AJL Review of Why We Pray What We Pray

May 30, 2011

by Ellen Share

Freundel, Barry
Why We Pray What We Pray: The Remarkable History of Jewish Prayer
Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2010
313 pp. $27.95 (9789655240344)

In the six chapters of Why We Pray What We Pray, Rabbi Freundel gives historical analysis and background information on these prayers: Keriyat Shema, Nishmat, Birkat ha-Hodesh, Anim Zemirot, Aleinu and Kaddish. You can read the entire book, but each chapter stands alone. In the introduction, the author writes, “The approach of this book is scholarly and not anecdotal.” It is different from many books on prayers in that it gives detailed information on the biblical, Talmudic and other sacred sources. Rabbi Freundel, who serves as an Orthodox rabbi and professor of religion, gathered the material that he has taught at a university level and distilled it into book form, providing the Orthodox view. Lines of prayers are given in Hebrew and English and footnotes are provided. This is a valuable source of information for the scholar and anyone seeking to understand prayer. The book could be of practical use and help answer questions of the rabbi, cantor, prayer leader, gabbai, and worshipper.

Freundel addresses such questions as how many months should mourners recite the Mourners Kaddish, who should recite the prayer, should the mourner stand during the prayer, and hiring someone to recite for the deceased.

The book is an outstanding contribution to the history of prayer and is recommended for rabbis, Torah scholars, Orthodox synagogue libraries, and special libraries with Judaica collections.

The original article from the AJL Reviews on page 20 can be found here.

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AJL Review of Reasonable Doubts

May 29, 2011

by Kathe Pinchuck

Berman, Cheryl
Reasonable Doubts: A Religious Skeptic Learns a Thing or Two About God
Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2010.
158 pp. $19.95 (9789655240399)

As a college student, Cheryl Berman took a philosophy course and was hooked on the analytical process. As she pursued her studies, she began to question what was once a steadfast faith in God. One day, while walking back to her dormitory, she was hit by a taxi. Not only was her knee shattered, but also her concept of good and evil. By delving into a philosophical study of the paradox of theodicy (a loving God despite the existence of evil), she was able to appreciate that “faith is a process” and “a deeper faith is one that has been challenged.” While she chronicles her research and thought process, the book alternates chapters with a story of Elihu, a sixth century BCE Jewish exile in Babylonia who is writing The Book of Job. (This is a creative tactic. There are various opinions as to who wrote it.)

Similar to When Bad Things Happen to Good People in terms of an exploration driven by personal grief, the author’s sense of humor and intelligence are evident. What was an internal dialog that moved from frustration to consternation to acceptance makes for an interesting excursion. Through a gamut of arguments from luminaries including Maimonides, Kant, Descartes, Spinoza, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, and Viktor Frankl, as well as a reading of The Book of Job, Berman is able to come to terms with the questions that had perplexed her. Short biographies of the philosophers and rabbinic sources, as well as a bibliography of works cited would have been helpful. Highly recommended for libraries whose patrons are interested in philosophy, otherwise a solid optional purchase.

The original article from the AJL Review can be found here on page 17.


Valley Stream doctor documents family’s history in Flower of God

May 26, 2011

by Andrew Hackmack

Collecting information on his family’s history for more than seven decades, Dr. Herbert Ausubel has finally put his memories into words. The longtime Valley Stream doctor, who has been practicing on West Merrick Road for 51 years, is penning a six-part series and his first book was released last week.

The 80-year-old doctor’s book, Flower of God: A Jewish Family’s 3,000-Year Journey from Spice to Medicine, documents the history of the Ausubel family dating back to days of King Solomon. It traces the family’s migration from ancient Israel, to Babylon, Persia, Anatolia, Europe and finally the United States.

Ausubel was raised in a three-generation household, and heard many stories from his grandfather about their family history while growing up. As a child, he was reading college level books at 4 years old, so retaining information about his family was easy, although, “I didn’t plan to write a book when I was 4 years old,” he said.

His father moved to the United States in 1921 out of fears of anti-Semitism. Two years later, he published an article urging the Jews to leave Europe and re-establish their homeland in Palestine. Ausubel said he lost several relatives in the Holocaust.

It wasn’t until Read the rest of this entry »


Dr. Ida Akerman-Tieder: And You Shall Tell Your Children

May 25, 2011

by Prof. Livia Bitton Jackson

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is followed by Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel Independence Day. It is a natural progression in Jewish life – in Jewish history: Devastation followed by rebirth.

Dr. Akerman’s life story, And You Shall Tell Your Children, distributed by Urim Publications, is designed to fit these historical parameters, and more. She relates her experiences — tales of death and devastation — as they progress towards the miracles of survival and rebirth. The subtitle of her autobiography, “A Chronicle of Survival: Lessons of Life for Today,” says it all.

