Part of the Jewish Encounter series
Rodger Kamenetz, acclaimed author of The Jew in the Lotus, has long been fascinated by the mystical tales of the Hasidic master Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. And for many years he has taught a course in Prague on Franz Kafka. The more he thought about their lives and writings, the more aware he became of unexpected connections between them. Kafka was a secular artist fascinated by Jewish mysticism, and Rabbi Nachman was a religious mystic who used storytelling to reach out to secular Jews. Both men died close to age forty of tuberculosis. Both invented new forms of storytelling that explore the search for meaning in an illogical, unjust world. Both gained prominence with the posthumous publication of their writing. And both left strict instructions at the end of their lives that their unpublished books be burnt.
Kamenetz takes his ideas on the road, traveling to Kafka’s birthplace in Prague and participating in the pilgrimage to Uman, the burial site of Rabbi Nachman visited by thousands of Jews every Jewish new year. He discusses the hallucinatory intensity of their visions and offers a rich analysis of Nachman’s and Kafka’s major works, revealing uncanny similarities in the inner lives of these two troubled and beloved figures, whose creative and religious struggles have much to teach us about the significant role played by the imagination in the Jewish spiritual experience.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of Religion eBook: Burnt Books|
|Release Date: 10-19-2010|
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Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka. A nineteenth-century rebbe. A twentieth-century literary master. Two Jewish souls. When I hear the voice of one, I can’t help but hear the other. Kafka is thoroughly secular and Rabbi Nachman is deeply religious. Kafka is a master of irony and Rabbi Nachman is a master of faith. Yet I feel a secret conversation between them and want to know how this can be.
I ﬁnd a clue in something the scholar Gershom Scholem once said. To understand kabbalah in our time, ﬁrst we would have to read Franz Kafka.
Now this is puzzling, considering what we know of Kafka’s life. If Kafka is a kabbalist, he’s the ﬁrst with no deep working knowledge of Hebrew and no actual Jewish religious practice. But Gershom Scholem’s words carry weight. He was the foremost academic authority on Jewish mysticism in modern times.
Perhaps in a certain sly way, Scholem meant to change not our evaluation of Kafka, but what we mean by kabbalah in our time. The puzzle of Kafka the kabbalist makes more sense when you read him alongside Rabbi Nachman. A descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman is the one great rebbe of the past who speaks most powerfully to our own skepticism and doubt. He is an acknowledged master of kabbalah.
The comparison grows more intriguing because in the last four years of his life Rabbi Nachman also became a master of ﬁction. He told a series of fantastic tales that brought something very new into Jewish literature. So here we have Kafka the teller of original tales and Rabbi Nachman the original tell