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Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion Hardcover – August 1, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Ruttenberg, who was recently ordained as a rabbi, decided at the age of 13 that she was an atheist. Then in the late 1990s, she experienced a spiritual awakening, taking what she describes as a winding, semi-reluctant path through traditional Jewish practice that eventually took me to the rabbinate. Ruttenberg writes that for her the work of the religious life has been about reconfiguration and reintegration, determining which parts she has outgrown and which could grow with her. The author, who lives in Los Angeles, lived for some time in Jerusalem. A tremendously satisfying memoir of spiritual awakening from the author of a variety of books and periodicals. --George Cohen

Review

Danya Ruttenberg shares the story of her journey toward embracing observant Judaism. What makes this story fascinating and urgent is that Ruttenberg never stops thinking and asking hard questions. She reminds us that loving religion is a matter of heart and soul—and brain. And that it something to which I say amen. —Leora Tanenbaum, author and journalist

"Danya Ruttenberg marshals beautiful writing and a prodigious intellect and, leavening it all with a hefty dose of wit, tells a compelling story that has something to teach everyone who picks it up, regardless of how spiritual or religious (or not) they are."—Lisa Jervis, cofounder of bitch: feminist response to pop culture

"Ruttenberg's honesty, depth, wit, and eloquence light up every page."—Carol Lee Flinders, author of Enduring Lives: Portraits of Women and Faith in Action

"The philosopher in me loves the unfettered and deep intellectual challenges to which Ruttenberg subjects religion in general and Judaism in particular. The rabbi in me appreciates how she wrestles with Judaism in as intense a way as Jacob wrestled with the angel. The person in me loves her unmitigated integrity and honesty. All in all, Surprised by God is truly a treat!"—Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Ph.D., author of Knowing God: Jewish Journeys to the Unknowable and distinguished professor of philosophy, American Jewish University

"What makes Danya Ruttenberg's engaging spiritual memoir especially unique is her commitment to her modern values-such as feminism and humanism-and her insistence that she can be both a religiously observant Jew and an enlightened human being. This moderate religious approach is refreshingly mature in a world of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Ruttenberg's search for meaning in an often superficial American culture should inspire readers to embark on their own spiritual paths, and Ruttenberg herself is living proof that discovering God and even religion does not necessarily mean losing one's inner core."—Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David, author of Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Toward Traditional Rabbinic Ordination
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (August 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807010685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807010686
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #771,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm probably not being fair to Ms. Ruttenberg; my standard for religious autobiography is Anne Lamott. And Thomas Merton's "Seven Story Mountain".

She writes a decent book but plunges through the decades with only a good glance at all that occurred. I hoped she would expand on her family, as it sounded like their dysfunction had much to do with hers. Religion is lived on two levels: the intellectual, received in seminary, and the fierce discussions about the meaning of laws. The other level is the raw, unfinished world. Watching someone die in the hospital. Following someone in the congregation for a few decades, then preaching their memorial after you've walked the whole way with them.

A greater revelation of personal struggles and encounters with what Jack Kerouac called "Naked Lunch"

It was an OK read and I would recommend it to others.
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Format: Paperback
This little memoir is the story of an atheist hipster who, after her mother's premature death, becomes interested in God and gradually turns into a pretty observant Conservative Jew (and, at the end of the book, applies to rabbinical school). If you share the author's enthuasiasms for moderately traditional religion and leftish politics, this could be an inspirational book.. If not, probably not so much.

Here are a few lines I liked: "The only archetypes [of God] that I encountered in my upbringing and in the wider culture were of God as fascist dictator, or, maybe, God as the Big Buddy who makes everything okay."

"it was extremely daunting to do such a private, precious thing [as pray] in public..[so in her first visits to synagogue] I never spoke to anyone ... I wanted - needed- to pretend that I was somehow alone at this." I could identify with this- when I first started going to synagogues I mostly wanted to be left alone. It was only after I developed a certain degree of "ritual mastery" (as she puts it) that I felt more of a need to be welcomed.

"[in travel] Rather that holding on to the same identity... as is easy to do amid the comforts of home - we shift and change and become new in every moment." I identified with this because I have found that I have made the most drastic religious shifts only after moving to a new city.

[a rabbi] "instructed me to embrace [feelings of failure] until I got to the place where my failures merged with everybody else's failures .... The next day was Tisha'b'Av- the anniversary of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, a holiday about confronting suffering and disintegration." As the rabbi in question (Alan Lew) has written elsewhere, Tisha'b'Av is part of a cycle, beginning with the recognition of failure on Tisha'b'Av, moving towards repentance and reconciliation during the High Holy Days.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Danya Ruttenberg's latest book is a very moving memoir of a young woman's spiritual development. This is more than a biography, it's a guide to developing one's own spiritual path. Rabbi Ruttenberg brings stories and sources from various faith traditions which add to her gripping narrative. I truly couldn't put this book down. I highly recommend it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a very good book to start you thinking about how to balance Jewish teaching with a secular life. The author went from being an atheism to an observant Jew. It was a journey with a lot of bounces. It was done for the right reasons, to meet a passion to be a better person. It is entertaining and thought provoking. I enjoy seeing some my home town Chicago area bars listed, but I enjoyed more the journey to be an observant Jew even though I myself will not meet that criteria. It helped me think about my journey along that route.
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Format: Paperback
I wanted to review analyses of a personal change from nonbeleiver to beleiver and finally rabbi. It is a brilliant work, systematic, educational, mystic and challenging. I loved it, and kept saving pages and postponing ending. Well. New woman, person and rabbi was born. World has become a better place, including me a little.
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Format: Hardcover
As a fan from her Yentl's Revenge, I found Surprised by God to be the fulfillment of the promise Ruttenberg showed in that book. This book showcases the writer's ability to blend the personal and political and to make it all so compulsively readable that you just can't put it down.
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