Focusing on the Jewish Story of the New Testament

by Mark Oppenheimer

SAN FRANCISCO — Growing up Jewish in North Dartmouth, Mass., Amy-Jill Levine loved Christianity.

Her neighborhood “was almost entirely Portuguese and Roman Catholic,” Dr. Levine said last Sunday at her book party here during the annual American Academy of Religion conference. “My introduction to Christianity was ethnic Roman Catholicism, and I loved it. I used to practice giving communion to Barbie. Church was like the synagogue: guys in robes speaking languages I didn’t understand. My favorite movie was ‘The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima.’ ”

Christianity might have stayed just a fascination, but for an unfortunate episode in second grade: “When I was 7 years old, one girl said to me on the school bus, Continue reading “Focusing on the Jewish Story of the New Testament”

I Give Thanks

Excerpt from And You Shall Tell Your Children by Ida Akerman:


I’m no longer in the camp

delivered up to the wicked

and cohabiting

with all and sundry.

I’m no longer shut away

separated from my father,

sleeping on straw

In the midst of a shambles.

I’m no longer down there

in the huts in winter

with rats and lice

running hither and thither,

floundering in the mud

and tearing my little summer dress

trying to cross

the barbed-wire barrier.

I no longer have

to go walking on the jetty

in the cold and wind

with the waves of the sea

splashing against me

and drenching my light canvas shoes.

I’m no longer dying of hunger

running after scraps of bread

or have holes in the ground

for performing my elementary needs.

I no longer read suffering

anxiety and despair

on the faces of all these people

reduced to helpless misery.

I run in Continue reading “I Give Thanks”

Bus-stop books – Israel’s newest public library

by Karin Kloosterman

Imagine a library where there are no due dates and no librarians telling you to be quiet. Israeli artists have developed a new model for the urban library: a free bus-stop library for commuters and travelers of all ages.

Daniel Shoshan, an installation artist and lecturer at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, along with Technion graduate Amit Matalon, started this new public library concept figuring that people sometimes have long wait times for buses.

Their motto: You may take, you may return, you may add.

The duo built a series of bookshelves at bus stops throughout Israeli cities. The idea is that anyone may take a book from the shelf, read it at the station or take it on the bus and return it when done.

No due dates, no late fees, no rules.

At first they did an experiment to see if the dynamics would work. Would the shelves refill? Would people participate? Continue reading “Bus-stop books – Israel’s newest public library”

Local scholars plumb ‘Prophets’ – New commentaries focus on the “other” Shabbat reading

by Abigail Klein Leichman

The haftarah, the bane of every bar mitzvah kid, is making a comeback.

Not that it ever disappeared from the synagogue service, in which the weekly Torah portion is always followed by a short relevant passage from the books of the prophets (the word “haftarah” signifies conclusion in Hebrew).

It is just that the average synagogue-goer does not pay much attention to this reading. Some new books of commentary on the weekly haftarot (the plural of haftarah) are putting the prophets back in the spotlight, however.

The newest tome is Continue reading “Local scholars plumb ‘Prophets’ – New commentaries focus on the “other” Shabbat reading”

Jewish Telegraph on Martin Stern and A Time to Speak – Controversial Essays that Can Change Your Life

AUTHOR Martin Stern – a forceful defender of orthodoxy – says he partly owes his writing ability to the Jewish Telegraph.

He recently published A Time to Speak – Controversial Essays that Can Change Your Life.

Mr Stern revealed that he was provoked in 1985 into becoming a frequent Jewish Telegraph correspondent by a JT column by the late Rabbi E S Rabinowitz.

According to Mr Stern, it “gave an altogether far too lenient ruling on family planning, at least in the context of a paper aiming at the not particularly observant public”.

He went on: “The rabbi’s view was that the man can’t Continue reading “Jewish Telegraph on Martin Stern and A Time to Speak – Controversial Essays that Can Change Your Life”

Review of Journey to Heaven

by Israel Drazin

Journey to Heaven
Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife
By Leila Leah Bronner
Urim Publications, 2011, 207 pages
ISBN 978-965-524-047-4

Many scholars take the position that no book of the Hebrew Bible, with the possible exception of the late second century BCE Daniel 12:2-3, speaks about life after death, and are convinced that the various ideas about the after-life were taken from pagan notions.  Daniel states that “those who sleep in the dust will awake.” This may refer to the people as a whole who will be able to defeat their Syrian Greek oppressors and be a free nation again. Be this as it may, the second century BCE was the first time that this concept entered Judaism as a view of the Pharisees, and it was strongly objected to by the more conservative Sadducees.

Dr. Bronner, a professor at several prominent universities, takes an opposite view. She sees frequent references to an afterlife in the early biblical books, including the Five Books of Moses, and she details, with full quotes, what these sources say.  She describes the growth of these beliefs in post-biblical discussions about life after death, the world to come, heaven, hell, judgment, resurrection, and reincarnation. She introduces readers to books such as the apocrypha and the pseudepigrapha. She discusses the views of rabbis, philosophers, and mystics.

