David Gelernter is a Renaissance man. He is a professor of computer science at Yale University and the author of books that suggest a kind of Herodotean interest in everything human. His books include Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber, Mirror Worlds, The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought, Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Technology, and 1939: The Lost World of the Fair.
Professor Gelernter’s new book is Judaism: A Way of Being. I asked Professor Gelernter if he would write something that would allow us to bring his new book to the attention of our readers. He has graciously forwarded us the following:
Judaism: A Way of Being is the short book that’s resulted from a long (long) project to write down Judaism’s worldview or basic ideas. Enormous themes move beneath Judaism’s surface like storms beneath the surface of Jupiter, often taking the form of images rather than doctrine.
Many take it for granted that Judaism is hostile to images. But that can’t be right: the Hebrew Bible is the foundation of Western literature, not only on account of its moral and spiritual but of its literary greatness; and there’s no such thing as great literature that is not vividly imagined. The dove with a torn olive branch in its beak, the burning bush, the split-open sea, the valley of dry bones, Aaron’s rod, the writing on the wall, the tree of Jesse, the chariot of fire, the sword beaten into a ploughshare, the wolf lying down with the lamb and a little child to lead them, “my cup runneth over”; these images are central to Western art and Western civilization.
The series of four deep images I describe coalesce naturally on the basis of simple images (like the ones above) in the biblical and rabbinic literature, and in the daily practice of Judaism. They capture the depth and sublime beauty of Judaism.
My book argues in closing that Judaism must relax its traditional (and understandable) hostility towards Christianity: this prodigal son wants to return, and Judaism must forgive injuries and rise to the occasion–as Jews must, also, take their place as the senior nation of the Western world–and frankly acknowledge Judaism’s role (a mixed blessing) as the most important intellectual development in Western history.
Over at the Weekly Standard, they have this to say about Professor Gelernter’s new book:
David has written a spectacular book. It’s at once short and deep; it’s a fun and easy read with many stop-let-me-think-about-that moments; it’s both scholarly and inspiring. David’s exploration of the role of images, or what he calls “image-themes,” in Judaism is fascinating, and his explanation of how Judaism’s “multi-layered images” reveal and explain “the unique beauty and truth of the Jewish worldview” is extraordinary.
Gelernter writes that his is a book primarily for Jews, and I’d think that will prove to be the case. But his account of “Judaism at full strength, straight up; no water, no soda, aged in oak for three thousand years” will I suspect prove fascinating to many serious people of other faiths, especially Judaism’s little brother or cousin, Christianity. For David has written a book that, in its exploration of Judaism, tells us something — tells us a lot — about the human condition.
So please check it out.