Praise for The Tragedy Test
“I have no doubt that readers will be better able to surmount their own misfortunes because of the example Rabbi Agler has set.”
—Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Rabbi Stephen M. Wylen
“Every rabbi should have five copies of The Tragedy Test. One for the rabbi’s own library and personal use, and four to give or lend to others who cross our path who must themselves endure the Test.”
For the full review, click here.
I confess that at first, I was hesitant to review this book because the author mentions me in the acknowledgements and thanks me generously for having made a few minor suggestions. But then I realized that if I did not review this book, I would be depriving many readers of a book that they need in order to help them get through the crises in their lives, and that I had no moral right to do that.
So let me recommend this book---especially to those wounded souls who have been struck down by a crippling blow to themselves or to someone whom they love---a blow that has shaken their faith and that has made them question the religious beliefs that they were taught in their childhood.
For the full review, click here.
North Shore Congregation Israel, Glencoe, IL
Thank you for what you have given me and all readers in The Tragedy Test. As I read, I felt as though I was in a conversation with you about matters that are most often unspeakable. But, in an most intimate and coherent way, you gave voice to so much that most of us cannot say.
I appreciated the format - you allow the reader to take in an idea and then mull it over and process it without overloading the circuits. I keep going back to a couple of things in particular - first, the “Conclusions on God and Justice.” You are a truth teller. And the “Six -Step Program” stands out as one of the clearest articulations of what real pastoral care must be.
So this book matters to me - not only because it is a readable and smart treatment of an impossible subject, but because it is a personal and loving statement about real living. Thanks for taking us along not only as you talked the talk, but walked the walk.
Rabbi Jonathan Stein
Past President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
The Tragedy Test is a book of theological and personal struggles following the death of Rabbi Agler's 26-year old daughter. I just finished reading it and was quite moved and intrigued. I have recommended it to my book club and we are discussing it at our next meeting. I highly recommend the book.
Tragedy is a lonely affair, and one of the ways we human beings cope with that is by writing through it. Whether or not we agree with the musings by which other people process their tragedy, sharing their stories makes us feel less alone in ours. Rabbi Richard Agler offers his readers just such a gift.
The Tragedy Test takes readers on a gentle but deep journey through Rabbi Agler’s crisis of faith following the untimely death of his daughter Talia. Every move in that journey is carefully and accessibly laid out, and the book breathes with a transparency and humility that helps you to connect with that journey even if your own has led to very different places. Agler’s faith at this point in his life looks very different from the faith which which he started, but it still feels like faith.
That may be the greatest lesson the book offers. While many people will agree with the way Agler ultimately reconciles faith and tragedy, even those who don’t (and I would be in that number) can appreciate the example of critical faithfulness that the Rabbi displays and the humility and genuineness of his wrestlings. If you have experienced tragedy, do yourself a favor and read The Tragedy Test. After all, “We read to know we are not alone.”
Jonathan Miller, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Emanuel—Birmingham, AL at Amazon—5 stars
Rabbi Agler takes us on his very personal journey through his particular pain to the universe of people who suffer. And he makes this journey with his mind and intellect, as well as his heart and soul. I admired his honesty and his openness to others. The Tragedy Test is not only a test for us, the survivors, but for God too. The God of Law and Spirit is the only way to weather this trauma and come out with faith shaken and strengthened at the same time. This thoughtful book is important for all who want to go beyond the traditional answers that religion offers to come to a deeper understanding of what faith and intellect demand. He has emerged from the darkest moment of his life, and he has emerged whole in his brokenness. The Tragedy Test is a guide for all who have suffered, and want to still believe.
Rabbi Agler takes on a difficult and painful subject. Trying to get one's arms around a pain that is almost too great to bear and having to search deeply into the unknowable – that is quite a task. And yet he successfully takes the reader on this journey, examining the most personal of tragedies from multiple angles, with sensitivity and grounded in years of experience and faith-based wisdom. This is a book that should be read slowly and processed with care. It's also a book to keep close at hand, as a ready reference to help cope with those occasional wicked curve balls life can throw our way.
Lois Wolfe Markham—University Faculty in English and Novelist
I very much enjoyed reading The Tragedy Test, [a] profound approach to the test which none of us wish to take -- living with grievous loss and reconciling a challenge to faith. The sub-title … is perfectly targeted for goal and theme: "making sense” and "life-changing loss.”
