As Judy Gruen walked down the aisle and into her Orthodox Jewish future, her bouquet quivered in her shaky hand. Having grown up in the zeitgeist that proclaimed, “If it feels good, do it,” was she really ready to live the life of “rituals, rules, and restraints” that the Torah prescribed?
The Skeptic and the Rabbi is a rare memoir with historical depth, spirituality, and intelligent humor. Gruen speaks with refreshing honesty about what it means to remain authentic to yourself while charting a new yet ancient spiritual path at odds with the surrounding culture, and writes touchingly about her family, including her two sets of grandparents, who influenced her in wildly opposite ways. As she navigates her new life with the man she loves and the faith she also lovessurviving several awkward moments, including when the rabbi calls to tell her that she accidentally served unkosher food to her Shabbat guestsGruen brings the reader right along for the ride. Reading this wry, bold and compelling memoir, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and when you’re finished, you may also have a sudden craving for chicken matzo ball soupkosher, of course.
|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Judy Gruen is the author of several award-winning humor books and coauthor of a book on MBA admissions. She has written for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Saturday Evening Post, American Thinker, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Family Circle, Ladies’ Home Journal, Los Angeles Times, Northwestern, Woman’s Day , and many other media outlets. She has been quoted in The New York Times and Better Homes & Gardens , and has been a guest on many radio programs. Her writings on Jewish interest and spirituality have been featured on the websites Aish.com and ReadtheSpirit.com, as well as the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and Jewish Action. She has also contributed to ten anthologies.
Table of Contents
Foreword Michael Medved ix
Chapter 1 Wedding Day 4
Chapter 2 The Grandparents I Have to Thank 11
Chapter 3 Seven Circles 25
Chapter 4 "Every Family in the World…" 32
Chapter 5 Journeys Near and Far 41
Chapter 6 Back in the USSR 54
Chapter 7 The Gallery of Regrettable Dates 66
Chapter 8 Growing Conflict 77
Chapter 9 Meeting Rabbi Lapin 88
Chapter 10 Friendships Lost and Found 103
Chapter 11 Decision Time 115
Chapter 12 The Plunge 122
Chapter 13 The Talking Donkey 134
Chapter 14 Dinner with Charlie 140
Chapter 15 The Ritual Bath 150
Chapter 16 Can I Still Say That? 158
Chapter 17 Hi, My Name Is Judy and I'm a Religious Fanatic 163
Chapter 18 Hair Today, Hidden Tomorrow 171
Chapter 19 Through a Child's Eyes 184
Chapter 20 Out in the World 194
Chapter 21 Grandpa's Little Girl 202
Chapter 22 Seven Circles 208
About the Author 215
Reader's Guide 217
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Gemara in tractate Yoma 35b famously extols the triumphs of various Torah personalities who surmounted tests, obstacles and circumstance to lead meaning-filled lives. “Hillel obligates the poor,” the Gemara relates, while “Rabi Elazar ben Charsom obligates the rich…” Despite backgrounds and limitations that would generally preclude one from singular devotion to Torah study - extreme poverty on the one hand and unimaginable riches on the other - Hillel and Elazar Ben Charsom did not desist from seeking out the truth and living it. Judy Gruen, in turn, obligates the skeptic within each and every one of us through her highly personal and compelling memoir. The Skeptic and the Rabbi candidly details the struggles Judy, a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s counterculture movement, faced on her path to Torah observance, from grappling with questions of G-d’s existence and the Torah’s veracity, to relinquishing long-held beliefs and practices in favor of a whole new orthodox Jewish lifestyle - one she’d never imagined she’d lead. Having grown up with the influence of two sets of grandparents, one ardently religious and equally somber; the other, agnostic, humanistic and much more fun, Judy's journey was not without internal conflict. Accordingly, she depicts her courtship with ba'al teshuva husband Jeff and subseqeunt entree into the frum velt with honesty, humor and depth. Judy’s narrative will undoubtedly resonate on many levels: Ba’alei teshuva will find clear parallels with their own experiences; those born within the fold will come away strengthened; and those just dipping their toes into the proverbial mikvah waters might dip in a little further. All will appreciate Judy’s core message: That “you have to be ‘you-ish’ in order to be ‘Jewish’.” Judy proves that no matter what your starting point, observance is so much richer when you retain your skepticism and truly make each mitzvah your own.
Judy Gruen's book is great- both enjoyable to read and informative. After so many "Unorthodox" books of people who left the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, it is refreshing to read an honest, well-written, and even funny book about why someone who "had it all" would opt-in. Highly recommend. Lots of Jewish wisdom and a good story.
Judy Gruen’s The Skeptic and the Rabbi is a rare example of a memoir that is personal, meaningful, and jam-packed with wisdom and inspiration. It is a book about the life-journey of one woman – a ba’alat teshuva - who returns to her tradition, while also being a book that can speak to anyone who has undergone such a journey, and especially anyone who is currently on that journey. Like so many American Jews, Gruen grew up with conflicting messages about her Jewish identity. One set of her grandparents no longer believed in G-d, while the other were fervent believers while often remarking how ‘shver tzu zayn a yid’ which, as Gruen observes, was both a very understandable yet deadly motto which ‘undoubtedly sparked countless thousands of intermarriages’. Gruen wished to maintain a connection with her faith and was scared that she would remain a spiritual adolescent for the rest of her life. But as she put it, she wanted more ‘joie de vivre’ than ‘oy de vivre’ while, at the same time, she was concerned whether the Torah could be relevant to her life and anxious that any change that she would make would be chosen by her and not pushed by others. Encouraged by her soon to be husband Jeff, and inspired by the extraordinary Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Gruen began her journey of return, and in The Skeptic and the Rabbi we join Gruen on her journey of ups and downs, highs and lows. Unlike others who have begun a similar journey, Gruen was blessed to have access to an incredibly dynamic and approachable teacher, and she speaks with great fondness of the wisdom she learnt from Rabbi Lapin and how he encouraged her to ask questions that she had not previously thought about. However, this did not make some of her struggles any easier, and much of the book concerns the challenge of growing religiously while making sure that each religious step was an authentic expression because, ‘you have to be you-ish to be Jewish’. In The Skeptic and the Rabbi the reader is treated to descriptions of Gruen’s ‘big fat Orthodox wedding’, the challenge of being orthodox with non-orthodox parents, the quest to find a shul that is inclusive and inspiring, the difficulties of addressing the laws of kosher wine to non-Jews, how to explain the concept of a ‘kosher lamp’, the fact that children of ba’alei teshuva will know much more Torah than their parents, and the challenges faced by married ba’alot teshuvah when deciding to cover their hair. The Skeptic and the Rabbi is an easy yet tender read. It is light yet heavy, particular yet universal, and it will bring a smile to your face and likely move you – like me - to laugh out loud on numerous occasions.
Judy's memoir is such a refreshing book and the pleasurable read. The stores are flooded with memoirs filled with negativity, and finally somebody is able to talk about life challenges in an optimistic and encouraging way. It's beautiful to see somebody portray other people's beliefs in such a nonjudgmental way, while being very firm with their own. While reading this book you really get a full picture of the challenges and the beauty of Judaism in its most authentic expression. I'm sure this will be a source of inspiration for so many people that are on a similar journey. I was definitely inspired by it, and I've recommended it to many friends. I believe that people from all walks of life, and all backgrounds and beliefs will really appreciate this book and its strong message.