Aleph-Bet: An Alphabet for the Perplexed Paperback – 29 May 2007
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Dharma adepts classify the eye into five categories: physical eye, heavenly eye, wisdom eye, dharma eye, and buddha eye. Obviously, the human eye is not the loftiest, nor is the buddha eye one to be disregarded, unless you are content to be born in a dream and die as if drunk. However, that's another story which never happened: what we're dealing with here is the heavenly eye, as described, manifested, and interpreted by Cohen in his singularly difficult yet worthy tome, illustrated superbly by artist Michael Hafftka.
The book is half Jewish familial microscopic narrative where you get to smell your Jewish grandmother's ancient neck wrinkles while you're sitting on her lap, nuzzling sweet red wine memories of her boyfriend Baruch when she was sixteen in Odessa; where you have the opportunity to cradle your beloved Jewish sister desparately before she's baked in an oven, bitch slap your atrophied and despairing Jewish brother across his impervious kisser, and celebrate your Jewish daddy as he responsibly and absurdly shuffles to a briefly occupied grave site which will soon be excavated and replaced by an office tower.
Is what I'm saying profane? Conversely, am I overly kind and also overdressed, like meeting your Russian Jewish extended family for the first time and learning they, too, are horribly sad and filled with grandiose ambitions to live in Atlantic City and own a health spa?
If you understand these drumbeats of doom -- if you feel them -- then the Hebrew language unveils its ostensible mysteries into a bathtub full of blood and disappointment. Now by that I mean the Hebrew language, as Cohen astutely realizes, is but the reflection of a city in a mirror. In other words, it is a reflection of a reflection and as the city in the mirror is not apart from the mirror, so also the universe as reflected in the Hebrew language is not apart from Consciousness -- or G-d, if one is so inclined.
But is Joshua Cohen so inclined?
Perhaps he spells it "consciousness" with a small c: and then the goes off and tells his own tales about birth and death and Jews and sorrows rendered in a Hebraically-outsourced metaphysical pointilism, a fictional "style" which requires maximal attention well worth the effort!
Or does Joshua Cohen, the creative creator, slip a tallis over his shoulders and speak to The Creator in a special building on certain days and each and every day wrap his arm in leather straps with little scroll-filled boxes on them (teffillin for goyim and assimilated yids). Will he pray to G-d and ponder/reflect the Hebrew language like a walkin' talkin grandmother/sister/brother/father, delightfully obsequious and tormented and winsome and radioactive and knotted up ninety different ways about the Great Master Who Must Ever Remain Nameless, or -- conversely -- the Name of Names, or the I-Will-Be-What-I-Will-Be guy whom generations of rabbis and scholars and "simple Jews" have acknowledged as Boss of Bosses -- although He historically (I utter this, naturally, with utmost respect) may indeed have fallen down on the job or taken a lunch break, especially in Europe at periodic intervals -- may the Jew-hating mass murderers be cursed for a thousand generations.
No, Cohen definitely does not indicate that belief in God is nothing but a mechanical habitude of childhood. Nor does he suggest it is neither less nor more criminal to believe in G-d than not to believe in him.
That would be vulgar.
Rather, in part 2 of Aleph-Bet (A Metaphysical Disquisition Upon The Nature Of the Hebrew Sophiyot) Cohen probes unceasingly into the generating reflections in the mirror -- the Aleph-Bet, the ever reflecting and permeating and biological foundation stones of all Israelite narratives -- the Hebrew alphabet that produces the other reflections in the mirror: those four Jews amplified with guttural epiphanies and luminous teardrops, and millions more like them, including reverent and kindly NYC professors and raging poets in ripped red scarves and a million and a half Jewish children murdered by nazi demons.
Then he draws his own conclusion as to whether the whole thing is fiction or whether the Aleph-Bet is final and REVEALED.
And you, dear reader, will do the same.
I highly recommend this book.