THOUGHTS TO PONDER: Daring Observations About the Jewish Tradition

THOUGHTS TO PONDER: Daring Observations About the Jewish Tradition
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    THOUGHTS TO PONDER: Daring Observations About the Jewish Tradition

    by Nathan Lopes Cardozo

    Hardcover, 198 pages 
    Urim Publications, 2002 
    ISBN: 965-7108-40-3 
    Front cover images: Maimonides and Johann Sebastian Bach 

    When Judaism is introduced to a person as a religion of taboos, permanent damage is inflicted upon its very structure. Too often, young people have become victims of such negativity and consequently have not been able to find their way to the Jewish experience. One of the greatest tasks of Jewish educators today is to daringly turn the tide and show our people that Judaism is foremost the art of enjoying God's world.

    Thoughts to Ponder is a collection of short, and often unusual, observations about the complexities of human existence and religious meaning. Rabbi Cardozo masterfully weaves together the intriguing perspectives of renowned Western and religious thinkers spanning the ages as he deals with subjects that range from "Jewish Identity, Jewish Leadership and Rebellion" and "The Therapy of Sport" to "Religious Stringencies: Good or Bad?" The Ba'al Shem Tov, Rav Avraham Yitschak Kook, Emanuel Kant and Charles Darwin are just some of the legendary figures who appear in this eclectic work. Each "Thought" contains stimulating and eye-opening concepts that will plant seeds of curiosity in the minds of readers.

    About the Author:
    Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Dean of the David Cardozo School for Jewish Studies and Human Dignity, lectures regularly at over fifty institutions of Jewish and secular learning around the world. He is often hosted by programs with affiliation ranging from the Orthodox Union and Union of Sephardic Communities to Oxford and Harvard Universities. Regarded by many as a type of ambassador of Jewish conscience, he has, over the past twenty-five years, attracted a large number of students with his unconventional style. His fresh approach to many topics of social concern and his unswerving honesty continue to engage Jews and non-Jews alike.

    Praise for Thoughts to Ponder:
    "I thank you very much for the latest fruit of your scholarship, Thoughts to Ponder.
    The book is aptly named - here are precious thoughts which lead the reader not only to be enlightened by the mass of information and attitude, but also to continue onto his own thinking - hence the "pondering." I have no doubt the volume will be acclaimed by all those fortunate to read it.... It is an instance of Harbatzat Torah in our generation."
    - Professor Norman Lamm, Yeshiva University

    "Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo has emerged as one of the most thoughtful voices in contemporary Orthodoxy. He is a man of deep faith and wide intellectual horizons, unafraid to confront the challenges of the age with the quiet confidence of one who is attuned to the music of eternity. Read and you will be rewarded."
    - Rabbi Professor Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth

    "Rabbi Cardozo brings an unusual - perhaps unique - collection of talents and cultural sensitivities to his sacred work. He embodies Ashkenazi training, Sephardi heritage, European dignity, and the English speaking idiom." 
    - Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, PhD, author, lecturer at Hebrew University, Executive Editor, Intermountain Jewish News, Denver

    "Rabbi Cardozo says many things in this book that need to be said - that others are unfortunately not saying - and he says them so well. You can read the book cover to cover, or read any chapter at random and come away with words of true value."
    - Phil Chernofsky, Educational Director, OU Israel Center, Jerusalem

    "Rabbi Lopes Cardozo has earned a well-deserved reputation as a brilliant and profound teacher, lecturer and author. Audiences around the Jewish world flock to hear his lectures on Torah and Jewish philosophy. Rabbi Cardozo's insights into, and understanding of, Judaism and the modern world are refreshing as they are thought-provoking."
    - Rabbi Dr. Sholom Gold, Dean of Jerusalem College for Adults, Rabbi of Kehillat Zichron Yosef, Jerusalem 

