May 20, 2013
by Gary Paulsen
translated into Hebrew by Didi Hanoch
Publisher: Urim Publications
Softcover, 157 pages
On his way to visit his recently divorced father in the Canadian mountains, thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is the only survivor when the single-engine plane crashes. His body battered, his clothes in shreds, Brian must now stay alive in the boundless Canadian wilderness.
More than a survival story, Hatchet is a tale of tough decisions. When all is stripped down to the barest essentials, Brian discovers some stark and simple truths: Self-pity doesn’t work. Despair doesn’t work. And if Brian is to survive physically as well as mentally, he must discover courage.
Honors and Praise for the English edition of Hatchet:
* A Newbery Honor Book
* An ALA Notable Book
* Booklist Editor’s Choice
* SLJ 100 Books that Shaped the Century
“Brian Robeson, 13, is the only passenger on a small plane flying him to Read the rest of this entry »
May 19, 2013
:From The Jewish Action
Nevi’im and Ketuvim, the books of the Prophets and Holy Writings, together with the Five Books of Moses, comprise the broad canvas on which the history, destiny and spiritual mission of the Jewish people are limned. In this survey of Nevi’im and Ketuvim, Rabbi Hayyim Angel achieves a rare combination of breadth and depth. While focusing on broad themes and universal messages, the treatment is far from superficial or perfunctory. Rabbi Angel presents at least one chapter on each book of Nevi’im and Ketuvim, with each chapter analyzing in depth a representative aspect of the book. Using primarily peshat, the plain meaning of the text, Rabbi Angel marshals the Talmud and Midrash, traditional commentaries and modern scholarship in expressing a view of Scripture that is creative as well as subtle and nuanced. With his direct and engaging style, Rabbi Angel conveys his erudition and wealth of knowledge to the reader in a most enjoyable fashion. Here is a small sampling of Rabbi Angel’s thought-provoking conclusions:
Joshua’s flaws made him a more effective leader than Moses to bring the people into the land of Israel.
The Book of Jonah challenges us to be absolutely committed to God while respecting other people who espouse different beliefs.
The Book of Ecclesiastes, with all of its Read the rest of this entry »
May 12, 2013
by Gil Student
Torah expertise requires, at a minimum, mastery of the entire corpus of primary literature. Detailed familiarity with the texts is a necessary but insufficient requirement of Torah greatness. This includes the Bible, yeshiva curricula notwithstanding.
On the description of Moshe’s receipt of the tablets on Mt. Sinai, Rashi (Ex. 31:18) quotes a midrash that compares Moshe to a bride. Just like a bride wears 24 ornaments, so too a Torah scholar must master all 24 books of the Bible. Why, we can ask, does the midrash locate this sensible requirement in the second half of Shemos, which largely discusses the building of the Mishkan?
I suggest that the passage immediately preceding that verse discusses the obligation to observe Shabbos. The Mishnah (Shabbos 115a) states that you are forbidden to study Kesuvim, the third part of the Bible, on Shabbos because it detracts from attendance at the rabbi’s lecture. The Gemara (ibid., 116b) quotes a later debate whether the prohibition only applies to the location or the time of the lecture. Regardless, we see a clear limitation on Bible study.
You might have thought that this deemphasis on Bible study implies its unimportance. The midrash teaches us that we should not mistake practical priorities with abstract values. Even though local concerns require lowering the urgency of Bible study on Shabbos, in the end you cannot be a scholar without mastering the Bible. You might not find time to study Kesuvim on Shabbos but that is no excuse for ignorance.
We once discussed a chapter-by-chapter method to gaining familiarity with Read the rest of this entry »
May 9, 2013
by Moshe Sokolow
Nechama Leibowitz was an intensely private individual. In the thousands—if not tens of thousands—of classes she taught and lectures she gave in a career that spanned over sixty years, she never allowed herself to be filmed or videoed, and very rarely permitted herself to be recorded on tape. (Rabbi Yasgur reports this idiosyncrasy in detail.) I was present on occasion when Nechama expelled someone from her lecture hall for concealing a tape recorder. It is due primarily to her students and correspondents, like Rabbi Benjamin Yasgur, that we are able to glimpse the person behind the public aura.
