Our Immoral Soul: A Manifesto of Spiritual Disobedience by Rabbi Nilton Bonder
Shambhala; 1st Ed edition (December 11, 2001)
Rabbi Nilton Bonder’s Our Immoral Soul is not a book for the average reader. First of all, you will need to be heavily aware of the texts he references, such as the Talmud and the Christian Bible. So, too, not just aware of the books, but have read and understood the stories of Genesis that he references. I’d also recommend the reader to have accomplished study in the area. A healthy knowledge of philosophy is also beneficial (he mentions the theorist Lévi-Strauss for instance, hoping to invoke LS’s writings and theories in context). That said, this is not a religious text, per se. Yes, it does use the theological texts of two culturally defining belief systems that have dominated the world to this day. And, that is why what he says is so important. Religion is a system that erupts from culture and the existence of human lives.
Atheists will benefit from the philosophical examination of cultural morality and norms as much as theists. Basically, the premise is that we must transgress what our cultural systems use to maintain tradition and the status quo. It is imperative to human survival. Citing passages and texts of the Talmud, he explores why these stories are important, and what they are actually teaching us.
Bonder’s manuscript was given to me to read by a colleague, who I have discussed the Kabbalah with on numerous occasions. Having reached 40 years of age, I may now begin to study the texts. That’s the rule, she told me. Why do we have to wait? Because so much happens to us before 40, and it needs to, in order to frame our perspective for the study of such esoteric texts. In the Judaic tradition, it would mean that you had already studied the other texts that inform Kabballah. She wished me to read this text before I start on the journey.
Back to Bonder’s work. If you have studied philosophy, then you’ll recognize the theories he examines via religious texts (fables of morality and tradition). Nothing that Bonder had to say struck me as offensive, but there are those who were upset with him at the release of this text back in 2001. Coincidentally, his text discusses other breaks with Judaic tradition. His philosophical questions and answers might be unsettling to those who find greater comfort in conformity with well traveled ways. Those who like to transgress or test boundaries will be delighted.
None of this, however, is license to do anything. Bonder is quite specific about the manifest issues of transgression, and how betrayal and other difficulties can cause issues in relationships of all kinds. It’s quite clear, even though he discusses adultery and other low moral crimes, that he’s getting at bigger things than the day to day cruelties we inflict on one another. That’s why philosophy matters in the framing of his text.
Readers who like philosophy, theory and somewhat esoteric works will enjoy this short work. I found the language difficult at times, but not insurmountable. It is not unusual to encounter writing like this in philosophical writing. If the reader keeps in mind that this is theoretical, it will make much more sense, as opposed to trying to treat religious ideas as literal. Recommended for advanced readers of all genres.