Excerpt from Being Jewish by Ari L. Goldman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Being Jewish

The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judiaism Today

by Ari L. Goldman

Being Jewish
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  • Published:
    Sep 2000, 288 pages

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In this book, I will lead the reader through the process of Jewish discovery, moving first from birth rituals to funeral rites, and then through the Jewish months, from one Jewish New Year to the next. Along the way, I will take a look at how different Jews have found meaning, richness, and variety in the tradition and made it their own.

The book is divided into three sections, each representing a cycle of Jewish life. The first section will demonstrate how Judaism responds to the natural events of life, looking at the ceremonies associated with birth, the coming of age, marriage, and death.

The second section will deal with the major milestones of the Jewish calendar -- the classic holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Passover -- as well as the minor fast days and holidays created in the twentieth century to respond to the tragedy of the Holocaust and the Creation of the modern State of Israel.

The third and final section will explore the rhythm of the Jewish day, in which time is marked with prayers and blessings. This section will look at Jewish prayer, the laws of kashrut, and Jewish ethical behavior in everything from charitable giving to family life.


This book grew out of a rethinking and reexamination of Jewish life during a sabbatical I took with my family in Jerusalem in 1997-1998. My previous sabbatical, taken over a decade earlier, was spent at Harvard Divinity School exploring the religions of the world. The literary product of that year, my book The Searcher God at Harvard, struggles with concepts of pluralism and belief. It deals with the question of how someone Orthodox, like myself, can embrace and appreciate the truths of other religions. The Search gained widespread acclaim, with one reviewer calling me "a kind of Gulliver of faith," but there was criticism too, perhaps the most stinging from a rabbi in a right-wing Jerusalem yeshiva who "caught" one of his students reading my unorthodox hook. He was dismissive, telling the student: "Why does Goldman run off and study Christianity and Islam when he barely knows Judaism?" This new book is my effort to examine not the faiths of others but my own faith, to look deep into its practices and history and try to invigorate it with new meaning and purpose. I undertake this examination not as the yeshiva boy I once was but with the insight of a Gulliver who has seen the lives of others and can now reflect better on his own.

This book is not a right-wing or even Orthodox approach. While Orthodoxy is my home, I believe that Judaism can and should be celebrated in a variety of ways. I am that rare breed: an Orthodox pluralist, someone who believes that the right answer for me is not the answer for everyone. After all, if I embrace pluralism in my approach to other religions, I must embrace it as well within my own faith. In these pages, I will demonstrate a variety of Jewish practices: some traditional, some innovative, and -- many of the best of them -- a combination of the two.

In recent years, the pietistic ArtScroll Series of books has enjoyed enormous popularity in Orthodox circles. Riding a wave of Orthodox fundamentalism, ArtScroll has found a niche in a community obsessed with unbending adherence to halacha, Jewish law. Every aspect of life, from the bedroom to the synagogue to the kitchen stove, has found regulation in ArtScroll's three hundred volumes, often lost in this effort, however, has been much of the nuance, subtlety, poetry, and flexibility of traditional Judaism. To put it plainly, Judaism is much more fun than the ArtScroll Series would have you believe.

To me, the way in which people live their Judaism tells as much. about Judaism as what is legally required in the halachic system. I have tried to enrich this volume with stories -- stories from my own life and from the lives of other Jews who, while far from perfect, are striving to live a meaningful Jewish life.

Copyright © 2000 by Ari. L. Goldman

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