She feels that the Torah is speaking about an afterlife when it mentions “Sheol” some sixty five times and when it uses synonyms like “the pit” and “the hidden place,” although others define these terms as the grave. She sees phrases like “gathered to one’s people” and “sleeping with his fathers” as a “belief in some kind of existence after death,” while others read them as beautiful metaphors for “he died.” She also reads the belief in life after death in six verbs, Continue reading “Review of Journey to Heaven”

People of the Byte from JewishIdeasDaily

by Alex Joffe

Jews have long been the People of the Book.  But as computers replace books and possibly libraries, museums, and universities, will they soon be the People of the Byte?  If so, what will happen to their understanding of their history?  These were the questions raised by a recent two-day conference at the Center for Jewish History titled “From Access to Integration.”  At the sessions, librarians, archivists, and scholars explored the cutting edge of the Jewish digital world.  They outlined the immense technical challenges involved in creating databases for scholarly and public use and described the digitization projects that are steadily surmounting these challenges.  They also addressed the puzzle of “integration,” which may be harder to solve.

It is astonishing to see how far technology has come in making Jewish information available.  Tasks that are impossible for the human eye to perform—like reuniting the hundreds of thousands of dispersed fragments of the Cairo Genizah in New York, Cambridge, and elsewhere—are being done by computer algorithms.  The diversity of Jewish sound—hazzanut, Israeli folk songs, Borscht Belt comedy routines, Torah chanting from Lithuania to Morocco—can be preserved and disseminated to anyone in the world with a computer.  Jewish newspapers from Israel and Arab countries, Ottoman-era photographs of the Holy Land, and archives of Jewish communities living and dead, especially documentation of the vast life of European Jewry—all of these are or will soon be available.

Yet technology, which can make two- and even three-dimensional representations of the past available again, cannot make them alive.  How will these streams of data flow into the individual and collective processes of creating a historical memory with texture and feeling?  Will the human relationship to the material remains of the past be reduced to “output”?   Continue reading “People of the Byte from JewishIdeasDaily”

Pomeranz Bookseller with Joshua Golding, author of The Conversation, a modern version of the Kuzari

Meet the Author of The Conversation (Urim Fiction, 2011), Joshua Golding, at Pomeranz Bookseller in Jerusalem, Monday, December 19, 2011 at 19:00.

Book synopsis:
David Goldstein is a fairly typical Jewish American college student. All he really knows about his Jewish identity is that he’s expected to marry a Jewish girl and that the State of Israel is important, but that’s about it.

In his freshman year he develops a passionate interest not only in a beautiful and brainy non- Jewish coed, but also in some of the major philosophical questions. Is the purpose of life just to seek pleasure? Is there an objectively good way to live one’s life?

In his sophomore year, as his romantic life takes several twists and turns, David delves into Judaism and the philosophy of religion. Is the belief in God rational or is it a matter of faith? If there is a God, why is there evil and suffering in the world? How do Jewish teachings differ from Eastern mystical religions? Why don’t Jews accept Christianity? Soon, a disturbing personal event in his life propels him toward even deeper reflection.

In his junior year, a chance meeting draws him into the study of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah. Finally, in his senior year, he charts his own path and comes to a conclusion that will shape his life forever.

David’s four-year journey takes him through a series of conversations with rabbis and professors, bull sessions with friends, emails, phone calls, letters, journal entries, exams, term papers, lectures, and even a Talmud study session. Follow David on this philosophical, spiritual, and intensely personal quest as he learns about God and Judaism – as well as a few other things along the way.

About the author:
Joshua Golding is a professor of philosophy at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. He has held research positions at the University of Haifa and at the University of Notre Dame and is the author of Rationality and Religious Theism (Ashgate, 2003). He has published articles in Religious Studies, Faith and Philosophy, Modern Schoolman, Tradition, and Torah U-Madda Journal, and has rabbinical ordination. This is his first work of fiction.

Praise for The Conversation:
The Conversation is a rare combination of an intellectually engaging and enjoyable read. It enlivens various philosophical and religious positions, and then puts Judaism into an animated conversation with them. It’s a kind of Chaim Potok meets Philosophy 101. The results are rich in narrative, tradition and ideas. It is also an excellent book for young adults and their parents to read at the same time, to stimulate discussion about important issues and challenges.”
-Faydra Shapiro, Associate Professor of Religion and Culture, and author of Building Jewish Roots (winner of the National Jewish Book Award)

Jewish Telegraph article on Intergalactic Judaism

RABBI DAVID LISTER is returning to his Prestwich roots to launch a book conceived in his hometown.

It was at the Prestwich home of his parents, Roger and Eve Lister, that in 1999 the then minister of Reading Hebrew Congregation read the BBC book, The Planets.

Despite dropping science subjects at Manchester Jewish Grammar School to study French at university, Rabbi Lister became fascinated by scientific links to the Torah.

He said: “The beautifully presented book was a fascinating read. It got me thinking about biblical verses, which referred to the stars, the sun and the earth etc.

“As I was reading about different features of the planets, the stars and the wind, I kept thinking about biblical references.

“It occurred to me that God knew about recent scientific discoveries way back when He gave us the biblical books. I began to wonder how we might incorporate the scientific knowledge and whether it could give us any new insights into what God was saying.”

Thus was born Intergalactic Judaism, which Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks described in his foreword as “a work that combines dazzling erudition in astronomy, theoretical physics and various other scientific disciplines with a fine knowledge of Jewish mysticism and biblical commentaries — and an ability to combine them seamlessly into a world which is both spiritual and humane”.

Rabbi Lister is at pains to emphasise that Intergalactic Judaism is not trying to justify Torah in scientific terms.

He said: “I’m not interested in that. Science changes all the time. You can prove the Torah with science as much as you like, but if in 100 years’ time science is different, what’s the point?”

The book examines Torah metaphors which incorporate scientific phenomena, using contemporary understanding of these to enhance spiritual messages as in his comparison between Continue reading “Jewish Telegraph article on Intergalactic Judaism”