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A Way of Being

David Gelernter

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A highly original interpretation of Judaism as a way of life, the fundamentals of Jewish belief—and the Judaism nobody knows

Written for observant and non-observant Jews and anyone interested in religion, this remarkable book by the distinguished scholar David Gelernter seeks to answer the deceptively simple question: What is Judaism really about? Gelernter views Judaism as one of humanity’s most profound and sublimely beautiful achievements. But because Judaism is a way of life rather than a formal system of thought, it has been difficult for anyone but a practicing Jew to understand its unique intellectual and spiritual structure. Gelernter explores compelling questions, such as:

  • How does Judaism’s obsession with life on earth versus the world-to-come separate it fundamentally from Christianity and Islam?
  • Why do Jews believe in God, and how can they after the Holocaust?
  • What makes Classical Judaism the most important intellectual development in Western history?
  • Why does Judaism teach that, in the course of the Jewish people’s coming-of-age, God moved out of history and into the human mind, abandoning all power but the capacity to talk to each person from inside and thereby to influence events only indirectly?

In discussing these and other questions, Gelernter seeks to lay out Jewish beliefs on four basic topics—the sanctity of everyday life; man and God; the meaning of sexuality and family; good, evil, and the nature of God’s justice in a cruel world—and to convey a profound and stirring sense of what it means to be Jewish.

David Gelernter is professor of computer science at Yale University and contributing editor at the Weekly Standard. He is the author of several books, including Mirror Worlds, The Muse and the Machine, and the novel 1939. His writings on Judaism have appeared in Commentary and elsewhere. He lives in Woodbridge, CT.

“Out of the uncommonly learnèd and richly imagining mind of David Gelernter comes what we may be tempted to name a new Psalter; or call it instead a Song of Songs for the contemporary temperament. Yet secreted in the sinews of these seductive images is a grounded robustness of Idea. The opening chapter alone, on Separation, reveals the essential engine of human intellect: how we think. Gelernter may well be capable of sending the most adamant secularist flying to the synagogue — or, if not that, then to a principled reevaluation of the mental universe we all inhabit.”—Cynthia Ozick, author of Dictation: A Quartet

“This book not only argues its thesis, but also enacts it. Gelernter’s prose is at once plain in its patient unraveling of knotty problems and rhapsodic in its celebration of what it knows it cannot present. Judaism: A Way of Being is a powerful answer to anyone who has ever wondered how the spiritual life can be sustained in the face of all that conspires to kill it.”—Stanley Fish, author of Save the World On Your Own Time

“In an exhilarating work possessing the force and grace of a mighty poem, Gelernter shows us Judaism not only as a body of beliefs, but as a way of seeing and being in the world.”—Wilfred McClay, University of Tennessee

“As David Gelernter's shabbos goy, I heartily endorse this book; he is my rabbi and always will be.  An Old Testament prophet with the vision to see tomorrow, Gelernter's book will be one for the ages—writing about the depth of yesteryear with an eye toward generations to come. Anyone who wants to know more about Judaism (Jews and non-Jews, alike) should read Judaism: A Way of Being, as they should read anything Gelernter writes.  His audience, his congregation, is always enriched and ennobled by him.” —William J. Bennett, The Claremont Institute


“David Gelernter is a sensitive and masterfully evocative writer whose approach yields a fascinating new understanding of themes and ideas long embedded in Judaism. For writing in a way that is both true to subjective experience and compelling for Jews of the 21st century, he deserves our gratitude.—Rabbi Norman Lamm, Chancellor, Yeshiva University

"One of the most original interpretations of Judaism that I have ever read. Rich with insights for Christians trying to recover their own roots in Judaism and define their own "way of being." Gelernter is especially good at showing how Judaism and Christianity go on nourishing each other, despite the vivid parting of their ways. His brief closing reflections on God, on the supreme intellectual importance of Judaism to western civilization, and on the different angles of Jewish and Christian ethics are worth the price of the book."—Michael Novak, author of On Two Wings and No One Sees God

"Judaism is a visual tour of Jewish life, and attempt to conjure "the grand scheme" of the Jewish religion. It is perhaps Gelernter's most ambitious work to date. . . .[The] book is a deeply lyrical, even sensual, accounting of Gelernter's own faith."—Evan R. Goldstein, The Chronicle Review

"Spectacular . . . . [Gelernter] has written a book that, in its exploration of Judaism, tells us something—tells us a lot—about the human condition."—William Kristol, The Weekly Standard (Guide for the Discerning Gift-Giver)

"At the core of personal trauma there is often a loss of faith in life’s order and stability. When faced with a crisis, some people turn to religion. Others turn to artistic expression. David Gelernter turned to both, and his new book . . . displays a unique entwining of the two."—Juliana Ochs, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly (PBS.org)

“The Jewish experience, as Gelernter shows, echoes profoundly across the wider experience of humanity. Judaism itself is a wide-ranging book about the beliefs, practices and philosophy of the world’s first monotheistic religion--a book that Jews and non-Jews alike will find well worth reading.”—Jay Lefkowitz, Wall Street Journal


“[Gelernter] occupies a unique spot in American intellectual life, at the intersection of technology, art, politics, and religion. . . . Judaism is a visual tour of Jewish life, an attempt to conjure ‘the grand scheme’ of the Jewish religion. It is perhaps Gelernter’s most ambitious work to date.”—Evan Goldstein, The Chronicle Review


“Though written for Jews unsatisfied by ‘usual approaches’ to Judaism, the book may fascinate non-Jews interested in its questions, too, regardless of whether they agree with Gelernter's conclusions."—Booklist


“Exceptional . . . unlike anything that’s been done since the likes of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Mordecai Kaplan. . . . Gelernter’s brilliant book . . . [is] never less than clear and stirring, and should be read by all those who have the slightest interest in Judaism and its many layers of meaning and beauty.”—Robert Leiter, Jewish Exponent


“In this brief but intellectually packed book, Gelernter attempts to present Judaism as a total structure, to begin a Torat ha-lev, the Torah of the mind and heart that can lead to understanding the pressing questions of human existence. . . . Challenging, often exhilarating, richly learned, intensely personal, and tough-minded, Judaism offers a passionate picture of Judaism.”—Maron L. Waxman, Jewish Book World


“Gelernter’s little volume offers a window into the living core of Jewish life. . . . What emerges vividly from Gelernter’s picture are the nuances, the small but definitive acts of devotion, that together make up the sum of religious Jewish life.”—Gil Student, First Things


“Superb.”—David Brooks, The New York Times

"Gelernter creates a visual allusion for much of Judaism. . . . Gelernter's paintings . . . are prayer as they are made and as the viewer sees them. . . . As each section presents seamlessly layered images, the entire book, including the illustrations, is a seamless whole."—Ben Schachter, Religion and the Arts

Finalist for the 2009 Book of the Year Award, presented by ForeWord magazine

Selected for the Guide for the Discerning Gift-Giver, William Kristol, The Weekly Standard
ISBN: 9780300168150
Publication Date: April 15, 2011
248 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
4 color illus.