Jew­ish Dhama: A Guide to the Prac­tice of Judaism and Zen

Bren­da Shoshanna
  • Review
By – January 5, 2012
Tra­di­tion­al thought sur­round­ing reli­gion states that pre­sump­tive­ly an indi­vid­u­al­con­tin­ues along the edu­ca­tion­al and obser­vant path of the faith in which one was raised. Anoth­er school of thought believes that indi­vid­u­als leave the reli­gion into which they were born to pur­sue alter­na­tive reli­gions and philoso­phies to bet­ter match the ide­olo­gies and lifestyle of the adult per­son they have become. Still oth­ers may choose to aban­don their birth reli­gion as a sim­ple act of rebel­lion, a means of break­ing ties with one’s fam­i­ly and pre­or­dained his­to­ry. 

In the book Jew­ish Dhar­ma: A Guide to the Prac­tice of Judaism and Zen, Dr. Bren­da Shoshan­na demon­strates that a sole reli­gious path need not be the only option. A Bor­ough Park, Brook­lyn born Jew raised in the Ortho­dox tra­di­tion, the author expe­ri­enced a uni­ver­sal sense of curios­i­ty from an ear­ly age which put her at odds with her grand­par­ents and com­mu­ni­ty. She under­stood the rea­son for the exis­tence and need of basic Jew­ish con­cepts such as Mitzvot or Minyan, but all of the tenets didn’t res­onate with her. Shoshan­na went in search of clar­i­ty and found that many of the prac­tices asso­ci­at­ed with the East­ern reli­gion of Zen Bud­dhism helped to bring the big­ger pic­ture into focus. 

Fol­low­ing the death of her father, the author was com­pelled to revis­it Judaism and found that her pas­sion­ate spark had been rekin­dled. Real­iz­ing that she drew spir­i­tu­al nour­ish­ment, edu­ca­tion, and mean­ing from both reli­gions she began to look at the ways in which the out­ward­ly dis­parate prac­tices were sim­i­lar. Whether chant­i­ng a prayer with a rab­bi in a syn­a­gogue or assum­ing a med­i­ta­tive state of zazen with a Zen mas­ter in the zen­do, Shoshan­na makes it refresh­ing­ly clear that noth­ing is cut and dry when it comes to reli­gion. Find­ing the cor­rect for­mu­la to ful­fill the spir­i­tu­al soul’s needs can come in any num­ber of guis­es includ­ing a cus­tom made combination.
Mol­ly Beth Dubin received an M.A. in art his­to­ry and muse­um stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Den­ver. She is cul­tur­al arts direc­tor for the Har­ry & Rose Sam­son Fam­i­ly Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Milwaukee.

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