Retaining prayer’s spirituality

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. Continue reading “Retaining prayer’s spirituality”

Siddur going digital, but not for Shabbat

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. Continue reading “Siddur going digital, but not for Shabbat”

AJL Review of On Changes in Jewish Liturgy

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

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. Continue reading “Changing Jewish law the halachic way”

Wanted: Jewish Writers

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: 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

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. Continue reading “Authentic Religiosity Honesty or Dream”

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

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. Continue reading “Good Jewish boys don’t go to prison: Avi Steinberg’s two years at The Bay”

On the Jewish Review of Books

by Linda Silver

On Sunday afternoon, AJL’s Greater Cleveland Chapter had its annual
Jewish Book Month Tea. Abraham Socher, the editor of the Jewish
Review of Books and director of the Jewish Studies Program at Oberlin
College was the speaker and his talk, with lively discussion
afterwards, inspired me to urge all Jewish librarians to subscribe to
the Jewish Review of Books if you haven’t already. The fourth issue
will be published in January and in one short year, a whole new forum
for Jewish ideas, Jewish books, and Jewish culture has emerged as a
bright light in the Jewish community. Who writes for it? Some of
the best thinkers in Jewish life today: Hillel Halkin, Robert Alter,
Dara Horn, and Ruth Wisse to name a few. What is the writing
like? Intelligent, erudite but readable – accessible to the lay
reader. What is its point of view? Here is Abe Socher’s statement
from the first issue: “The Jewish Review of Books is a forum, not a
platform; a conversation, not a polemic. Continue reading “On the Jewish Review of Books”

New Book by “The Rav”

by The Jewish Press

For the first time, the insights of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (“the Rav”) on all five books of the Torah are available. Rabbi Avishai David, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Torat Shraga in Jerusalem, brings the Rav’s teachings to you in his new book Darosh Darash Yosef: Discourses of Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik on the Weekly Parashah, published by OU Press/Jewish Educational Publications and Urim Publications.

For decades, the Rav lectured on the weekly Torah reading in the Moriah Synagogue in Manhattan and on Saturday nights in Boston. His discourses were mesmerizing, combining soaring language with penetrating insights. Both the narratives and the narratives and the commandments of the Torah gained new meaning in the Rav’s able hands. Continue reading “New Book by “The Rav””

J.I. Segel Awards Announced

The Jewish Public Library is pleased to announce the recipients of
the prestigious J.I. Segal Awards 2010 in eight categories on Jewish themes.

The winners are as follows:

Dr. Hirsch and Dora Rosenfeld Prize for Yiddish and Hebrew Literature:

Co-winner: Prof. David E. Fishman (editor) for Droshes un ksovim by
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Ktav Publishing House, Inc.)

Co-winner: Boris Sandler for Shikhelekh Far Reytshl (Boris Sandler copyright).

Prize in English Fiction and Poetry on a Jewish Theme:

Rhea Tregebov for The Knife Sharpener’s Bell (Coteau Books).

Prize in English Non-Fiction on a Jewish Theme:

Jeffrey Veidlinger for Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian
Empire (Indiana University Press).

Prize in French Literature on a Jewish Theme:

Maurice Chalom for Va, Moshone (Leméac).

Prize in Translation of a Book on a Jewish Theme:

Moshe Dor for the Hebrew translation of Fly Off into the Strongest
Light: Selected Poems by Seymour Mayne (Keshev Publishing House).

Prize in Canadian Jewish Studies:

Co-winner: Esther Trépanier for Jewish Painters of Montreal:
Witnesses of Their Time 1930-1948 (Les Éditions de l’homme).

Co-winner: Allan Levine for Coming of Age: A History of the Jewish
People of Manitoba (Heartland Associates Inc.).

Yaacov Zipper Prize in Education:

Nira Friedman.

Michael Moskovitz Prize in Film on a Jewish Theme:

Garry Beitel for The “Socalled” Movie (Producers: reFrame Films and
The National Film Board of Canada).

The winners were honored at the 41st J.I. Segal Awards Gala on
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jewish Public
Library, 5151 Côte St-Catherine Road, Montreal.

The J.I. Segal Awards of the Jewish Public Library were established
in 1968 to honour and perpetuate the memory of the great Canadian
Yiddish poet J.I. Segal (1896-1954). The awards were developed to
encourage and reward creative works on Jewish themes and to recognize contributions in Jewish education. Past recipients of these biennial awards have included Leonard Cohen, Dora Wasserman, Gershon Hundert, Edeet Ravel, Miriam Waddington, David Homel, Chava Rosenfarb, Gerald Tulchinsky, Pierre Anctil and many others.

For more information on the Jewish Public Library’s J.I. Segal Awards 2010 see the Jewish Public Library’s homepage here.