Originally published in The Jewish Book Review, 26th September 1990.
Holy living: Saints and Saintliness in Judaism by Louis Jacobs (hardcover, 176 pages, $20) sounds like a strange title for a Jewish book, considering the fact that we don’t formally canonize our holiest sages. However, it is worth remembering that our Christian brethren borrowed most of the practices of their own faith from our people and we gave them good examples to create their own hagiography.
Rabbi Jacobs, a noted theologian and scholar, cites some of the best role models Judaism offers of those who devoted their lives to God and served as worthy examples to their followers. Through their words, their teachings, and their practices of those words and e teachings, the traditions of our faith were carried on through the diaspora to the present day. This book, which spans the past five or six centuries, explains how Judaism was expanded upon.
Through the words of others, the author notes the virtues needed to achieve the Jewish equivalent of sainthood, among which are trust in God, humility, repentance, self-scrutiny, abstinence of all that is not pure, and, above all, love of God. Needless to say, these are the same prerequisites for sainthood in the Christian faiths, but, unlike their canonization process, we don’t insist on miracles being performed in order for our holy personages to attain the equivalent of sainthood. Our history is already replete with miracles: the examples these holy sages set are sufficient grounds for us to raise them to their lofty plateau in our own informal way.