Today, A Blue Thread launches our Fall 2013 Book Club – yes, I know it’s still summer –and I thought the perfect place to start was with a book review, interview and free giveaway of 10 signed copies of Nehemia Gordon’s latest book, Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence: The Hebrew Power of the Priestly Blessing Unleashed.
I first met Nehemia in person some 20+ years ago at a camp hosted by the Karaite Jews of America, and I spent a few years with him in the Karaites Yahoo Groups forum in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I credit that forum with re-awakening my Karaite passion, so it is particularly fun for me to catch up with Nehemia about Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence.
The central theme of the book is Nehemia’s search for God’s personal name. But it is also a wonderful memoir about Nehemia’s relationship with his father, Rabbi Robert David Gordon, in whose memory Nehemia dedicates the work. Nehemia describes how he and his father did not always see eye-to-eye on religious matters after Nehemia became a Karaite.
I was moved to tears reading about Nehemia’s last visit to his ailing father so that his father would give Nehemia his blessings. As Rabbi Gordon had done so many times before, he recited the Priestly Blessing over his son.
I had taken the Priestly Blessing for granted prior to reading Nehemia’s book. To me it was just a prayer some old man would recite at the synagogue – in my case, a Karaite synagogue. But the book unpacked the meaning of the Blessing line by line.
According to Nehemia, the power of Blessing lies in the name of God, as is evident from the words of the Torah: “And they [i.e., the Cohanim/Priests] shall place My name upon the Children of Israel and I shall bless them [i.e., Children of Israel].” (Numbers 6:27.)
Nehemia argues that God’s personal name is “Yehovah,” and the book cites numerous sources in support of his view. “The way I look at it,” explains Nehemia, “on the Day of Judgment, I want to be able to tell God why I called Him by a particular pronunciation of His name.” Nehemia suggests that the advantage of his approach is that it is rooted in the “Hebrew manuscripts preserved by the same scribes who preserved the rest of Scripture for us.”
But in true Karaite fashion, Nehemia encourages everyone to investigate the issue for himself. In fact, Nehemia’s book surveys some of the historic and current Karaite views on the pronunciation of God’s name, and even cites Daniel al-Kumisi’s admonition against relying on teachers of the Exile. (See here and here.) “This is why I present the textual evidence and let people decide for themselves,” says Nehemia.
The pronunciation of the Divine Name is a controversial topic in Jewish circles, because, for at least the last 1800 years, Rabbinic Judaism has banned people from speaking the name. And as far as I’m aware, Karaites have not had a tradition of speaking the name for about 1000 years.
Yet, even against this backdrop, Nehemia informs me that one of his close friends (an ultra-Orthodox lady in Jerusalem) found the book uplifting, inspiring and respectful to her Rabbinic tradition – though she adheres to the modern-day Rabbinic consensus against speaking the name. And my discussion of portions of the book at the Karaite synagogue in Daly City, CA has been well-received – even though the members of that community tend not to say God’s personal name.
Nehemia, for his part, has never been shy to go it alone, especially in matters of religious significance. Nehemia identified himself as a Karaite at age 12, when he thought he was the only Karaite in the world. (This was before the days of the Internet.)
As for what’s next for Nehemia, he is about to depart to China for a year and will be teaching English to junior high school students. Although this is way outside his comfort zone, he is “ready for a new challenge in life.” Nehemia intends to continue teaching Torah online in a series of Video Blogs from China.
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A Blue Thread is giving away ten copies of Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence, generously donated and signed by Nehemia, and A Blue Thread will even cover the shipping. To be eligible for the giveaway, simply comment on the post below. Your comment could be anything from “Choose me!” to “I disagree with Nehemia’s conclusion.” I’ll hold a random drawing on August 12th, and will notify the winners via email. My only hope is that after you read the book, you will post your thoughts to the comment section below. (If you’ve already read the book, feel free to do so now and also on the Amazon purchase page for the book. Clicking on the name of the book in the first paragraph above will send you straight there.)
If you miss out on this give-away, fear not. You can purchase this book online. And we intend to do a similar give-away with another book next month.
[Note: For various reasons, I had to push the drawing back from August 8th to August 12.]