Review of Covenantal Imperatives

Covenantal Imperatives
Covenantal Imperatives

by Israel Drazin

Rabbi Dr. Walter S. Wurzburger (1920–2002) was the editor of the Orthodox Jewish Journal Tradition. This 2008 book contains twenty-seven of the rabbi’s essays that are presented in four parts: ethics, Jewish thought, Jewish community and Jewish life. It includes chapters on the thinking of Maimonides, Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Rabbi Wurzburger seems to prefer mystical views; he occasionally quotes from the mystical book Zohar and states on page 312 that Maimonides was a mystical thinker.

Rabbi Wurzburger’s worldview is based on his belief that God revealed his will and his commands in the Torah to the Israelites and that these divine laws must be obeyed. However, he quotes Rabbi Soloveitchik: “Halakhah (meaning Torah law as explained by the rabbis) is a floor, not a ceiling.” Thus, while Torah is the basis of a Jew’s life, it is not, to use another metaphor, set in cement; one can and should build upon God’s revelation. The question, however, is how should Jews go beyond Torah law?
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Speaking Volumes: “Good For Us”

Lone Soldiers: Israel's Defenders from Around the World
Lone Soldiers: Israel's Defenders from Around the World

by Robert Leiter

If Jews in the tri-state area were, for many years, only vaguely aware of the term “lone soldier,” its meaning was driven home to them heartbreakingly in 2006, with the start of the Second Lebanon War and the brave story of Michael Levin, a native of the Philadelphia suburbs. Lone soldiers are those who make aliyah from all over the world, leaving relatives behind, and through their love of the Jewish homeland and their dedication to Zionist principles insist on immediately serving in the Israel Defense Force. Levin from Newtown (where his family still resides) was one of them.

A member of an elite paratrooper unit in the IDF, Levin had been vacationing with his family when the war in the north broke out in the summer of 2006, and he rushed back to Israel to join his fellow soldiers. Just 22 years old, he died on Aug. 1 of that year from sniper fire during a battle with Hezbollah near the village of Aita al-Shaab in southern Lebanon.
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Award to Teaneck Man for Anti-Stalinist Book

Why Didn't Stalin Murder All the Jews?
Why Didn't Stalin Murder All the Jews?

by Abigail Klein Leichman

Alexander Rashin of Teaneck has received Prakhin International Literary Foundation’s annual award for his 2003 book Why Didn’t Stalin Murder All the Jews? The award was presented on Jan. 31 by Dr. Boris Prakhin of Paramus at the foundation’s third annual award ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan.

Rashin, a computational biophysicist, was born in Kharkhov, Ukraine. He retains unpleasant childhood memories of life in the waning years of Josef Stalin’s reign.

“I was a little kid playing with my friends in the street, and a Russian neighbor shouted at us, ‘Pity that Hitler had not killed you all!’” Rashin related in his speech at the award ceremony. His family shared a two-family house with the local head of the MGB, the pre-KGB security agency that in 1938 had helped the Gestapo formulate plans for concentration camps and mass exterminations.
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Poetry in Prayer

The Poetry of Prayer
The Poetry of Prayer

by Rabbi Gil Student

For a book on prayer to be successful, it has to be smart but not too smart. A book that is too intellectual may engage your mind but as it delves into the details of history and philology it travels generally beyond an ability to inspire. It becomes a book that takes the mind too far from the heart. On the other hand, a book that inspires superficially may add to the power of the readers’ prayer in general but it fails to educate the readers about what the prayer means.

R. Avi Baumol’s The Poetry of Prayer: Tehillim in Tefillah carefully treads that fine line. R. Baumol analyzes the elements of Tehillim that can be found in the prayer services in five sections: morning prayers, songs of the day, Kabbalas Shabbos, special times and Shirei Ha-Ma’alos. His style is informed of scholarship, including the history of prayer and the literary structure of Tehillim. He speaks of themes, key words, chiasmi and more. His bibliography includes modern scholars on the margin of Orthodoxy, such as Nahum Sarna and James Kugel, as well as many who are well within Orthodoxy, such as Amos Chacham and R. Yissachar Jacobson.
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Interview with Rabbi Francis Nataf

Rabbi Francis Nataf
Rabbi Francis Nataf

Author of Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Exodus

Q. What is something you would like readers to come away with after reading your book?

I want readers to realize that authentic and serious interpretation of the Torah is not a thing of the past. The title, Redeeming Relevance (redeeming is a verb here) is meant to express the idea that one can find relevance in the text without being superficial or artificial. I would like people to take a fresh look at the text and look for patterns and literary devices that are not well known. My experience is that the Torah is so rich that there are many things still undiscovered and it is often these new discoveries that help us find new meanings that resonate with us. Of course, I think it is naive not to know how to read the text and what the great commentators of the past have said. But it is critical that we not stop there. Otherwise, the Torah risks becoming a relic of the past. My interest is that the Torah continue to be studied as a book of life but also that this study be a serious one. I mentioned in my first book that Torah study has to be a combination of art and science. One has to be creative and rigorous at the same time.
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Showering on Shabbat and Yom Tov

Shabbat: The Right Way
Shabbat: The Right Way

By Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen

Excerpted from his new book Shabbat: The Right Way (Urim Publications) pages 116–118.

Q: May one shower with hot water on Shabbat and Yom Tov?

