Suggested Summer Reading for Rabbi Bieler’s Judaism Course
1) Barrett, William, Irrational Man
Exploration of existential philosophy
2) Brower, Kenneth, The Starship and the Canoe
Comparisons of the lifestyles of father and son
3) Bronowski, Jakoh, The Ascent of Man
Analyses of the development of human understanding.
4) Halkin, Hillel, Letters to an American Jewish friend
Presentation of arguments pro and con vis-a-vis Aliyah.
5) Hartman, David, Joy and Responsibility,
Essays on Torah study, family life, living in Israel, etc.
6) Hertzberg, Arthur, Being Jewish in America
Reflections of a Jewish religious and communal leader on the American Jewish experience
7) Jastrow, Robert, God and the Astronomers
An astrophysicist describes the growing perception on the part of the scientific community that religion and science, indeed dovetail.
8) Kafka, Franz, The Castle
The monumental parable describing according to some, man’s search for God.
9) Schiller, Mayer, The Road Back
A Jewish thinker and erstwhile hockey coach’s thoughts on assimilation and arguments to combat such trends
10) Roiphe, Anne, Generation without memory
A book precipitated by the outburst of criticism received by the author in response to the article appearing
in the Times that was studied in class, and in which assimilationist tendencies are explored in a forthright and honest manner.
11) Cowan, Paul, An Orphan in History
A journalist’s account of his search for connections and roots and how he finds his way back to Jewish values.
12) Roth, Philip, Good Bye Columbus
A masterful collection of short stories whose common theme is being Jewish in America
13) Davidowitz, Lucy, The Jewish Promise
A Jewish historian’s essays on various aspects of Jewish life as it unfolds in the Diaspora
14) Bulka, Reuven, The Quest for Ultimate Meaning
Essays attempting to correlate Victor Franklin’s thought and traditional Judaism
15) Bernard Malamud, The Magic Barrel
16) Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev
In my opinion, the most compelling of Potok’s novels, describing the struggle undergone by an artistic child to manifest his gift in a religious environment fundamentally opposed to it. .
17) Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
A psychiatrist’s project while interned in Auschwitz, attempting to ascertain the key to survival under the most adverse conditions.
18) BF Skinner, Walden II
A novel applying Skinner’s behaviorist thinking to a communal living arrangement. The issue of free choice vs. indoctrination and routinization is powerfully explored.
19) Milton Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf
An intensely imagined rendering of the life and struggles of Elisha ben Avuya, which in fact is also a thinly veiled autobiography of Milton Steinberg’s own religious and personal issues.
20) Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
21) Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion
Freud’s views on religion which are very unsympathetic. Yet when one reads his perceptions, it becomes clear how these arguments are premised upon whether or not one believes rather than logical, empirical thinking. There is value in discovering that one can relatively easily take issue with Freud’s thought.
22) Dorothy Rabinowitz, New Lives: Survivors of the Holocaust Living in America
Rabinowitz traces Holocaust survivors and how they cope or fail when encountering American culture and society.
23) Margaret Meade, Culture and Commitment
A classic study of the changes that have taken place in the manner by which earlier generations succeed or fail to pass on tradition.
Sources for “Close-Reading” for Twelfth Year Judaism course
I. The Nature of Religion
1. R. Elchanan Wasserman, Kovetz Ma’amarim, “Ma’amar Al Emunah”
The great Rosh HaYeshiva’s reflections on various aspects of Hashkafa, including faith in the Divine.
2. Emil Fackenheim, Paths to Jewish Belief; A Systematic Introduction is “Is there a God?”
The noted German Jewish philosopher’s presentation of fundamental aspects of Jewish philosophy in extremely accessible form.
3. William James, Varieties of Religious Experience
The American pragmatic philosopher empirical observations of the manner in which religion manifests itself within various individuals.
4. Gordon Allport, The individual and his Religion
The American psychologist’s analysis of how religion affects its adherents’ personalities.
5. Herbert Weiner, 9 ½ Mystics, (Chapter on Bratslav, theme of regressing to childhood)
An anecdotal study of different forms of Jewish mystical practice and weltanschaung, including interviews with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and R. Adin Steinsaltz.
6. R. J.B. Soloveitchik, Halachic Man
Masterly exposition of how the master of Halacha faces the world with a uni que point of view.