Nechama’s public reserve sheltered an unaffected private reticence. Nechama was always Nechama: not Dr. Leibowitz (PhD from the University of Marburg, Germany), not Professor Leibowitz (of Tel Aviv University); just Nechama. Perhaps the greatest tribute to her lies not so much in the publication of previously undisclosed insights and interpretations, as in the self-evident fact that Rabbi Yasgur is as finely attuned to the Torah text as Nechama encouraged her students to be, and that he is carrying her work forward through his exemplary service with his pulpits and pupils.
Rabbi Yasgur’s book provides insights into a score of Torah texts, punctuated by the records of exchanges he had with Nechama over those interpretations—in person or via correspondence. The Torah lessons, per se, need no further approbation. Instead, I would like to elaborate an insight the book offers into the master teacher herself. In expounding on the moral of the story of God’s visit to Abraham shortly after his circumcision, Rabbi Yasgur quotes Nechama as stating that, “it is more important to offer help… than Divine revelation.”
Nothing was of greater importance to Nechama than Read the rest of this entry »
May 7, 2013
By Gary Rosenblatt, the Jewish Week
A 2008 book, “A Circle in the Square: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Reinvents the Synagogue” [Urim Publications], by Edward Abramson, an early member now living in Israel, offers a detailed and thoughtful look into the history of Lincoln Square and the lasting impact of the rabbi’s work.
May 5, 2013
by Gil Student
Extreme religious pluralism is spiritual chaos, even when severely limited. If you accept as equally authoritative every Orthodox rabbi, even just the giants, then you will be forced to contend with their conflicting views and attitudes through either ignorance, dissonance or harmonistic gymnastics. The best citizen of a pluralistic society knows firmly his own approach and is therefore able to sift through the incompatible views he inevitably faces. Pluralism is politeness, not surrender.
I find that this is often lost in even Charedi circles. On one side we have extremists who denounce all who disagree with their narrow path. On the other we have syncretists who blend various traditions into a distorted and inconsistent whole. Politeness, some may call it political correctness, prevents the middle ground from stating publicly that what Rabbi X said is not “my approach.” But there are exceptions.
R. Yisroel Miller’s In Search of Torah Wisdom: Questions You Forgot to Ask Your Rebbi is a refreshing example of principled pluralism. He is a Litvak, a yeshiva devotee, unafraid to state his views but also uninterested in fighting. R. Miller was a long-time student of the Lakewood yeshiva and satellite kollel before becoming a community rabbi. He does not mention any family relation but he was clearly influenced by R. Avigdor Miller, as seen in his attitudes and many specific citations.
In this book, R. Miller discusses philosophical issues of communal importance, some of the touchpoints of controversy. He neither shies away from them nor uses them as opportunities to denounce others. Instead, he eloquently explains how an intelligent person can accept Da’as Torah, reject banned books, embrace Torah over science and treat biblical figures as saints (among many other topics). His views are nuanced and defy stereotypes but they are hardly progressive.
R. Miller adopts the views of the mussar yeshiva, unsurprising given his background. He sees Torah as Read the rest of this entry »
May 2, 2013
by Emily Adams
Nowolipie Street, a fantastic memoir of how one young Polish man’s life was changed forever by the horrific events of World War II, will deeply impact its readers. The author begins by tracing memories of his childhood, the early years of his education, and the years leading up to the Second World War. He then recounts his family’s heart-wrenching experiences.
The horrors of war are dramatically highlighted by Hen’s descriptions of the simple beauty of Polish urban daily life during the ’20s and ’30s. However, the author does not merely speak in generalities. Hen uses a generous smattering of anecdotes to give readers a glimpse into the life of his family. For instance, he writes, “When I was very young, the rhythm of life in our courtyard was determined by holidays. Later, in the thirties, more and more families surreptitiously began avoiding the tradition, and many forms of religious life disappeared.” In this way, Hen skillfully shows the reader the life of the average Jewish Pole during this time in history through the lens of his specific experience.
The author’s style is quiet and nostalgic. He effectively portrays the innocence of a Jewish Polish boy’s pre-war world and the drama of a child’s universe through charming descriptions of episodes of daily life. For instance, he tells of a play during which he was so taken by the stage set that he forgot to play his part and, instead, stood stock-still, amazed, in front of a surprised audience. He writes, “Eventually, I was jostled off the stage. Mother blushed for the shame of it all, and Mr. Director gave me a talking-to. I know I cried after that, defeated again. Life could be unbearable sometimes.” The emotion and pettiness of this story and others against the backdrop of the actual events that followed, highlights the tragedies Hen describes.
The author also effectively utilizes foreshadowing throughout his story. Read the rest of this entry »