Things Overheard in the Synagogue review

by Eli K.

This generation has witnessed a proliferation of Torah literature, from Halachic treatises to Biblical exegeses.  Yet despite the outpouring of Jewish religious books, there is a major vacuum in Orthodox literature – the absence of religious poetry.  Well, I am happy to tell you that a good friend of mine, Rabbi Ira Bedzow, has begun to fill that void.

In Things Overheard in the Synagogue, Rabbi Bedzow identifies religious, personal and social themes in a poetic style unparalleled in its ability to convey depth with simplicity.  Simple observations lead to complex introspection; natural feelings compel sophisticated reflections; and common conversations inspire philosophical insights.

Although titled Things Overheard in the Synagogue, this book encompasses things overheard in the street, in the home, and things not overheard at all, but residing in the private, active mind of the author.  The concept of memory is analyzed (page 32); social interactions are dissected (e.g. page 51); and Biblical passages come alive (e.g. page 16) as a range of human experience is expressed through the prism of a thoughtful religious scholar.

This book is sure to resonate with the thinking Orthodox Jew.  Some of Rabbi Bedzow’s emotions strike a common chord and express what many of us feel but are perhaps reluctant or unable to properly express.  Some of Rabbi Bedzow’s thoughts are novel and will catch the reader off guard.  But all of them are eloquent and enjoyable to read.

The Orthodox world is indebted to Rabbi Bedzow for retrieving a long-lost art in rabbinic literature.  I thought Orthodox poetry was dead, but, apparently, there is an individual valiantly attempting to resuscitate it.

This was posted on Provocative Perspectives.

Shofar Journal review of An Italian Renaissance: Choosing Life in Canada

An Italian Renaissance: Choosing Life in Canada, by Robert Eli Rubinstein Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2010. 177 pp. $24.95. ISBN 978-965-524-044-3.

Having suffered horrific personal losses in the Second World War, Bela Rubinstein and Judit Schwarcz decided that there was no future in Hungary, the land of their birth. Together with a few surviving relatives, they were able to escape just before the Communists sealed the borders. They were trapped in northern Italy, in a refugee camp for homeless Jews, for almost three years. This involuntary sojourn served the unintended but beneficial purpose of preparing Bela and Judit for their gradual return to normal life. Finally, an opportunity arose to immigrate to Canada, which ultimately proved to be a land of great blessing. The Rubinsteins established a home, raised a family, and integrated into the community. Along the way, they were able to reclaim the ancestral faith that had been ravaged in the death camps, and this imbued their lives with meaning and purpose. Yet sadly, despite this remarkable demonstration of human resilience, long-suppressed demons were to gain the upper hand as age-related infirmity eroded their painstakingly cultivated emotional fortitude.

– Shofar Journal (Summer 2011)

You are Invited to a Book Launch

Herod The Man Who Had to be King

An Historical Novel by
Yehuda Shulewitz ז”ל
Completed and Co-Edited by
Malka Hillel-Shulewitz
Published by Penina Press

Beit Avichai
44 King George St., Jerusalem
(ז’ אדר תשע”ב) Weds., Feb. 29, 2012
Reception & Refreshments from 5 p.m.
Program begins promptly at 5.45 p.m.

  • Introduction by Dr. Mordechai Nisan, Lecturer in Middle East Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem on The Relationship Between History and the Novel
  • Musical Interlude with the Kolot mei Ha’Olam Ensemble Arranged by Cyrelle Simon
  • Followed by Ezra Rosenfeld, Founder and Head of Tanach Tiyulim on How the Rabbis View Herod

Moderator: Malka Hillel-Shulewitz

We will be delighted by your presence.
Please let us know if you can join us.
RSVP to by 25.2.12
Entrance to parking below Beit Avichai, Keren Kayemet St.

Brave doc tells how religious community covers up abuse . . .

by Doreen Wachmann

Wachmann talks to an observant psychologist who lifts the lid on a previously taboo subject of abuse in the Orthodox world

MUCH has been written about abuse in the Catholic Church but less about that committed by Orthodox Jews and covered up by the religious establishment.

One man who has been brave enough to raise the lid on the Orthodox community’s tendency to protect the perpetrators of abuse rather than the victims is New York psychologist Dr Michael Salamon.

