Although I do not have any personal experience with or deep knowledge of Zen Buddhism, I think the well written and insightful Book Review, written by J.H. Mind, on Akiva Tatz’s LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW would be of interest and possibly benefit to those who are inclined toward and interested in the contrast between the spiritual systems and practice of Orthodox Judaism and that of Zen Buddhism.
LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW purports itself to be a dialogue between Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, a noted Judaic scholar, and David Gottlieb, an American Jew practicing Zen Buddhism
Unfortunately for the reader, LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW is barely a dialogue. It is a virtual monologue during which the erudite Dr. Tatz so completely overwhelms David Gottlieb that this reviewer began to wonder if their dialogue was even a real one to begin with and not just an authorial device. The David Gottlieb on these pages is so colorless that it seems like he may not even be real.
Perhaps this should not be surprising as his grasp of Judaism is just as weak. One of Gottlieb's earliest letters to Tatz spells out a dozen or so basic questions that even a particularly literate Bar Mitzvah boy could answer. Gottlieb seems to know nothing at all about Jewish history, Jewish religious practices, Jewish philosophy or Jewish mysticism, even though he describes himself as a "seeker" and claims to attend a Conservative synagogue regularly. If Gottlieb's ignorance is real, then it is a bitter indictment of the pallid state of mainstream American Judaism. But there is something so contrived about the intellectual befuddlement evident in Gottlieb's letters that this reviewer strongly believes that they were intentionally crafted so as to give Dr. Tatz a ready-made foundation for his numerous theses in this book.
J. H. Minde says:
As my review shows, I was disappointed in this book, primarily because of its intellectual dishonesty. While Rabbi Dr. Tatz and David Gottlieb do a WONDERFUL job of bringing to the fore the mystical and spiritual foundations of Judaism, they are very unkind to Zen, which neither of them takes the time to examine, explain or investigate. "Zen" qua Zen is as unimportant to this book as having an accordian in outer space. Buddhism merely serves as a jumping-off point for their polemics.
I agree wholeheartedly with Minde's review. These were the wrong two people for this dialogue - unless, as Minde suggests, there was an agenda on the part of the author or publisher to steer Jews away from alternate traditions (which may be the case, given that it was published by an Orthodox company, rather than by a mainstream publisher).