Utilizing Halacha To Address Difficult Social And Medical Issues


by Rivkah Blau

A writer of non-fiction for the general community has to know the topic well; a writer for the observant Jewish community has an additional requirement – to understand that Jewish law, halacha, informs our decisions and actions.

To write about such a sensitive topic as talking about intimacy with one’s children, we need a psychologist who has experience teaching children. For Jewish perspectives on genetic diseases we require a doctor who is up on the latest research in genetics. For both topics, the authors should know thehalacha, present primary Torah sources, and consult rabbis on difficult questions. Fortunately, Bernard Scharfstein at Ktav Publishing House found the appropriate authors at the moment we really need books on these two subjects.

Dr. Yocheved Debow is the perfect author for the first book, Talking About Intimacy and Sexuality: A Guide for Orthodox Jewish Parents. She has a BA in psychology and education and an MA in child clinical and school psychology from Hebrew University, and a Ph.D. from Bar Ilan, where her research was on sexuality and intimacy education in the Modern Orthodox community. Continue reading “Utilizing Halacha To Address Difficult Social And Medical Issues”

A Review of Recalling the Covenant by Rabbi Moshe Shamah

by Daniel Scheiderecallingcovenant

Rabbi Shamah is a pulpit rabbi, day school principal and founder of the Sephardic Institute. This Torah commentary incorporates archeological and literary evidence of the ancient Near East along with traditional rabbinic texts in an effort to uncover the peshat (plain sense) of the Bible. Also included are essays on Ruth, Esther and Jonah as well as a bibliography, glossary and in-depth indices. A welcome addition to synagogue and school libraries of all denominations.

This review first appeared in the AJL newsletter.

Lighting Up the Soul by Stanley Abramovitch

by Susan FreibandLightingTheSoulWeb1

This book is a collection of true life stories based on the work experience of the author. For sixty-five years, beginning in 1945, Rabbi Abramovitch traveled the world helping Jews in need under the aegis of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC or “the joint”). The book serves as a complement to the memoir that he published in 2008. It is divided into four parts, starting with the stories coming out of displaced persons camps in post-war Germany. In addition, there are sections dealing with Moslem countries, Europe and the former Soviet Union. The stories are short, generally two or three pages. Some are very moving and powerful. Abramovitch also includes four childhood reminiscences from his life in Poland. The stories provide a glimpse into the life of Jews around the world, their problems and difficulties. A useful addition to Judaica collections in synagogues, community centers and academic libraries.

This review first appeared in the AJL newsletter.

Abuse in the Jewish Community by Michael J. Salamon

by Daniel ScheideAbuse in the Jewish Community

A decade ago, it seemed as if the Catholic Church had a monopoly on sexual abuse scandals. Now, it seems that every week there is a new story about abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. After defining a wide range of types of abuse, Dr. Michael Salamon digs to the roots of the problem, examining the challenges particular to working with ultra-Orthodox victims. Salamon explores halakhic, quasi-halakhic and cultural issues that may prevent victims from reporting their abuse. He also considers the difficulties inherent for therapists in working in these communities. Important both for community leaders as well as psychologists and social workers that deal with these communities.

This review first appeared in the AJL newsletter.

Interview with Ben Zion Katz + Meet the Author Shiur Event

You are invited to meet Ben Zion Katz, author of A Journey Through Torah: A Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis, who will be speaking at Jerusalem’s Pomeranz Bookseller, Be’eri St. 5, on Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 7:30PM.

Click below to see a segment of an interview with the author at the 12:51 mark:

A Review of Modern Orthodox Judaism: Studies and Perspectives

by Fred IsaacMOJWeb1

The world is changing at an extraordinary and increasing rate. How is Modern Orthodoxy to respond, in both specific and general ways? Rabbi Gordon’s recent volume takes on the task with commitment and an open mind.

The book’s essays encompass a wide array of topics. The first chapter attempts to develop an overarching philosophy that balances the reality of the new (in science, technology and life-style) with Halakhic norms and the Observant Jewish life. Rabbi Gordon refers frequently to scientific knowledge, which challenges the assumptions of the Sages and increases the difficulties of living halakhically in contemporary society. The remaining papers deal with specific issues, including women’s roles in Observant Judaism (Chapter 3), the Mezuzah (Chapter 5), and Messianism (Chapter 8). In each Gordon finds positive aspects of the modern view, and balances them with the words and thoughts of the great Jewish thinkers.

While the author is clear in his preference for observance, he is also keenly aware of the difficulties in harmonizing the two sides. His extensive footnotes range from the Talmud to the 20th century. Seven of the eight chapters were previously published in the 1970s and ‘80s. They do not deal with questions of contemporary technology, or recent medical advances. We see Gordon’s struggle at the opening of our new age. In this way, his book is unlike Rabbi David Hartman’s From Defender to Critic, which shows both current and prior analysis of these questions. Because his selected topics remain important, Rabbi Gordon’s statements should be part of our continuing discussion. Its serious content may not be appropriate for synagogues or schools. Academic and seminary libraries, however, will find it useful as a compilation of important views.

Includes notes, Bibliography & Source Lists, Index

This review first appeared in the AJL newsletter.

