The Dancer and the Dance: Essays on Skep­ti­cism and the Search for Meaning

  • Review
By – September 28, 2022

We live in one of the most com­pli­cat­ed the­o­log­i­cal eras in all of Jew­ish his­to­ry. Unlike our pre­mod­ern ances­tors, for us, liv­ing in the mod­ern world means being con­stant­ly sur­round­ed by doubt, ques­tion­ing, and even agnos­ti­cism. In his new col­lec­tion of essays, The Dancer and the Dance, Rab­bi Michael Wasser­man takes on these themes, help­ing read­ers bet­ter under­stand how to be Jew­ish in the mod­ern world and treat­ing skep­ti­cism as a tool of religiosity.

Though The Dancer and the Dance is a short book — it con­tains only eight essays and is bare­ly 100 pages long — Wasser­man man­ages to deal with some of the most endur­ing ques­tions of reli­gious life. His first essay, enti­tled Over­lap­ping Mag­is­te­ria,” attempts to rec­on­cile the ten­sion between sci­ence and reli­gion. Lat­er essays unpack the role of love in inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships, the nature of grat­i­tude, and the essence of consciousness.

Per­haps the strongest of all is the title essay, The Dancer and the Dance.” Wasser­man derives his title from a para­ble about a com­pa­ny of dancers that moves so effort­less­ly that the dancer and the dance appear one. How­ev­er, when the dancers notice they are danc­ing, when they look at their feet, they stum­ble. Wasser­man uses the sto­ry to illus­trate the dif­fer­ent ways that we can over­think our own con­nec­tion to reli­gion, los­ing bal­ance in the process. Or, con­verse­ly, we may reject mod­ern thought, too afraid to ever look down.

One of the amaz­ing things about this col­lec­tion is that Wasser­man brave­ly answers many of the ques­tions he rais­es. He doesn’t just diag­nose the many prob­lems of moder­ni­ty, but shows how one can rec­on­cile moder­ni­ty with tra­di­tion toward healthy and pro­duc­tive ends. He doesn’t just explain the ten­sion between reli­gion and sci­ence, but explores how the two influ­ence and sup­port one anoth­er. Wasserman’s con­clu­sions are, in a word, thought­ful, whether one agrees with them or not. Weav­ing togeth­er Tal­mud, poet­ry, mod­ern Jew­ish thought, sci­ence, and phi­los­o­phy, Wasser­man is a gift­ed writer whose essays are poet­ic even as they wres­tle with dif­fi­cult truths.

Many of us will not have heard of Rab­bi Michael Wasser­man before read­ing this book, but we will leave with an appre­ci­a­tion for his think­ing. Hope­ful­ly there are more works to come from the rab­bi. He is an impor­tant con­tem­po­rary voice con­tribut­ing to the Jew­ish philo­soph­i­cal space.

Rab­bi Marc Katz is the Rab­bi at Tem­ple Ner Tamid in Bloom­field, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Lone­li­ness: How Jew­ish Wis­dom Can Help You Cope and Find Com­fort (Turn­er Pub­lish­ing), which was cho­sen as a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

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