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The Choice to Be

A Jewish Path to Self and Spirituality

by Jeremy Kagan

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A Refreshing Read for the Thinking Jew!


Winner of the 2011 National Jewish Book Award for Modern Jewish Thought and Experience

A sweeping exploration of the intellectual issues raised by a Torah worldview.

Written for both the serious outsider looking in, as well as for orthodox individuals interested in the basic questions of faith raised by modern experience. Rabbi Kagan, principal of Midreshet Tehillah seminary, brings together years of experience in education with the perspective gained from his transition from a student of philosophy at Yale University to a student of Torah in Jerusalem . The result is a compelling formulation of ancient ideas in modern idiom, capable of meeting the unique challenges of our times.


  • ITEM #: 6212
  • Dimensions: 6.2 x 9.1
  • ISBN: 978-1-59826-821-8
  • Weight: 1.9900 lbs
  • Binding: Hard Cover / 452 pages
  • Published by: Distributed by Feldheim

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Customer Reviews

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  • Phenomenal overview of Jewish spirituality

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    • 3/24/13

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    • Avrohom Bilgrei

    Rabbi Aharon Feldman gives his imprimatur characterising it as an "outstanding" book . R'Feldman enjoys a well deserved reputation as an author that is aptly viewed as outstanding in his own right. In all due respect, I felt phenominal would have been a better choice of a word, as it somehow seemed wanting; though it was indeed outstanding, it thrusts forth with a perspective that is decidedly unique, henceforth phenominal. I also believe the book requires a ribbon to hold a page, and compliment the total class of it's production. One has got to stop, think, savour and internalize frequently before moving on. Well, that's it!

    As critical as I am, that's the best as I can do, I do believe this is a book that you can judge by it's beautiful, tasteful facade, R'Feldman's description on the back of it's cover is impeccable and needs no elucidation. On the front subtitled: "A Jewish Path to Self and Spirituality" is no less impeccable a characterisation.

    R'Kagan's philosophical perspective gives great currency to philosophy's application to all serious thinkers, rather than some vacuous academic pursuit abandoned after graduation. There are the words written, and a concurrent, dynamic insight to be realised between the words. It so well addresses the contemporary perspective of Torah, that it just makes sense if you imbibe it with the love that Kagen instilled it with. There is a constant duality in it's message that is brilliantly implanted in the reader that one is provoked to ask, did he say it or is it my idea? It leaves one thinking how far can I run with the though?

    It seemed to me to have the sublime character of R'Akiva Tatz, R'Avrohom Twertsky, and yet maintain it's own unique flavour. This book presents a way of life, a perspective that transcends "organised" religion, for anyone passionate about living an enriched life, secular or scholar alike.
    It extracts the dogma, and releases the meaning of it all. There is a symbiotic imperative that melds Torah and self, and when you realise the implicit clarity you've incurred, a lot more makes sense!

    I do believe this will be considered a classic to a segment of the discerning. You come to realise the meaning to an angel flicking the top of your lip and creating your philtrum, the walls of confusion will tumble down, and you enter the corridors of enlightenment long after the last word "ourselves"; a theme very relevant to most; befuddling to many, yet the process will flourish!

  • as seen on,3871?page=1&content_source

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    • 2/19/13

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    • Alan Jay Gerber

    There is so much that has been written about Purim that choosing something light and merry for review this year was not so hard. Nevertheless, based upon much discussion I am once again taking a serious tact in presenting to my readers a solemn theological and spirituality based path in this year’s review of Purim material based upon the writings and teachings of Rabbi Jeremy Kagan’s latest work, “The Choice to Be” [Feldheim, 2012].

    In this work we are given a serious, somewhat history - based theological presentment of the basis of the Purim celebration. Fairness to the author dictates that you be given as much of the author’s take, in his own words, for your edification of his views.There will be some ideas here that might challenge someof your long held notions.

    Rabbi Kagan gets deep into the origins and causes behind the Purim based history in this work’s chapter 21, “A Deeper Darkness” with a sharp focus upon the deeper meaning of the Persian role in the Purim story. The author’s take is then played out in perspective to the Arab role in our history. By inference Rabbi Kagan is actually focusing upon an, as yet, undefined future in our ongoing quest for redemption. Consider the following:

    “We have spoken much about the four kingdoms that exiled the Jewish people, culminating in Rome. But we have been silent about the Arabs, who both oppressed a large segment of our people for over a thousand years and are the primary agents of physical pressure on the Jews today. Culturally our oppressor remains Rome, so the Arabs must be understood as an added element that comes to color the end of the Roman exile.”