His courageous comments are made in his recently published book Abuse in the Jewish Community – Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims (published by Urim).

Revelations about abuse in the Catholic Church led to a torrent of abuse against the Church with many objecting to the Pope’s visit to Britain because of the issue.

But Dr Salamon, an Orthodox Jew, claims he is not a “charedi basher”.

He says: “I was born into a religious family. I grew up going to yeshiva.”

When asked whether he would describe himself as charedi, he said: “I hate religious labels. When I was growing up there were no distinctions. I still believe there should be no distinction.

“I guess people would refer to me as modern Orthodox. I and all my family went to very prestigious yeshivot. My wife Naomi also attended the Orthodox school system.”

Dr Salamon became interested in the subject of abuse in the Jewish community early in his career as a psychologist.

Cases of abuse in the Jewish community were referred to him 30 years ago when he was the only Orthodox person working in a clinic on research for the National Institute of Mental Health.

In one case a young woman in her late teens was abused by a close relative. But her Continue reading “Brave doc tells how religious community covers up abuse . . .”

Book Review of Stages of Spiritual Growth

by Rachel Wizenfeld

For today’s Jew seeking to grow spiritually, there’s mussar, and then there is modern psychology. Armed with 20th century research on how behaviors develop and how humans create internal change, today’s Jewish do-gooder has an arsenal of tools beyond Pirkei Avos and the mussar masters to work on problems like, say, gossiping or overeating.

Many frum authors, notably Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski and Miriam Adahan, have blended mussar and modern psychology in their works.

Now, a new book takes this genre a step deeper – offering a serious and comprehensive approach to self-growth that includes deep Torah concepts, mussar applications and proven psychological realities.

Stages of Spiritual Growth: Resolving the Tension Between Self-expression and Submission to Divine Will, authored by Jerusalem-based teacher Batya Gallant, reads like a thoughtful, insightful class lecture, and is meant to be a manual for honing one’s spiritual essence throughout the decades of one’s life.

Gallant uses the text from an essay by R’ Tzadok Hakohen of Lublin (1823-1900) to develop a lifelong Torah-oriented approach towards spiritual growth for the reader, using her background in psychology to add insight, depth and practical applications.

The thesis of the book, drawn from R’ Tzadok’s essay, posits that spiritual growth follows a predictable sequence through the primary middos of chesed, gevurah and emes, roughly translated as Continue reading “Book Review of Stages of Spiritual Growth”

This ‘Conversation’ is worth listening to

David Goldstein, the central character in Bellarmine University philosophy professor Joshua Golding’s new novel, is a fairly typical American Jewish college student, in that he is expected to marry a Jewish girl, and he knows that the state of Israel is important and, beyond that, he does not know very much about his heritage.

As a college freshman, David begins to encounter the big questions: Is there a God? If so, why does He permit evil and suffering in the world? And what does it mean to be Jewish?

The Conversation is neatly divided into four sections — freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years — and follows David as he learns about Judaism and philosophy.

The reader, of course, learns along with him.

The novel is, by and large, conversational, hence the title. We see David in dialogue with rabbis, professors, fellow students and friends, as he seeks a personal understanding of deep questions that are only now beginning to make themselves real to him.

The story is likewise multi-textual, told in conversations, letters, journal entries, emails, lectures and essays for class (complete with the professor’s markings and marginalia in red ink!). Differing typefaces are used for each genre.

Published in Israel by Urim Publications, the book has been beautifully produced.

The book is an interesting hybrid — a novel that is also intended to instruct.

The philosophical content is quite accessible for the lay reader. In some quarters, this book might find itself compared to Jostein Gaarder’s 1991 novel Sophie’s World, but it should not be.

Sophie’s World folded nugget-like philosophy lectures inside a sprawling narrative. The Conversation is a sustained inquiry, an ongoing intellectual back-and-forth, with as many questions raised as answered, which, I am given to understand, closely follows long-standing Judaic tradition.

The Conversation is both a coming-of-age story and a primer on Judaic philosophy. If this dual nature limits its literary accomplishment, the reader is amply compensated by the ideas espoused, debated, argued, pondered, and by the deep humanity of the character of David.

