This book consists of papers presented at a conference organized and chaired by Edward K. Kaplan of Brandeis University, held at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Louisville, Kentucky in February 2002, sponsored by the Thomas Merton Foundation, plus additional material, including essays, journal entries, letters, poetry, news reports, and church documents. Some contributors are Jewish, others Christian. The topic is Merton's relation to Jewish friends and correspondents (prominent authors and rabbis) and his leadership in the context of an awakening on the part of the Christian Church to the grievousness of its long persecution and rejection of the Jewish people. The keynote presentation is by James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword, who traces his own awakening under Merton's guidance as typical of his generation. In the middle of the book we have Merton's correspondence with Jewish colleagues and the complete interchange between Merton and Abraham Joshua Heschel during the time when Heschel was an invited observer/adviser at Vatican II. The history of the development of the Council's Declaration on the Jews, Nostra Aetate, is treated in some detail with news reports and other materials and the four versions of the Declaration itself carried in the appendix with analysis and commentary, plus important sequents up to the present time.
Merton is critiqued for too quickly shifting attention from the experience of the Jewish people themselves to the guilt (or otherwise) of the Christians; several papers debate this. Nevertheless he is presented as making a significant opening to reverent appreciation of Judaism past and present as he aspires to be--or claims to be--"a true Jew under myCatholic skin." His characteristically strong feelings are revealed in journal entries and letters and a transcription of a lecture to the Gethsemani monks. He discusses with his Jewish friends topics such as retelling tales, writing and translating poetry, and the spiritual experience of reading the Bible. Several essays deal with Merton and his Jewish parallels as spiritual teachers, prophets, and activists, "heretics of modernity."
The book draws to a close with the renewal issues of pluralism, of which Merton was a forerunner; Hasidism, to which he was attracted and which is becoming popular again now; and a transcription of an interview with Merton's friend Jewish Renewal leader, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.