Frank L. Herz Collection of Reuchliniana at Leo Baeck Institute

September 21, 2010

by Adam Shear

“Christian scholars battled in the early 1500s over whether all Jewish texts should be burned. Johannes Pfefferkorn, a Jewish-born theologian in Cologne who had converted to Roman Catholicism, petitioned Emperor Maximilian I to have Hebrew books declared dangerously blasphemous. The emperor sought a second opinion from Johannes Reuchlin, a linguist in Stuttgart, who decided that Hebrew was a biblical tongue worth preserving.

“Besides, Reuchlin wrote, if Hebrew texts were all erased, “the Jews might well write much stranger stuff from scratch, far more objectionable.”

“From the 1950s to the 1990s, Frank L. Herz, a German-born leather-goods merchant in New York, collected books related to the 16th-century controversy by prominent authors like Erasmus and Martin Luther. Mr. Herz’s heirs have donated the collection to the Leo Baeck Institute, a library focused on German-speaking Jewry at the Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street in Manhattan. The staff is now repairing and digitizing the books and planning for exhibitions later this year.
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War of Ideas

September 20, 2010

by Glenn C. Altschuler

Founded in 1945 by the American Jewish Committee “to meet the need for a journal of significant thought and opinion on Jewish affairs and contemporary opinion,” Commentary magazine has had an influence that extended well beyond its relatively modest circulation. Born of the conviction that Jews could – and should – participate in American life as Jews, Commentary provided a platform for a new generation of intellectuals. And made itself, for a time, the home of brilliant writing on politics, literature, history, sociology, and theology.

In Running Commentary, Benjamin Balint, a fellow at the Hudson Institute and former assistant editor at Commentary, provides a sympathetic, but remarkably thorough, dispassionate and balanced history of the magazine, tracing its twists and turns from liberal anti-communism in the 1950s to a dalliance, of sorts, with radicals in the 1960s, to neoconservatism in the 1970s and beyond. The story of Commentary, he demonstrates, “lies coiled within a larger story” of the tumultuous, notquite- requited embrace of America by “an uncommonly articulate and uncommonly opinionated” group of New York Jews. “Unparalleled in the history of the Diaspora,” it’s a story “of belonging – with its profits and perils.”
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Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought

September 19, 2010
Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought

Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought

by Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel

Title: Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought
Volume One: 1932–1975 (Hebrew Edition)
Author: Libby Kahane
Publisher: Institute for Publication
of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane

Anyone reading this well-researched and objective biography (just translated into Hebrew) has to be struck by how the focus of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s life was on promoting Jewish identity, pride, values, knowledge, and even music, and how minimal a role that actual violence played even in the “militant” Jewish Defense League. Even the limited violence was for deterrence and limited primarily to property damages.

Kahane’s ever creative and constructive life was devoted not merely to defending defenseless Jews more effectively than any police department and harassing indefensible Soviet officials more provocatively than all the well-organized rallies of the establishment with their eloquent speeches, resulting, together, in the freeing of hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews.
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Rabbi Sperber on Why He Supports Orthodox Women’s Ordination

September 15, 2010

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

On Changes in Jewish Liturgy by Rabbi Daniel Sperber

During a recent visit to New York, Rabbi Daniel Sperber — to date the best-known Orthodox religious authority to back the idea of Orthodox women’s ordination — spoke with The Sisterhood about the evolution of Jewish law.

Sperber — a Talmud professor at Bar-Ilan University and the author of, most recently, “Women and Men in Communal Prayer: Halakhic Perspectives” and “On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations” — gave his imprimatur to the ordination of Maharat Sara Hurwitz last year. When Hurwitz’s mentor, Rabbi Avi Weiss later changed her title to “rabba,” they faced a wave of opposition from the Rabbinical Council of America. The RCA ultimately negotiated an agreement with Weiss, who backed away from the new title and pledged not to use the term “ordination” at Yeshivat Maharat, which Weiss founded.
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“Each of Us Is Inherently Holy”

September 14, 2010
Every Day, Holy Day

Every Day, Holy Day

by Robert Leiter

Mussar – a tradition of religious instruction, developed in 19th-century Lithuania, that assists Jews in working toward a more ethical life – has had a minor resurgence in recent years, both locally and nationally. Right here in the area, Rabbi Ira F. Stone of Center City’s Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel has been at the forefront of reintroducing the tradition to his congregants and others in the community through the Philadelphia Mussar Institute at his congregation and his book A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar.

Nationally, the spokesman has been Alan Morinis, founder and director of the Mussar Institute (which, like Stone’s organization, can be found online), and author of Everyday Holiness and Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.

Just in time for the High Holiday season, Morinis has published a new, compact work, titled Every Day, Holy Day, published by Trumpeter Books. The author has been assisted by Rabbi Micha Berger, and together the two have provided “365 days of teaching and practices from the Jewish tradition of Mussar,” as the subtitle of their book announces.
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Questions & Answers/A Conversation With Joseph Telushkin

September 13, 2010
Hillel: If Not Now, When?

Hillel: If Not Now, When?

by David Green

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is one of the most prolific and respected interpreters of Judaism in the United States. His more than 15 books include several volumes about Jewish ethics, three mysteries starring a rabbi sleuth, and Jewish Literacy, his biggest-selling book to date, a fat compendium summarizing the history, thought, literature and practice of the Jewish people.
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Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex

September 12, 2010
Crown of Aleppo

Crown of Aleppo

by Zalman Alpert

The Jewish people are known as the “people of the book,” and over the centuries it has sacrificed much not only to live by that book, the Torah, but to maintain the integrity of its text as well.

A Torah scroll, however, may not contain notations. Thus, Jews used to write codices (sing. codex) that contained, not only the Torah’s text, but punctuation (nekudos), musical signs (trope), and additional notes along the margins that assisted soferim who wished to write Torah scrolls (and other Biblical books) properly and accurately.

The oldest extant, and most authoritative, codex is the Aleppo Codex, or “Crown of Aleppo.” Many people believe that it is this codex that the Rambam refers to in his discussion of writing a sefer Torah in the Mishneh Torah.
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