Dangerous to Think?

by Dr. Morris A. Shamah

Remember when you were the young rationalist? Remember when every decision was subjected to your brilliant newfound intellectual self, the mind that had just completed one term of college?

Do you remember the pain of that adolescent doubter, the obsessive concern about each action, about each ritual, about each sin? Is it rational to believe in this, or silly to perform that?

And for some of us, the fear that if we study biology, or psychology, and certainly philosophy we will sinfully lose the religion of our fathers. Surely you have heard of that horrible course that was given in college Continue reading “Dangerous to Think?”

Beyond Politics: Inspirational People of Israel

by Yocheved Golani

Title: Beyond Politics: Inspirational People of Israel
Author: Ronda Robinson
Publisher: Mazo Publishers

Beyond Politics: Inspirational People of Israel is a compact introduction to decency. Its eighteen personal profiles illustrate how Israelis from all walks of society improve the Holy Land’s quality of life, and then some. Author Ronda Robertson is a freelance journalist who decided to offset mainstream media’s negative stereotyping of today’s Israelis with a book. She did an outstanding job of presenting the goodness of Israel to the world at large in a mere 144-page paperback.

Unlike formulaic biographies from popular publishing houses in the Orthodox Jewish world, Beyond Politics is not predictable. The vignettes of individual men and women who trekked through Ethiopia and Sudan, flew in from Austria, India and Algeria, or were born on Israeli soil are gritty, adventurous and heartwarming.

Robinson lets her readers see, hear and taste the efforts that her subjects made to become part of Israel. Shlomo Malla rose from being an illiterate desert dweller who walked 485 dangerous miles to become an Israeli and later a highly educated politician; former Algerian Sara Lanesman made aliyah to unify Israel’s deaf citizens with a sign language they can share, ending the confusion of multiple signing dialects in one tiny country; Dr. Lior Sasson leads the way in healing indigent children around the world of heart defects – at no cost to their families; terror attack survivor Liora Tedgi saves psychological lives with her Terror Victims Support Center. Each of them explains the gut-wrenching moments that changed their lives forever, and how they chose to help others to cope with fear, social alienation, life-endangering illness and grief. Other people lift just as vividly off the page to inspire you and the information-challenged critics of Israel’s Jewish population. Continue reading Beyond Politics: Inspirational People of Israel

Prayer for the Jewish Soldier

For the Love of Israel and the Jewish Peopleby Nathan Lopes Cardozo


Lord of the Universe:

We, the soldiers of the people of Israel

Come to You in humility

And pray for your help.


Once more we are asked to defend our

People and

The Holy Land against our enemies.


We ask You to have mercy on us and

Help us watch over our people

With clean hands

And with a heart filled with mercy.


Let our people have the strength to

Stay in good spirits

And live in unity and

Walk in Your ways,

The ways of justice and truth.


Let us not make mistakes

And hurt those who are not guilty,

Who do not understand

And have no part in this conflict.



Let our bullets not hurt those children of our enemies

Whose parents place them deliberately in dangerous spots,

Fire on us

And then shield themselves

Behind their own offspring against

Our forces so as to fault us when their children

Are wounded or even killed.


Remove the evil spirit of these parents

And make them realize the wickedness of their actions.


Stop their teachers from manipulating their students

With hate for us in their schoolbooks

On the radio, television and

The Internet.


O God,

You know what one of our prime ministers once said:

“We may forgive our enemies one day

For hurting and killing our children


We cannot forgive them for having made our children

Into those who needed to kill.”

We beg You, do not let our Jewish souls have to undergo


This ordeal that we cannot bear.

We are the children of Avraham, your servant, who

Prayed for the evil people of Sedom in the hope that

They would repent and live decent lives.


So, we beg you:

Make our enemies repent.

Make them understand that

We are good people

Who wish to live in peace with

All our neighbors.


O Lord,

Remove from their thoughts atrocities such as those

In which they dip their hands

In our blood.

As Jews, we

Cannot fathom

Doing this to even our worst enemies.


You commanded us to live in a country that

Is little more

Than a tiny island.

Our population is smaller than that of

Many single cities.


You asked us to live there so as to send

Your holy Word to all the corners of the world.


We are surrounded by many nations who

Contain more than a hundred million people.

They inhabit one of the largest regions of the world

But deny us the right to live in even the smallest corner of the world.

They do not want to listen

And only wish our death.


Give the Arab nations


Who pursue justice and who really

Care for their people

And do not wish to bring their own brothers to despair

And unbearable pain

With the intention

Of accusing us

Of grave injustice.



After thousands of years of our dwelling

In this world and after many exiles, tortures, pogroms,

Expulsions and Holocausts

We finally found our way back to our

Small homeland

That You promised to our ancestors.


