(Miami, October 7, 2019) – Targum Shlishi helped support the publication of Rabbi Yaakov Nagen’s Be, Become, Bless: Jewish Spirituality between East and West (Maggid, 2019), a translation and reworking of the Hebrew Lehitorer Le’Yom Hadash (Waking up to a New Day) (2013).
Be, Become, Bless presents a Jewish approach to transforming how we see and live our lives. Rabbi Nagen uses the weekly parasha as a springboard to converse with both Eastern spirituality and Western thinking, creating a synthesis that unifies “being” and “doing.” Thought-provoking and original, this work draws on wisdom from the Bible, Talmud, and Kabbala, as well as philosophy, poetry, literature, music, and film. Rich with stories and insights from the author’s personal journey, Be, Become, Bless guides readers to discover their own path to spiritual growth. The book engages difficult topics including the role of women in religion, Jewish separatism versus universalism, temptation and evil, and more.
Rabbi Nagen identifies as an observant, Orthodox Jew and sees no contradiction between being part of this community and drawing inspiration from Eastern ideas and techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, spontaneous and personal prayer, art, and more.
“Spirituality is an emphasis on the emotional, imaginative, and experiential elements,” Nagen told Alan Brill in an interview for the blog The Book of Doctrine and Opinions: Notes on Jewish Theology and Spirituality. “Spirituality is a search for meaning in life in which there is a sense that there is more to life than what is visible and familiar. It aspires to be transformative to how life is lived and experienced. In the context of religious life, it is the thirst for a direct connection to God and to experience the divine.”
These elements are not foreign imports but rather essential and integral parts of Judaism. Indeed, while Modern Orthodoxy is based on the rationalistic, European Brisk approach to Talmud study, earlier Jewish approaches accepted and even accented a more personal, experiential, and spiritual approach to living and connecting with the Divine, with nature, with other people, and more. While the book is unique in its approach, it joins several other recent works by rabbinic leaders exploring Eastern wisdom.
Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi, explains why he chose to support the book’s English translation: “Judaism has always incorporated the best of surrounding cultures. Targum Shlishi seeks to foster creative interpretations of Judaism and to encourage educators and writers to push the boundaries of accepted ways. We then help to ensure these endeavors are accessible to a wide audience. We want Judaism to be relevant and inspiring, particularly to the next generation.”
The book is available at www.maggidbooks.com. The Targum Shlishi community can receive twenty percent off and free shipping with the promotional code TARGUM20 until October 30, 2019.
Be, Become, Bless has generated positive responses from early reviewers. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author many books, including Jewish Literacy and Words that Hurt, Words that Heal, writes, “Be, Become, Bless is an important book, offering insights into Torah and the East that are profound, accessible, and transformative. Rabbi Nagen’s style is compelling, and his love of people, truth, and wisdom is apparent again and again and again.”
Erica Brown, director of George Washington University’s Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership and author of Take Your Soul to Work: 365 Meditations on Every Day Leadership and several other books, writes, “In Be, Become, Bless, Rabbi Yakov Nagen challenges us to spiritualize each week’s Torah reading, search for deeper meaning, and create a more unified view of an often broken, divided universe from a place of greater personal wholeness.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Blau, director of Yeshivat Orayta, associate editor of the journal Tradition, and author of Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine: The Ethics and Wisdom of the Aggada, writes, “Nagen has written a wise and helpful work that breaks new ground in our communal discourse. The contemporary search for spirituality in kabbalistic thought and Eastern religions coalesces in his presentation with a humanistic yet fully pious and devout Modern Orthodoxy.”
Alan Brill, the Cooperman/Ross Endowned Chair for Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, sees the book as an important message to the thousands of Israeli youth who travel to India seeking spiritual answers. He notes that the roots of mindfulness, simplicity, attention, and humility are found in Judaism. He writes, “Nagen’s spirituality is based on meditative quiet, existential depth, and sincere awe of the compassion and goodness he sees in Asian religions. Nagen…offers us ‘Being’…an Eastern inflected spirituality of the inner self combined with ‘Doing,’ the compassion for all beings and reality…The book’s arrangement as Torah commentary…makes it into a delightful choice to read on the Sabbath or take to synagogue. The book allows us to journey with Rabbi Nagen as he shares his own experiences, which he uses to develop his creative integrative path. At the same time, he provides a Torah role model for this generation of seekers… I would recommend for all those looking for a path of integration of Indian spirituality and Judaism.”
“A Modern Orthodox Kabbalist,” The Times of Israel, September 19, 2019
“Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen – Be Become Bless [review and interview],” Alan Brill, blog, The Book of Doctrine and Opinions: Notes on Jewish Theology and Spirituality, September 3, 2019
“Israeli Rabbis You Should Know,” Tablet, October 6, 2016
Targum Shlishi’s previous blog post on this project, from June 2018
About Rabbi Yaakov Nagen
Rabbi Nagen (formerly Genack) is from New York City and now resides in Israel. He studied at Sha’alvim Yeshiva, Har Etzion Yeshiva, and RIETS and earned a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and ordination from Yeshiva University. He has a doctorate in Jewish philosophy from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. His dissertation was the basis for his book on Tractate Sukkah —Water, Creation and Divinity: Sukkot in the Philosophy of Halacha [Hebrew] (Giluy, 2008) and The Soul of the Mishna – a literary reading and search for meaning (Dvir, 2016). Nagen is a senior educator at the Otniel Yeshiva where he teaches Talmud and Kabbala. While he lives in what is perceived as a right wing settlement, he is a leading figure in interfaith dialogue between Judaism and Islam. He coordinates a group of West Bank rabbis that dialogues with local Muslim sheiks and imams and is active in the Abrahamic Reunion for Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East. He has organized prayer vigils bringing together Israelis and Palestinians against religiously motivated violence. Nagen has taught at Al-Azhar University in Cairo to promote mutual respect between Islamic and Judaism. He also fosters understanding among Judaism and Eastern religions and teaches Judaism in China. For more information about Rabbi Nagen, visit his website.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website. Follow Aryeh Rubin, Targum Shlishi’s director, on Twitter..