My previous post was a review of a reprint of the earliest publication in the overall body of “Jewish Science” writings. “Jewish Science” was never well-known in Judaism, although with the publication of Prof. Umansky’s book, its actual existence is probably more acknowledged than ever before.
How I came to hear of “Jewish Science” makes for an interesting story in itself.
In 1976, after I’d finished my undergraduate degree, I was working “intermit-tently” — sometimes part-time, sometimes not at all. On days when I wasn’t working, I’d take “little excursions” (as one person called them) within New York City itself. I’d get on a subway and visit some neighborhood or place that I’d never been to, but about which I was curious (my first visit to the HaBaD center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, took place during this period).
During this same period, I was also fortunate to take part in a series of free classes on the Bhagavad Gita with a commentary by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The program was originally supposed to last only 4 sessions, but there were enough of us with sufficient interest to form a core group that allowed the class to continue for six months! Beyond what I learned about the Gita and Maharishi’s commentary per se, it was there that I first learned to read a commentary at all, which served me well when, a few months later, I began to study the Chumash (weekly Torah readings) with a commentary by Rabbi J.H. Hertz. The class also awakened my interest in writings about spiritual experience in all traditions, as I now felt that I had a framework of ideas through which to understand them.
One day, planning to board the subway at Allerton Avenue in the Bronx, I stopped at a little used book sale on a sidewalk in front of a store on White Plains Road. In the bin, I saw a book entitled “Jewish Science: The Applied Psychology of Judaism,” by Rabbi Alfred Geiger Moses. It was clearly an old edition; some of the pages were already yellowed and brittle even then. I recognized in the title a sort of oblique reference to “Christian Science,” about which I’d already read a little. That got my interest. Was this a book about spiritual healing from within a Jewish context? I looked over the contents, and sure enough, that’s what it was. It cost only 25¢ — how could I go wrong? So, I bought it.
Reading it through over the next few weeks, I was actually unimpressed. It didn’t have the intellectual depth that Maharishi’s Gita commentary had had for me. I simply dismissed it as “another ‘positive thinking’ book.” It sat on my shelf for another three years.
In 1979, having had several bouts with what was later identified as “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” (not generally recognized in the late ’70’s), I became interested in whether “spiritual” or “mental” healing might be helpful. I’d actually had at least one earlier experience with this: In the summer of 1965, as a counselor in a sleep-away camp, I awoke one morning with what we called a “24 hour flu.” I could barely move, although I wasn’t feverish. I’d heard things about “deciding to be well” and so on, so I thought I’d try it. I pushed myself to keep as active as I could, walking about sluggishly during the day; permitted to lie down when I felt I had to. Then, late in the afternoon, having “shlepped” myself to a program, I suddenly felt the entire fatigue leave me completely. There was nothing gradual about it. One second I felt as if there was a heavy weight on me; the next, I was filled with energy. Perhaps this was in the back of my mind when I decided to take another look at Rabbi Moses’ book.
Reading it a second time, I thought: There’s something here that I want to know more about.
I assumed that there’d be a “Jewish Science” group in New York City. Looking in the telephone directory (no computers back then, remember?), I found a listing with a Long Island (suburb) number. I called and spoke to Mr. Harry Hauptman, who was the director at the time. He told me that there were meetings at 11 AM on Sunday mornings at the St. Moritz Hotel, which was at that time on Central Park South, near 5th Avenue. I looked forward to attending. When Sunday came, I rather assumed that, like most groups, “11 AM” was only loosely adhered to, so I got there at about 11:30 AM — only to find that the meeting was already half-over! I believe that I purchased a copy of “Healing of the Soul” there that day, though. I remember reading it with great interest on the subway home. This was around October or November of 1979.
I went back the next week and began to attend regularly. I liked the tone of the meeting/service. I liked the ideas that were presented. As the youngest person there by far, I understood immediately that this would in no way be a “social” outlet for me. But perhaps that was for the best. Shortly after I began attending, Harry asked me how I’d heard about “Jewish Science,” as they didn’t advertise. I told him that I’d read one of their books, but when I mentioned “Jewish Science: The Applied Psychology of Judaism,” he had never heard of it, and said, “Nope. Not one of ours.” It was only several years later, when Prof. Umansky began her research, that the history of the “movement,” and the major figures in it, was clarified for me.
Even from the first, I myself had also thought that there was a “book” in this group. I even had a title, “The Society of Serenity,” but in those days, I didn’t have any of the skills that I would have needed to begin such a project, let alone complete it. I’m indebted to Prof. Umansky’s work, and deeply admire her skills as a researcher.
All of these events took place over 30 years ago. “Jewish Science” has been a part of my life ever since. It continues to be so today.
It all began with my being out of work one day in 1976 and buying a book for 25¢, on a sidewalk in the Bronx, that had been published by a rabbi in Alabama over 55 years earlier!