WHAT DO JEWS BELIEVE?

THE SPIRITUAL FOUNDATIONS OF JUDAISM

An eclectic exploration of the abiding elements of Jewish belief, covering major ethical, ritual, and theological topics. This guide to Jewish philosophical literacy is refreshingly versatile because Ariel (The Mystic Quest: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism, not reviewed) has no ideological investment in a particular Jewish denomination. What is served up here is a smorgasbord of the beliefs of Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform Jews, rather than polemics about any one interpretation of Jewish belief. We therefore learn about both the unknowable God of medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides and the equally transcendent God of the contemporary Reform thinker Eugene Borowitz. Ariel describes the ancient rabbinic sages' elaboration on the concept of the afterlife and the kabbalists' belief in the transmigration of souls. He outlines the modern adaptations of the concept of ``the chosen people'' by both secular cultural Zionists and diaspora pietists. Writing of the traditional 613 commandments, Ariel explains both the modern Orthodox integration of ritual practice and modernity, and the Reconstructionist invalidation of defunct Jewish ``folkways.'' A chapter on prayer examines the contemplative, personal prayer of the Hasidic masters as well as the growing impact of Zionism on the Reform movement's prayer book. Ariel, president of the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies, feels that an organic inconsistency is the one constant in the history of Jewish belief, that ``Jewish tradition promotes a surprisingly open and pluralistic notion of biblical truth.'' The constant evolution of belief from the biblical springboard remains the most significant of the author's ``Jewish sacred myths,'' which underlie all forms of Jewish belief. The evenhanded everything-and-everyone approach may alienate readers committed to one Jewish point of view, and the book has several unproven assumptions stated as facts—yet Ariel provides a remarkably rich and useful one-volume introduction to millennia of Jewish beliefs.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8052-4119-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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