June 16, 2024
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Gleaning Psychological Insights From the Talmud

Reviewing: ‘Talmud on the Mind’ by Ethan Eisen. Kodesh Press. 2020. English. Paperback. 240 pages. ISBN-13:978-1947857490.

Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik has been quoted as saying that if he could add to Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith, it would be that Torah is timeless and entirely relevant for every generation. While there is an infinite amount of wisdom to be found in the Torah, the challenge often is how to effectively extract it. Similar to mining gold—it’s there, but not always so easy to extract.

In “Talmud on the Mind,” Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen has undertaken the formidable task of extracting psychological insights from the Talmud. In this insightful work, he provides 14 vignettes from Masechet Brachot and provides the reader with valuable psychological advice for life.

Rabbi Eisen writes that his idea for the book originated during his graduate training in psychology. He began to notice that many principles discussed during class in the graduate-level textbooks were quite similar to the concepts he was familiar with from his Torah study.

He also writes that the Talmud is rarely, if ever, referenced, even though there are many novel psychological insights discussed there. Greek philosophy and Buddhist traditions and thought are often referenced in secular literature and textbooks.

Rabbi Eisen writes of his frustration that his psychology courses rarely considered the vast Talmudic and halachic literature on the subjects being discussed. Part of the overall issue, though, is that even if instructors wanted to reference Talmudic and halachic literature, they would have no idea where to start. Part of the complexity (and, for many, extreme frustration) is the lack of perceived organization of the Talmud.

This is where Rabbi Eisen comes into the equation. With his proficiency in Talmudic texts, his book emerges as the sage wisdom of a caring psychologist. Progressing through Gemara Brachot, he discusses a wide range of topics from bullying, shame and fear to the IKEA effect, microaggression and more.

“Talmud on the Mind” does not offer easy fixes. Rather, it is a serious work for serious readers looking to better themselves. And there’s no better place to find that advice than in the sea of Talmud.


Ben Rothke lives in New Jersey and works in the information security field. He reviews books on religion, technology and science. @benrothke

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