In advance of the 68th Annual National Jewish Book Awards ceremony on March 5th, 2019 (which you can buy tickets for here), Jewish Book Council is sharing short interviews with the winners in each category.
Leon Wiener Dow’s The Going: A Meditation on Jewish Law is the winner of the 2018 Myra H. Kraft Memorial Award for Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice. Bringing together qualities of memoir, modern Jewish thought, and halachic literature, The Going represents an innovative force in Jewish literature. Dow presents a vision of halacha (Jewish law) that can speak to Jews regardless of where they place themselves on the denominational spectrum. He explores halacha with an eye that balances reverence for tradition with a passion for what its future manifestations could be like. Judges say: “To read this book is to feel encouraged to embrace the challenge of locating traces of the divine in the world. [Dow’s’] powerful writing brings to the fore a fresh voice that is bound to influence the conversation of Jews around the world.”
Which three Jewish writers, dead or alive, would you most like to have dinner with?
Franz Rosenzweig, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, and Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. I would savor the opportunity to get a sense of the extent to which they live their writing.
What’s your favorite book that no one else has heard of?
Jean Amery, At the Mind’s Limits. Every time I read one of Amery’s essays I feel as if I have received a blow to the torso. I also have to include my brother Mark’s unbelievable book of poetry, Plain Talk Rising.
Which Jewish writers working today do you admire most?
I’m privileged to be able to go with my friends and colleagues — in English, Ilana Kurshan and in Hebrew, Dov Elbaum.
What are you reading right now?
I’m finally paying an outstanding debt to one of Daniel Boyarin’s early works, Carnal Israel. My “fun” reading is David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.
What are your greatest creative influences (other than books)?
Without a doubt, my greatest creative influence is certain people — friends, relatives, and teachers who are models of humanity for me. But the loving caress of nature and soulful music wield a profound creative influence on me as well.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I hope that upon finishing the book, readers will sense that the halacha offers a horizon of thoughtful, spiritual practice — one that nurtures and fulfills, even while it demands.