7. Eliezer Berkovits, God, Man, and History Outside reading assignment
The philosopher/Tora scholar’s analysis of the interplay between man and God in terms of Judaism and Jewish history.
II. Theories regarding the Origin of Religion
1. Edward Wilson, On Human Nature, (Chapter on religion)
The sociobiologist’s hypothesis of how religion among other human behaviors can be accounted for biologically.
2. Marvin Harris, Of Cannibals and Kings, (Chapter on the prohibition of pork in several Middle Eastern cultures)
The sociologist’s studies of various cultural phenomena, including Kashrut, from the perspective of social rather than spiritual considerations.
3. Carl Sagan, Broca’s Brain, “The Amniotic Universe”
The intriguing hypothesis that life-after-death experiences that are described by individuals who are resuscitated after being declared clinically dead, may actually be based upon distant memories of birth.
4. Moshe HaLevy Spero, Judaism and Psychology: Halakhic Perspectives, “Psychology as Halacha; Toward a Halachic Meta psychology”
A tremendously sophisticated presentation by a psychiatric social worker who also is a considerable Tora scholar of various themes and issues that constitute intersections between the worlds of psychology and traditional Judaism.
III. Critiques and Defenses of Religion
1. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion and/or Civilization and its Discontents
2. Louis Jacobs, We Have Reason to Believe Is a Religious Faith an Illustration
A long-time Jewish scholar’s response to many of the issues that Freud and others of similar perspectives have used to attack religion.
IV. Religion and Science
1. Sol Roth, Science and Religion, “Knowledge in Science”
An erudite philosophical discussion regarding the supposed conflicts between these two disciplines.
2. Charles H, Townes, “The Convergence of Science and Religion”
A scientist’s argument that science and religion in fact share many premises that are commonly thought to be points of conflict.
3. R Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, Igrot HaREYaH, Part 1, #91
R. Kook’s essay on why the Tora cannot be viewed as a literal account of Creation, thereby leazving room for the acceptance of scientific explanations for the universe’s development.
4. Yehuda Feliks, Nature and Man in the Bible-Chapters in Biblical Ecology “Creation and Evolution in Jewish literature and thought”
A presentation of the various life forms and natural phenomena that appear in the Bible by an individual who made a life study of this subject.
5. Lewis Thomas, “The Strangeness of Nature”
Essays by a physician who looked upon medicine as well as other natural phenomena as true objects of wonder and reflection.
6. Jakob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, “Knowledge or Certainty”
A book by a true Renaissance man, that served as the accompanying volume to an acclaimed BBC television series exploring the great themes and ideas that have played a role in human culture throughout the ages.
(7. Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, Outside-reading assignment)
An astrophysicist’s reflections upon how it appears that the latest scientific discoveries are ratifying rather than contradicting religious belief.
V. Religion and Doubt
1. Ellen Willis, “Next Year in Jerusalem”
An essay that appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine, describing the odyssey of a woman trying to understand the Yeshiva world that her brother had suddenly chosen to join.
2. R. Norman Lamm, “Faith and Doubt”’
A collection of essays, whose title contribution explores how a contemporary person fraught with religious doubt can nevertheless continue to participate and be accepted as part of the traditional Jewish community.
3. Chaim Grade, “My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner”
The great Yiddish writer’s imagined debate between former Chevrutot who meet many years later, and challenge one another’s beliefs or lack thereof.
4. Jonathan Sachs, “Alienation and Faith”
Title: Jewish American Stories, ed. Irving Howe, Mentor
Students are responsible for the following material within the book:
#4 The Surveyor- Roth
#7 My Father Sits in the Dark- Weidman
#8 What Happens Next- Regin
#9 Envy: Or Yiddush in America- Ozick
#10 Homage to Benny Leonard- Liben
#12 America? America? – Schwartz
#13 No Kaddish for Weinstein- Allen
#14 The Facts of Life- Goodman
#15 The Magic Barrel – Malamud, Bernard
A classic collection of short stories by a Jewish American master. Many deal with issues of Jewish identity and spirituality.
#18 The Old System – Bellow
#21 Defender of the Faith – Roth
#24 Color or Suntanned, It makes no Difference – Kaplan
#25 Waiting for Sanity – Perelman
#26 The Loudest Voice – Paley
1. Zelig by Woody Allen, Chariots of Fire,
2. The program from the Bronowski series entitled, “Knowledge or Certainty”
3. The section of Fantasia entitled, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”,