Books by Arthur Waskow

Released: Jan. 1, 1996

A slightly stale retrospective and politically correct update for the '90s by a guru of the '60s Jewish renewal movement. Much of the book is self-revelatory and -congratulatory, a rundown of this political and theological radical's career. Waskow describes how the civil rights movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the subsequent riots in his hometown, Washington, D.C., in 1968 led him to the Jewish discovery behind his Freedom Seder. He then recaps the blend of revolutionary traditionalism that charged Godwrestling and his other works (Down- to-Earth Judaism, p. 936, etc.), waxing autobiographical in Becoming Brothers to record the personal and spiritual growth that ensues from bitter sibling rivalry. The stronger, earlier chapters here combine powerful biblical exegesis with this ``spiraling'' back through the author's life and career. Halfway into the book, all the classical Waskow liberation theology of the '60s markedly- -and somewhat opportunistically—turns to women's liberation theology of the '80s and '90s. Now the innovative, trendy readings of biblical texts posit menstruation as a substitute for ancient animal sacrifice, identify the author of the Song of Songs as a crusading feminist, and consider the defiant Egyptian midwives of Exodus to be lesbians. The chapters on biblical women as the chief agents of redemption, however, are remarkably lucid and true to traditional teachings. Waskow then opens the prayer-shawl ``fringes'' of Jewish community to intermarrieds, Jews for Jesus, and gays. Waskow writes that he is committed to reinterpreting Jewish texts and rituals, as ``we cannot forever subject ourselves to a version of Torah that torments us. It is one thing to limp away from the Godwrestle; it is another to lie vomiting upon the ground.'' He goes on to equate the Holocaust with Hiroshima, Baruch Goldstein with Israel's ancient enemy Amalek, and havurah-style partner swapping to a necessary training period before marriage and child-rearing. The graying radical reenters the Godwrestling ring wrapped in a rainbow prayer shawl. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 15, 1995

A sincere but overly idiosyncratic guide for those who are disenchanted with more traditional Judaism. Waskow, author of 12 books (most recently Becoming Brothers, 1993, with brother Howard), continues his career-long ``Godwrestling'' in this latest attempt to remake Judaism. The rabbi winnows through millennia of biblical and rabbinical teachings to find a few grains in the mountains of chaff. He envisions an ideal post-rabbinic Judaism that is ``feminist, holistic, eco-centered, body-affirming, yet deeply rooted in the Jewish past, both affirming and affirmed by most of the Jewish people.'' The results can often be satisfying, in a fuzzy, feel- good kind of way. Where traditional dietary restrictions fail to be meaningful for many, Waskow suggests that Jews focus on ecologically sound foods and manufactured products. In the author's brand of Judaism, an adaptation of ``eco-kashrut'' could either coexist with traditional kosher laws or replace them. Waskow would also like to see a sense of spirituality reemerge in the use of money. Among the concepts that point the way is the Tzedakah collective, a means by which laypeople pool charity monies and decide together how to spend them. Less benign are Waskow's musings on sexuality: Not only does he see no reason to prohibit premarital sex, but he sees no religious or ethical problem with extramarital sex and open marriage when conventional marriage becomes too restrictive. In the post-AIDS era, it is difficult to take Waskow seriously when he lapses into an ``if it feels good, do it'' philosophy. Despite the author's impressive familiarity with Jewish teachings, there is nothing in this loosely ethical lifestyle guide that suggests a theology. Judaism involves a romance between humans and the divine, but Waskow's spiritual flirtation doesn't even constitute an open marriage with God. In the end, the reader learns more here about the spirit of Arthur Waskow than of authentic Jewish beliefs. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1993

Two brothers—one a family therapist (Howard), the other head of the Center for Jewish Renewal in Philadelphia and author of These Holy Sparks, 1983, etc. (Arthur)—come to terms with their past and present relationship. Despite a loving mother's constant plea to ``be close to your brother above all!,'' the Waskows have felt overriding anger and resentment toward each other throughout most of their lives. The early chapters here—told in the authors' alternating voices- -reconstruct childhood memories. While Howard devotes his boyhood Saturdays to playing sports, Arthur, always the outsider, passes his at the local library, ``disconnected from other people''; also painstakingly recalled are the boys' vibrant mother, Honey—who spends much of their youth fighting tuberculosis—and their infrequent trips to the local Orthodox synagogue. We're offered intimate, poignant glimpses of family tragedies—ranging from life- threatening illnesses to a suicide—but there's an inexplicable void regarding the brothers' wives, divorces, and children. At the nadir of their relationship, Howard once retaliates with, ``I really may have to kill you some day after all.'' But only a few years later, at midlife, the Waskows' relationship turns on the family's wrenching decision not to prolong Honey's life on a respirator—a crisis that forges a new bond between the brothers. Particularly interesting here are the Waskows' divergent responses to Judaism. Neither brother seems to have come to terms with the other's approach: To Howard, Judaism is an avoidable burden; to Arthur, it's a life-affirming force. When Howard remarries, the only Jewish reference at his wedding is a prayer devised by Arthur in their mother's memory. Arthur suggests that Howard's Judaism is limited to nostalgia, but Howard protests that his wedding banquet is richly Jewish, ``overspilled with whitefish, chopped liver...knishes, kishke, and challah.'' To the now mature Arthur, a leading figure in American Jewish renewal, this response is theologically bankrupt but no longer a personal insult. Despite enduring differences, the Waskows offer an appealing human drama in writing themselves back to fraternity. Read full book review >