Sufism

Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity

$24.95

Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity is a groundbreaking study introducing to the popular reader, the story of respectful and loving interfaith relations between Sufis (Islamic mystics) and Jewish spiritual thinkers for nearly one thousand years.

“Block’s evident enthusiasm for the revelation of these common roots as a way forward for Muslim-Jewish relations propels this great read.” – Publishers Weekly, Oct 27, 2010

Publishers Weekly Review:

Block, a Jew, independent scholar, and “citizen-diplomat,” spent more than 10 years researching and uncovering the hidden links between the mystical systems within Islam and Judaism, expressed in Sufism and Kabbalah, respectively. In what he believes is the only book on the topic, Block demonstrates the influence of Sufism on historic and modern Kabbalah and even Judaism, assembling and juxtaposing a variety of sources. Seminal medieval figures in Kabbalah (whom Block affectionately refers to as “Jewish-Sufi” and whom he profiles throughout) looked to Sufi themes and attitudes for “innovation” in their own practice—so successfully that some hymns sung in synagogues today, among other practices, are clearly Islamic in origin. An entire chapter devoted to Spanish Jewish Kabbalists’ usage of Sufism describes the glory of the multifaith, historic Cordoba and Arab Spain of the eighth through 15th centuries, where Jews participated as equals in the Muslim-run state. Block’s evident enthusiasm for the revelation of these common roots as a way forward for Muslim-Jewish relations propels this great read.

Reviewed by Pamela Jay Gottfried

In a world where so many writers of non-fiction illustrate facts and figures in black and white, Thomas Block illuminates the history of Jewish and Muslim mysticism in a vividly-hued portrait. Shalom/Salaam: A Story of Mystical Fraternity is a well researched and carefully drawn masterpiece. In this culmination of more than ten years of sustained interest and thorough research, Block has created an impressive manual for his readers to explore the connections between these mystical traditions.

Reading Block’s text, I was reminded of a Medieval Jewish History course that I took in rabbinical school, a survey course which highlighted the development of Jewish law, poetry and liturgy during the Golden Age of Spain. While the history professor noted the influence of Islam and Arabic language on Jewish law and literature, I do not recall any mention of Sufism. During my years at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the curriculum was biased toward Talmud and Rabbinics and rather lean in the area of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah. Recently, however, I have become interested in the religious texts of Islam, particularly the Quran and Arabic poetry. My limited background in this discipline made Block’s work a particularly gratifying read. In Shalom/Salaam, Block pulls together previously disparate sources of Jewish mystical and Sufi texts to demonstrate the many ways in which Muslim mystics influenced Jewish mystical writings, and vice-versa. In many instances, he makes a persuasive argument for shared sources. In addition, Block has labored in the field to produce an impressive array of endnotes and a lengthy bibliography for readers who are interested in further study.

Block notes in various chapters that he is not an expert in this field and that some of his interpretations of the texts are subject to scholarly debate. At the same time, it is clear that he has mastered the topic, citing academic luminaries in the field, including Gershom Scholem, Moshe Idel and Michael Sells. While their books and articles are academic, Block’s writing is accessible to a general readership. Rather than present a belabored chronology of influences, Block employs an interpretative method reminiscent of Daniel Boyarin’s “Intertextuality,” emphasizing the interplay between generations of mystics through their writings. His conversational tone draws the reader into the “story of a mystical fraternity,” as promised in his subtitle. For example, in the midst of an intricate presentation of the influence of Sufism on the later Kabbalist in Safed, Block writes: “Fast forward a couple hundred years and we come to another group of Kabbalist living in the Holy Land who still were deeply inspired by Sufism, and who would have a direct influence on the flowering of Hasidism in the 18th century.” For the student of religion and literature who finds reading historical documents burdensome, Block’s prose is refreshing and comprehensible.

