GOD WAS NOT IN THE FIRE: The Search for a Spiritual Judaism by Daniel Gordis

GOD WAS NOT IN THE FIRE: The Search for a Spiritual Judaism

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Rabbi Gordis (Univ. of Judaism) leads us through the main areas of Jewish life, rebutting the charge that Judaism does not offer a spiritual path and suggesting answers to the question, Why be Jewish? Suburban Jewish life, with its emphasis on social action and a sanitized religious experience, has left many Jews unsure of Judaism's relevance, states Gordis. Writing for these Jews, Gordis moves beyond appeals to obligation or nostalgia and opens up a vision of Judaism as intellectually and spiritually compelling. He defines spirituality as the quest to feel God's presence and portrays Judaism in terms of a spiritual odyssey, exemplified by the patriarch Jacob, who struggled with God in the course of a journey. Gordis does not invoke any one denomination but simply encourages his readers to discover the tradition for themselves. He begins with the sacred texts and commentaries, ""the admission tickets to Jewish spiritual life,"" and recommends that, instead of submitting blindly, one grapple with them and so enter into a passionate and enduring dialogue with God and one's fellow Jews. Next he shows how the traditional rituals can give a sense of wonder and connectedness, with the power to transform us and show us a better world toward which we can work. Gordis sees daily observance of the many Jewish commandments (mitzvot), such as the dietary laws, as primarily a spiritual discipline and a healthy corrective to the self-absorption of our society. As for prayer, he sagely warns that this is a matter of personal struggle and growth, rather than comfort, and explores the dialectic between fixed formulas and personal feelings. Doubt and discussion, Gordis emphasizes, are grist to the mill of Jewish religious growth. There is an excellent glossary and suggestions for further reading. An accessible, attractive guide for the returning Jew.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner