Judaism and Buddhism: Informing Each Other

This website intentionally brings together Judaism and Buddhism, because each tradition offers unique insights, where one adds essential understanding to another.

In particular, with respect to practicing the liturgy, contemporary understanding in the buddhist* tradition would seem to provide a great deal of help for the practitioner interested in deriving meaning when engaging the liturgy in Jewish practice.

I’ve offered a class now three times, initially called: “Judaism, Buddhism & Lovingkindness**,” and preparing for that class has influenced the teaching elements, as they’ve come together. Still, the essential elements preceded that class, and are these:


The Jewish liturgy presents a flow of ideas in the form of context based images, which the reader could and should appreciate, contemplate, and visualize as they read it & engage it.


– Although the above idea is the core point to understand as fundamental about Jewish liturgical practice, also note that while this approach should be considered “basic,” as in…requisite to practicing the service as it was intended…at the same time, it is reasonable to consider this also as an “advanced” approach.

– This is because this is how contemporary analysis has been “figured out” for the most sensible way for people in our culture to analyze, interpret, and participate in liturgical practice.

– At the same time, without any annotation nor interpretation, “working with” the liturgy in this way is SOP (standard operating procedure) for the way texts are engaged in Tibetan Buddhist practice.

– In the 60s, as the controversial, masterful, and infamous Tibetan teacher, Chogyam Trungpa came to this country, he gave form to the understanding that advanced practices in buddhism can be seen more accurately for what they are by creating a developmental strategy for accessing these.

– Still, even without Trungpa’s interpretation, the traditional understanding in Tibetan Buddhism is that the path is one that is “step-by-step,” and best seen as approached in a series of stages.

Separately, the view that the Jewish liturgy should be seen this way (as fundamentally a visualization text) has been grasped, understood, and documented in the 90s by Arnold Rosenberg, in his Jewish Liturgy as a Spiritual System. Without any particular reference to other traditions (although with an awareness of the publication of Kamanetz’s The Jew in the Lotus), Rosenberg researched the liturgy and presented this as a discovery that he regarded as both important, and misunderstood, such that most Jews who do engage in the liturgy do not do it this way at all, missing an important opportunity…which is simply to understand the liturgy as it was conceived, rather than supposing this will provide an “enhancement.”


Once the basic idea is seen and understood for what it is, it is hoped that the “paradigm” …. which is what it is…. would be understood as compelling. On the one hand, Jews who have become studied in the midrashic practices customary with the minhag of synagogue life, should not be surprised by the individual components which comprise the visualized elements of the liturgy, starting with “Mah Tovu,” and the interpretation of this passage in the liturgy. However, what may not be broadly grasped is a) the strategy individual elements in the liturgy are intended to imply, nor b) the fact that the intended flow of the liturgy can really only be experienced when the reader attaches the story line to the text. In other words, although it may be that some smart pray-ers in synagogue have, on their own, figured much of this liturgy out, part by part, on their own, there is no traditional minhag I’m aware of or Rosenberg apparently, to teach Jews the way to pray with the standard Jewish text. Perhaps the fact that we largely pray in Hebrew represents a confound, and religious leaders judge to prioritize learning tasks in their education of Jewish youth, and therefore primarily focus on the reading of Hebrew text, primarily. Alternately, since the fundamental purpose of the liturgy (***should this text have begun here?) is connecting with transforming the mind, to attend only singularly to really one aspect of the basic tool set is to forego ones real set of responsibilities. Except…that the minhag, what it is, leaves us holding harmless, for now, anybody….since what should be this basic knowledge…it seems is not, basic knowledge. Thus…this site exists.


Finally, following the basic idea expressed under “0” above, and explained above under “1” and “2,” I later realized how “Lovingkindness” can work together with Judaism and buddhism as a:

a)  symbol for the connectivity between Judaism and buddhism,

b) general strategy for accessing the liturgy…first by using the aspect of “lovingkindness (or tonglen) practice” that asks us to contemplate the aspects of exchanging oneself for others, and as a

c) specific strategy for engaging visualization in liturgical practice.


* See both Fremantle’s discussion in the Preface of her book, Luminous Emptiness, where she describes her work with Chogyam Trungpa to explain the chosen use of the small letter “b” when writing “buddhist,” and as well, see the more recently published book by Tony Cape called Diamond Highway, where he also affirms the spelling I’ve suggested here.

** The second and third presentations of very similar material were called respectively something close to: “Going beyond the benefit of the doubt,” and later, “Nondual Judaism through Liturgy.”


One thought on “Judaism and Buddhism: Informing Each Other

  1. Well, Ira, didn’t know I’d be knee deep into it all right away when I googled ‘Ira Zuckerman four rabbis maryland.’

    Let me say to begin with – you’re fuckin’ articulate! And I thought I could rap. Your article about the Jewish group getaways with erudite authors presiding was very interesting to me, actually it was quite revealing about how your mind works, or lack thereof. You took the reader thru the two mindfulnesses days, by way of constant surprise on your part with the commonalities and then more the discrepancies between the tradition of Trungpa and up-scale modern American Judaism. Why you’re surprised about Trungpa I don’t know, his buddhism cannot be branded, never could. I remember Judy Lief saying, “we were relieved to learn that what Trungpa had taught (in this case about some traditional buddhist liturgy) was known by the Khenpo they were talking to!” “We were all afraid he (Trungpa) had made up the whole thing!”

    The fact that the second mindfulness in Trungpa’s 4 mindfulnesses was concerning ‘lifestyle’, am I correct here? fits right in with my teacher Namkhai Norbu’s number two utterance, which he continually pounds home via webcast, ‘you must deal with circumstances.’ The first mindfulness would be The Three Words of Garab Dorje!

    Anyway, Ira, that was pretty interesting stuff all in all. Then there’s the second article entitled “jewbu.org.” It I only scummed. Your point seems to be that the Hassids are stupifying the poor brethren who do don’t know what they’re getting into, but, it seems mighty high. Actually, that’s when I kinda dropped out myself, couldn’t reconcile ‘Yawze’ with anything, but felt I was supposed to feel he was everywhere. Always have liked the vaultedness of the minyon service, the singing on high, and the breaking of groovy Jewish bread, ie, schmaltz herring, sour pickles, biallystock, etc. Get back to me, Ira.

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