Wiesel proposes few definitive answers—here, the question mark appears as often as the period. But his explorations, drawing...

WISE MEN AND THEIR TALES

PORTRAITS OF BIBLICAL, TALMUDIC, AND HASIDIC MASTERS

Nobel Prize–winning novelist and memoirist Wiesel (The Judges, 2002, etc.) leads readers on a spirited, sometimes contentious journey through Jewish history and thought.

“Just as the Torah has no beginning,” writes Wiesel, “the Talmud has no end. Each succeeding generation of scholars contributes to its growth and its power.” Those scholars famously find much to argue about in the layers and layers of earlier commentary, and Wiesel reveals himself to be a wise and humane arbiter himself in pondering some of the finer points of their learned discussions, as even-handed (and sometimes tentative) as his great hero, the medieval Talmudist Rashi. Along the way, Wiesel considers some classic—and some modern—puzzles. If Abraham was such a great guy, then why did he banish Ishmael and have that terrible moment with Isaac? Why such harsh punishment for Lot’s nameless wife, turned to a pillar of salt for having ignored instructions not to look back on a scourged Sodom? (“Only because she looked where it was forbidden to look?” writes Wiesel. “So what! If our own gaze could kill us, there would not be enough room for all the cemeteries on our planet.”) Why did Aaron, to name just one ancestor, have such a rough time at the hands of a jealous God? Why is it so difficult for a Christian, say, to convert to Judaism? And, finally, “Must the ineffable remain outside the realm of words, simply because there are no words? Can Auschwitz be understood by anyone who wasn’t there?”

Wiesel proposes few definitive answers—here, the question mark appears as often as the period. But his explorations, drawing on the collective wisdom of prophets, rabbis, and scholars from the earliest days to the present, are endlessly illuminating.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2003

ISBN: 0-8052-4173-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2003

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Worthwhile reference stuffed with facts and illustrations.

ROSE BOOK OF BIBLE CHARTS, MAPS AND TIME LINES

A compendium of charts, time lines, lists and illustrations to accompany study of the Bible.

This visually appealing resource provides a wide array of illustrative and textually concise references, beginning with three sets of charts covering the Bible as a whole, the Old Testament and the New Testament. These charts cover such topics as biblical weights and measures, feasts and holidays and the 12 disciples. Most of the charts use a variety of illustrative techniques to convey lessons and provide visual interest. A worthwhile example is “How We Got the Bible,” which provides a time line of translation history, comparisons of canons among faiths and portraits of important figures in biblical translation, such as Jerome and John Wycliffe. The book then presents a section of maps, followed by diagrams to conceptualize such structures as Noah’s Ark and Solomon’s Temple. Finally, a section on Christianity, cults and other religions describes key aspects of history and doctrine for certain Christian sects and other faith traditions. Overall, the authors take a traditionalist, conservative approach. For instance, they list Moses as the author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) without making mention of claims to the contrary. When comparing various Christian sects and world religions, the emphasis is on doctrine and orthodox theology. Some chapters, however, may not completely align with the needs of Catholic and Orthodox churches. But the authors’ leanings are muted enough and do not detract from the work’s usefulness. As a resource, it’s well organized, inviting and visually stimulating. Even the most seasoned reader will learn something while browsing.

Worthwhile reference stuffed with facts and illustrations.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 978-1-5963-6022-8

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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