Harry Freedman
AUTHOR

Harry Freedman

My latest book is Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius. It explores the religious folklore, spiritual ideas and mystical concepts that run all the way through Leonard Cohen’s music. Anyone who has listened carefully to Leonard Cohen’s music will know that songs like Hallelujah, Story of Isaac and By the Rivers Dark are based on biblical narratives. But Leonard Cohen’s music contains many more songs based on ancient lore. The Window is packed with kabbalistic insights, Who by Fire is based on both an ancient mystical text and a synagogue prayer, and You Want it Darker is one of the most powerful challenges ever written to the God whose presence Leonard Cohen was always aware of, whose purpose baffled him and whose world he struggled to come to terms with. Cohen was deeply learned in both Judaism and Christianity; they helped shape his self-identity and the way he made sense of the world. In the book I explore twenty of his songs that are rooted in ancient biblical or kabbalistic sources. I explain the sources he drew upon, discuss their original context and the stories and ideas behind them, and show how Leonard Cohen has harnessed them for his own purposes. The book is not a biography, though it contains biographical information. I hope that it will offer an insight into the soul and imagination of one of the greatest singers and lyricists of our time. My previous book was Reason to Believe, the authorised biography of Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs. Louis Jacobs was Britain’s most gifted Jewish scholar. A Talmudic genius, outstanding teacher and accomplished author, cultured and easy-going, he was widely expected to become Britain’s next Chief Rabbi. Then controversy struck. The Chief Rabbi refused to appoint him as Principal of Jews’ College, the country’s premier rabbinic college. He further forbade him from returning as rabbi to his former synagogue. All because of a book Jacobs had written some years earlier, challenging from a rational perspective the traditional belief in the origins of the Torah. The British Jewish community was torn apart. It was a scandal unlike anything they had ever previously endured. The national media loved it. Jacobs became a cause celebre, a beacon of reason, a humble man who wouldn’t be compromised. His congregation resigned en masse and created a new synagogue for him in Abbey Road, the heart of fashionable 1970s London. It became the go-to venue for Jews seeking reasonable answers to questions of faith. A prolific author of over 50 books and hundreds of articles on every aspect of Judaism, from the basics of religious belief to the complexities of mysticism and law, Louis Jacobs won the heart and affection of the mainstream British Jewish community. When the Jewish Chronicle ran a poll to discover the Greatest British Jew, Jacobs won hands down. He said it made him feel daft. Reason To Believe tells the dramatic and touching story of Louis Jacobs’s life, and of the human drama lived out by his family, deeply wounded by his rejection. In 2019 Bloomsbury Continuum published my Kabbalah: Secrecy, Scandal and the Soul. The book tells the story of Kabbalah, from its earliest origins until the present day. We trace Kabbalah’s development, from the second century visionaries who visited the divine realms and brought back tales of their glories and splendours, through the unexpected arrival of a book in Spain that appeared to have lain unconcealed for over a thousand years, and on to the mystical city of Safed where souls could be read and the history of heaven was an open book. Kabbalah’s Christian counterpart, Cabala, emerged during the Renaissance, becoming allied to magic, alchemy and the occult sciences. A kabbalistic heresy tore apart seventeenth century Jewish communities while closer to our time Aleister Crowley hijacked it to proclaim ‘Do What Thou Wilt’. Kabbalah became fashionable in the late 1960s in the wake of the hippy counter-culture and with the approach of the new age, and enjoyed its share of fame, scandal and disrepute as the twenty first century approached. The book demands no knowledge of Kabbalah, just an interest in asking the questions ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ I am sure you will find it fascinating. The Murderous History of Bible Translations. was published by Bloomsbury early in 2016. It’s astonishing just how controversial the apparently innocent act of translating the bible has been. People have been excommunicated, ostracised and yes, even killed for it. Even once the violence subsided, as the world entered a more enlightened age, translating the Bible remained controversial. It can also be big business, as one of the final chapters shows. The whole subject is fascinating ; I am sure that you will agree that the book is well worth reading! In 2014 Bloomsbury published The Talmud: A Biography. The Talmud is the religious and legal pillar of Judaism. Containing nearly 2,000,000 words in thirty seven volumes, it covers topics as diverse as law, faith, medicine, magic, ethics, sex, humour and prayer. It is a highly complex, profoundly logical and frequently impenetrable work with a history like no other. In its 1,500 year history the Talmud has been banned, censored and burned, dissected by scholars and rabbis, probed by philosophers, poets, republicans and kings. Its story is a fascinating insight into the history of Judaism. You can visit the book’s website at www.talmudbiography.com. I've got two great, grown up kids two step kids, an increasing number of grandchildren and a wonderful wife. I live close to the centre of London, which is a fantastic location. I hope you will like my books, and, if you do, buy them and recommend them to your friends. I'm always glad to hear from people who are interested in what I do; please use the contact page to get in touch or email me on harry AT harryfreedmanbooks DOT com. You can also read more about my books on www.harryfreedmanbooks.com and www.talmudbiography.com
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