For the title of her recollections Dr. Akerman employs a pertinent quotation from the Haggadah, “And you shall tell your children,” with the identical objective: A commandment to relate the past — our people’s slavery in Egypt and the Exodus — as a lesson for the future.

Dr. Akerman was born Ida Tieder, in Berlin, several years before Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. Eventually, the Tieder family, Ida’s parents and two siblings, succeeded in escaping the ever-tightening noose of persecutions in Nazi Germany to Belgium, and then to France.

In touching detail the author relates her parents’ constant concern in trying to protect their children from the lurking danger in a France gradually turning into a Nazi regime. It is a life of ever-present menace for the German Jewish refugees, a life of one escape after another, of hasty retreats from hiding places in cities to hiding places in the countryside.

And yet, through it all, it is a narrative of unwavering faith and determination. Even when, on one fateful day returning from a town where she was sent by her parents on an errand, Ida found Read the rest of this entry »


A frank memoir about raising an autistic son

May 22, 2011

by Janice Arnold

The heartbreak and strain of raising a child with autism are recounted with candour and humour in Bad Animals: A Father’s Accidental Education in Autism (Viking Canada) by Montrealer Joel Yanofsky. For Yanofsky, best known as a book reviewer, and his wife, Cynthia Davis, their son Jonah’s diagnosis at almost age four was shattering.

The couple never expected to be parents, and in fact, weren’t married, when Cynthia, at 38, became pregnant. Joel was 42.

Their apprehension vanished when Jonah was born. The baby, to them, was blessed with a beauty they were at a loss to explain. They were besotted. Yanofsky couldn’t contain his pride. He worked his son into almost every column he wrote.

But their joy was soon shattered when the boy did not develop according to the norm. Yanofsky, who frankly admits to his own self-absorption, took it the hardest. His coping mechanism was to Read the rest of this entry »


Review of Families, Rabbis and Education: Traditional Jewish Society in Nineteenth-Century Eastern Europe

May 19, 2011

by Marc B. Shapiro

Families, Rabbis and Education: Traditional Jewish Society in Nineteenth-Century Eastern Europe
Author: Shaul Stampfer
Publisher: Littman Library

For many years now, Shaul Stampfer has been recognized as an authority in all things dealing with nineteenth-century Jewish Eastern Europe. In his newest book we have a collection of numerous essays representing more than twenty years of his scholarship, including one essay published for the first time (The Missing Rabbis of Eastern Europe).

Stampfer’s focus is not on the purely intellectual debates between rabbinic elites. He is more interested in social history, how average people and in particular women lived. Even his discussions of rabbis emphasize such matters as inheritance of rabbinic positions and the rabbi’s role in communal life. His sources are quite broad: traditional rabbinic works as well as Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian texts and newspapers.

I could write extensively about every essay, each of which taught me a great deal. (And I never imagined an entire essay could be written on the pushke and its development.) Yet to remain within the word limit for this review, let me just mention some of Stampfer’s most important points.

People have generally assumed that marriages in Jewish Eastern Europe were very stable, with divorce being quite rare. Stampfer, however, provides evidence to demonstrate that divorce was Read the rest of this entry »


You Come for One Reason But Stay for Another: Making the Odyssey to Israel could be subtitled “It takes an Optimist”

May 18, 2011

by Aviva Yoselis

Before opening Rabbi Mordechai Weiss’s new book about making aliyah, You Come for One Reason But Stay for Another: Making the Odyssey to Israel (Devora Publishing), I was a bit wary. The cover looked boring. More importantly, I, like Rabbi Weiss, the former executive director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County, had already trekked the path of new immigrant to Israel. Although he, unlike me, came with five teenagers in tow, I couldn’t help wondering what he could possibly tell me that I did not already know.

Three pages into the book, I was already laughing out loud.  Indeed, I had shared many of the same experiences as Rabbi Weiss, but his wit and candor kept me chuckling throughout most of the book.

Based on his e-mail correspondence with members of his former Teaneck-and-Miami tribe, You Come for One Reason is the story of Rabbi Weiss’s journey, a Teaneck Chabad rabbi for 21 years who decided to lead his family of ten children to the Land of Milk and Honey, in the middle of the Judean desert.

Unlike Rabbi Weiss, I made aliyah before the advent of Nefesh B’Nefesh.  Those were the days of disgruntled Misrad Hapanim (Ministry of the Interior) workers, of obnoxious clerks and employees who grew impatient with your limited Hebrew despite the fact that their parents had also emigrated with newcomers’ limited Hebrew, never mind that their parents had also been immigrants with little of no Hebrew to speak of.

In his book, Rabbi Weiss recalls an early encounter with the Ministry of Education in Israel, diplomas must be “certified” before they can be accepted by the country’s universities or other academic programs. After a lengthy process, he finally managed to procure his high school transcript but the Israeli clerk took one look at his diploma and declared it unacceptable. “Your name is handwritten, not typed,” she told him. Read the rest of this entry »