Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul – a book review by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen

October 24, 2018 by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen
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Having read and used Naomi Levy’s writings before I was fascinated to find out the connection between Einstein and Rabbi Levy.

Rabbi Naomi Levy

Well, I could not have been more wrong. It is based upon a note written by Einstein to a Rabbi Jacob Marcus who after a less than successful pulpit career ended up at the final phases of World War II as an American Army Chaplain. Marcus was involved in the liberation of a number of concentration camps. Marcus also founded the Buchenwald thousand which included both Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Lau who became Israel’s Chief Rabbi.

The connection between Einstein and Marcus is as much a piece of detective work as for note which Levy found in Marcus’ papers. What drove Levy was her attempt to find the note to Einstein which generated Einstein’s note. The story of the note opened up for Levy the wider question of spirituality and the soul. It was generated by the note written by Einstein who was not renowned as an observant Jew and yet the words he wrote to Rabbi Marcus after the death of Marcus’s son as he approached being a teenager were moving.

As I delved into each chapter of this book which may be viewed as a “how to” type of book I was reminded of a story from my first year in Rabbinical School – it was just after the publication of The (first) Jewish Catalog: A do-it-yourself guide. A number of rabbis would each year do a ‘retreat’. That year they decided that the theme would be Meditation. They had contracted with a Dominican as an advisor. One rabbi suggested a reading list; another suggested a lecture. After a while, the Dominican turned to them and said, with some frustration, “Why don’t you just try it.”

This book is somewhere between these various positions. It has some suggestion but it is easy for any reader to experience a great approach to Jewish spirituality which is neither Hasidic nor the extremes of what could be called California Spirituality or the necessity of going to a mountaintop in Nepal.

It is a great book. I will leave it to the reader to find out whether the note from Einstein to Marcus was ever found.

Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen is Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame’s School of Medicine where his research is devoted to Health and Spirituality.

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