For Jewish Students, Field Trip Is Window on Death and Dying

November 22, 2015

This article is excerpted from the NY Times. A link to the full article can be found below.dignity6hiRes

By Samuel G. Freedman

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Two yellow buses pulled away from Yeshiva High School here with a couple of class periods still left and the 77 seniors aboard giddy with the words “field trip.” They texted. They posed for selfies. They sent up clouds of chatter about weekend plans.

Then, less than a half-hour later, they walked into a cool, tiled room at the Gutterman Warheit Memorial Chapel and stared at the pine coffins and the inclined metal table used for cleaning a corpse.

“I thought I was cool about death,” one girl whispered to a classmate. “But this ——”

“This” meant more than the contents of the room, which is used at the Jewish funeral home for the body-washing ritual called tahara. It connoted the entire mini-course that she, along with the rest of Yeshiva High School’s graduating class, is taking about the Judaic practices and traditions surrounding death, dying and grief. Read the rest of this entry »

Between the Lines of the Bible

November 18, 2015



OU Press announces the publication of Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible: Recapturing the Full Meaning of the Biblical Text – Genesis, published in conjunction with Urim Publications.

This new and expanded edition of the Genesis volume of Rabbi Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible series, presents an opportunity for readers to become familiar with the work of one of the great proponents of the “new Orthodox school” of Biblical commentary. Rabbi Etshalom advocates a return to the pshat, or plain sense, of the text, while incorporating insights culled from modern disciplines such as archeology and literary analysis.

This methodology, which has emerged over the last generation primarily in religious Zionist circles in Israel, offers an approach which is rooted in tradition but also highly innovative. In encountering the text on its own without preconceived notions, Rabbi Etshalom discovers new solutions to ancient questions, as well as solving more recent questions raised by Biblical critics. Between the Lines of the Bible is an excellent introduction to a new world of Torah commentary which is both highly original and deeply committed.

Between the Lines of the Bible is the newest book from OU Press, the publishing division of the Orthodox Union. OU Press publishes high quality works of Jewish thought and Torah commentary, including the Chumash Mesoras Harav, the first Chumash containing the commentary of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik; Rabbi Norman Lamm’s Derashot Ledorot, a selection of sermons by one of the most gifted pulpit rabbis of our time; and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Covenant & Conversation, essays on the weekly Torah portion by the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom.

OU | Enhancing Jewish Life

On How to Lean toward Leniency: Halakhic Methodology for the Posek

November 17, 2015

One of the very serious questions that faces every posek is what degree of flexibility does he have in determining his decisions, whether in the direction of stringency or that of leniency. Is he inexorably bound by the rulings of the Shulhan Arukh, for example? Or may he take a position which is more stringent than that of the Mehaber ? (It is generally agreed that he may add stringencies to his own private practices.) Conversely, can he take a position of leniency, which would seem to contradict the standard rulings?

We know that there are certain well-defined areas of halakha where the posek is given considerable leeway and personal freedom, and may even be encouraged in the direction of koah de-heteira adif (favoring the position of leniency). For example, the Talmud declared that mi-shum igun akilu Rabbanan, i.e., in the case of agunot one should lean toward a permissive path. So too, bi-khdei hayyav, mi-pnei kevod ha-beriyot, hefsed merubbeh, shaat ha-dehak, mi-shum tzaara, etc. On the other hand, in certain cases one may rule more stringently, in accordance with the principle of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din. Read the rest of this entry »

Mysteries of the Torah Illuminated

November 12, 2015

By Alan Jay GerberTMI-pasteon.indd

This week’s column will focus on a special author and his unique book on Jewish practice and law. The author, Thomas Furst, a lawyer, has the yichus of being a descendent of the great Gaon, the Chasam Sofer.

His religious credentials include having learned at Yeshivat Keren B’Yavneh, and he is currently an active member of the Great Neck Synagogue.

This work, entitled, “Torah Mysteries Illuminated” (Urim Publications, 2015) and accurately subtitled, “Intriguing Insights Into The Essence of Major Torah Topics of Contemporary Relevance” covers the following: Rosh Chodesh — Unraveling the Mysteries of a Most Significant Day; The Meaning of The Land of Milk and Honey; Shevet Levi’s Exemplary Character; Remembering Amalek; Behind the Obligation to Recite One Hundred Blessings; and A Life Saving Mitzvah — Hachnasat Orchim.

In a series of phone and email interviews with Furst, I was able to get the full measure of his scholarship and deep devotion to his faith. Below are some sample teachings for your edification. Read the rest of this entry »

Review of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values

November 2, 2015

By Rabbi Johnny Solomon 

Just over twenty years ago, Rabbi Nachum Amsel wrote his brilliant EncyclopediaofJewishValues9789655241631The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues (Aronson, 1994) which contained seventy one essays that addressed a wide variety of topics such as ‘Hate and Revenge’, ‘Inciting Others to Sin’ and ‘Triage: Priorities in Allocating Resources’.  As someone who has consulted this work on countless occasions, I can say little else than it is a brilliant work by a brilliant author who has a unique blend of depth of understanding, human sensitivity and clarity of expression.

This year saw the publication of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values (Urim, 2015) which contains 39 essays on a wide range of issues (nb. according to Rabbi Amsel, it is hoped that The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values will be the first of a 4 volume series which, together, will cover ‘the entire gamut of Jewish values’). While some of the essays in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values are revised versions of previous essays, many are new to this volume, and like its predecessor, this work includes an appendix with all the Hebrew sources cited in each of the essays. Read the rest of this entry »

After the Hoolocaust the Bells Still Ring on NY Journal of Books

November 1, 2015

By Charles S. Weinblatt AftertheHolocustWeb1

Joseph Polak is from the same nation as Anne Frank, The Netherlands. As Jewish children, they are taken captive by Nazi Germany, deported to Westerbork and then to Bergen-Belsen, where Anne dies from typhus. Joseph has the rest of his life to make sense of the Holocaust, to find a way to re-connect with a God painfully absent from the destruction of his people.

Joseph is an infant when he and his parents are forced onto Nazi train transports and sent to Westerbork. Joseph’s father dies shortly after their next train transport. He and his mother face years of starvation, brutality, and deplorable conditions. They, along with other Jews, await final transport to a Nazi death camp. Read the rest of this entry »

“Reb Shlomo, Why Are you So Happy?”

October 26, 2015

A review of “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and LegacycarlebachbioWeb1by Rabbi Natan Ofir

By Izabella Tabarovsky for The Times of Israel

When asked about Rabbi Carlebach’s music, Timothy Leary, that dedicated explorer of mystical experiences and expanded states of consciousness, is reported to have said: “If I had ever had a chance to listen to Shlomo’s music before I ever took drugs, I would have never needed to take them in the first place, that’s how powerful his music was!”

This testimonial is one of many filling the pages Natan Ofir’s meticulously researched and documented book, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and Legacy.” For the devoted followers of Carlebach, the book is a wonderful opportunity to re-encounter the man they knew and loved in a rich new context. For those who are just discovering his music, the book offers a wonderful starting point for a journey that can lead as far as the reader wishes to go. Read the rest of this entry »


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