Halachic research indicates that bathing is prohibited on Shabbat and Yom Tov regardless of whether a violation of Shabbat or Yom Tov laws took place. The Talmud (Shabbat 40a) states:

At first, people used to wash in [cistern] water that was heated on the eve of Shabbat. Then the bath attendants began to heat the water on Shabbat, maintaining that it was done on the eve of Shabbat. So the [use of] hot water was forbidden, but sweating [a steam bath] was permitted. Yet still they used to bathe in hot water, saying: We are perspiring [taking a steam bath]. So sweating [steam bathing] was forbidden, though the thermal hot springs of Tiberias were permitted. Yet they bathed in water heated by fire, saying: We bathed in the hot springs of Tiberias. So they forbade the hot springs but permitted cold water. But when they saw that this [series of restrictions] could not stand, they permitted the hot springs of Tiberias, while sweating [taking a steam bath] remained as before [prohibited].
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Book Launching at YCT Beit Medrash

Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Exodus
Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Exodus

When: February 22, 2010 (8:00 PM–10:00 PM)

Where: YCT Beit Medrash, Lower Level, 3700 Henry Hudson Parkway. Riverdale, NY

On Monday, February 22 at 8:00 PM, YCT Rabbinical School, together with The David Cardozo Academy and Urim Publications, are pleased to present:

The North American Launch of Rabbi Francis Nataf’s book, Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Exodus

at the YCT Beit Medrash, Lower Level, 3700 Henry Hudson Parkway. Riverdale, NY

with special mini-shiurim by:

Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot: “Incense and Location: Why is the Ketoret Section in Parashat Tetzaveh and not in Parshat Terumah?”

Rabbi Hayyim Angel: “Hur and Pharaoh’s Daughter: Midrashic Readings of Silent Heroes”

Rabbi Francis Nataf: “Classical Parshanut and the New School: Either Or?”

Copies of Rabbi Nataf’s book will be available for purchase and signing.

Refreshments will be served.

Science, Religion and God

Maimonides, Spinoza and Us
Maimonides, Spinoza and Us

by Charlotte Gordon

Who’s the better Jew? The Hassid who believes in the literal truth of the Bible, denies the findings of modern science and reprimands women who stray too far from the home or the Jew who goes to synagogue, observes the Sabbath, encourages his wife to get a PhD in astrophysics, and regards some of the Bible’s teachings as inapplicable to the modern world? If you said the Hassid, you are confusing literal-minded extremism with the true rabbinical tradition, writes modern orthodox Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Ph.D., in his courageous new book, Maimonides, Spinoza, and Us: Toward an Intellectually Vibrant Judaism (Jewish Lights: $24.99). Angel smokes Jewish fundamentalists out of their lair and systematically destroys their claims to authority with his brilliance and peerless scholarship.

Angel addresses many vital questions–the relationship between science and religion, the nature of God, tradition and change, faith and reason, and the “right” way to read the Torah. But perhaps the most disturbing issue he raises is the question of Jewish identity. Who is Jewish anyway? And who says so? The Israeli Chief Rabbinate refuses to acknowledge conversions performed by reform and conservative rabbis, as well as those orthodox rabbis who are not “orthodox” enough. According to Angel, many “Torah true” Jews support this stringent view of conversion because they believe the Jewish soul is intrinsically different from the non-Jewish soul. Pitting himself against this kind of xenophobic thinking, Angel urges readers toward greater inclusivity and openness.
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A Voice Called Reviewed in The Jerusalem Post

A Voice Called
A Voice Called

by Yocheved Miriam Russo

Philadelphia-born Yossi Katz made aliya in 1978. After spending 30 years as a Jewish educator, he found himself concerned about contemporary society, both here and in the US.

“For me, Jewish heroes were always my love and passion,” Katz says. “When I was growing up, astronauts and national leaders tended to be our role models. But today, kids identify people like Kim Kardashian or Bar Refaeli as people they admire. That’s a problem. Watching a TV show is fine, but when the lives of celebrities become a national obsession, then society has gone off the track. For more than 4,000 years, individual Jews have lived lives of dedication and heroism, so I set about compiling a book of stories of Jewish heroes whose inspirational lives were worthy of emulation.”

A Voice Called – from the Hannah Szenes poem, “A voice called and I went” – contains 32 bite-size chapters, each chronicling a heroic life in three or four pages. About a third are classic heroes – Theodor Herzl, Sarah Aaronsohn, Hannah Szenes. Another third are more or less contemporary figures – Ilan Ramon, Yoni Netanyahu, Naomi Shemer. The final third includes lesser known individuals such as Aliya Bet hero Murray Greenfield, fellow educator David Sprung and Operation Cast Lead hero Yonatan Ben-Amir.
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Silence, Music and Mysticism

Mysticism and Madness
Mysticism and Madness

by Zvi Leshem

Thirty-five years ago, as a college freshman in New York City, I wandered one evening into a small room at a Jewish home on campus, and discovered a small group of young people engaged in intense study of Lekutei Mohoran, the major work of the hassidic master Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, whose 200th yahrzeit will fall later this year. I was immediately mesmerized by his dazzling spiritual ideas and exegetical theories, and over the years the influence of “Reb Nahman” on me and countless others has only continued to grow.

Rabbi Nahman is, however, not only a significant spiritual inspiration for his thousands of followers worldwide, he has also been, for many decades, a figure of major interest to academic researchers dealing with Jewish and hassidic spirituality and mysticism. It is against this background that the English version of Dr. Zvi Mark’s first book on Nahman, Mysticism and Madness, makes its welcome appearance. Mark, senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, made headlines when he recently published for the first time, with the encouragement of the elders of the Bratslav community, Megillat Setarim, Nahman’s secret messianic treatise, in a critical edition.
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