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Dr. E. M. Cohen (Manchester, Lancashire United Kingdom)

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The Teachings and Practices of the Early Quanzhen Taoist Masters (Suny Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture)
The Teachings and Practices of the Early Quanzhen Taoist Masters (Suny Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture)
by Stephen Eskildsen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.07

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and Engaging, 5 Aug. 2012
As the Quanzhen (Complete Reality) is one of the largest surviving Daoist schools in China, it really helps to have a volume which explores their origins, beliefs and practices. The translations are also consistently excellent.

Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding
Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding
by Alan Brill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £60.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A veritable treasure trove of sources, 30 May 2012
Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: `From all those who taught me I gained understanding (Psalms 119:99) - Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4, Mishna 1(a)
But what exactly did Ben Zoma mean by `all people'? Did he truly mean all people (Jews and Gentiles); or was he referring rather to all `Jewish' people?
Perhaps the more pressing question is no longer what did Ben Zoma mean, but what did the Rabbis of the past and today's Rabbis, interpret this verse to mean? Might it be an act of exegetic gymnastics to suggest that this verse constitutes a Talmudic endorsement of interfaith dialogue? Enter Rabbi Alan Brill and his 2010 publication Judaism and Other Religions.
At first I was disappointed that there were comparatively sparse references concerning Hinduism and Buddhism, with the majority of discussions centering on Christianity and Islam; until I discovered that his very next publication (currently in press) builds upon this current work and extends out into discussions concerning Judaism and World Religions (which includes the `Eastern' religions).
Rabbi Brill currently holds the Cooperman/Ross endowed chair of Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton University's Department of Religion; a title that itself evokes interfaith dialogue and cooperation.
Brill's (2010) Judaism and Other Religions endeavours to make both audible and comprehensible the cacophony of authoritative/representative historical and modern Jewish voices clamouring to be heard on matters pertaining to attitudes towards, and relations with, other faiths. However, the book swiftly and definitively moves beyond debates concerning the `pros and cons' of dialogue and instead asserts the pressing need to articulate (as clearly as possible) a Jewish Theology of other religions.
The range and variety of texts selected is vast; frequently surprising and occasionally (and unapologetically) controversial:
Others will object to my inclusion of statements from Jewish texts that demonise other religions, and they will argue that these statements should not be aired in public. In should be noted that almost every negative statement is already easily accessible on the web, readily available for all to see.
...It is important to respond to these questionable texts. (pp.xii-xiii)
A reoccurring theme and sentiment is that the 21st Century interfaith participant needs the self-assuredness and maturity to be able to accept ownership of, and responsibility for, the less palatable portions of scripture we may occasionally encounter, or else have thrust before us in a condemnatory manner (p.62).
It is immediately evident that Brill is in favour of broadening and deepening interfaith dialogue. His primary concern is that this dialogue be both open and (most importantly) informed; a dialogue in which the respective partners are suitably well-versed in their own theology as well as their particular religion's theology of the other's religion.
Brill boldly and clearly states his objective to be the exploration of five questions, which are clearly set out on the very first page of the very first chapter:
* If God is one, then what is the value of other religions?
* Does God only care about one small people or does His plan include the wider world?
* How does one theologically account for the differences between religions?
* How do Jews think about other religions?
* How do we balance our multifaith world with the Jewish texts?
(Brill 2010, p. 1)
There follows some useful and informative contextualising of the now familiar interfaith phenomenon. The 1893 World Parliament of Religions and Vatican II's Nostra Aetate (1965) are seen as being indicative of an emerging, general trend marked by greater openness within, and reciprocal receptivity towards, other religions. Brill continually conveys the clear and immediate sense that one needs to move beyond the mere, measured discourse of `tolerance' in order to move closer towards a genuine, meaningful encounter.
A sturdy theological, categorical framework is borrowed from Race (1983) and Hick (1987), which broadly sets out four main positions of exclusivism, pluralism, inclusivism and universalism:
Exclusivism states that one's own community, tradition, and encounter with God compromise the one and only exclusive truth; all other claims on encountering God are a priori false.
Pluralism takes the opposite position, accepting that no one tradition can claim to possess the singular truth. The beliefs and practices of all groups are equally valid. It is widely taught among Western academics.
Inclusivism situates itself between these two extremes, where one acknowledges that many communities possess their own traditions and truths, but maintains the importance of one's comprehension as culminating, or subsuming other truths. One's own group possesses the truth; other religious groups contain parts of the truth.
Universalism proposes a universal monotheism; it was widely taught by medieval Jewish philosophers who postulated a common Neo-platonic or Aristotelian truth to all religions. (p.9)