You’ve honored the death of your daughter with emotional truth and a rich intellectual integrity. It’s an invitation for all of us to infuse reason in faith, and faith in reason. That’s quite a gift, especially for amiable agnostics like me.
Observations below are offered in a spirit of respect for the art of the book, an existential esteem all writers share. It’s a given that I proceed with deference for your rabbinical acuity and scholarly knowledge.
Your opening chapter worked well as both an introduction of mission and a clear, narrative portrait of Talia. One of the most resonant observations in your chain of arguments is your “critical point” section on page 61. Interpretation of sacred texts is more than an issue of errancy or fallibility. It’s the threshold we cross, and recross, in applying spiritual law to human situation. You navigated that high threshold using excellent thinkers, scholars, and theologians, plus your wonderful grasp of philosophical and psychological implications. Also especially resonant with insight was the “Healing Comes From Presence” section and your “Conclusions on God and Justice.” I especially appreciated the breadth and depth of understanding of world religions which your writing demonstrates throughout…
I believe that you possess a special brand of spiritual honesty to offer readers of every faith. Your background also offers a range of scholarship and philosophy that will enlighten and deepen our reading. I hope that you are quietly thinking about other projects as you work on getting this one out into the broader world.
Tom Gayle, Palisades Park, NJ
I think this book is a deep expression born of loss, and guided by some of the best qualities of what it means to be human - heart and soul, intellect, and compassion. It is driven by a relentless and bravely honest curiosity that has produced a tenacious depth of exploration of the questions that tragedy often evokes.
Elizabeth Ravit at Amazon—5 stars
A journey from life tragedy to acceptance
This book is wonderfully written and deals primarily with the author's journey after the tragic lose of his twenty-six year old daughter. The reader is provided with meaningful and helpful tools that deal with coping and healing after a tragic life event. Rabbi Agler provides a challenging and meaningful discussion that integrates nature, science, religion, and philosophy as he faced this life changing experience. The book describes ways and methods that support self-growth in ways that contribute to society. I highly recommend this book.
Rabbi Richard Agler has used the heartbreaking experience of the loss of his beloved daughter to reexamine his concept of God and God's role in the life of the individual. This understanding challenges the concept of a personal God who hears and responds to our prayers, but doesn't stop tragedy. This book speaks to people of all faiths open to understanding God in a new way. A deeply thoughtful and meaningful read.
Rich at Amazon—A compelling, understanding and singular memoir of loss and acceptance—5 stars
Rabbi Richard Agler has turned his grief at the tragic accidental death of his beloved 26-year-old-daughter into a quest for meaning, understanding, and a faith in which God could levy such a senseless devastation on her and her family in his thoughtful and emotionally thorough book, THE TRAGEDY TEST. Considering questions both theological and practical, personal and universal, biblical and secular, he compellingly and with much original thought covers the journey from challenge to acceptance, in a work that serves both as a touching memoir and guide for others. He is an expert on deconstructing and explaining complex teachings and ideas, and gets help along the way from Maimonides, the book of Ecclesiastes, Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus, and former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa.
I truly hope you never NEED to open this book. But if and when you do, there is a tremendous amount you will learn from it.
Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn at Goodreads.com—5 stars
I am fortunate to have not suffered a loss anywhere close to what Rabbi Agler describes in these pages. Yet, I am keenly aware that the possibility is never far away, from one day to the next. And so, as a rabbi and a student of religion and philosophy, I have known that if I WERE to suffer such a devastating loss, whatever theology I choose to embrace would have to pass the "tragedy test."
I never thought about it in precisely those terms, which is why I am grateful to Rabbi Agler for reflecting on his experience so deeply and articulating it so clearly. It is a rare combination of skills that the writer possesses along with his firsthand experience of walking "through the valley of the shadow of death" that could result in such a valuable guide for others, sparing us from the agonizing process he went through to produce it.
I recommend buying this relatively short book and reading it slowly, keeping it within reach even long after reading it, to absorb its message. It is likely to transform any "pie-in-the-sky" wishful thinking we may still cling to into a more compassionate and spiritually-oriented realism. This inner transformation must necessarily bring about positive changes in one's mood, outlook, relationships and virtually every aspect of one's life and work. I have already begun to notice these changes in myself. Thank you, Rabbi Agler!
Upon finishing Rabbi Agler’s beautifully written and sometimes painfully honest book, The Tragedy Test, I was extremely moved. Rabbi Agler definitely expanded my perceptions about life and death.
This brilliant book speaks through a Jewish perspective and yet it speaks in a very personal dialogue to all who have suffered a loss.
