I have been writing books and articles for many years but for most of that time it was something I did on the side, alongside my commercial career. In recent years I have been able to devote more time to my writing.
My latest book is Kabbalah: Secrecy, Scandal and the Soul, published by Bloomsbury. Bloomsbury also published my previous books The Talmud: A Biography in February 2014 and The Murderous History of Bible translations in 2016.
I wrote Kabbalah: Secrecy, Scandal and the Soul to try to give some context to contemporary attitudes to Kabbalah. Kabbalah became fashionable at the end of the 20th Century, largely due to the interest shown in it by Hollywood celebrities and rock stars, the most famous being Madonna. But Kabbalah’s history goes back two thousand years and its story is far more interesting and profound than some of things written about it in the popular media.
One of the fascinating things about Kabbalah is that it has existed in so many different forms. The early Jewish mystics worked themselves into trances in order to travel to heaven. The 13th Spanish kabbalists described the cosmos by using metaphors of fantasy and wonder. Christian Kabbalah came along at the end of the 15th Century, taking the system into a completely new direction while a hundred years later in Safed, the Ari gave Jewish Kabbalah a radically different interpretation. And so it went on. Kabbalah has always evolved and developed, Kabbalah: Secrecy, Scandal and the Soul is just the story so far.
The Murderous History of Bible Translations highlights a subject that I believe demands attention. Nearly all of us have a copy of the Bible on our bookshelves. We take it for granted that we can read it in our native language or, if we choose, in all most any other language under the sun. It is our privilege, and our right. But that wasn’t always the case; translations of the Bible were not always allowed. There was a time when religious authorities banned ordinary people from reading Scripture in their own language; in case they got the ‘wrong’ ideas.
Of course what the authorities really feared was that they would lose control. So much of religion is about dogma and not every ‘official’ dogma is confirmed by the Bible. There was a time when it was felt better to tell people what to believe, than to have them discover it for themselves. Those who disagreed with this approach, who felt that the Bible should be brought to the masses, risked their lives in doing so. And even now, in the modern world, when translators are no longer persecuted, their translations often remain controversial. Publishing a translation of the Bible is one of the most emotionally fraught activities one can undertake.
I wrote my previous book, The Talmud: A Biography because I’d had so many conversations over the years with people who had heard of the Talmud but didn’t really know what it was.
The Talmud is an important, and yet in many ways neglected, part of world culture. It is as ancient as many of the world’s classics, lengthier than possibly any other, complex in its composition, frequently profound in its content and it has had a far more tumultuous story than most. A story which is not contained in the words on its pages. It was this story, or at least a good part of it, which I have tried to tell.
Most people who have had a good Jewish education have studied, or at least dipped into the Talmud. We value it because it is, as I have tried to explain in the book, the foundation of Judaism. We rarely stop to acknowledge it as part of our cultural heritage. Yet, in a world which is far more culturally interconnected than ever before, the Talmud is not just the heritage of the Jews. It is a classic of world literature. And its story deserves to be told. You will find the resource site for The Talmud: A Biography at talmudbiography.com
Before I started writing I had a varied and fascinating career, full of variety and change.
I started by setting up and running a wholefood restaurant in Devon. Since then I have run companies in property, construction, health care and consultancy and I’ve worked as a chief executive in the voluntary sector. For the last fifteen years or so I have been coaching people to help them make the most of their careers.
I discovered quite early on that I need variety as well as challenges. I went back to university, part time, and studied first for an MA and then a PhD, on an obscure Aramaic translation of the Bible. I started writing articles on academic topics and social issues, contributing occasionally to books and, when I got a bit more time, writing my own.
I’ve got two great, grown up kids, grandchildren, two adult step-children, a wonderful wife and I live in London, which is a fantastic city. I hope you will like my books, and, if you do, buy them and recommend them to your friends. I will be happy to send you a signed copy; you can order one from the Contact page.
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.