Books of Interest: Rambam

Torah in the Observatory
Torah in the Observatory

by Shlomo Brody

Moshe Halbertal’s Hebrew biography of the Rambam (Merkaz Zalman Shazar) is characteristically brilliant. Although the first and longest chapter, nearly 70 pages, chronicles the Rambam’s life and his role as a communal leader, the book is primarily an intellectual biography, based on Rambam’s major works. Each chapter is sharp and probing, providing thoughtful insights into the Rambam’s ideas, goals, and accomplishments. I would hesitate, however, to recommend this book as an introduction to Rambam’s thought, as it strikes me as too sophisticated for the lay reader. Those with a basic appreciation for the Rambam’s writings and ideas, however, will certainl enjoy this compelling biography.

Menachem Kellner’s Science in the Bet Midrash: Studies in Maimonides (Academic Studies Press) is a collection of previously published English essays, organized around four major themes: Approaches to the Study of Maimonides; Religious Faith and Dogma; Science and Torah; and Universalism. Fans of Kellner’s writings, including myself, will surely recognize that these themes (particulary dogma and universalism) were also the subject of some of his acclaimed (and sometimes controversial) books. Those who have read those books may find some of the articles superfluous (sometimes they reflect earlier drafts, other times slight amendments or clarifications), but they remain probing and stimulating. The articles are intended for the scholarly or sophisticated lay reader.
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AJL Reviews Amot Shel Halacha

Amot Shel Halacha: Halachic Insights
Amot Shel Halacha: Halachic Insights

by Chaim Seymour

Enkin, Ari N. Amot shel Halacha: Halachic Insights. Jerusalem; New York: Urim Publications (The Dalet Amot Halacha Series), 2009. 249 p. $23.95 (ISBN 978-9-65524-028-3).

The genre of halachic responsa is more than a thousand years old. Since early consultations between rabbis were not limited by political boundaries, responsa were usually written in the com­mon language, Hebrew. The late twentieth century witnessed new sorts of responsa. In Israel, responsa are to be found on Web sites, and they are far shorter than the traditional answers to questions, omitting detailed discussion and citing fewer sources. Rabbi Enkin, like other American rabbis who have abandoned the conventional format, retains the sources, but writes in Eng­lish. His discussions are fairly traditional, replete with footnotes and extremely relevant to the Orthodox Jew’s daily life. Rabbi Enkin’s conclusions are usually normative with the exception of shaving on Hol ha-Moed, where he embraces the most lenient view. I was impressed by the book’s intuitive organization and I will certainly refer to it in the future.

AJL Reviews If We Could Hear Them Now

If We Could Hear Them Now
If We Could Hear Them Now

by Rachel M. Minkin

Lehrer, Alice Becker. If We Could Hear Them Now: Encounters with Legendary Jewish Heroines. Jerusalem; New York: Urim Publications, 2009. 176 p. $19.95 (ISBN 978-9-65524-031-3).

Those of you who are looking for feminist literary or historical criticism can look elsewhere. However, if you are interested in fictionalized interviews of Jewish biblical and historical heroines, read on. Ms. Lehrer tells the stories of biblical and historical heroines in the first person, that is, she presents the women’s responses to her questions as if they are in the room. Ms. Lehrer does not “interview” only biblical women; she adds historical depth with women such as Rashi’s daughters and Henrietta Szold. The combination may spark readers’ interest enough to further research. Recommended for synagogue libraries, particularly those with young adult collections, as well as for religious school libraries.

An Interview with Heidi Rabinowitz Estrin

by Barbara Krasner

The July 2010 Librarian’s Notebook features Heidi Rabinowitz Estrin, library media specialist for Feldman Children’s Library at Congregation B’nai Israel, a large Reform synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida. Heidi is also the incoming Vice President/President-Elect of the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL). Mazel Tov! The Whole Megillah asked Heidi some questions about her role, AJL, and her perspective on Jewish children’s books as a librarian.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What are the biggest challenges for Jewish librarians and libraries?

Heidi Rabinowitz Estrin (HRE): One of our biggest challenges is visibility. Many people are unaware that Judaic libraries exist, or that larger libraries may have special Judaic collections. Librarians are traditionally an unassuming breed, but we need to blow our own shofar a bit more and draw more attention to what we do.

TWM: What are the opportunities?

HRE: Jewish publishing has really flourished in recent years, so one opportunity is that once we do get people’s attention, we’ve got really great stuff to share with them. We have the opportunity to get patrons excited about their Judaic libraries! Another opportunity that applies to all kinds of libraries is the way new technologies and social media allow for such rich communication. Librarians can now reach way beyond the walls of their own libraries! I reach beyond my own library with my podcast, The Book of Life, and of course the podcast is on Facebook too.
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Vive la Revolution!: ArtScroll and the Bourgeois Revolution of American Orthodoxy

Orthodox by Design
Orthodox by Design

by Shaul Magid

A Review of Jeremy Stolow’s Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and the ArtScroll Revolution

Many segments of the Jewish population in America will be interested in Orthodox by Design (uncommon for a scholarly book published by a university press). This is because ArtScroll Publishing is a phenomenon that has seeped into almost every segment of American Jewry, even though they may not even recognize the Artscroll brand.

