November 3, 2019

Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen ’89YC, ’89BR, ’94R, is a Rabbi at the Otniel Yeshiva in Israel and a leading figure in encounters between Judaism and Eastern religions.

In two lectures sponsored by the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, The Katz School of Science and Health, the Chinese-Jewish Conversation and The Confucius Institute at SUNY, Dr. Nagen expanded upon the idea that at its core, Judaism is a method of detecting truth through honest (rather than self-aggrandizing) disputation that, when done with sincerity and humility, integrates principles of “doing” (defined as an effort to fix things because the world is constantly under construction) and “being” (which he sees as a focus on the present moment) into a balanced and active life.

(l-r): Dr. Mordechai Cohen (professor of Bible; associate dean, Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies; divisional coordinator of academic Jewish studies and Yeshiva College; and director of the Chinese-Jewish Conversation) and Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen

In “Introduction to Jewish Thought from Beijing and Shanghai,” delivered on Oct. 24, 2019, he spoke about his family’s connection to the Jews who went to Shanghai for refuge. This family history has made him sensitive to the ways in which the traditions of Israel and China complement each other, especially in their respect for a truth derived from an engagement with ancient wisdom.

Audience member at lecture by Rabbi Yakov Nagen
Enjoying the wit and wisdom of Rabbi Yakov Nagen

In “To Do and To Be: Judaism’s Integration of East and West,” on Oct. 28, 2019, he continued this train of thought by referring to the two stories of creation in the Bible, what Rabbi Dr. Joseph Soloveitchik referred to as Adam I and Adam II in The Lonely Man of Faith. “The world of Adam I,” said Dr. Nagen, “is a story about conquering and about separating and dividing time.” However, the world of Adam II is “timeless,” linked to the imagery of water and cyclical life. For Dr. Nagen, the two stories come together in the word “shalom,” with its knitting together into a dynamic whole the opposites of fire and water.

Much of the material in these lectures can be found in his book, Be, Become, Bless – Jewish Spirituality between East and West, where he converses with both Eastern spirituality and Western thinking in an attempt to create a synthesis that unifies “being” and “doing” in service to a search for truth.


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