A Review of Things Overheard in the Synagogue

by Fred IsaacThings Overheard in the Synagogue

In this book author Ira Bedzow combines poetry and short essays on a variety of themes. These themes include Torah drashot, verses on a number of important topics, and personal statements. Taken as a group, they provide a personal statement with significant insight.

The first two-thirds of this small book contain Bedzow’s “Poems.” Beginning from Torah, he expands to comment on various issues, including the ways in which we communicate (and sometimes fail to do so); the meaning of Tzaddik; and the various emotions, sentiments and comments that swirl around the synagogue.

Many of the statements are evocative; we see people we know, and we recognize the large and small figures they cast upon us and others. The rest of the writings in this volume are labeled “Remarks and Reflections.” They are mostly vignettes taken from the author’s life, covering everything from the uses of Calculus to the value of lay leadership over professional clergy. Bedzow watches people closely: he sees how they act and how others react to them, and he remembers other instances that may or may not be similar. From these small pieces, which the reader may well recognize, he builds his corner of the world. By allowing us to look in on them, he gives us a chance to see our own common humanity.

While this is not a mandatory purchase, it would be a useful addition to libraries that collect personal statements and those that buy books of poetry. It is accessible to high school students as well as adults, and may stimulate important discussions in classrooms and around dinner tables.

 This review first appeared in the December 2012 issue of the AJL newsletter.

Everyday I Bless You: Reflections on the Healing Power of Shiva

by Nathan RosenEverydayWeb1

This book combines the personal story of the author’s coping with his mother’s death with the teachings of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. He organizes the book around the five letters of the word shiva (seven) to represent the key issues which he explores: surrender, hope, ire, valor, and acceptance. The author also selected “accept” as a mnemonic for acknowledges, conceding, connecting, embracing, placing, and teaching as part of the “acceptance of the pain of loss.”

He echoes many of the common questions that all people who have suffered a loss ask and provides the reader with many of the standard historical answers. The book also includes a nine page section with helpful suggestions in a common area of confusion—how to pay a proper call during shiva (the seven day period of mourning). In the book, the author hears and talks to his mother. This provides much of the narrative story line. Whether those conversations were the author’s actual perceptions or just a literary device is unclear, but it does provide a relatively smooth technique to introduce questions and situations and provide answers and insights. The author practices grief and bereavement counseling in Long Island as a PhD clinical psychologist, and he is a teacher at New York University and fellow at Harvard Medical School. His previous book on “Angel Letters: Lessons that Dying Can Teach Us About Living” was published in 2007.

 This review originally appeared in the AJL newsletter (December 2012).

A Review of The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

by Susanne M. BatzdorffCarlebachBereishisIweb1

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s Genesis comprises an edited collection of his comments on the Torah as originally taught in private homes, synagogues, and concert halls. It exemplifies an oral transmission of the Torah, since the tone is warm, conversational, down-to-earth and, unique to Carlebach, the spoken commentary is interspersed with song. His words, he believed, were comparable to the body, while his melodies represented the soul: both he blended together to teach and impart a love of Torah.

Carlebach expresses his belief that God welcomes every human being, high or low, rich or poor and that prayer is simply talking to God. Through music and speech he moves anyone earnestly searching for meaning in life not to give up the search. This book contains many profound thoughts, and the reader needs to take time to absorb them. Readers familiar with the biblical text will derive new and useful ways to view the familiar stories and characters. Admirers of Carlebach’s music will welcome this insight into his explications. The editor does not state whether he plans to continue publishing additional volumes of Carlebach’s Torah exegesis, but it is surely to be expected.

This review originally appeared in the AJL newsletter.

Joseph on Joseph: The Rav’s take on the Tzaddik

by Alan Jay GerberVisions and Leadership

The subject of the life’s journey of Joseph, Yosef Hatzaddik, is the subject of weekly Torah readings till the end of December, which includes the festival of Chanukah.

This week’s essay focuses on the work “Vision and Leadership: Reflections on Joseph and Moses” [Ktav Publishing House, 2013] by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, edited by Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, Dr. David Shatz, and Dr. Joel Wolowelsky for the Toras HaRav Foundation.

This review deals with the Rav’s take on Joseph.

According to Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, the Rav identified with Joseph, not just because they both had the same name and because Joseph was misunderstood by his siblings. Rabbi Soloveitchik identified with Joseph mainly because he was a dreamer and Joseph demonstrated, throughout his life’s experience in Egypt, that one can remain a loyal Jew even while living in the most advanced society of that era. Further, both were to spend their life’s work interacting within their respective societies at the highest levels.

Much in this work points to the Rav’s highlighting Joseph’s activities as parallel to the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people.

In the Rav’s essay, “Joseph The Dreamer” he observes: “As Jews, we have a living memory which spans centuries and millennia. We also have an awareness of a common destiny. The past is real to us; the future is also real – as real as the past. Basically, this memory of the past, together with anticipation of the future, are two experiences of brothers. And since Jews are brothers, that is what unites us: the common past and the common future.”

This common bond, when joined with trust, has forged for Jews, throughout history, the binding force that assured for us that collective strength that has guaranteed our existence through the ages.

The relationship between Joseph and Pharaoh was Continue reading “Joseph on Joseph: The Rav’s take on the Tzaddik”