Rereading Israel is an Award Winner!

RereadingIsraelWeb1We are proud to announce that Rereading Israel: The Spirit of the Matter by Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman was a finalist winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in the category of Modern Jewish Thought and Experience!

Praise for the Book

“Bonna Devora Haberman’s highly original book examines modern Israel – its achievements and its travails – through the prism of the religious texts and traditions that sustained the Jewish nation in exile. At once brisk and spiritual, Rereading Israel finds inspiration in those sources for the construction of a mature, fulfilled Jewish nation state.”
-David Horovitz

“Rereading Israel: The Spirit of the Matter is a deeply learned, fluent case for a Zionism that is passionate, faithful and innovative all at once. Neither stuffy nor superficial, this is a book to ignite those who will carry the Zionist dream into the future.”
-Rabbi David J. Wolpe

About the Author

Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman has taught at the Hebrew University, Harvard University and Brandeis University, where she founded and directed the Mistabra Institute for Textual Activism, addressing difficult social problems with creative strategies and performance arts.

A Review of In Search of Torah Wisdom: Questions You Forgot to Ask Your Rebbi

by Mordechai Torczyner In Search of Torah Wisdom

When I received an email regarding Rabbi Yisroel Miller’s new book, “In Search of Torah Wisdom: Questions You Forgot to Ask Your Rebbi”, though, I was interested. I know of Rabbi Miller’s work in Pittsburgh, and I have had the chance to visit his lovely community in Calgary, and everything I have heard has been impressive. The premise of the book – providing answers for contemporary challenges – is interesting. And I would love to hear how Rabbi Miller would address the questions he asks in the book. So I agreed to review it.

The good news is that this book is exactly what it pledges to be: The Introduction addresses the reader, asking, “Perhaps, dear reader, you are a Jewish man who attended a good Yeshiva Ketana, Mesivta High School, Yeshiva Gedola and maybe even spent a year or three in kollel. Or, you are a Jewish woman who attended a Bais Yaakov elementary school and high school, and a top seminary. After all that learning, you can surely answer the following basic questions:” And it continues to list questions related to Jewish belief and Jewish life, such as, “In what way does the idea of bitachon, trust in Hashem, obligate us to act differently even if we don’t feel a sense of trust?” and “Why do great rabbis issue bans on books when such bans only increase their sales?” The author invites the reader, “If you would like to know – or feel that as a Jew you should know – the answers to these questions, then read on.” The author does an excellent job of selecting good questions, and formulating them in challenging ways.

For each of these questions, the book lays out “the answer” for a reader who wants to be told it rather than go back to sources and figure it out himself – and today, that applies to many, many readers. In explaining concepts like “Elu v’Elu” and fundamentals of faith, Rabbi Miller articulately expresses beliefs enshrined in Jewish tradition. In defending controversial conservatism, such as book condemnations and halachic resistance to change, Rabbi Miller provides a perspective which challenges modern cynicism regarding rabbinic leadership and authority.

If you would appreciate answers which have their sources alongside them, though, this is not the book for you. Statements like page 47’s “Can Torah leaders make mistakes? Of course… However, such errors are very rare…” would benefit from sourcing.

Also, the author has made what was probably a conscious decision to omit Continue reading “A Review of In Search of Torah Wisdom: Questions You Forgot to Ask Your Rebbi

The Elephant in the Room

by Cantor Jonathan L Friedmann, Ph.D. Elephantintheroom

The term “memoir” used to be reserved for thick, comprehensive volumes written by noted individuals nearing the end of their lives. Personal accounts of lesser-known people, however intriguing or expansive, were labeled “narratives” (as in slave narratives); and collections of shorter entries were called “diaries” or “ruminations.” With the advent of self-publishing, blogging, email blasts and publishers eager to experiment with new formats, memoirs have come to include a range of writings by authors from all stages and walks of life. Thus, a memoir might be a lengthy autobiography of a famous personality, but might also be an assemblage of brief reflections by anyone with an interesting point of view.

It is in this latter category that we find The Elephant in the Room: Torah, Wisdom & Inspiration for Life, a compilation of breezy musings culled from “The Short Vort” emails of New York area rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman. In seventy-six short essays averaging two pages apiece, Eisenman gives his idiosyncratic and proudly frum insights into the world around him. The observations are alternately sad and humorous, aggravating and uplifting, and draw out hidden yet apparent insights from everyday experiences. This is what is meant by the elephant in the book’s title—a metaphor for an obvious truth that goes overlooked or unaddressed.