I think that probably means all of us.
Rabbi Agler honors all of us in all of our own struggles through life and yet he also offers us clear, step by step guidance on a path through them that he has traveled himself.
This book is a pure gem. I’m already thinking of who in my life I would like to buy it for...
Thank you Rabbi, for your sharing of such an unfathomable journey.
And thank you for your incredible insights every step of the way.
May you be blessed and may this book being to others some of the blessings it has already brought to me.
Cantor Jan Sheer
Temple Beth Emet
Cooper City, FL
David Feder at Amazon.com—5 stars
When faith is shaken…
Rabbi Richard Agler offers thoughtful, frank, and compassionately accessible guidance while helping us navigate an evolving understanding of God in the face of life’s inevitable and world-shaking experiences. Highly recommended for everyone.
Aley Sheer at Goodreads.com—5 stars
I have just finished reading The Tragedy Test. It is easily one of the best books I have ever read. The book is an illumination… bringing great insight and understanding for all who struggle with tragedy and with God… and for those who do not.
The Tragedy Test is When Bad Things Happen To Good People meets Man’s Search For Meaning. It is at the same time scholarly and spiritual… punctuated with commentary from Maimonides, Spinoza, Einstein and other sources, this Rabbinic treatise will be very helpful to Jews and to anyone else in the human condition.
The Tragedy Test leaves a host of myths, clichés and superstitions punctured in its wake. It untwists theology for a deepened clarity to help us meet the challenges of love, loss, life and faith. This book is a must read... insightful, moving, helpful and important.
Dr. Jan and Steve Hartz at Amazon.com—5 stars
Drawing upon the experience of his tragic loss of his daughter and his many years as a congregational rabbi, Rabbi Agler has produced a well written book that outlines in a concise way the theological issues that tragedy presents. Whatever one’s views on faith may be, this provocative and inspiring book will enable everyone to deal in a more effective and compassionate way with the tragedies with which life confronts all of us in different ways.
Rev. Terry Hudson on Goodreads.com—5 stars
This book is a moving tribute to the author's daughter, and a very worthwhile read. I agree with the author's estimate about the mindless platitudes that well-meaning people offer in times of loss.
I was particularly fascinated by the second half of the book on the nature of God as Law and Spirit. I agree that God’s spirit embodies kindness, justice and love. I also feel that prayer changes our behavior. I have long appreciated the words of a Unitarian minister: “Prayer doesn’t change things. Prayer changes people, and people change things.”
I share the author's view that although the world can be a dangerous place, it is also benevolent. Our role is to live in trust and love rather than in fear. Nevertheless..
Dorothy Herman, RJE at Amazon.com—5 stars
After a tragedy occurs, the accidental death of a beloved daughter, Rabbi Agler takes the reader along as he searches for a concept of God that can resonate with his understanding of why this has happened. While he explores traditional Jewish beliefs, the reader is challenged to investigate his/her own beliefs. He writes of order in the universe, a personal God, good and evil. The Tragedy Test should be read slowly, taking time to wrestle with the concepts, alone or with others. Throughout the book basic Jewish values permeate the narrative: living in the spirit of goodness, wisdom, compassion, justice, love, repairing the world, and doing acts of kindness.
Diana Sweeney on Amazon—5 stars
This book has been very helpful for my family in understanding our loss of one of the youngest member of the family.
Joel Ross—Santa Barbara, CA
The approach of The Tragedy Test is neither melodramatic nor overwhelming. The tragic event was recounted with just enough facts, without the intrusion of overbearing passion.
I appreciate how the author’s views evolved in a manner through which anyone can relate, including those with a non-belief in God, or gods. In fact, the first section of the book reads like a classic walk-through of the main philosophical arguments against the existence of a higher being—or at least one that is very different from the traditional interpretations.
Such arguments are given greater depth since they are being expressed by a rabbi. And the author’s allowance that he does not have all the answers renders such views less confrontational or “preachy."
The writing is simple and precise, with no typos, errors, or grammatical awkwardness. I personally liked how chapters were short and distinct. It is obvious that a great deal of thought was given to how the book’s argument would progress in an orderly manner.
Charles Brown—Gastonia, NC
Rabbi Agler takes an honest, fearless look at our understanding of God and the challenges of maintaining faith when we experience personal loss. It is a moving and deeply personal meditation on grief and dealing with death that readers will be thinking about long after they have finished The Tragedy Test.