Monday, January 23, 2012

Jewish pros and cons: judging a book by its (back) cover as better than the swimsuit issue

There is hardly any greater pleasure in life for an unrepentant bibliophile than to find a great book you didn't even know existed..

...and to find it at a thrift store (where theophanies happen) and thus the price is right.

This time the book that found me  OK, there was more than one, you can stalk my stash here) was "Beyond the Graven Image: a Jewish View."

But this is not yet a review, as all I've read is the back cover and a bit of the index!

And that's what i'd like to comment on.
(By the way, check out this quick  clip  (and quip)  if you hate it when people review books they haven't read!).

Here's what stands out.
It's not many books where I actually underline phrases on the back cover!
Here's the back cover summary:
The proscription against using images in worship sets Judaism, together with Islam, apart from all other religious systems. In Beyond the Graven Image, Lionel Kochan explains the reasons for this prohibition and demonstrates how influential this image-ban has been in determining key aspects of Jewish thinking. Has the Biblical prohibition made the Jews a people of the ear rather than of the eye? The attraction of idols stems from their physical imagery and visual appeal. What distinguishes God from the "other gods," Kochan argues, is God's invisibility. As God communicates directly with people through voice, material entities purporting to transmit divine messages are deemed false. The worship of idols is seen as the ultimate form of disobedience. Such tenets have profound ramifications for Jewish thinking. The denigration of idol worship leads within Judaism to an attempt to devalue the material world. Symbolism is viewed with skepticism, as is representational art. Kochan argues that the Jewish conceptions of holiness and symbolism, our relationship with God, and the role of memory in religion, as well as the preference for non-material arts such as music over visual modes of artistic expression within Judaism, have all been shaped by the prohibition against physical representations of God.  link
So between that, and a brief look, here's my working list of potential pros and cons of a classic Jewish prespective  (not to be confused with Jewish pros, as in professionals ( I do know one.) or Jewish cons (as in convicts or con men.  I don't know any).

A Jewish worldview/hermeneutic may enable a  natural propensity to (the "pro"s)" the following

a)  intuit and "get"...epistemologically, hermeneutically, and midrashically speaking ...the following(the "pro"s):

  • The primacy of sound over sight ("people of the ear rather than the eye..",  "preference for music", Shema etc.see posts below labeled sound theory, synesthesia, string theory, and readd Ong, Webb and Rabbi Jose  Faur)
  • the power of symbol/semiotics/parable ('holiness and symbolism," see posts labeled: metaphor, parable)
  • holistic, Hebraic (of course)  and kairotic view of time, as well as its arrow and arc (chapter 7, see posts labeled "time")
  • sensitivity to what Tschetter might call "the issue of the swimsuit issue"...(see posts labeled: images)
  • primacy of elevation over sublimation  (see  posts labeld: elevation, sexuality, especially this   )

b)be "accidentally attracted to" (the "con"s):

  • gnosticism/dualism/bounede setness ("...denigate the material world")
  • fear of visual art and "image" ("symbolism is viewed with skepticism", see posts labeled "images")
All these tendencies, the author argues, are directly tied and tethered to the thoroughgoing "denigration of idol worship: inevitably built into (hardwired and heartwired) Judaism.

And the author wrestles with Maimonedes, Spinoza and Heschel.

I like it already..


  1. looking forward to the day this entire blog is deleted.....

  2. Looks like you have a fan, Dave.

    1. ya... try this one:
      http... how to steal, lie, and get away with it... start a non-profit and claim to be of God

  3. What are you babbling about?

    1. My anonymity is based on the fact that you have all of the markings of an obsessive compulsive stalker with an inflated sense of righteous indignation. If you think he's a swindler, call the cops for crying out loud. I will gladly be accused of lacking intestinal fortitude over being on the receiving end of one of your creepy, bitter, paranoid, word salad rants, or waking up one morning to find you on my front doorstep drooling and screaming about socialism. Develop a hobby and move on with your life, sir. And take your meds.

  4. You are correct in implying that I lack enough intestinal fortitude to post my name. I like to think that I am a generally courageous person in most respects, but in this respect I am hiding behind my anonymity for purposes of self protection. You see, there is something reminiscent of an obsessive-compusive stalker with an inflated sense of righteous indignation and moral vengeance that really creeps me out about you. You might not actually be a dangerous person, but I am not taking any chances. You could be a Christian. You could also be the kind of guy who could show up one morning on my doorstep drooling and screaming about socialism---to paraphrase Woody Allen.
    If you think he's a swindler call the cops. Otherwise, develop a hobby, pick some flowers, or simply move on, sir.


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!