Yet once more our dreams of peace

Have gone up in smoke

While we try, at the risk of our own lives,

To find a way to

Allow our Palestinian neighbors to

Live their own lives.


While we were prepared to make sacrifices

For the welfare of these people

As no other people ever did

While we offered them land, peace, finances

And even firearms so as to defend themselves,

We once more pay the price for being a people

Who believe in the honesty of another nation and its leaders

And once more we feel misled.


Oh Lord, remove the evil intentions of the

Security Council, which distorts the truth.

Remove the deliberate lies

From the hearts of those who head the


Why do they want to portray us

As an evil people?

They do so

To deny Your existence and Your moral


They hide behind their own wickedness

And cover up their own and their ancestors’

Immoral acts that they committed against us

And our ancestors for thousands

Of years.


O God, You know


No army in world history has used as much restraint

As ours.

No army is so careful not to hurt or kill

As ours.

But what shall we do when they are not even prepared

To give us the option

To prove this to the world?


Please, God,

Bring peace into the hearts and minds

Of our enemies.

Let them be uplifted with a spirit of righteousness.

Stop them from hating us because we are Your people.

Let us sanctify Your name as this is our

Mission and our dream.

Give us the possibility once more to teach

Your ways to the peoples

Of the world

And make them hear and



We hate war as nobody else does.

We abhor the need to wear weapons.

We cannot stand the sound of our own artillery

And our tanks.


We are the people of the Book,

The Book that demands holiness,


And integrity.

Our heroes are not the generals or the marshals

But our prophets and our sages,

Righteous people.

So deliver us from this anguish.

Bring peace to the nations.

Let us not be forced to use our strength against them

For they will have no escape.


Let the blessing that you gave to Avraham come true –

“Through you all the families of the earth will be blessed” –

For this is our hope.


–Chapter 34 from Cardozo’s For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People: Essays and Studies on Israel, Jews and Judaism.

Historical Novel Society review of Waltzing with the Enemy

by Ken Kreckel

This is another memoir from a survivor of the Holocaust, but one with some crucial differences. First off, it is written by both the survivor, who relates the facts, and her daughter, who must come to terms with the reality of her mother’s life against her own sheltered upbringing. In this sense it is a dual journey, which mirrors how we relate to the enormity of the historical event. Another difference is Rasia Kliot herself, who grew up in a upper middle class home, and, when the Holocaust hit, was exceedingly resourceful in surviving it. Not your typical death camp story, it is instead a celebration of the human spirit, but one that reveals a hidden, and perhaps unexpected, cost.

As Kliot and Mitsios are hardly accomplished authors, the book at first reads as a cold matter-of-fact recitation of events. But what initially feels like somewhat shallow writing begins to be something more. The story itself reveals the emotional cost for the survivor, the burying of emotion, the denial of her essence, as if in denying her very Jewishness she can spare her daughter any possibility of being exposed to such danger. The daughter’s narrative then becomes a journey of discovery in understanding her own middle class non-Jewish childhood and her mother’s motives in building such a life. It is a complex story, one that is thought-provoking and universal in appeal. Only when we come to understand our parents as people are we able to fully take our place in the world as fully functioning adults.

This review appeared in the August 2011 Historical Novels Review Issue 57.

Review of The Poetry of Prayer: Tehillim in Tefillah

by Gil Student

The Poetry of Prayer: Tehillim in Tefillah
By Rabbi Avi Baumol
Gefen Publishing House
Jerusalem, 2009
100 pages

For a book on prayer to be successful, it has to be smart but not too smart. A book that is too intellectual may engage your mind, but as it delves into the details of history and philology it generally becomes a book that takes the mind too far from the heart. On the other hand, a book that inspires superficially may add to the power of the readers’ prayers in general, but it fails to educate the readers about what the prayer means. Rabbi Avi Baumol carefully treads that fine line. He analyzes the elements of Tehillim that can be found in five sections of the prayer service. His style is informed of scholarship, including the history of prayer and the literary structure of Tehillim, but the analysis isn’t too complex. Rabbi Baumol does an excellent job at making his study uplifting and relevant to someone who prays. After reading this book, you come away not just knowing prayer better, but praying better.

This review appeared in Jewish Action Fall 2011.

Journey to Heaven, Is it The Next World?

by Batya Medad

It has taken me a long time to read Leila Leah Bronner’s Journey to Heaven, but that’s my fault, not hers.  Most of my weekday reading is either on the computer or for my Bible studies.

I was very anxious to get started on Bronner’s book, because I’m very curious about The Next World,  our “life” after death.  It’s not my specialty.  From my limited knowledge I’ve been under the impression that the next world is when we pay the real price for our sins and get proper rewards for our good.  I was looking for some confirmation.

