Jewish Poetry for Fall 5778

Shiva Moon, Is, and Words for Blessing the World

by Maxine Silverman, Yaakov Moshe, and Herbert J. Levine


Words for Blessing the World

Shiva Moon


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About this book

Bold new Jewish poetry.

    After we buried our father, the moon came nearest
earth’s center, resplendent in its wholeness,
most expansive night of all other nights,
the Shiva Moon.

    Holy one:
unify my desires.
Let me look at you as I look upon a lover
and look at every lover
as I look upon you.

    In the archives of Kibbutz Beit-HaShita,
I discovered forgotten hand-written notes
for a Passover Seder from 1927.
Instead of the Kiddush, the author wrote,
“Blessed are you, kibbutz.”
In his footsteps, I widen the blessing circle
and say, blessed are you, world —
to praise your fragile, complex beauty.


Shiva Moon

“Intimate and meditative, Shiva Moon has the quality of prayer, yet it’s also the journal of a harrowing year, filled with mourning, recollection, and a struggle for spiritual equilibrium. With her celebrated gifts for pictorial and lyrical language (leavened here with Hebrew terms), Maxine Silverman enters the darkness of her beloved father’s death and seeks a way to accommodate his loss. Everything around her keeps changing: the moon, her garden, her children, even her absent father who grows more vivid with memory. The only constant is the momentous presence of God, glorious but silent. This is a wise, moving book for every reader—and a necessary book for anyone who’s known loss.”

Joan Murray, author, Swimming for the Ark


if you have an idea of god
it is not god
god negates your idea.

So begins this book of heretical prayers, Dharma aphorisms, neo-Hasidic koans, and unorthodox blessings for unexpected occasions. Is asks the question of what it means to live as a human in a world infused by the sacred, the profane, and the magical.

Advance Praise

“Yaakov Moshe offers a sacred, lyrical gift to those who push beyond paradox to the truth beyond words and those who to want offer up the fruits of their pleasures to the One who is beyond prohibition. Read this collection and be elevated out of the constraints of everyday dichotomies.”
—Rabbi Jacob J. Staub, Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Spirituality, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

“What if Rumi or Hafiz were to walk into a poetry workshop? And who (besides God) would be qualified to judge their works? These heretical poems and blessings are succinct and paradoxical, full of laughs and surprises, restoring spiritual wisdom (and foolishness!) to an empty art.”
Timothy Liu, author of Kingdom Come: A Fantasia and Burnt Offerings

“The best mystical poets tell it like it really is. Funny, touching, sobering, and uplifting, the poems of is remind us that we are an oh-so-ephemeral part of the cosmic nothing, barely glimpsing the nature of reality under our own skins. Yet these poems also remind us of our deepest experiences of being alive as individual embodied beings. is invites us into stillness and emptiness, but also into laughter and love.”
—Rabbi Dr. Jill Hammer, author of The Hebrew Priestess

“Is is a very compelling book, full of Judaic Zen-like koans and whispers that invite the reader to ponder what is, what isn’t, and what might yet be. I am sure I will return to this book again and again, each time going deeper and deeper into myself. Yaakov Moshe’s intelligence, insight, curiosity and wit bless every single page.”
Lesléa Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies and A Letter to Harvey Milk

“Finally, Torah that speaks to and through the lives we are actually living: expanding the tent of holiness to embrace what has been cast out, elevating what has been kept down,  advancing what has been held back, reveling in questions, revealing contradictions, resurrecting Whitman’s erotic sense of ‘exquisite complications.’  This is what happens when a lawyer puts himself on trial, when a journalist throws ‘objectivity’ out the window, when a rabbi eats mushrooms and lets himself dance like David with the Ark of the Covenant.”
— Eden Pearlstein, aka eprhyme

“Yaakov Moshe has, to paraphrase the words of Sefer Yetzira, transformed some-things into kaleidoscopic no-things, then some-things again, pointed and pointless, penetrating and passionate. These so-Jewish and so-Zennish poems are perfect prayers for the holy congregation of postmodern exiles.” — Avraham Leader, founder, The Leader Minyan

“If I were to write poetry this is the poetry I would write.”
Jay Michaelson

Words for Blessing the World

“Herbert Levine’s poems build a precious bridge across the secular-religious gap in Jewish life with top-of-the-line intellectual and spiritual building materials. His work engrosses, exalts, and amuses me all at the same time, bringing me to many of the ah-ha! moments that liturgy and poetry, at their best, can evoke.”

Lawrence Bush, editor, Jewish Currents

“These writings express a profoundly earth-based theology in a language that is clear and comprehensible. Herbert Levine has thought through his ideas and expresses them in a plain style that won’t be denied. These are works to study and learn from.”

Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus

Words for Blessing the World by Herbert Levine, a collection of poems and prayers in Hebrew and English, is a learned and sincere engagement with Jewish tradition.  The author suggests that we can pray ‘in a world without a master.’ The poems express a faith that is committed to human evolution toward more compassion, love, unity  and justice. We might call this Judaism without supernaturalism if the title had not been taken nearly 85 years ago by Mordechai Kaplan. It is still a very relevant project. The poems are resonant with Biblical poetry and story. The Hebrew is elegant and prayerful. Altogether, this collection is a gracious and powerful spiritual tool for our time.”

— Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, author of God Loves the Stranger: Stories, Poems and Prayers; co-founder of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.

“In his timely and thought-provoking Words for Blessing the World, Herbert Levine takes us on a moving and challenging journey of the spirit. To know that enough is as good as a feast,’ he writes with the wisdom of one who has struggled with the desires and terrors of existence. His poetry is instructive, its language in the register of everyday speech, yet with a complexity that combines scientific facts with a human search for meaning. These are private and public prayers, poems that demand of both the speaker and the reader to address the world in which we live – where there is violence and hatred between brothers – with compassion toward the self and others. He asks, what difference does it make if you have heard the voice of the oppressed and don’t change your life?’ His poetry can awaken us to action, as Prospero says in The Tempest ‘The rarer action is/in virtue than in vengeance.’

Linda Zisquit, author of Havoc: New and Selected Poems