At first I was concerned that the framework's sturdiness may also run the risk of inflexibility, but Brill anticipates this and allows for the inclusion of various sub-categories, whilst also recognising that some individuals appear to represent more than one position, at different times within their collected writings; Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook is one such example, being included in inclusivist, universalist and (briefly) exclusivist traditions:
It is a sign of Rabbi Kook's breadth and strength as a thinker that despite his strong inclusive position, he at times demonstrates both particularistic and universalistic leanings. (p.126)
The lion's share of the book consists of the five questions being explored through each of these four positions.
Prior to the textual anchoring and exposition of these four positions, Brill begins by providing a panoramic sweep of the various Biblical and Talmudic texts that discuss Jewish views of other religions. The central question of this chapter concerns whether these texts present a vision of tolerance and harmony or of exclusivism and division?
The first position to be explored is that of Inclusivism and includes such luminaries as Yehudah Halevi, Maimonides and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Mystically informed Hasidic concepts of unity are also included which then lead into discussions concerning Rabbi Seforno and Avigdor Kara's inclusivist Humanism and Yehezkel Kaufman's scholarly inclusivism. Brill summarises:
Many today start their theological work with the inclusivist positions such as that of Yaakov Emden or Seforno because for many Jews, the acknowledgement of the Christian faith and morality as part of Torah rings true in the contemporary setting. Some may find it too universal but its importance lies in the overcoming of a simple dichotomy between exclusiveness or pluralism, thereby forcing Jewish thinkers to formulate a more nuanced middle position. (p.98)
The second position of Universalism begins with a survey of medieval universalism; in order, in part, to demonstrate that Universalism and more `tolerant' positions did not simply manifest during the age of modernity, but can be found in the earlier writings of the Sa'adiah Gaon, Ibn Gabriol and Ibn Ezra. Rabbi Kook's writings close this particular chapter prior to Brill's sobering conclusion that `The universal positions within Judaism have been considered marginal in most narratives of Jewish identity' (p.127).
Next follows perhaps the most familiar and currently popular position (due to its appeals to postmodernism) of Pluralism. Contemporary Rabbi and Theologian David Hartman is introduced as a leading advocate for pluralism through his particular understanding of the role and limits of revelation:
Revelation expresses God's willingness to meet human beings in their finitude, in their particular historical and social situation, and to speak to them in their own language. All of these constraints prevent one from universalising the significance of the revelation. (p.131)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' inclusion amongst the ranks of the pluralists is also quite appropriate; however its controversy is somewhat underplayed.
When Rabbi Sack's first published the Dignity of Difference, in 2002, I was working for the BBC's department of Religion and Ethics, and vividly recall the campaign (on the part of some senior, leading Orthodox Rabbis in the UK) for the work to be banned and for the Chief Rabbi himself to be deposed. Instead of a cherem (a ban) being declared the offending references to God transcending any one `religion' were substituted for a God that transcends `the particularities of culture and the limits of human understanding' (p.146).
The chapter on the Exclusivist tradition contains the most controversial texts; including the Toldot Yeshu, the `derogatory' (p.152) version of the `Life of Jesus' and other Rabbinic texts that relate to Christianity as some form of demonic or distorted Other. Rabbi Kook also makes a surprising (and uncharacteristic) appearance in this section, this time in an exclusivist incarnation during Anglican proselytising efforts in Palestine; writing of the `wickedness' (p.161) of Church. With most of these statements the context of Christian persecution or evangelisation (in fact the two were often synonymous), of Jewish communities is of vital importance; `vestiges of an age of persecution' (p.174). The `demonic dualism' (p.163) that is found in certain mystical texts is also explored; from Isaac Luria's writings to Rabbi Schneur Zalman's Tanya.
I am certain that many leaders within the Jewish community may not thank Rabbi Brill for drawing attention to some of these verses and teachings, but to deny and exclude these statements may constitute an unhealthy form of repression that prevents genuine growth and self-knowledge:
All religions have terrible texts that are not usually brought up. The question is of how they are used today and to limit their influence when they do resurface. (p.174)
Concluding thoughts
I have occasionally heard and observed, as I strongly suspect has Professor Brill, ministers and adherents preaching a perennialist pluralism which sincerely attempts to `embrace the entire world'; but sadly fails in succeeding to actually `hold' anyone.
In their eagerness to encounter and receive the Other, ministers and adherents can become inclusive to the point where they appear to lose any of their defining features; save inclusivity itself. Although not discussing interfaith, the Kotzker Rebbe wisely warned:
If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you. (Leff 2008, p. 475)
There is often the unarticulated assumption that people who attend interfaith events are not only speaking from their faith, but for their faith. To speak for one's faith, however, would require an in depth knowledge of one's faith; its various texts, and the various interpretations of, and respective positions concerning those texts; or to paraphrase the Kotzker Rebbe `before I can truly know you, I must truly know myself'. It is with this realisation that Judaism and Other Religions seeks, for the first time, to explore and clearly articulate a Jewish Theology of other religions; and for this reason should be required reading for both interfaith scholars and Comparative Theologians. It is a veritable treasure trove of sources and references, in addition to providing a clear and coherent theological, categorical structure to work with these various and varied Biblical and Rabbinic texts.

Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism (Translations from the Asian Classics)
Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism (Translations from the Asian Classics)
by Harold D Roth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.50

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for Daoist studies, 8 Feb. 2011
What I found most interesting was how this text was lost/burried/hidden for so long within an extensive treatise (comprising of several volumes) concerning politics and economics called the Kuan Tzu.

If Professor Roth is right (and he makes a very convincing argument that he is) then the Nei Ye (inner training) text/manual is even older than the classic Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) or the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) and contains some of the earliest and most profound articulations concerning the Dao (Tao- the Way).

The text (so beautifully translated) really helps to contextualise and clarify other texts and teachings on Daoist cultivation; specifically Neidan (Inner Alchemy) and Zuowang (sitting in oblivion meditation).

The discussions concerning the numinous, 'the mind within a mind' were particulary illuminating. The chapter on comparative mysticism was also brilliant; skilfully steering between the extremes of constructivism and perennialism.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 19, 2011 3:29 PM GMT

Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka (Jewish Encounters)
Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka (Jewish Encounters)
by Rodger Kamenetz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories within stories, 3 Dec. 2010
A brilliantly researched and sensitively executed exploration of how the lives of these two great men intertwined across space and time. Kabbalah (the Jewish Mystical tradition) tells of letters within letters, words within words, and worlds within worlds. Kamenetz allows himself to be guided by these two masters ever deeper into the tangled orchard of Jewish identity.

Kabbalah Inspirations: Mystic Themes, Texts and Symbols
Kabbalah Inspirations: Mystic Themes, Texts and Symbols
by Jeremy Rosen
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Succinct and sublime, 10 Jan. 2010
This is a compact, compelling and beautifully (thoughtfully) illustrated book.
It is a wonderfully accessible introduction to a very rich and complex area of study (and practice).
In addition to demonstrating the evolution of Kabbalistic thought, there are also several authentic exercises included (many from the school of Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia, one of the founding figures of Prophetic Kabbalah).

Spiritual Journey Home: Eastern Mysticism to the Western Wall
Spiritual Journey Home: Eastern Mysticism to the Western Wall
by Nathan Katz
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars There's no place like home, 7 Jan. 2010
Far from being any form of atavistic regression, Professor Nathan Katz presents a very open, honest and inspiring account of his personal spiritual journey.
His circuitous route through Hinduism/Buddhism (and Sufism) back to Torah and Judaism is at once familiar, timely and entertaining.
At times his story necessarily reminds us that there are shards of broken glass strewn about on the spiritual path as well as rare and precious diamonds; his quest has led to moments of heartbreaking disillusionment as well as soul soaring illumination.
Teshuva (Hebrew for Return) is rarely a straight line, and the various twists, turns and touchstones encountered demonstrate that Tikkun Olam (spiritual purpose and the healing of the world/s) takes many forms.
Although Professor Katz may well accept the Vedic creed Ekam Sad; Vipra Bahudha Vadanti (truth is one; the sages call it variously), he appears to appreciate that this realisation is (perhaps ironically) best attained upon one's own home turf.

Brother Jesus: The Nazarene Through Jewish Eyes
Brother Jesus: The Nazarene Through Jewish Eyes
by Schalom Ben-Chorin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £36.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important book for Jewish-Christian relations, 2 April 2009
A very well researched and well argued thesis.

Weaving through Torah, Talmud and the New Testament, 'Brother Jesus' clears a creative path through the, often thorny, field of Jewish-Christian relations.

That the beliefs OF Jesus may unite us, whereas the belief IN Jesus may divide us, is the central premise of the book.

Essential reading for any students of Theology (in particular Comparative Theologians and proponents of Ecumenical Dialogue).

Daoism and Chinese Culture
Daoism and Chinese Culture
by Livia Kohn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.95

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hao, Hen Hao! (Good, Very Good!), 2 April 2009
Of all the introductions to Daoism that I have read, this is by far the clearest and most comprehensive. Authoritative, succinct, easy for students (or anyone for that matter) to read and well referenced.

Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar
Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar
by Alan Morinis
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First things first, 29 Dec. 2008
Morinis writes of the Mussar tradition as being a form of spiritual tuning, cultivating patience and loving kindness; qualities that enable us to recognise and realise the Divine spark within.

It is clearly written, with good explanations of the various Hebrew terms and clear, easy to follow, instructions concerning the various meditative practices.

James Coburn Film Collection [DVD]
James Coburn Film Collection [DVD]
Dvd ~ James Coburn
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £11.85

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT the James Coburn Film Collection, 28 Oct. 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This DVD contains a long collection of trailers from films either starring or featuring James Coburn; not even ONE complete film. Who would want that? If you were a fan you'd want to own the films, if you weren't so bothered in the first place why would you want to own a DVD full of trailers? This product should be withdrawn, it's flagrant false advertising.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 18, 2012 1:35 PM BST

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