The Rabbi’s Brain: Mys­tics, Mod­erns and the Sci­ence of Jew­ish Thinking

Dr. Andrew New­berg & Dr. David Halpern

  • Review
By – December 24, 2018

How do Jew­ish rit­u­als evoke a sense of awe and God’s love by acti­vat­ing the brain’s sym­pa­thet­ic and parasym­pa­thet­ic sys­tems? In this fas­ci­nat­ing book, Dr. Andrew New­berg, Direc­tor of Research at the Mar­cus Insti­tute of Inte­gra­tive Health, and Dr. David Halpern, an Ortho­dox rab­bi and res­i­dent at the Sid­ney Kim­mel Med­ical Col­lege at Thomas Jef­fer­son Uni­ver­si­ty, seek to answer these and oth­er ques­tions through an exam­i­na­tion of the field of neu­rothe­ol­o­gy and its inter­sec­tion with Judaism. New­berg and Halpern offer a look at an emerg­ing field that is impact­ing acad­e­mia, sci­ence, and religion.

Stand­ing at the inter­sec­tion between neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy and reli­gion, and uti­liz­ing an inte­gra­tive exam­i­na­tion of con­scious­ness, psy­chol­o­gy, anthro­pol­o­gy, the social sci­ences, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, faith, and the­ol­o­gy, the authors review Judaism’s basic con­cepts, beliefs, rit­u­als, and prayers, and dis­cuss how they acti­vate cer­tain brain process­es. Research for the book includ­ed inter­views with rab­bis of all denom­i­na­tions, and even test­ing their own brains’ reac­tions to recit­ing the She­ma prayer (through brain imag­ing, they found that the recita­tion acti­vates more frontal lobe activity).

This book serves as both a use­ful primer on the core tenets and tra­di­tions of Jew­ish liv­ing, a review of its major thinkers and their teach­ings (includ­ing those of the rab­bis of the Tal­mud, Mai­monides, Rab­bi Nah­man of Breslov, among oth­ers), as well as an acces­si­ble intro­duc­tion to a seem­ing­ly lim­it­less area of study. New­berg and Halpern even pro­vide brief exam­i­na­tions of the inter­sec­tions between neu­rothe­ol­o­gy and oth­er world reli­gions, includ­ing Chris­tian­i­ty, Islam, Hin­duism, Bud­dhism, and Tao­ism. This win­dow into Judaism and its rela­tion­ship to the brain is sure to inspire expand­ed research both with­in and beyond the Jew­ish community.

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or coedit­ed 17 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.

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