Reb Zalman Gathers Figs
A study of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's
Dana Densmore brings to light an unpublished and nearly unknown set of teachings of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, based on his readings of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible. This material, which exists only as voice recordings, is the sole sustained example of Schachter-Shalomi's approach to scriptural interpretation, published or unpublished. Densmore has selected and transcribed portions of this work, explaining the context in which they were presented and providing a commentary that links them into a coherent whole. Extensive notes explain Schachter-Shalomi's frequent references to the Hebrew text and translate his quotations in German, Yiddish, and other languages.
What emerges from this study is the profoundly radical way in which, through careful attention to the nuances of the biblical text, Schachter-Shalomi shows how to draw new life and inspiration for our times from ancient texts written in a very different context.
This study of Schachter-Shalomi's re-visioning of Judaism is placed in a context of the ongoing re-visioning of Judaism that has taken place thoughout the history of the tradition. Densmore's claim is developed that the sort of re-visioning Schachter-Shalomi is engaged in is not only the way that Judaism has always worked with its Biblical inheritance but that this sort of process is the key to Judaism's survival and contiunued vitality through the ages.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (1924–2014) was one of the most important, significant, and influential Jewish teachers and thinkers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. A beloved figure in the larger movement for renewal in Jewish practice, "Reb Zalman" is the inspiration behind the Jewish Renewal movement and its organization, ALEPH.
Densmore praises the fluidity and pensiveness of the rabbi's readings, though her own record of them displays the same elegance. Between sections of his talks, she draws lessons and conclusions from his methods: Schachter-Shalomi reads with "stealth feminism," with biblical acumen, with sensitivity and verve. She puts him in conversation with other thinkers—when he's not naming them himself—drawing in the work of biblical scholars like Richard Elliott Friedman to expand upon the notions he explores. The very framework of the text suggests the grand Jewish traditions that both the rabbi and Densmore reference: they are Talmudic, inquisitive, open-ended, and inviting.
Reviewed by Michelle Anne Schingler, M.Div., Harvard Divinity School
Dana Densmore has done all of us a great service. Reb Zalman is one of the great religious minds and hearts that I've ever witnessed. His style is unique and his message is felt with the heart and soul as much or more than it is understood by the mind. Densmore masterfully gathers the master's words and skillfully supports a deeper understanding of Reb Zalman's wisdom. That she does this difficult task while maintaining the "flavor" of Reb Zalman's powerful voice and heart is a great skill indeed, one that we are all grateful for. Reb Zalman Gathers Figs is a must-read for all who yearn for the deeper teachings of the Bible and a connection to G-d/Spirit.
Rabbi David Ingber
Founder and Spiritual Director, Romemu
Dana Densmore's book Reb Zalman Gathers Figs is a rare gem. It harkens back to Talmudic dialogue where the voices of sages who lived generations apart from each other seem to talk directly to one another. In this case it is Densmore and Reb Zalman who are having a deep conversation. It would be enough to just to read Reb Zalman's insightful comments on the Bible. But with each teaching by Reb Zalman, Ms. Densmore helps us unpack what the Rebbe is teaching with enlightened commentary. The style is Tamudic, but the insights are contemporary and cutting edge.
Rabbi David Zaslow
author of Jesus: First Century Rabbi
The material for Reb Zalman Gathers Figs came through me and Eve during one of our most creative periods. Primal Myth needed to be shaped into a book. Dana Densmore has done a sensitive and remarkable job in presenting this material to the reader in a way that will allow you, in your imagination, to participate in the remarkable process of the Wisdom School.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
author of Davening
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Kafir Yaroq Books
An imprint of Green Lion Press
Books for the study of source texts of the Hebrew tradition.