Golding has held research positions at the University of Haifa in Israel and at the University of Notre Dame. He is also the author of Rationality and Religious Theism.

This article may be found at the Courier-Journal site.

Can education alone save the Jewish People?

by Robert Eli Rubinstein

Since biblical times, we Jews have been a famously contrary lot, and the erosion of traditional values in the modern period has only deepened the divisions. Yet there is a single article of faith proclaimed with startling unanimity and certitude by all who profess to care about the survival of the Jewish people.

From one end of the broad Jewish spectrum to the other, from secular humanists to the most rigidly devout, Jewish education is promoted as the key to securing the Jewish future. In last week’s CJN, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman added his powerful voice to the chorus. As he put it, “Nothing is more crucial to advancing this goal [of ensuring the continuation of a strong Jewish identity] than Jewish education. At all levels, from the earliest age in the home, through formal and informal education at all levels, there is no alternative to exposing the next generation to Jewish values, traditions and identity.”

I began entertaining doubts about the conventional wisdom regarding Jewish education years ago, and these have only increased as I raised my own children and became ever more involved in the lay leadership of the Jewish schools they attended. Let me make clear that I am not saying I no longer value Jewish education. Rather, what I mean is that in the distant past, the lives of our people were suffused with a critical mass of Jewish content, and this preserved in them a strong sense of self as Jews. Today, however, the great majority of Jews wish to replace the actual practice of Judaism with mere knowledge of Judaism. As a consequence of this shift, we tend to have overblown and unrealistic expectations regarding the efficacy of Jewish education in building Jewish identity.

In 1986, the Canadian Jewish Congress, Ontario region, commissioned a “Task Force on Assimilation, Intermarriage and Jewish Identity”, which I was privileged to co-chair. Following an intensive investigative process, the taskforce issued a report setting forth recommendations for counteracting the erosion of affiliation among Jews. Looking back, I am struck by the fact that almost all the recommendations involved promoting Jewish education in one form or another. In the years since, our community’s deep conviction that Jewish education is the panacea for assimilation has continued to grow, as reflected by its ever-expanding investment in Jewish educational facilities and resources. Yet parallel to this trend and notwithstanding our heroic efforts, we have witnessed a relentless increase in the rate of attrition.

Some years ago, I was visiting in Borough Park, a Brooklyn neighbourhood heavily populated by readily identifiable chassidic Jews. While strolling along the main street on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I came across a group of Continue reading “Can education alone save the Jewish People?”

Thumbs up for the new book Abuse in the Jewish Community

by Vicki Polin

Finally, after several long months of waiting, Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims, has been published by a well known Jerusalem based publishing house — Urim Publications.

This must read book uses simple language to explain what abuse and neglect are and the context of how many cases have been mishandled in the past within Jewish orthodox communities worldwide.  We all must be aware that every faith based community has its own unique manner of explaining and often ignoring sex crimes, domestic violence and other types of abuse. This is also true for Judaism. Finally, psychologist, Michael J. Salamon has put together a book that addresses issues in a clear and succinct manor.

While there have recently been two edited books on the topic of abuse within the orthodox world, some of the authors and editors have little training or experience in the anti-rape field. Often parading themselves around as experts, detracting from the real message that needs to be promulgated.

According to those in the marketing field, when a person sees a name seven to eleven times they most likely will start to see that individual as a friend and or an expert in what ever it is they are trying to sell.  Unfortunately, in the Jewish world we have seen this happen to many times when it comes to those promoting themselves as experts.  What ends up happening is that survivors of abuse and non-offending parents end up going to these self-proclaimed experts for help — and end up being taken for a horrible ride. All too often these types of cases never get reported to official law enforcement agencies and or the evidence becomes tainted.

Michael J. Salamon not only has the proper education, he also has years of experience working with survivors, along with a proven track record of handling cases appropriately. Meaning, when one suspects a child is being abused or neglected, one should automatically call their local child abuse hot-line, and NOT ask a local orthodox rabbi for permission first.  If a house was on fire, one would NOT ask a rabbi for permission to call 911, the same MUST be true for our children. Continue reading “Thumbs up for the new book Abuse in the Jewish Community