need not live a life style to understand and value it. It is a delight to share his joy in Judaism.

I have been privileged see the Dr. Gelernter's own creation, the Ashrei painting which is also the cover artwork this remarkable book. It was a very beautiful and meaningful choice; the Hebrew refers to a prayer passage, a fundamental belief in the Almighty that "Happy are they who dwell in Your house..."
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Gelernter's goal in writing this book was to explain a few of the themes within Judaism and get the reader to "superimpose" them in his or her mind, and so get a more sophisticated understanding of Judaism and Jewish being. He is very successful at describing the themes...I am not as sure about the synthesis. But the difficulty may be with Judaism and not with the writer - Judaism explains through analogy and suffers several apparent contradictions that no one can resolve in a single book, no matter how well written.

Don't let that stop you from buying it! The book made me think long and hard, and I've read it multiple times. It's very interesting from the perspective of the "whys" of Jewish observance, the mindset behind the rules. For anyone who has struggled with rabbinical/talmudic style thought, you may enjoy Gelernter's Western, academic, yet true-believer take on things.
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Format: Hardcover
No biblical Judaism: no Christianity. Thus "A Way of Being," by David Hillel Gelernter is an essential work for anyone who embraces revelatory monotheism. As a staunch adherent of strict Judaism, Gelernter has written an important book for those who aim to grow in their religious knowledge and commitment in addition to those who desire to learn more about the views of modern robust non-moderate Judaism.

Herein the reader will learn about:

- The Creation
- Life's aims based upon the infinite ontological foundation (God)
- The Sabbath
- The Jewish High Holidays
- Numerous typographical interpretations of major events recorded in the Torah and Tenach (some interesting and fanciful interpretations, moreover many fall into the realm of eisegesis).
- Jewish moral law including application regarding countless realms from betrothals and funerals to civil law.
- A theology that declares that God can be abstract, indescribable, yet loving and personal.

In "Judaism" the reader finds an engaging and appealing book filled with potent truths about one of the world's most important religions. This volume is an excellent resource for Jewish people as well as Christians and other non-Jewish people looking to learn about one of history's most fascinating religious groups.

Student opines: "For non-Jews, or Jews who have no experience of observance, Gelernter's little volume offers a window into the living core of Jewish life. Look carefully at the lives of strictly observant Jews in the United States, and you will see the original that Gelernter seeks to portray. What emerges vividly from Gelernter's picture are the nuances, the small but definitive acts of devotion, that together make up the sum of religious Jewish life.
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Let's be candid. I'm a Christian and a gentile. I read the book to learn more about Judaism. For that purpose I likely picked the wrong book. Gelernter didn't write the book for me. He wrote it to expound on the beauties of an orthodox life, and (to borrow his imagery) sound a shofar, calling the less faithful home. He develops four themes: 1) Separation of the covenant and chosen people from the rest of mankind, 2) The veil that separates man from God, 3) Men and women have different roles and are incomplete, one without the other, and 4) The essential, personal, internal, spiritual pilgrimmage.

The themes are developed using images, analogies, and scripture. Observance of the law is what ties the observant to his past, present, and future, and to "transcendence". Gelernter is passionate in his love for his faith. I would enjoy hearing him speak; however at the slower pace of the written word, he was at times too passionate, too poetic, and too enthusiastic. Image is piled on image, and allegory on metaphor fast and furious, until the entire structure collapses in a rapturous heap.

While I enjoyed the book and learned a great deal, I lost my connection to him in the appendices, specifically when Gelernter expounds on the flaws of Christianity (an area in which I do have first hand experience). From his perspective, meekness, turning the other check, reserving judgement, and failure to argue a point, are the attributes of misinformed Christian sissies. I'm left with the bitter aftertaste of a 5th theme, the arrogance of the True Believer.
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