In his epilogue, Block’s modestly stated goal convinces readers to aspire to reach what may be in reality a lofty ideal: “The purpose of this study is not simply to outline the deep connection between Judaism and Islam, but also to begin the vital process of acknowledgement. Although political issues currently separate the two People, their paths are deeply and undeniably intertwined…Jews and Muslims must recognize how much they share at the very core of their spiritual beings.” As a rabbi concerned with creating unity among the children of Abraham, I couldn’t agree more. Block has given those of us seeking to acknowledge one another a tremendous gift in Shalom/Salaam: A Story of Mystical Fraternity.

-Pamela Jay Gottfried is an ordained rabbi and teacher of World Religions at the Brill Institute for Jewish Learning. She is also a founding member of 100 People of Faith in Atlanta.

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  • 9781891785481
  • 245

Product Description

Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity is a groundbreaking study introducing to the popular reader, the story of respectful and loving interfaith relations between Sufis (Islamic mystics) and Jewish spiritual thinkers for nearly one thousand years. From the inception of Islam, to the Golden Age (8th-12th centuries) Jewish-Sufis of Arabia, North Africa and Spain, through the Kabbalists in Spain and the Holy Land, and then into 18th century European Hasidism, Islamic and Jewish ideas commingled to influence both paths, as well as strongly influencing the Jewish mystical system.

This story is important to understanding contemporary Jewish-Muslim relations. As Egyptian Ambassador Sallama Shaker notes: “Block’s narrative is an eye-opener for peace activists and politicians who are in search for genuine peace built on mutual respect – This is a ‘must read book’.” Rabbi Abi Ingber, Founding Director for Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, concurs, saying: “His theories of interrelationships and mystical cross-fertilization wake up our historical senses and unabashedly challenge our contemporary assumptions.”
Many medieval Jews interacted with and were influenced by the Sufi way. Moses Maimonides, considered the pre-eminent Jewish medieval thinker, Solomon ibn Gabirol, whose “piyyut” are still sung during the Sabbath liturgy the world over, Judah Halevi, whose work, according to the chief Rabbi of Palestine in the early 20th century, contains that which is most precious about the Jewish soul and hundreds of other seminal Jewish thinkers often read Sufi treatises in Arabic, wrote Islamic-inspired mystical odes and sometimes even based their interpretations of Jewish tradition on Sufi thought and practice.

Some Jewish thinkers went so far as to quote Islamic thinkers directly. Fragments of Sufi tracts are woven through medieval Jewish writings, from those of Moses Maimonides’ son Abraham, to Judah Halevi’s “Sefer ha-Kuzari.” Some Jewish thinkers, such as the 11th century Bahya ibn Pakuda, went so far as to rework the Jewish spiritual path in light of Sufi influence. His “Guide to the Duties of the Heart,” which is still read by Jewish practitioners to this day, is essentially a Sufi mystical treatise, translated into Hebrew. Medieval Jewish libraries were sprinkled with Sufi and Islamic tracts, often translated into Hebrew, and some leaders, such as David Maimonides (15th century), went so far as to mention Muslims by name, with paeans to their virtuosity and wisdom.

This study demonstrates the deep and abiding respect that Jewish religious figures often had for Muslim thinkers. It also explores how Islamic influence reverberates within Judaism to this day. This book not only provides readers with a new perspective on Jewish spirituality, but also adds a vital study to the extant literature on Muslim-Jewish relations. It could change how contemporary Jewish-Muslim relations are considered, solidifying an appreciation for how deeply are these two religious paths interconnected.

More than just a historical work, this book provides a fresh perspective on the social, religious and political issues that have complicated Jewish-Muslim relations since the founding of Israel. Popularizing this little-known tale of mutual respect and spiritual love can activate a narrative of peace – so unusual in these difficult times in the Middle East –between these children of Abraham.

