Gillman, Neil 1933–

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Gillman, Neil 1933–

PERSONAL:

Born September 11, 1933, in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Education: McGill University, B.A., 1954; Columbia University, Ph.D., 1975.

ADDRESSES:

Office—The Jewish Theological Seminary, 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, rabbi, theologian, public speaker, and educator. Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, NY, Aaron Rabinowitz and Simon H. Rifkind professor and chairman of department of Jewish philosophy. Ordained as a rabbi, Jewish Theological Seminary, 1960. Scholar in residence at numerous Jewish congregations and at universities, including the Russian State University of the Humanities, Moscow, Russia. Sh'ma Advisory Committee, chair; member of Commission on the Philosophy of Conservative Judaism.

AWARDS, HONORS:

National Jewish Book Award, for Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew.

WRITINGS:

Gabriel Marcel on Religious Knowledge, University Press of America (Washington, DC), 1980.

Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew, Jewish Publication Society (Philadelphia, PA), 1990.

Conservative Judaism: The New Century, Behrman House (West Orange, NJ), 1993.

The Leadership Development Guide for Conservative Judaism: A Course for Rabbis to Teach Their Synagogue Board Members, Behrman House (West Orange, NJ), 1994.

The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 1997.

The Way into Encountering God in Judaism, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 2000.

The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians, Jewish Lights Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 2003.

Traces of God: Seeing God in Torah, History, and Everyday Life, Jewish Lights Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 2006.

Author of regular column, "Sabbath Week," in Jewish Week. Contributor to books, including Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, edited by David Lieber, 2001.

SIDELIGHTS:

Neil Gillman is a Jewish theologian, educator, and public speaker. A native of Canada, Gillman was ordained as a rabbi in 1960. He currently serves as the Aaron Rabinowitz and Simon H. Rifkind professor and chairman of the department of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. He frequently writes on Jewish religious and theological issues, and is a contributor to books and periodicals. Gillman has served as the chair of the Sh'ma Advisory Committee, noted a biographer on the Jewish Theological Seminary Web site. He also served on the Commission on the Philosophy of Conservative Judaism, "which produced Emet Ve'Emunah, the first statement of principles for Conservative Judaism," the biographer stated.

The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought is a "masterful survey of Jewish attitudes toward the concepts of resurrection and immortality," commented a Publishers Weekly critic. Within this book, Gillman confronts the misperception that Judaism is a religion that does not account for a life after death. He traces the development of Jewish thoughts about resurrection and the afterlife to their earliest origins, placing their initial development to the fifth century B.C. He follows the further evolution of these concepts through Medieval times to the present day. Gillman notes that Jewish theologians have debated whether an afterlife will consist of the resurrection of the physical body or the continuation of the immortal soul. He concludes that the Jewish idea of the afterlife will involve the resurrection of the physical body at the end of time, at which time God will banish death for all time, resulting in the "death of death" of the book's title. Gillman's "organization and knowledge of history are excellent," making his book a "good starting point" for persons interested in Jew- ish notions of resurrection and immortality, stated Ilene Cooper in a Booklist review. Christianity Today reviewer David Neff concluded that "Gillman listens carefully to his tradition and offers a resounding and inspiring defense of the resurrection of the body."

The Way into Encountering God in Judaism addresses important theological questions about God and how the Supreme Being is conceptualized in Judaism. "This audacious exploration of the Jewish concept of God squarely faces many contradictions and conundrums," observed a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Gillman considers problems such as how God can be understood or described by humans if he is unknowable. He notes that human knowledge of God does not involve actual material knowledge, and instead functions through metaphorical thinking. Gillman addresses the seemingly contradictory nature of God, stressing the factors that can make God powerful and weak, or loving and cruel, at the same time. He stresses that since humans cannot know God's true essence, these emotional labels for God's characteristics are filtered through human perceptions and represent human feelings. The author "provides a steady and sure understanding" of Jewish theology and its intricacies, noted Paul Kaplan, writing in the Library Journal. "Gillman has made a significant contribution here," concluded the Publishers Weekly contributor. Shofar reviewer Marc A. Krell remarked that "it is because of the book's brevity and accessibility that The Way into Encountering God in Judaism is an invaluable resource for clergy, lay people, and undergraduates taking courses in modern Jewish thought or Jewish theology. For this more mainstream audience, Gillman opens the door to the vast intricacies of Jewish theological speculation and shares his passion for the subject."

In The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians, Gillman shows himself to be a "master teacher as he explains the difference between how Jews and Christians view God," remarked Booklist contributor Donna Chavez. He again stresses that talking and thinking about God requires the use of metaphor. Gillman explores how Jewish and Christian concepts and attitudes toward God have changed and evolved over the years, often based on the life circumstances of those approaching God at any given time. He notes the differences between how Jews and Christians read and interpret the Bible. He also considers many characteristics attributed to God, such as omniscience and omnipotence, and explores numerous versions of both Creation and the redemption promised at the end of time. Gillman addresses a complex and emotionally fraught topic with "clarity and dignity," Chavez concluded. Library Journal contributor Graham Christian called the book a "brief, intelligent, honest approach to contemporary Jewish spirituality," directed toward a Christian audience. A Publishers Weekly reviewer stated that this "accessible volume, distilled from a lifetime of interaction with students of both faiths, is a warm and compelling introduction to the God of the Bible."

Traces of God: Seeing God in Torah, History, and Everyday Life contains a selection of sixty columns that Gillman originally wrote for the Jewish Week, an important Anglo-Jewish weekly publication in New York. His works, spanning a period of some twenty-five years, address issues confronting readers who have embarked on a spiritual search, a quest for meaning in their religious life. He covers a variety of topics of interest to both the theologically minded and the reader looking for spiritual insight, including the existence and presence of God, the nature of suffering and redemption, control over human destiny, and the individual's own role in their relationship with God. Some of the questions raised in the book may never have definitive answers, but "Gillman's astute book is a start," observed Booklist reviewer George Cohen.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 15, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought, p. 1545; December 1, 2003, Donna Chavez, review of The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians, p. 628; March 1, 2006, George Cohen, review of Traces of God: Seeing God in Torah, History, and Everyday Life, p. 47.

Choice, June, 2001, Z. Garber, review of The Way into Encountering God in Judaism, p. 1808.

Christianity Today, October 6, 1997, David Neff, review of The Death of Death, p. 59.

Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, winter, 1993, Steven Bayme, review of Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew, p. 106; winter, 1993, Elliot N. Dorff, review of Sacred Fragments, p. 114.

Library Journal, May 15, 1990, Robert A. Silver, review of Sacred Fragments, p. 80; March 1, 2001, Paul Kaplan, review of The Way into Encountering God in Judaism, p. 102; January, 2004, Graham Christian, review of The Jewish Approach to God, p. 122.

Publishers Weekly, June 2, 1997, review of The Death of Death, p. 64; November 3, 1997, review of The Death of Death, p. 57; January 29, 2001, review of The Way into Encountering God in Judaism, p. 84; October 13, 2003, review of The Jewish Approach to God, p. 74.

Religion, April, 1992, Isabel Wollaston, review of Sacred Fragments, p. 192.

Shofar, winter, 2005, Marc A. Krell, review of The Way into Encountering God in Judaism, p. 162.

Theology Today, April, 1991, Lawrence Square Kushner, review of Sacred Fragments, p. 124.

ONLINE

Jewish Theological Seminary Web site,http://www.jtsa.edu/ (April 10, 2008), author profile.

OTHER

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly,http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/ (September 30, 2005), Kim Lawton, transcript of television interview with the author.