December 18, 2014
By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom
The Tanach is that Book of Books which we claim as our legacy to the world. For multiple reasons, the in-depth study of the 24 books of Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim had been effectively removed from the Jewish curriculum for the past several hundred years. Thankfully, the rigorous and creative disciplines associated with the mastery of these Divine treasures have been revived in the last two generations.
The New School of Orthodox Tanach study owes much of its energy and direction to the pioneering work of R. Mordechai Breuer, zt”l, and to his many students in Israel and abroad. These teachers have incorporated many of the disciplines developed in the world of academia to enhance and deepen our understanding of Tanach.
This school is not really new. Teachers from Bar-Ilan University and Yeshivat Har Etzion – to name two of the proving grounds of in-depth Tanach study – utilize traditional sources, such as Talmud and Midrash, to bring their new observations to light.
The exciting and explosive growth of serious Tanach study can easily be seen every summer, where close to 10,000 students attend a five-day Bible seminar at the Herzog College in Alon Shvut. This yearly event, in its third decade, has grown from a two-day gathering of fewer than a 100 students. The lecturers are, to a one, enthusiastic in shedding new light on ancient texts through the introduction of archeology, literary theory, ancient new eastern texts and much more – and that enthusiasm is contagious as the many thousands of attendees will attest.
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December 10, 2014
by Tuly Weisz
For those who care about the future of the State of Israel and the Jewish People, To Unify A Nation: My Vision for the Future of Israel is a great and quick read. I read the entire book this past Shabbat in which Knesset Member Rabbi Dov Lipman outlines an inspiring vision for the Land and People of Israel in just under one hundred pages.
After reading To Unify a Nation I was left dreaming about the promising potential that lies in Israel and recalling fondly why I made Aliyah in the first place.
While Lipman’s book is eternally optimistic, it deals with Israeli society’s greatest challenges. He boldly addresses racism and the dignity of man, the role of religion in society, accepting all Jews, sharing national responsibility, Jewish pride, and the centrality of the Bible in Israeli society. According to the American born Knesset Member who is also an Orthodox rabbi, these values are all necessary ingredients for creating national unity in the Jewish State.
The book repeatedly calls for Jews to exhibit tolerance, spirituality, and solidarity. Lipman explains that, “I realized that polarization caused by extremism and isolationism in the religious community may be the greatest internal threat to the future of the Jewish people. All of our classic sources and basic logic dictate that the key to our success as a nation is unity.”
Knesset Member Lipman is uniquely qualified to address his English readers having grown up in a suburb of Washington D.C. and immigrating to Israel in 2004. Amazingly, he became a member of the Knesset in 2013, only 9 years after moving to Israel, proving to be a role model for all recent American immigrants to Israel.
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December 7, 2014
by Dov Peretz Elkins
Sages of the Talmud is a collection of biographical information about the authors of the Talmud. Itcontains about four hundred entries and hundreds of anecdotes about the sages, all as recorded in the Talmud itself. An indispensable book for the student of the Talmud, it is not only an excellent practical reference guide, but also a text of general interest that may be read for enjoyment. This reference work cites the source of each quotation in the Talmud. The fascinating anecdotes and stories give readers an idea of the kind of social environment in which the sage lived. The work also includes an appendix with the corresponding general history of the time so that the reader can understand the contemporary political climate.
In the Talmud, several sages share the same name. This can be confusing to students, who wonder which rabbi made a particular statement. The author removes this confusion by linking each story and citation to the correct talmudic sage. Although the names of the sages sometimes appear close to one another in the Talmud, they did not necessarily live in the same time period – some lived hundreds of years apart. The book clarifies important questions, including the period of time in which the sages lived, who their teachers or significant colleagues were, and the house of study or city associated with them.
Find It in the Talmud is a reference book and all-encompassing encyclopedia on the Babylonian Talmud. With over 6,000 entries, Find It in the Talmud is a pathfinder for students and a useful tool for scholars searching for subjects discussed in the Talmud.
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December 4, 2014
By Chana Vishnitzer
It’s taken me nearly three years to read a book.
I typically read five books a week, so this is pretty unusual. The book in question is special. It’s like fine wine. One is meant to sip at it, consider the flavor, delicately swish it from side to side in one’s mouth. It’s not like soda, where you swig it back and chug it down. No, it’s something that’s meant to be considered, enjoyed, absorbed.
The book is entitled Majesty and Humility: The Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and is written by Rabbi Reuven Ziegler.
Those of you who are used to the TAC/SOY Seforim Sale may be thinking: “Do we really need another Rav book?” The subject of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik is exhaustively covered from all angles within the Modern Orthodox world. We know about important moments in his life, have copies of his shiurim, written works published during his lifetime and afterwards, and even have insights provided by his shamashim. So what can this book provide that the others don’t?