    Rabbi Kagan then relates to us the following as a footnote to the above teaching.“As much as the Arab element constitutes a difference between our present circumstances and those under which the Purim salvation occurred, it also highlights an aspect of similarity, for Yishmael and Persia are deeply entwined with one another. Iran’s adoption of Islam and alignment with Arab politics is only a recent development but is at least indicative of a deep connection. [Islam only emerges in the 7th century of the Common Era. Our exile to Persia was hundreds of years before the Common Era, at a time when Persia was Zoroastrian rather than Islamic.] But there are commentaries who equate the ancient Persian Empire with Yishmael [See the Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, ch. 21]…..Both in the Persian exile and today we are dealing with a combination of Esav and Yishmael, the difference being that at Purim, Haman representing Esav, operated in the context of the Persian Empire representing Yishmael, whereas today Yishmael is operating within the context of Esav [ Rome].” Hmm….never learned this in yeshiva.

    Continuing in the main text Rabbi Kagan continues his history based teachings by stating that, “The Arabs have yet to exile the Jewish people, so they are in a different category than the four kingdoms.” To this point Rabbi Kagan once again resorts to the footnote method to further elaborate on his basic premise. Read this note carefully, and ponder deeply its significance.

    “The Arabs never exiled us from the Land of Israel, they only oppressed us after we were already out of the Land. Even then, it was only to a portion of the Jewish people. Though Greece also never forced the Jews out of the Land of Israel, they did culturally dominate us in the Land at a time when the bulk of the Jewish people were living in the Land – which is the equivalent of exile.”

    I for one had never considered this perspective before I read this work.

    Rabbi Kagan goes on further by giving credence to Arab Muslim spirituality by stating that, “Today we are faced with the Arabs, who are themselves genuinely religious. To overcome them it is not enough merely to become G-d’s servants – which they also are. Rather, we are forced to perfect our service, especially in the area of prayer.”I sure hope that the good rabbi does not mean to set up these prayerful ones as role models for our spiritual emulation.

    There is much more to read and absorb of Rabbi Kagan’s writings on this and on other topics relating to our people’s destiny. Some of you might find these takes to be of interest, some of you might regard these ideas to be a stretch upon your personal religious beliefs.

    Nevertheless, the author’s views are worth a consideration as an expression of belief within our tradition. I state this because of the glowing approbation given to this work by Rabbi Aharon Feldman the esteemed Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael who wrote the following:

    “Based on RAMCHAL and classical sources, the book presents the basic concepts of G-d, man and the Jewish people in a clear, modern idiom and convincingly demonstrates how exercising free-will to subordinate oneself to G-d’s will is the path to creating a true sense of self, and how Torah satisfies man’s deepest longings for meaning and purpose.”

    To this take by Rabbi Feldman, I truly wonder if he took note and gave the following quote by Rabbi Kagan much serious notice.

    “In Persia we required a threat to bring to consciousness the realization of how far we were from connection to G-d and how desperately we needed that connection both spiritually and physically. The Creator has demonstrated in the recent past that He is not averse to using extreme methods to make this idea clear. It is frightening to consider the possibilities available today to make this point. Will rounding off our era of history require this kind of intervention again?”

    If this quote sounds scary and ominous to you, you are not alone.


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    • 6/25/12

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    • San Diego Jewish World

    In many ways, this was the most interesting of the books here reviewed.
    Rabbi Kagan's book was the winner of the National Jewish Book Award 2011 for
    the Modern Jewish Thought and Experience. This accomplishment speaks well of
    his book.

    Rabbi Kagan has a Yale University background and the title and substance of
    his book reminds me a lot of Paul Tillich's famous book, The Courage to Be.
    Both books are existential expositions of faith. Tillich deals with faith
    from a Christian perspective, Kagan deals with faith from a Jewish
    perspective. However, the reader may find much of the material
    theologically obtuse. It is not the kind of book one can read from cover to
    cover, but it is a book that offers many profound thoughts worth studying.
    Issues such as good vs. evil; the purpose of mitzvoth; the nature of the
    God-human relationship; alienation; and the absence of miracles in our
    lives are some of the thought-provoking ideas the author grapples with-and
    so should we. The author concerns himself with the evolution of human
    consciousness as articulated in Jewish tradition. Admittedly, it took me a
    while to find the time to really get into his book, but once I did, I found
    a kindred spirit whose ideas I share.

    I give this book a 3.5 star rating out of 4.

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