A BOOK OF LIFE: Embracing Judaism As Spiritual Practice

Michael Strassfeld, Author . Schocken $28 (528p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4124-2

The 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)

Reviewed on: 07/22/2002
Release date: 08/01/2002
Paperback - 508 pages - 978-1-58023-247-0
Hardcover - 530 pages - 978-1-68162-955-1
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