The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle - Leon Cohen
"'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.
Shalom - J G Friedman
[A Book of Life] Jewish catalog for the 21st century, it truly is a book of life. Part One includes awakening to the day, dawn, speech, work, food, end of the day and a meaningful portion on Shabbat: A day for walking softly through the world. Shabbat is good for the soul. You'll read about the "three paths"—Study, Prayer and Loving-Kindness—and you'll learn much about all our holidays. Do you believe in mystics? There is clear evidence in the Talmud that some of the great sages were Jewish mystics. You'll also learn about Creation and how the world came into being. To everything there is a purpose, and this book will talk to you all about your life.
Today's Books Book Register - Kate Treworgy
A BOOK OF LIFE: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice (Jewish Lights Publishing May 2006 $I9.99 Trade Paperback I 58023-247-7) by The Jewish Catalog coauthor Michael Strassfeld, NYC. Rabbi. Praised by Sylvia Boorstein, Hebrew Union College president David Ellenson. JUDAISM / Jewish Living: Tradition Contemporary spirituality, Three Paths, Festivals, Sources, Glossary.
Strassfeld offers his readers a thoughtful blend of richly traditional Judaism and contemporary spiritual quest. You will learn a lot from this warm and open-hearted portrayal.
A Book of Life wonderfully illuminates traditional Jewish teachings to make a set of practices come alive for our contemporary world. Strassfeld doesn't shy away from the difficult questions, the ones that compel us to bring our deepest values to our real and present experiences in order to have an authentic spiritual life.
Strassfeld presents the whole of Jewish life as a practice-path of attentiveness to the moment-to-moment possibility of connecting with the sacred. His conversational tone and wit support the enormous amount of information and guidance in his book, keeping it always accessible, engaging, and inspiring.
Burton L. Visotzky
Rabbi Strassfeld has set a sumptuous table for students of Judaism in his Book of Life. Paying equal attention to ethics, spirituality, and ritual, Strassfeld gently guides readers through the practices of Judaism that lead to a mindful Jewish life. This book is perfect for congregations, for undergraduate courses, for conversion classes, and for searchers from every walk of life.
Lawrence A. Hoffman
Over the years, Michael Strassfeld has consistently captured the liberal spiritual imagination of American life, and now he has done it once again in this thoughtful and comprehensive introduction to Judaism for our time. The necessary facts and lexicon of Jewish life are masterfully woven into a creative web of traditional Jewish wisdom and altogether novel interpretation. He covers the usual topics like prayer and holiday observance, but also the unusual oneslike work, speech, and ecological consciousnessin fact, pretty much every area where modern men and women seek out spiritual meaning and ethical guidance.
HThe 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. (Sept. 4) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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