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Everything struck hard. The door slamming behind me in the black car. The shovel stabbing the mound of soil. The wooden box hitting the floor of the pit. I stood and I swayed and I said what I was told to say. I was presented with the words that justify the judgment, and I justified the judgment. "He is the Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are judgment . . ." I was presented with the words of the kaddish, the long one for the funeral, the one about the world that will be made new, the one that I had never said before, and I uttered it. "Magnified and sanctified may His great Name be . . ." "Magnified and sanctified . . ." Sounds, not words. Words that were nothing but sounds. The words spilled into the pit and smashed upon my father's coffin. I watched the words disperse across the surface of the wood like the clods of dirt that were falling upon it. I saw them there, the shattering words. I saw the letters and their shades. Finally they vanished into the earth. They were buried with him. Justify the judgment, but judge the judgment, too. Bring the judgment to judgment!Out of tears, thoughts.
So begins this extraordinary spiritual journal--a record of the inner life of one of America's most brilliant intellectuals during a year of mourning. When Leon Wieseltier's father died in March 1996, he began to observe the rituals of the traditional year of mourning, going daily to the synagogue to recite the kaddish. Be-tween his prayers and his everyday responsibilities, he sought out ancient, medieval, and modern Jewish texts in pursuit of the kaddish's history and meaning.
And every day he studied, translated, and wrote his own reflections on the obscure texts that he found, punctuating his journal with stories about life in his synagogue and about his family's progress through grief. In reflecting upon the fate of his father and of his people, he wrestles with problems of loss and faith, the meaning of tradition, freedom and determinism, and the perplexity of rational religion. Kaddish is a work of history, philosophy, and interior autobiography, of moral force and emotional power.
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Leon Wieseltier's Kaddish is a completely new kind of book. It is not quite philosophy, autobiography, history, or Midrash, but it blends all of these genres into a narrative of Wieseltier's grief during the year following his father's death. Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, is a mostly unobservant Jew whose grief compelled him to observe his religion's rituals of mourning, daily attending synagogue to recite the Kaddish (the traditional Jewish prayers of mourning). He also delved deeply into a vast range of texts describing the history and spiritual significance of these prayers. And he wrote incessantly, describing with force and clarity the process of bringing his mind and heart to bear on the grief that consumed him. Perhaps the best way of describing this moving, illuminating, hopeful, awe-filled book is to quote a stray line from the first page of the book's first chapter: "Out of tears, thoughts." --Michael Joseph GrossFrom the Publisher:
"Read this extraordinary book and you will be both intellectually enriched and deeply moved.
You will find in it Leon Wieseltier's passion for learning and remarkable style. His ex-ploration of the Jewish laws of mourning, so thoughtful, so necessary, is the best I have ever read. His Kaddish is not only for his father; it is for all fathers for whom no kaddish has been said"
"This strange, enchanting, powerful, sometimes frustrating but always compelling masterpiece
works through the great themes of life and death intertwined with a complex fugue played out in three parts: Wieseltier's own encounter, as the year of mourning unfolded, with the inner life of the faith, the narrative of his family's sorrow, but, above all, how the sages and saints of Judaism through the ages reflected, in detail, about death and mourning. The result is a profound work not about Judaism but of Judaism: The inner life of the faith mediated through the sensibility of a wise, deeply learned, and reliable guide. I cannot point to another piece of writing in the English language that accomplishes within--and for--Judaism what Wieseltier has achieved."
--Jacob Neusner, National Review
"Wieseltier's Kaddish is an astonishing fusion of learning and psychic intensity;Its poignance and lucidity should be an authentic benefit to readers, Jewish and gentile, who seek access to rabbinical tradition...I am certain I will read this book again"
--Harold Bloom, New York Times Book Review
"Groundbreaking in American letters...This is a narrative suffused with love: a man's love for the tradition bequeathed him by his father and shared with his mother and sister, a man's savoring of the beauty he was taught to uncover and his revealing it, proudly unadorned, to us"
--Nessa Rapoport, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"I have never read a book like this. No one has.It is something new in the world, and at the same time something very old. One feels this work--in its depth, idiosyncrasy, moral intellect, and stupendous range--to be an extension (dare I say it?) of the Talmud, and also of its modernist opposite. It seems hardly enough to say that Leon Wieseltier's Kaddish is beautiful, wise, amazing"
"A brilliant book...Wieseltier has an aphoristic intelligence, and in a sense he is taking his place in a line of philosophers which runs from Pascal to Nietzsche and on to E. M. Cioran. As this
'diligent and doubting son' repeats phrases from the kaddish like a mantra, an ancient magnificence stirs in the text and his brokenheartedness is balanced by his exhilaration. 'He taught me to be here,' he writes of his father, 'and here I am'"
--Edward Hirsch, The New Yorker
"Extraordinary... An epigrammatic thinker of Pascalian concision and luminosity...a superb writer...It is a fine book, no, more: It may well be destined to become an American Jewish classic"
--Hillel Halkin, Forward
"Kaddish inspires a sense of awe at the sheer magnitude, depth and wisdom of a tradition that attempts to provide both a practical framework and a moral explanation for the deepest and most ungovernable human impulses"
-Susan Jacoby, Newsday
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