Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka.
By Rodger Kamenetz

Whether he's writing about Judaism, Buddhism or prayer and dreams, Kamenetz's mission is to discern connections. In his most delving book, he traces the hidden links between a literary nineteenth-century Hasidic rabbi and a quintessential modern secular Jewish writer.
Rabbi Nachman, a "Jewish shaman" , and a contemporary of the Brothers Grimm, smuggled the kabbalah into fiction to extend the reach of his teachings. Kafka, concerned about the spiritual cost of modernity, “nourished himself with the tales of Hasidic rebbes." Both men were ascetics; both died young of tuberculosis; both questioned "the seeming absence of divine justice"; and both asked trusted intimates to burn their work after their deaths.
Kamenetz's dramatic and revelatory double portrait is built on a solid foundation of elegantly explicated Jewish thought deepened by the story of his journey to Ukraine to visit Rabbi Nachman's grave. Here is a whole new slant on Kafka, a unique and affecting portrait of a creative holy man, and a radiant inquiry in celebration of how both sacred texts and great literature are open to "infinite interpretation."
--Donna Seaman, Book List