Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman Of Bratslav and Franz Kafka from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

BURNT BOOKS: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka

A groundbreaking dual biography of the venerated Hasidic storyteller Rabbi Nachman and the iconic modern master Franz Kafka that uncovers surprising parallels between two tragically abbreviated lives, both spent in search of spiritual meaning.

"Two yearning souls face each other and touch in this remarkable encounter, both deeply imagined and fastidiously researched. And when, forever questing, Rodger Kamenetz adds his own journey to the mix, what he gives us is so fascinating I read it hungrily. Kamenetz makes a case for the kinship of these brother storytellers that is more than irresistible: it feels inevitable." --Rosellen Brown, author of Civil Wars

"Whether he's writing about Judaism, Buddhism or prayer and dreams, Kamenetz's mission is to discern connections. In his most delving book, he traces the hidden links between a literary nineteenth-century Hasidic rabbi and a quintessential modern secular Jewish writer.

Rabbi Nachman, a "Jewish shaman" , and a contemporary of the Brothers Grimm, smuggled the kabbalah into fiction to extend the reach of his teachings. Kafka, concerned about the spiritual cost of modernity, "nourished himself with the tales of Hasidic rebbes." Both men were ascetics; both died young of tuberculosis; both questioned "the seeming absence of divine justice"; and both asked trusted intimates to burn their work after their deaths.

Kamenetz's dramatic and revelatory double portrait is built on a solid foundation of elegantly explicated Jewish thought deepened by the story of his journey to Ukraine to visit Rabbi Nachman's grave. Here is a whole new slant on Kafka, a unique and affecting portrait of a creative holy man, and a radiant inquiry in celebration of how both sacred texts and great literature are open to "infinite interpretation." --Donna Seaman, Book List

Rodger Kamenetz, acclaimed author of The Jew in the Lotus, has long been engaged in the study and practice of Jewish spirituality. And he has for many years taught a course in Prague on Franz Kafka. The more he learned about the life and work of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism), the more aware he became of unexpected connections between the lives and works of Kafka, a secular artist fascinated by Jewish mysticism, and Rabbi Nachman, a religious mystic who reached out to secular Jews. Both men died young of tuberculosis. Both invented new forms of storytelling that explore the search for meaning in an illogical, unjust world. Both gained prominence with the posthumous publication of their writing. And most intriguing of all, both left strict instructions that their unpublished writings were to be burned after they died.

Kamenetz uses these episodes as points of departure on a journey into the spiritual quests of these two troubled and beloved figures. He concludes with an analysis of their major works that illuminates the remarkable similarities between them. In their attempts to understand the existence of a Supreme Being in an imperfect world, both men teach us a great deal about the role of imagination in the Jewish spiritual experience.

Rodger Kamenetz on "Kafka and the oil spill<\p>

Rodger Kamenetz comments on The fight over Kafka's manuscripts

Rodger Kamenetz on Book Burning and the Mystical Burning Book

Rodger Kamenetz Discusses Burnt Books FINAL from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

To Die Next To You
(Six Gallery Press, 2013)

Jacob and Joseph begat Freud who begat Jung, who begat the poet Rodger Kamenetz and the visual artist Michael Hafftka. Their collaborative wizardry, published in the book To Die Next To You, is stunning. The poems and drawings (always paired) create vivid, waking dreams on psychological and spiritual subjects—dreams that are as resistant and open to interpretation as Pharaoh’s. That these two major Jewish artists would hook up seems inevitable. Kamenetz's poems and Hafftka’s drawings, play off one another, not as sequential, competing riffs in jazz do, but as cello chords, reverberating and diminishing into settled or unsettling silence


The poems have a dream’s ethereal beauty... at once intimately familiar and profoundly strange. Yet instead of leaving us to err in this sleepy wilderness by ourselves, Kamenetz is sharp, analytical, and funny... Hafftka’s striking art drives the point home by giving each poem a literal, haunting illustration...Those who, like me, admire Kamenetz’s earlier work...will find here an ever purer dose of his metaphysical mastery.


To Die Next to You is a hybrid creature--but a strange and miraculous one, a sphinx, or a flock of cherubim.


The Lowercase Jew
(Northwestern University Press, August 2003)

"The celebrations and angels and vaudeville and holocaustal suffering, the Torah-learning and hora-dancing and blessings and bar-mitzvah noshing and mourning and high meshuges. . .are all here, with a fresh wit and the winds of a timeless poignancy crafted into them. These are soulful poems. . .and some, a bissel kickass."