Journey to Heaven isn’t that sort of book.  Bronner’s book is more academic than spiritual or emotional.  She brings all sorts of texts, not all are Jewish, to explain what happens after death according to Judaism.  I suggest watching these two youtube videos to hear what Bronner has to say.  She really is fascinating.

Bronner’s book is very Continue reading Journey to Heaven, Is it The Next World?”

Why a Haggadah?

by Jonathan Safran Foer

I SPENT much of the last several years working on a new Haggadah — the guidebook for the prayers, rituals and songs of the Seder — and am often asked why I would want to take time away from my own writing to invest myself in such a project.

All my life, my parents have hosted the Seder on the first night of Passover. As our family expanded, and as our definition of family expanded, we moved the ritual dinner from our dining room to our more spacious, mildewed basement. One table became many table-like surfaces pushed awkwardly together. I always knew Passover was approaching when my father would ask me to take the net off the ping-pong table. All were covered in once matching, stained tablecloths.

At each setting was a Haggadah that my parents had assembled by photocopying favorite passages from other Haggadot and, when the Foers finally got Internet access, by printing online sources. Why is this night different from all others? Because on this night copyright doesn’t apply.

In the absence of a stable homeland, Jews have made their home in books, and the Haggadah — whose core is the retelling of the Exodus from Egypt — has been translated more widely, and revised more often, than any other Jewish book. Everywhere Jews have wandered, there have been Haggadot — from the 14th-century Sarajevo Haggadah (which is said to have survived World War II under the floorboards of a mosque, and the siege of Sarajevo in a bank vault), to those made by Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel during Operation Moses.

But of the 7,000 known versions, not to mention the countless homemade editions, there is one that is used more than all others combined. Continue reading “Why a Haggadah?”

Review of Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu

by Marc Herman

How does Jewish law change?   How does a system that claims divine sanction adapt to new circumstances and justify such adaptations?  This is the subject of Michael J. Broyde’s latest contribution, Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu.  Broyde, Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law and member of the Rabbinical Council of America’s beth din, brings his considerable halakhic knowledge and legal prowess to bear on a rather obscure area of Jewish law, the mishnaic abridgment of the Amidah, known as Havineinu.  Any casual observer of contemporary Jewish practice will notice that Havineinu has fallen into disuse; accounting for the abandonment of this shortened-prayer is the task of this monograph.

The bulk of this book, four of the five chapters, reads like an extended synagogue lecture series, which makes it difficult to read as an academically oriented tome. Admirably, sources are cited, translated thoroughly, and organized in clear, accessible charts.  The audience of this book is clearly not the Continue reading “Review of Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu

Lookstein Bookjed Digest on Jewish Prayer the Right Way

by Marc Rosenberg

Davening is one of those things in life that definitely gets better with age. Teaching people how to daven is also easier talked about than practiced and is often left to modeling (watching how other people perform) or reading literature on tefilla. While there are many works that complement the siddur, reading Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen’s Jewish Prayer the Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas (Urim Publications 2012) one discovers an easily digestible resource and an important addition to an educator’s library.

Cohen’s style of writing is extremely clear and the queries presented on each aspect of tefilla lend to excellent trigger topics for formal and informal educators looking to prepare for activities. I could almost hear how such a book was developed out of a tefilla course given at a high school or from mini-lectures between mincha/maariv in a local shul. This work reflects both Cohen’s scholarly and rabbinic pedigree and his keen eye for what resonates with contemporary readers. Topics range from “The Chazzan’s Place” and “Prayers for Luxury” to “Kaddish for a Gentile Parent” and “Davening on the Airplane”.

One shortfall of this work, I found, was in the title. In proclaiming what appears to be his series of “the Right Way” Cohen seems to be espousing that there is a single halachic answer to each question presented, whereas in my personal experience and paying close attention to several excerpts in this book, there is sometimes no clear answer to conclude. As some of the questions do address issues of minhag I found the scent of this authoritarian angle to misrepresent what the goal of writing this was to do. This title clause does not however detract from the bountiful research within the binding but I would have liked to read more in the introduction from the author on this issue.

Another curiosity in reviewing this book was the quiet side stepping of clearly more controversial tefilla issues. The closest you get to a question in the neighborhood of feminism is “Women Davening in Synagogues”. Cohen does address, in the sub chapter on “Kavod Hatzibur”, of women being called up to the Torah but does not reference any possible impact or contextualization and concludes with a short one sentence paragraph stating that “it would be a breach of Jewish law and tradition for any congregation to assume that they have the authority to annul the ordinance of the Talmudic Sages prohibiting women from being called up for an aliyah” (241). In the most objective manner that I can write, I would like to have seen the issue addressed in a more practical application.

Overall, Jewish Prayer the Right Way offers a rich reading on the topic of tefilla and should be acquired by educators and readers who want to be enriched by the story of how religious law and life are intertwined.

Marc Rosenberg blogs about Tefillah at http://davenspot.blogspot.com/