ArtScroll Books, also known as Mesorah Publications, was founded by Rabbis Meir Zlotowitz and Nosson Sherman in 1976. Zlotowitz and Sherman had ties to rabbis Aaron Kotler (1891–1962) and his son Shneur Kotler (1918–1982), the renowned roshei yeshiva of Lakewood Yeshiva in Lakewood New Jersey. Both also have spiritual ties to the famous Mussar authority Rabbi Noson Zvi Finkel of Slobodka (1849–1927). ArtScroll began with an extensive translation project, translating the entire TANAKH (Hebrew Bible) in separate volumes beginning with The Megillah: The Book of Esther in 1976 and culminating with the complete ArtScroll TANAKH in 1996. It later published its Complete ArtScroll Siddur (prayer book) arguably its most widely-used product, now in over thirty distinct editions to conform to different liturgical customs and languages. There are uni- and bi-lingual editions, linear translations, and large print editions for synagogue use. There is even a Braille edition.
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Queen did not have Hebrew book offer, Jordanian officials say

The Sandwich Swap
The Sandwich Swap

Queen Rania of Jordan did not receive offers to publish her new children’s book in Hebrew, official Jordanian sources said.

The sources said Thursday that those offers would have gone directly to the U.S. publisher, Hyperion, following reports the previous day that Rania had rejected offers to publish The Sandwich Swap in Hebrew.
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Ordinary people doing extraordinary Jewish things in ‘Sages’

Jewish Sages of Today
Jewish Sages of Today

A group of 27 people who share a passion for Judaism and a desire to change the world — but who express that devotion in myriad and diverse ways — are modern-day “sages” in a recent book profiling their work.

Edited by Aryeh Rubin, director of the foundation Targum Shlishi, which supports projects that seek to promote change in the Jewish world, “Jewish Sages of Today: Profiles of Extraordinary People” lists the subjects alphabetically by last name rather than grouping them by profession or their areas of accomplishments. Yet many of those portrayed have things in common:
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Rav Yehuda Amital Z”L

by Alan Brill

This morning we mourn the death of Harav Yehuda Amital zt”l, a truly courageous and moral leader of our time.

Here is the opening of an article that I wrote about him a few years ago in my review of Rav Amital’s book “Worlds Built, Destroyed and Rebuilt: The Religious Thought of R. Yehudah Amital” (the essay originally appeared in the 2006 Edah Journal) :
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Global Day of Jewish Learning

The Global Day of Learning is inspired by and celebrates the historic achievements of the world renowned Jewish scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. On November 7, 2010, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz will complete his 45-year-long project of translating the Talmud. On this day, Jews around the world will join in together in a Global Day of Jewish Learning to celebrate our shared identify, history and heritage.

The Knoxville Jewish community will celebrate this momentous event with a program Sunday morning, November 7: God, Love and Tzedakah – a global learning experience. Information regarding activities planned for every age group will be forthcoming. In the meantime, please mark your calendars for Sunday, November 7!

Jewish Book Month event

Sunday, November 7 at 2:00 pm

Location tba

The Knoxville Jewish Alliance is pleased to announce David Kushner will be the guest author at our Jewish Book Month event this year. David Kushner is an award-winning journalist and author. His books include Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Suburb, Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids: How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds and Stormed Las Vegas, and Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. Each book is in development for film. He is currently working on a new book, and will be featured in the anthologies The Best American Crime Reporting 2010 as well as The Best Music Writing 2010.

Kushner is a contributing editor of Wired, Rolling Stone, and Spectrum. He has also written for publications including the New York Times Magazine, New York, GQ, and Details. A frequent guest on TV and radio, he is the digital culture commentator for National Public Radio Weekend Edition Sunday.

Kushner is an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University, and speaks at college and corporate events.

Wiesel book on Rashi should have been more thorough


by Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Rashi by Elie Wiesel. Translated from the French by Catherine Temerson, Nextbook ISBN 978-0-8052-4254-6, ©2009, $22.00, p. 90 plus chronology, glossary, and bibliography.

WINCHESTER, California — One would be hard pressed to find a greater Jewish authority than Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak, known to the world as Rashi. Many religious questions have been quickly resolved by the opening words, “And Rashi says….” As a prolific eleventh century French rabbi, intellectual, and Hebrew grammarian, Rashi produced a commentary on nearly every book of the Talmud and a comprehensive interpretation of the Five Books of Moses. In addition, as a recognized Judaic scholar, Rashi wrote nearly three hundred responsa on wide-ranging topics for the benefit of many Western European Jewish communities.

Rashi was born in Troyes, located in France’s Champagne region, in 1040. During his youth, he demonstrated an affinity for Jewish learning. His family sent him to Worms and Mainz in Germany where he studied under Rabbi Gershom, a scholar and Jewish authority in his own right. At age twenty-five, Rashi returned to Troyes. Five years later, he established a yeshiva there.
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