-- Albert Goldbarth

These exuberant, rich, vastly funny and vastly serious poems  cover the whole ground of Jewish life, low and high-- from rye bread and borscht to the Holocaust, from the anti-Semitism of the modernists to the robbery of a pharmacist. Kamenetz frames in subtle terms the questions that haunt our time-about the identity of poet and poetry and the capacity of art to harm and to heal. Drawing on personal history, Torah and mysticism to explore the tangled relations of Jewish identity and modern life, Kamenetz's poems attest to the inexorable power of language-and of joy.

"The Lowercase Jew Beliefnet Interview

Read the title poem, "The Lowercase Jew" at Exquisite Corpse.

Also don't miss Allen Ginsberg Forgives Ezra Pound on Behalf of the Jews", in The Forward.

"The poem on Ginsberg and Pound is magnificent; the poem on T.S.E. is worth the price of admission; and "Uncle Louis;" and "Rye;" and "Tours of Heaven." Read."

-- Gerald Stern

"The Lowercase Jew is a book dense with mourning, comedy routines, food, blue tattoos. tribal history and the wheel of time, despair and prayer. It begins with three amazing poems on T.S. Eliot's anti-Semitism, Allen Ginsberg's forgiveness of Ezra Pound and an imaginary Holocaust Theme Park and ends with an amazing poem on happiness, riffing on the Bible's first psalm." 

--Alicia Ostriker

"Rodger Kamenetz is on a spiritual pilgrimage that feels both urgent and timeless. After finding the "missing Jew" of his early poetry at the crossroads of Judaism and Tibetan Buddhism, Kamenetz is now taking on the mantle of the warrior. His new work militates powerfully for the splendor of the Jewish tradition, taking on without hesitation the cultural icons whose malign influence is far from spent. Jewish urgency and Jewish wisdom are combined here to stand poetically firm in another uncertain age."

--Andrei Codrescu



"A haunting memoir, deeply felt, poignant, tragic-- funny-- powerful, and memorable for the poetic precision of its language."-- WALKER PERCY

"Terra Infirma" is not a narrative in the standard sense of a chronological ordering of events. It is inclined to circle its main subject in a poetic meandering through the meaning and the mystery of a particular mother's character and the way it imprints itself on her son.

"Kamenetz's slender volume is an impressively intelligent, maturely perceptive and learned meandering, and it has made for a strange and moving book."

-- Richard Bernstein, The New York Times.

"I would be hard pressed to name anyone who has written as beautifully and profoundly about death and family as Rodger Kamenetz in this remarkable memoir. Terra Infirma is a sweet miracle of a book."  

 -- Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

"I love this book. It is a powerful testament to the forces of life, will, and love. [T]his memoir will move the soul of anyone born of mother. It is highly rewarding and illuminating to read."    

-- Robert A. Thurman, author of Inner Revolution

"Remembering his search for the separateness that would allow him to become an adult, Kamenetz writes fiercely and movingly. A classic story, beautifully told."    

-- Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After

"One cannot be freed from a mother's possessive love merely by her death, without confronting one's own story. Kamenetz was willing to go through this process of liberation, and thanks to his honesty, courage, and skill as a writer, we have this absorbing and vivid account of his rescue from the silence that obscured his mother's past."    

-- Alice Miller, author of The Drama of the Gifted Child

"Entirely under the spell of deep feeling, yet never relinquishing the irony of complex intelligence, this is one of the most beautiful books ever written about a mother and a son."    

-- Philip Lopate, author of Portrait of My Body


"Mr. Kamenetz has become one of the of the most formidable of Jewish voices of American poetry. The Missing Jew is the most significant book of American Jewish poetry to appear this year. .. Mr. Kamenetz recovers Jewishness as a field for discourse, not sentimentalized imagery. In direct and imaginative address, he puts the question of Jewishness under discussion with large parts of honesty and humor."

-- The Forward, December 11, 1992.

"Rodger Kamenetz's poems whirl and shake on the page. He is the poet of the living history of unspeakable names and his book, The Missing Jew, sings with dark with the tales of tough family spirits."

-- Louise Erdrich, author of Love Medicine

"These are very exciting and original poems about a world that has been written about so many times. These poems are a secret and almost intimate meeting place of English and Hebrew."

-- Yehuda Amichai, Israel's leading poet.