    "Every person is unique and original, but some far more so than others." This aphorism might serve as a motto and introduction to the life and work of Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. A world-renowned lecturer and teacher, the Dutch-born, Gateshead- and Mir-educated ba'al teshuva (returnee to Orthodoxy) is among the first rank of those Jewish spiritual teachers willing to confront the challenges and contradictions contemporary culture present to the halachic Jew.
    In this volume, Lopes Cardozo demonstrates his radical individuality in a new way. The volume is based on a series of e-mail responses to queries from many of his students on a wide variety of themes, almost always involving some aspect of Judaism's encounter with modernity. He has sections on "Education and Leadership," "Jewish Family and Society," "A Fairy Tale," "Man, God and the Torah," "Holidays and Customs," "Israel and the Jewish State," and "The Power of Prayer."
    On the question of why so many Jews are skeptical as to the divine origin of the Torah, he does not provide the usual answer relating to the effect of Western culture on Jewish thought. Instead, he begins his explanation by citing one of his favorite sources, Rabbi Ya'acov Tzvi Mecklenburg, who says that at Sinai, "Every Jew saw something, but what he experienced was directly proportionate to the preparation he had put into it. When a person was less prepared, he only experienced a minimum level of reception on Sinai. The one who prepared more received more."
    Lopes Cardozo then suggests a skeptical attitude toward the divinity of the Torah "is not at all dependent upon intellectual sophistication. It rather derives from the lack of spiritual fire, the absence of that kind of special enthusiasm in "learning" which makes true reception of the Torah possible... In other words, the "skepticism" is not the conclusion which the person reaches after reasoned thought, but rather the a priori premise which makes true "learning" impossible.
    In discussing the question of Jewish chosenness, he argues that this does not, as enemies of Israel claim, have to do with racial privilege. Rather, he connects it with the unique Jewish historical experience and, above all, with the Jewish people's divinely entrusted mission to mankind. "Jews brought monotheism to the world: the most powerful idea Man has ever encountered. Since that day, the universe has never been the same. The gift of Torah turned all deeds into moral actions, teaching ethics and justice. And this 'ethical monotheism' is, as a long chain of Torah teachers have argued, the fundamental contribution to mankind."
    As Pascal did, he points to Jewish survival through so many persecutions as another proof of chosenness. The incredible miracle that the Jewish people has managed to stay alive and maintain a base core identity, while other more prosperous and powerful peoples of antiquity have vanished, is given as a second powerful proof of God's choosing the Jews.
    "A final powerful reason for Jewish chosenness is the return to Zion. He writes: 'The Jews' return to their homeland is totally unprecedented. No nation after such a long, painful exile has successfully returned to its homeland, and violating all principles of historical conformity, built a modern nation state. This ingathering is more remarkable in that it fulfills the biblical promise and covenant."
    Lopes Cardozo's view of Judaism is broad and humane. He is continually concerned with mankind as a whole. For him, Judaism is deeply concerned with establishing the "equality and dignity" of all human beings. And he shows how Judaism's special care for the stranger and concern for the weak are at the heart of its religious vision." 
    - Shalom Freedman, Jerusalem Post

    "Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is an original thinker. This small book contains a collection of precious gems, culled from a series of mass emails. An Orthodox rabbi, very much in touch with the modern world, he perpetually strives to find the right balance between Torah ideology and that of surrounding society.
    This dilemma is charmingly expressed in the chapter headed "Pesach: To Roast or To Boil - That is the Question." Discussing why the Paschal lamb had to be roasted rather than boiled, he explains that when food is roasted it does not absorb anything from outside. He says: "The formation of a nation must involve a courageous stand against the world and reject its culture."
    Yet boiled food, which absorbs outside influences, is not prohibited for the rest of the year. Cardozo argues that once Jews have developed solid faith foundations, they are able to integrate the best from surrounding cultures.
    He reveals that Rabbi Mendl of Satenav's Cheshbon HaNefesh was based on the works of Benjamin Franklin and that Rabbi E.E. Dessler used principles expressed by Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People in his Michtav MeEliyahu.
    Cardozo's thoughts are extremely well edited into bite-size pieces with chapter headings, providing an easily digestible collection of insights."
    - Doreen Wachmann, Jewish Telegraph