Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Kamenetz Defended by Dead Subject

Reb Nachman of Breslov attacks bad review of Nextbook Press’s ‘Burnt Books’

Print Email
Followers of Nachman at Breslov, Ukraine, in 2006.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Death might shield us from many things—federal taxes, say, or distant relatives—but book reviews, it turns out, reach beyond the grave. Just ask Rabbi Nachman, the renowned Jewish scholar, mystic, and founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement. Despite having died more than 200 years ago, the rabbi dispatched a sharp letter, appearing this morning on the blog of one D.G. Myers (and originally sent, according to Myers, to Nextbook Press editor Jonathan Rosen) and pertaining to a decidedly negative review by Myers published in the February issue of Commentary.

The book reviewed was Rodger Kamenetz’s Burnt Books, a Nextbook Press title that argues that Nachman and Franz Kafka had lives that, while different in many ways, took on haunting similarities. Myers, however, did not find Kamenetz’s premise haunting, and judged Kamenetz an unworthy investigator into Jewish mysteries.

In response, and writing from the afterlife, the rabbi begins his letter by praising—sarcastically, one imagines—Myers’s decision to focus on Kamenetz’s last book, 1994’s The Jew in the Lotus, a manifesto on the intertwined nature of Judaism and Buddhism. “It is important to make Kamenetz’s seventeen-year-old criticism of Jewish institutions, which doesn’t appear in Burnt Books, seem like a modern American phenomenon born of ill will and ignorance and not part of the self-examination that is as old as the Prophets and really even older,” Nachman writes. “Only the very very learned can be critical of the very very unlearned. Dr. Johnson—who I’ve become quite friendly with here in the afterlife (what a head for Talmud!)—was wrong when he said you don’t have to be a carpenter to criticize a table.”

Other bits of Myers’s review similarly pleased, or rather “pleased,” the dead rabbi. “I’m also glad you didn’t mention in your excellent review the part of the book where Rodger K. feels shame at his own inability to read aloud from the psalms in Hebrew,” Nachman wrote.

Shrewd not to reveal his own dissatisfaction with his Jewish education, his own desire to know more, just as Kafka desired to know more and to learn more in a literal straightforward way alongside all his deeper spiritual struggles. It would only have stirred up misplaced sympathy for the author, who is describing his book as if it were the beginning of the journey and not the end of the journey—and what kind of guide admits he doesn’t really know the way? Sure Dante got lost in a dark wood, but he was Catholic.

A Letter from Nachman [A Commonplace Blog]
Related: Burnt Books

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

M. Brukhes says:

When the only person willing to say something nice about what you’ve written died 200 years ago, you’ve got troubles….

Happy Steitz says:

Welcome back, Reb Nachman. Thank you for supporting a fine book and thanks to Tablet for some inspired ads. “Burnt Books” is subtle, beautiful, and provides old habitual readers like me with those rarest of things, new ideas.

I’ve said that least 2144907 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

I’ve looked at numerous sites and not come across like a web site as yours that tells everybody everything they need to know.

Great post, Your post is an excellent example of why I keep coming back to read your excellent quality point of view….

Thanks This good post, i like you posting, yeahh very goods. thanks.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Kamenetz Defended by Dead Subject

Reb Nachman of Breslov attacks bad review of Nextbook Press’s ‘Burnt Books’

More on Tablet:

Why the Teenage Girls of Europe Are Joining ISIS

By Lee Smith — Because they want the same things that teenage boys want: a strong sense of meaning and purpose