Reviews

"Block’s historical review of the encounters of Jewish mystics with Sufi masters is as inspiring as it is fascinating, as hopeful as it is insightful. This meeting of Jewish and Muslim mystics offers a foundation for the collaboration of Jewish and Muslim activists. This is a book for both scholars and politicians. If mystics can learn from each other, we can hope that politicians might do the same."
-Paul F. Knitter, Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture - Union Theological Seminary
"Block opens up an entirely new area of consideration in the study of the Golden Age of Spain - an era of unbridled mystical growth both in the Jewish and the Islamic world. His theories of interrelationships and mystical cross-fertilization wake up our historical senses and unabashedly challenge our contemporary assumptions. The great Rumi taught, "Be soft earth so that you may sprout flowers of many colors." Tom Block has softened the earth of history and the opening to a new contemporary relationship."
-Rabbi Abie Ingber, Founding Director for Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, & a co-creator of the award winning multi-media exhibit, A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and The Jewish People.
"Tom Block's book "Shalom/Salaam" is an inspiring, intriguing, and informative narrative which emphasizes how Jews and Muslims lived together for more than one thousand years where both had mutual respect and shared growth. Block's narrative is an eye-opener for peace activists and politicians who are in search for genuine peace built on mutual respect and full acknowledgment of contemporary wrongs committed in the name of God in order to avoid what the author describes as ''further calamities in the Middle East". This is a 'must-read' book."
- Ambassador SALLAMA SHAKER, Ph.D., Former Deputy Foreign Minister of Egypt and Egyptian Ambassador to Canada. Visiting Professor of Middle East & Islamic Studies, Yale Divinity School.
"As a Muslim scholar, and a professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, I am very heartened and excited by this study, which shows clearly the direct and ongoing influence between Islamic and Jewish mysticism. Although the current relationship between Jewish and Muslim practitioners, especially in Israel and the surrounding countries, is quite difficult, there is much positive history between the two People. Studies such as Thomas Block's book can help point the way back to a time when the Muslim and Jewish People shared much in terms of history, mysticism and even Prophets."
-Mohamed Hawary, Professor of Religious Jewish Thought and Comparative Religions, Dept. of Hebrew Studies, Faculty of Arts, Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt
"Tom Block’s book opens a window on cross-cultural learning between Jewish and Muslim philosophers and theologians that has gone on for centuries. In a world in which religions are all too often used to sow seeds of conflict and hatred, it is good to be reminded that at the heart of our respective faith traditions lay teachings about ultimate truth, mystery and holiness that should bring about greater understanding and unity."
-Rabbi Sid Schwarz, author of Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World, founder of the PANIM Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, and senior fellow at The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership
"Strictly for the sake of future historians, this book and the founding of Fons Vitae's Spiritual Affinities line are inseparable. This study transcends the political differences over Palestine/Israel. Even the title expresses the idea of spiritual links transcending political conflict, decommissioning the religious content to the conflict."
-S. Abdallah Schleifer, Distinguished Professor, Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, The American University in Cairo
"The subject of this book is of the highest interest and I am very glad to hear of its publication. May your contribution to the necessary interreligious dialogue be warmly received and accepted."
-Jean Louis Michon, French traditionalist scholar and translator who specializes in Islamic art and Sufism
"This book is about the passion of a young American Jew to uncover the spiritual affinity of Sufism and Kabbalah, because he believes his work can advance the humanization of the Muslim-Jewish relationship. That relationship has suffered a great deal from rampant, tragically flawed "scholarly" theories on innate racial inferiority/superiority, theories that accompanied the emergence of intense ethno-nationalism, especially in Central and Eastern Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the brutal resultant persecution of Jews in these regions. Add to that the toxic effect of the Israeli-Arab relationship today . . . Tom writes for educated lay people who share his hunger for healing Jewish-Muslim relations and a strong interest in spirituality. But his book might also spur some academic researchers to look more deeply into the subject."
-Joseph Montville, a former American diplomat who served in the Middle East, North Africa and the Department of State. He directs the Abrahamic Family Reunion project working closely with Israeli and American Jews, Muslims and Christians to recover the history of their creative coexistence from the Middle Ages to the mid-twentieth century.