The story of how the Dalai Lama encountered the Jewish community in 1990 is well known.
Less known is how the Ashkenazi Jewish community first encountered the Dalai Lama — in a Hebrew-language book published in Europe in 1804, compiled from travelers accounts in English and French.
“Jews then were not as sheltered as we think of them,” says Alan Brill, who quotes from the book, “Meorot Zvi,” in his own book, “Judaism and World Religions: Encountering Christianity, Islam, and Eastern Traditions,” just published by Palgrave Macmillan.
The understanding of Buddhism shown by the author of “Meorot Zvi” is less positive than that of the Jewish religious leaders who traveled to Dharamsala, to meet the current Dalai Lama as recounted in “The Jew and the Lotus” nearly two centuries later. The Meorot Zvi called the senior Tibetan leader of his day the “father of impurity from which all the monks derive their way of crookedness from one of the spirits of impurity.”
This negative Jewish view of Buddhism, however, is only one perspective, and “Judaism and World Religions” aims to catalogue all of them, from a 13th century Jewish physician who accumulated enormous power in the Mongol court and wrote a biography of the Buddha through the differing views of contemporary authors and thinkers.
Buddhism is the subject of only one chapter of this book, which looks at Jewish understandings of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and the whole concept of religion itself.
“Judaism and World Religions” is a sequel to Brill’s previous book, “Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding.” In the earlier book, Brill, a Teaneck resident who holds Seton Hall University’s Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair for Jewish-Christian Studies in honor of Sister Rose Thering, examined different approaches to religions at a more abstract level. Is Judaism the only true religion and all other religions false? Or is Judaism the root of all true religions? Or are all religions true paths to approach God? As could be expected, each of these positions had some support from Jewish thinkers over the ages.