Retaining prayer’s spirituality

December 31, 2010

by Rabbi Azriel C. Fellner

Scholarly books about prayer, in fact, many books about prayer and praying, often, ironically, dull the spirit and deaden the heart. All too often, the abstract language or the academic tone distances the reader from the prayer, and destroys, in the process, the meaning and the power that originally inspired the prayer or transformed it into an emotional experience.
Thus, when a book comes along that not only uses the scholarly apparatus with skill but also retains and even revives, in some instances, the life of the prayer itself, this book is worthy of great praise.
Rabbi Barry Fruendel’s book, Why We Pray What We Pray, is an examination of six prayers: the Kriyat Sh’ma, the reading of the Sh’ma, a core prayer recited daily; the Nishmat prayer, which adorns the beginning of the Shabbat and holiday liturgy; Birkat Hachodesh, the prayer for the new moon; the controversies surrounding the Shir Hakavod, also known by the first words of the poem Anim Zemirot; the Aleinu; and the Kaddish in all its forms and varieties.
Freundel, rabbi of the Orthodox Kesher Israel in D.C. (disclosure: My brother is a congregant), begins his examination of each of these prayers by determining its earliest iterations, found either in the Bible, the Midrash, the mystical literature or the personal pleas of rabbis and teachers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Siddur going digital, but not for Shabbat

December 30, 2010

By Sue Fishkoff

A major publisher of Jewish books is moving into the digital age while trying to strike a balance between technology and Jewish observance.

ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, which calls itself the world’s largest Jewish publishing house, has begun digitizing the first batch of some of its 1,500 titles.

But ArtScroll’s most popular books — its Shabbat and High Holidays prayerbooks — will not be coming out for e-readers like the iPad and Amazon’s Kindle. The reason?

The Shabbat prohibition against using electronic devices is a major barrier.

“The vision of people coming to shul on Shabbat with their e-siddur just doesn’t cut it,” Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, president of the Orthodox-run publishing house, told JTA. Read the rest of this entry »


AJL Review of On Changes in Jewish Liturgy

December 27, 2010

by Chaim Seymour, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber is an expert on Jewish customs and liturgy and serves as a congregational rabbi in Israel. This book is based on a lecture delivered at a congress of The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance in 2007. In the early 20th century, ultra-Orthodox men were educated in hederim and yeshivot, but women attended secular schools. In 1917, Beth Yaakov was set up to offer a Jewish education for girls. Today, the modern Orthodox have gone even further and set up parallel institutions to yeshivot for women. A natural result is that highly educated Orthodox Jewish women may find it hard to accept certain parts of the liturgy.

The author asked a “simple” question. Can the liturgy be changed to enhance the experience of prayer for women, while retaining the Orthodox framework? Most of the book is devoted to demonstrating that liturgy is far from static. Sperber does not
find it difficult to prove his point, and the discussion is fascinating. The author concludes with some examples of changes to the liturgy that have been introduced for women. His intention is not to recommend changes, but to demonstrate that the liturgy can be changed and to emphasize what is consonant with halakhah and what is not. A very stimulating book!

The original may be found in the AJL Review Newsletter. From the AJL Review.


Changing Jewish law the halachic way

December 23, 2010

by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Most of the scholarly materials reviewed in this column are academic works. Using sociological, anthropological and psychological insights, their authors analyze an aspect of Judaism – for example Jewish law, history, holiday customs, etc. – from an objective viewpoint. The approach used in these studies is identical to that used in studies of other religious and ethnic groups: scholars examine a religion or culture by placing it in historical context. However, a different way to study Judaism – one more commonly found in yeshivot and Orthodox synagogues – is to work from inside the halachic (legal) system, not only to learn abstractly about Jewish law, but to incorporate the discoveries into religious practice. In his “Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu,” Michael J. Broyde focuses on one particular prayer to explore how changes in Jewish law occur. Read the rest of this entry »


Wanted: Jewish Writers

December 21, 2010

Announcing a contest by “Generation H”

“Generation H” is seeing submissions for an anthology of writing from 2nd and 3rd Generation Holocaust Survivors. If you grew up in a home where your parents or grandparents were Holocaust survivors, we want to hear from you. Even if you don’t consider yourself Jewish.
Seeking humorous, quirky, emotional, unusual, dramatic, creative, unique stories about how survival has affected your life, your decisions, and your relationships as a child or as an adult in a significant way.
All essays should be nonfiction narratives, written in the first-person. Whether narratives delight or disgust the reader, they should have a strong story line. Focus on one or a few selected events; do not send rants or political speeches. Stories should be titled and include your name and be between 1000 – 3000 words, double-spaced, paginated and word-processed in 12 point font. No funky fonts, please. No more than 1 entry per person. Please include a brief bio (1-3 sentences) at the end of your submission.
Deadline: March 20, 2011.

Please send your submissions to: projects@slashcoleman.com. Write “Generation H” in the subject bar. Writers chosen for the book will be contacted by May 2011. Pay to be determined.

Feel free to re-post and forward!

From Humanities and Social Sciences Net Online.


Authentic Religiosity Honesty or Dream

December 19, 2010

by  Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Thoughts expressed on the Yom Hazikaron of my friend Michael Moshe Ha-Cohen Klein z.l. of Yerushalayim

Nathan Lopes Cardozo is most recently the author of For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People.

One of the great problems any religious person has to struggle with is whether or not it is actually possible to be religious. What, after all, is the essence of genuine religiosity? It is no doubt the cognizance that one lives in the presence of God and feels and acts accordingly. To do so, however, is nearly impossible. Avraham Joshua Heschel once made the profound observation: “Religion depends upon what man does with his ultimate embarrassment” (1).

What lies at the root of all religions is the awareness that it is extremely hard to live up to the awesomeness of the moment. Our ultimate concern should be to grasp, emotionally and intellectually, that we are the contemporaries of God, and to experience this in the most elevated way.  But for the majority of us it is an impossible mission.  How could man ever encounter the Divine otherness?  It is the ultimate task of religion to guide us through this nearly desperate situation. Paradoxically, admitting the impossibility of this task and responding to it in a responsible way is what makes our embarrassment a genuine religious experience. Read the rest of this entry »


Good Jewish boys don’t go to prison: Avi Steinberg’s two years at The Bay

December 9, 2010

by Michael Orbach

Fresh out of Harvard University with a degree in English literature, Avi Steinberg did the only thing a former-yeshiva student could do. He went to a maximum-security prison.

“I guess I ended up in prison like a lot of people: by accident,” Steinberg laughed.

Steinberg is the author of “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” (Doubleday) a non-fiction account of the two years he spent as a librarian in “The Bay,” The Suffolk County House of Corrections in Boston. Steinberg, who was born in Israel and attended Maimonides in Boston, said the job “was a dream.”

“If you love books, people take it seriously,” he explained. “Having a library is not taken for granted. It’s easy to get a book in the outside world… but over there it’s precious and people just get that.”

Steinberg got the job after answering an ad on Craigslist. Once there, he fashioned the prison library, about the size of a small public library, into what he calls a type of “beit meidrash.” He gave creative writing courses to the mostly black inmates and said, rather than feeling threatened, he felt appreciated.

“Books create relationships,” Steinberg said.

The most requested book was “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Green, a modern version of “The Art of War,” which the library refused to stock. The second most requested items were books about dream interpretations, which reminded Steinberg of Joseph’s experience in prison in Egypt that he learned in Chumash class. Read the rest of this entry »