The answer is: a lot.
That’s because Majesty and Humility is a different kind of Rav book. It’s a book that aims to make sense of the Rav’s overarching philosophy and to trace his thought and its development across all of his works. It seeks to either resolve contradictions or assert that the Rav’s thinking changed over time when it seems like certain ideas may not mesh with one another. While those of us who read the Rav in school are generally familiar with Halakhic Man and The Lonely Man of Faith, unless one has put in a great deal of effort and research, one is probably not aware of the scope and breadth of all the Rav’s works and the thought that binds them together. Unlike the layperson, Ziegler is eminently aware of the scope and breadth of the Rav’s works. His extremely well-researched book is filled with footnotes and references to other works, and each segment ends with a helpful section called “For Further Reference” that elaborates upon ideas mentioned in that section. Read the rest of this entry »
November 25, 2014
By Fred Isaac
Many recent books have pointed to great leaders—Jesus, Lincoln, etc.,—as role models for modern managers and leaders. In this book, Zvi Grumet (formerly at the Lookstein Center) examines Moses as the exemplar of leadership, using the Torah and Jewish scholarship to develop his thesis.
Grumet divides his thesis into five parts, including: Moses’ “zealotry” and how he controls his emotions; “the man of the people or the man of God”; growing pains on “The Rocky Road” through the Wilderness; how “Leadership Emerges” in Deuteronomy; and “The Leader as a Teacher.” Each section contains three chapters dealing with the identified aspect of leadership. The first chapter poses the relevant issue as presented in the Torah. The second analyzes how the stories in Exodus and Numbers resolve the question both for the people and Moses himself. The third chapter summarizes the lesson both in Torah terms and for us. The arguments are made using Torah primarily, but other Biblical texts and Talmudic sages are also cited, as well as classical and modern scholars, to reinforce the discussion. The book contains indexes of names and relevant Biblical stories, and a timeline of chapters in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy that chronicle the key events cited in the volume.
While it does not discuss contemporary society directly, Grumet’s book can certainly provide insights into the modern world. It is recommended for synagogue libraries with extensive Torah Study collections, as well as academic libraries interested in demonstrating the value of biblical tales. It may be beyond most Bar Mitzvah students, but rabbis and mentors can also use its perspective on well-known stories.
This review originally appeared in the AJL Newsletter
November 23, 2014
By Roger S. Kohn
The Library of Congress classifies this book under the first subject heading “Self-realization—Religious aspects—Judaism.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “self-realization” as a term in philosophy which refers to “the fulfillment by one’s own efforts of the possibilities of development of the self.” According to the author’s preface, this book is his “attempt to find wholeness between three facets of life … our relationship to the Torah and G-d, our relationship to who we are, and our relationship to others.” Rapaport hopes that the reader “will develop a deeper understanding and connection in each of these relationships, and between them, and find greater wholeness in their lives.” Obviously, Rapaport goes well beyond the accepted meaning of self-discovery or self-realization to include Torah and the divine creator. The Jewish art of self discovery contains some eighty chapters, each consisting of one to two pages. The chapters have very secular titles (“Individuality,” “Awareness,” for example) except for one or two (“Daas” and “Working out our middos”), but the content is very focused on Judaism. The sources—rudimentarily referenced— are chiefly the Midrash, the Babylonian Talmud, several Hassidic masters, and the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides; there are also implicit references to Lurianic kabbalah… Each chapter ends with a “Reflection:” a series of three or four very brief questions to allow the reader to make the chapter more relevant to his or her self.
The review originally appears in the AJL Newsletter
November 21, 2014
By David Tesler
Rabbi Daniel Sperber has written a short but lovely book about the relationship between the commandments that are directed between ‘Man and his Neighbors’ (meaning commandments that connect one person to another) and between ‘Man and his Maker’ or ritual commandments. This is a familiar dichotomy within Jewish Law and Rabbi Sperber argues that when there is a tension between the two and it becomes impossible to follow both commandments, there is a requirement to favor and prioritize the interpersonal commandment.
In the first part of the book, Sperber offers 21 examples of this prioritization. The second part relates famous stories of great Rabbis who integrated this concept into their lives. In one moving example, the author tells us about Rabbi Salanter (1810-1883) who ritually washed his hands with what his contemporaries thought to be too little water. When asked why he wasn’t using the proper amount of water, Salanter said that he saw how difficult it was for the maid who was tasked with drawing the water from afar and carrying the heavy load to the house. Rabbi Salanter felt that it was “forbidden for a person to be overly religious at the expense of others.” A similar story is told of a Rabbi who would cut short his long prayers when there were working men present waiting for him to finish so as to avoid negatively impacting their earning potential.
This review originally appears in the AJL Newsletter