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Topical Book Reviews Topical Book Reviews 107 Torah and Dharma: Jewish Seekers in Eastern Religions, by Judith Linzer. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996. 366 pp. $30.00 This important study is the first and only systematic longitudinal phenomenological record ofthe contemporary Jewish New Age encounter with spiritual practices ofAsian derivation. It surveys and articulates the variety of relationships which Jewish Americans have developed as a result of their involvements with spiritual schools derived from Buddhism and Hinduism. Linzer's research provides a much-needed framework for organizing and scaling our discourse about the Jewish search for spirituality in the New Age context. Linzer's purpose is "to explore in depth the unique experiences of American Jews who have practiced either Judaism or a neo-Oriental religion and then have 'crossed over' and begun practicing the opposite of what they were originally practicing" (pp. 2-3). The first section of the book contains an analysis of interviews with the participants . The second part presents reflections on themes that emerged from the interview data. Linzer's work is not a study of the dialogue between two or more civilization~ or religions. Instead, Linzer examines the personal and religious development of individuals . She looks at the dominant themes that were significant to people on a spiritual Journey. Linzer's study elicited questions which I did not expect her to answer but which are, nevertheless, germane. What has been the demographic loss or gain from the encounter with other spiritualities? Has there, in fact, been a deepening of Jewish spirituality as a result of the variety of encounters? In what specific ways have certain Jewish practices and understandings been highlighted or foregrounded as a result of learning about the ways ofpraying, meditating, practicing ritual, or developing moral sensitivities? As Linzer states, "Participants learned valuable information in the Eastern religions and brought a certain 'wisdom' back with them into their Jewish involvement" (p. 148). She continues: Participants made recommendations for ways to incorporate/implement the "good ideas" they learned from the East into Jewish practice. They attempted to differentiate between the "true value" and "dross" within Judaism. This theme presents examples from the cutting edge of the Jewish-Eastern contestation, and participants often expressed and embodied "inconceivable hierophanies" (kind oflike a Jewish Ripley's Believe It Or Not). When one participant, Helen, was asked by a friend how it is possible for her to be an observant Jew and an ordained Buddhist priest, she replied: "Watch me and see!" (p. 153) 108 SHOFAR Spring 1999 Vol. 17, No.3 One thinks of the creative Jewish renewal retreat center Elat Chayyim, with its courses on Jewish and Buddhist meditation, which is driven by Zalman Schacter's spiritually reconstructed, syncretistic ethos. Linzer, who personally identifies with this ethos, observed that "sometimes participants found that two particular paths were complementary and could be practiced simultaneously. Several expressed that various religious practices and affiliations satisfied different and necessary needs.... Participants explained how the practice of one religion shed light on the other" (p. 153). In my judgment, the postwar generation of seekers combined the capacity to quickly satisfy consumer gratifications with the desire to acquire the essence or truth of life. As a result, the authentic, accurate, and complete religious way of life found in traditional Buddhism or Hinduism was sought by that generation and packaged by teachers who altered and narrowed the bandwidth of spiritual data palpable and comprehensible to Western students. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this relationship except that students have the false notion that they have actually fully encountered a religious tradition when they have not. Jewish New Age seekers rarely know the depth and breadth of another religion tradition. Few can read and understand their core texts, speak their language, assimilate their rituals to the core of their being, or obliterate or transcend their Western or Jewish memories and desires. Mutual superficiality results in the sense that neither teacher nor student is engaged in the transmission ofhistorical textual traditions or complex ritual practices found in original settings. Continuity of tradition is not possible under these circumstances. Instead, individuals get high, but there is no intergenerational viability. Evidence of this pattern is seen repeatedly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 107-109
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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