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RABBI NILTON BONDER was born in Brazil and ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He leads one of Brazil's most influential Jewish congregations and is also active in civil rights and ecological causes. He has led workshops on spirituality in management for such corporations as IBM and the Brazilian Oil Company and has delivered lectures worldwide, including at Boston University, New York Central Library, the Omega Institute, the Jewish Museum in Prague, and a United Nations peace conference. He is the author of eighteen books, several of them best sellers in Brazil.
Making use of diverse sources such as evolutionary psychology and Hasidic lore, Rabbi Bonder inverts the usual "body/soul" definitions. For Bonder, it is not the evil flesh that seduces the moral soul; rather, it is the soul, in its desire to evolve, that encourages the body to break accepted mores. Bonder argues that religious conformity does not lead to spiritual maturity, which is attained instead through a thoughtful rebellion against the status quo. So, for example, "Adam and Eve were apes until this act of disobedience [eating of the Tree of Knowledge] marked the advent of consciousness," and the biblical Abraham founded Judaism by abandoning his home in "civilized" Ur a betrayal in his countrymen's eyes. The results are intriguing, with Bonder posing moral dilemmas involving everything from the causes of anti-Semitism to infidelity in marriages. Some questions remain, however. Moral or not, the mind or soul, not the body, is usually seen as the human "decision-making" faculty, but Bonder's insistence on the mind/body tension does not identify who or what is doing the choosing. And if conventional morality is the sole purview of the body, how does one distinguish between "genuine" evolutionary impulses and willful licentiousness? Other points seem far-fetched, such as the prediction that "the Human Genome Project will map the soul" using uncertainty principles similar to those in quantum physics. Nevertheless, Bonder's method can provoke a worthwhile examination of commonly held religious values. (Dec.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.