is: Heretical Jewish Blessings and Poems

“is” a unique book of heretical spiritual poetry by the award-winning journalist Jay Michaelson, writing here under his Hebrew name, Yaakov Moshe.  It aspires to sit on the spiritual bookshelf alongside (or maybe just beneath) Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, Rumi, and Rilke.  It is mystical and profane, personal and universal.

“Finally, some Torah that speaks to and through the lives we are actually living,” said Eden Pearlstein, a/k/a eprhyme, the well-known Jewish hip-hop artist and poet.  “This book is about expanding the tent of holiness to embrace what has been cast out, elevating what has been kept down for too long, advancing what has been held back out of fear and shame, reveling in questions, revealing contradictions, resurrecting Whitman’s erotic sense of “exquisite complications.”

Comprised of four parts — Ayin (the Kabbalistic term for emptiness), Yesh (the Kabbalistic term for form), Blessing, and Wanting — the book is equal parts erotic and spiritual, with nondual ‘pointing instructions’, blessings for unusual occasions, and paeans to vulnerability.

Michaelson, who in his main career is a columnist for The Daily Beast and frequent commentator on NPR and MSNBC, is also a non-denominational rabbi and meditation teacher.  is emerges from his twenty years of teaching in these traditions, and is designed to provoke and to gesture at the mystery which cannot be named.

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Review of “is” in Tikkun Magazine


Praise for “is”:

The best mystical poets tell it like it really is. Funny, touching, sobering, and uplifting, the poems of Is remind us that we are an oh-so-ephemeral part of the cosmic nothing, barely glimpsing the nature of reality under our own skins. Yet these poems also remind us of our deepest experiences of being alive as individual embodied beings. Is invites us into stillness and emptiness, but also into laughter and love.
Rabbi Dr. Jill Hammer, author of The Hebrew Priestess

What if Rumi or Hafiz were to walk into a poetry workshop? And who (besides God) would be qualified to judge their works? These Heretical Poems and Blessings are succinct, paradoxical, full of laughs and surprises, restoring spiritual wisdom (and foolishness!) to an empty art.
Timothy Liu, author of Kingdom Come: A Fantasia and Burnt Offerings

“Is” is a very compelling book, full of Judaic Zen-like Koans and whispers that invite the reader to ponder what is, what isn’t, and what might yet be. I am sure I will return to this book again and again, each time going deeper and deeper into myself. Yaakov Moshe’s intelligence, insight, curiosity and wit bless every single page.
—Lesléa Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies and A Letter to Harvey Milk

Yaakov Moshe offers a sacred, lyrical gift to those who push beyond paradox to the truth beyond words and those who want offer up the fruits of their pleasures to the One who is beyond prohibition. Read this collection and be elevated out of the constraints of everyday dichotomies.
– Rabbi Jacob J. Staub, Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Spirituality, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Yaakov Moshe has, to paraphrase the words of Sefer Yetzira, transformed some-things into kaleidoscopic no-things, then some-things again, pointed and pointless, penetrating and passionate. These so-Jewish and so-Zennish poems are perfect prayers for the holy congregation of postmodern exiles, they who are eternally unsettled yet lovingly warmed by the flames of their unrequited yearning.
—Avraham Leader