A 1755 English/Irish proverb which suits my purposes here.
I have a friend; a really cool friend; an honorable friend; a supportive friend; an aware friend; an empathic friend; a scary smart friend who writes on a level so impressive I asked for her hand in marriage after reading only a thousand or so of her words. It was in jest, I think, and years ago now, but as I recall, she didn’t exactly say no. . .
Since that time, she has purchased, read, and favorably reviewed my book; an act which showed her to be good to her word; a person of substance; a person of character rising out of a sea of pretenders who made similar promises without delivering the goods. Such is life as an author. You become accustomed to it while paying close attention to the solid people you meet in your journey.
Today she made some noise about my book on twitter so I thought a little surprise reciprocity might be in order.
Her name is Shelby Kent-Stewart
a.k.a. The Sultaness of Snark
(I just made that up.)
and I’m proud to call her my friend.
So when a friend you admire, or perhaps adore—I’m still working that out—who you are slightly intimidated by as a writer asks you to write with her, you get butterflies in your stomach reminiscent of your first school dance. Your palms get clammy, your mouth goes dry, your respiration becomes quick and shallow, and you struggle with words that seem to want to form sentences written by a chimp.
I gathered myself as we discussed the possibilities and we settled on a starting point. A simple blog post from two points of view to see if our styles, philosophies, attitudes, and perspectives could somehow mesh into something worth reading without destroying our friendship.
We did it.
In my heavily biased opinion, our first collaboration is Blog of the Year material, if that’s a thing, and we hope you enjoy reading it this weekend as much as we enjoyed producing it for you.
The appeal is obvious—aside from wishing we were genius billionaire philanthropists—there are times when we wish we could take matters into our own hands; to be a lone gun-slinger, dispensing our own brand of justice or seeking retribution. Alas, until “civilization” slides a little farther into the abyss, or we have nothing left to lose, we must settle for watching others wreak vengeance in film and video games; living vicariously through them. But oh how we wish sometimes. . .
I am a seeker. I read nonfiction to find answers to big questions.
One big question of many that perplex me when it comes to the State of Israel and Jewish people is: Why are 14.2 million people more newsworthy in the West than the other 6.86 billion people of the world? Is there more to this than media control, ownership, or the claimed disproportionate number of Jewish people working in Western media? I don’t know. When I don’t know something, I read, and keep on reading until I find answers. This tiny segment of the world’s population endlessly reminds us of their stories of persecution; some of these stories are based on historically documented facts, while others have so little empirical evidence they border on the mythological. A media spotlight affords a tiny state some protection from transgressors, but in doing so, it can also cast a shadow on any freshly dug graves.
If you want to truly get a handle on a culture, you must dive into their indoctrinations.
The world’s religions mastered indoctrination long ago, so this, I thought, would be a good area to acquire a better grasp of a people without diving into the more volatile areas of politics and economics.
Yesterday’s read began with enthusiasm as I found a book which was touted to be: A Guide to Jewish Wisdom; something that appealed to me on a couple of different levels even though I am not Jewish, and have—putting it mildly—a general dislike of almost all religions for their exploitive, for-profit business model which excludes aid to anyone who is not a paying customer. Firstly, this book appealed to the researcher inside me as I am usually forced to open dozens of books over several days just to find puzzle pieces which I then have to make notes on and later assemble into something that makes sense. It’s a good day when you find an author who has done all the work for you. Secondly, I have not given Judaism its due, relative to the volume of reading I have done on all of the larger religions. Oh sure I have skimmed the Tanakh and read the greatest hits of the Torah in my fact-finding missions to compare stories from other religions, but I really did not have a “feel” for this group’s beliefs. I really hoped this book on the mystical side of Judaism: Kabbalah, would give me a better understanding of the big picture.
A great many authors should thank their lucky stars I don’t publish reviews or ratings below three stars on a five star scale.
This book dodged a bullet. When we choose a nonfiction book to read, we are encouraged to pay attention to the credentials of the author as though only a credentialed person can put forth a valid thought—or so the publishing world a.k.a. print media would have us believe. The author is a Rabbi and an educational psychologist so I expected a balance of theology with logic and reason. What I got was a heavy dose of mysticism, magic, and the supernatural with a smattering of references to empirical research that, at best, offered a weak endorsement of how the magic worked. The spiritual mumbo-jumbo, of course, told the believer how to think and live “correctly”:
‘You must be a giving person.’
In fact, there was an entire paragraph on how to appropriately greet and compensate a Kabbalist or Hassidic rebbeif you were ever fortunate enough to garner their attention.
‘You must not be an egotist.’
And yet the author saw fit to publish a photo of himself with the Dali Lama instead of one where he was feeding or counseling “displaced” Palestinian children.
In fairness, I expect hypocrisy in all books from theologians, however once you strip away the nonsense, there were about fifty pages of good reading where the author succinctly explained: The Ten Sefirot, the meaning of the Star of David, and he interpreted a number of commonly used Jewish religious terms while passing along some insights into Judaic “philosophy”. The book was just 200 pages so I’ll give it a 1.25 star rating.
Every book will give you something.
What did I learn? Nothing Earth shattering, but it would appear that Judaism:
Is a very complex belief system which requires significant interpretation.
Has a significant number of teachings related to self.
Places women closer to men in terms of equality.
Has roots in Zoroastrianism.
Is open to different planes of existence, science, and multiple universes.
Believes they have all the answers.
Believes Hebrew is the Holy tongue—necessary to enter a higher reality.
Believes their religious men are above the average follower.
Believes the Torah contains a hidden spiritual code supported by mathematics.
Codify beliefs into law in much the same way Muslims do.
This lackluster book did however point me at a new target of inquiry. It seems that in the 1700’s a scholastic elite were the only ones with access to Jewish literary works. This wreaks of potential tampering akin to Constantine or King James. I’ll let you know if anything interesting turns up once I have chased down this lead.