Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel’s book “Gentle Judaic Wisdom” is a brilliant work, very wise, easy to read, and deceptively simple. The book is filled with quotes that have significant information. It is a rich cornucopia of wisdom quoted from sources such as the Torah, Mishna, Tosephta, Talmud, ancient rabbis, philosophers, and many more sources, even the New Testament. For, as Maimonides wrote when he quoted the pagan Aristotle in his Guide of the Perplexed, the truth is the truth no matter what its source. Each chapter is followed by notes that comment upon the quotes and give even deeper understanding. For example, the remark in the New Testament Mark 10, “what God has joined together, let no human tear asunder” has a note that discusses the talmudic views about divorce.
The book begins with a comprehensive introduction that address 26 different subjects. Among many others, Rabbi Samuel discusses the relationship between Greek and Jewish thought, the importance of asking questions, various ancient Jewish ideas about Jesus, and such ancient documents as the Letter of Aristeas, the writings of Philo, and good sources for non-Jewish wisdom.
The introduction is then followed by 30 chapters that cover proper thinking on many subjects on all aspects of life, birth, marriage, divorce, life after death, and more. He included quotes about ethics, cultivating respect, dealing with parents, caring for children, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” the value of money, faith, blessing, illusions, the “sins” of Cain, the soul, life without God, piety, mysticism, and much more. As I read all the quotes in this book, I found it remarkable that there was no quote that I thought should not have been included. And as I read Rabbi Samuel’s notes, I was impressed by both the extent of his knowledge and how well he understood the many subjects he addressed.
It is a perfect book to read either from page 1 until the end or to select subjects of interest from the many provided and read that section. It is also the perfect book to keep at home to refer to from time to time. We can read the book to enjoy the ideas and how they are expressed.
I found the quotes thought-provoking. They made me think, and they can and should do the same for other readers. What do you think of the quote that you read? How can you apply the idea in it to your life? Does the quote cover all situations? Can we extend the idea further and go beyond what the sage said? If so, how?
I think you will enjoy this book as much as I did.