In popular usage, the elephant idiom also describes Continue reading The Elephant in the Room

A Review of Why Be Jewish?

by Ian Sandler Whybejewish

As the CEO of a large Jewish organisation, I often wonder, in the face of adversity what being Jewish in a modern, multicultural country entails, or whether members of our community have given up?  When asked and rather than identify themselves as being Jewish, do they say they have no religion at all?  Sometimes, at face value, being Jewish seems to have more negatives than positives.

For those of us whose Jewish identity is defined by our love and allegiance to Israel, the weekly barrage of criticism can be extremely upsetting and seem like a personal attack. Many of our youth feel they are ‘Jewed out’ following prolonged time ‘served’ in Jewish day schools and many of the young adults believe that their dating/marriage pool is severely limited!

Being Jewish seems hard and it’s easy to see why some consciously or unconsciously try to unburden themselves of the label of being Jewish in favour of an unfettered existence within general Sydney society.

So why be Jewish?  As much as we may try to fight it, deny it or insist that it really makes no difference in this day and age, being Jewish makes up an important part of who we are as individuals, and how we are perceived by those who are not.

Doron Kornbluth, author of Raising Kids to Love Being Jewish identifies that many Jews today feel no significant difference to their non Jewish counterparts and rightly so.  We live a secular life – we play the same sports, shop in the same places, enjoy the same television shows and movies and have the same political discussions over the adeptness of our government. However, despite these similarities, despite lack of conscious recognition, many Jews are aware of a connection to Judaism in some form.  Furthermore, Kornbluth highlights that feeling Jewish is something that changes according to life stages and the cycle of life events one experiences. In our community, many of us Continue reading “A Review of Why Be Jewish?

A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel

by Globes Israel Correspondent A Financial Guide to Aliyah

Taxation, banking, insurance, pensions and so on are not the most romantic aspects of aliyah. There will be those who blithely ignore such matters, carried away by idealistic motivation. Others might find the prospect of dealing with a financial system both technically and culturally unfamiliar so daunting and difficult as to be a large stumbling block on the way to making a new life in Israel. Baruch Labinsky’s concise handbook is to be recommended for all English-speaking olim, wherever they may be on the scale between these two extremes, as well as for veterans seeking to get a better handle on their finances. It is very persuasive on the need to set financial goals, to plan, and to understand the options available, while at the same time it demystifies Israeli institutions and explains Israeli attitudes, to calm the financially anxious.

To judge from his bio, the author is well qualified by both education and experience to help olim find their financial feet. The book is accessible and down-to-earth without over-simplifying. It tells new arrivals what they really need to know about Continue reading A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel

A Review of Jonah the Woodchopper

JonahWeb2We cannot run from society forever. Jonah the Woodchopper follows a man, who when spurned by his life wholly, decides to leave society for the peace of living alone. When he seeks to rejoin society, he comes with wisdom of his deep thoughts, and Joshua Robin uses a short story narrative format to tell of Jonah’s encounters with many and what he learns and what he teaches. Jonah the Woodchopper is a riveting and insightful read, not to be overlooked.

This review first appeared in the Midwest Book Review

The Accidental Anarchist by Bryna Kranzler

by Israel Drazin The Accidental Anarchist

Bryna Kranzler deserved the “USA Book News Best Books Award” because her book is a well-written, humorous presentation of a serious and significant event, the first large war of the twentieth century. The Accidental Anarchist is a translation of the diary of a young, rash, intelligent, religious Jewish man who reluctantly served in the incompetent Russian army during the 1904-1905 Russian-Japanese war when Russia and Japan fought over Manchuria and Korea. Russia wanted a warm water port on the Pacific for its navy and maritime trade. But Russia was poorly organized, ill-equipped, insufficiently trained, and willing to sacrifice millions of lives, including the narrator of these diaries. They lost the war and the loss led to the emergence of Japan as a power on the world stage.

Jacob Marateck who wrote the true diary entries of his experiences just before and during the war, wrote with humorous, delightful sarcasm. He left school when he reached his teens and looked for adventure. We read about his first job where he organized a strike, but because he was young and had no goal, the strike fizzled and was a failure. Like all Polish and Russian youngsters who lacked the will or courage to maim themselves to avoid conscription or who hadn’t sufficient funds to buy a replacement, he was taken into the Russian army.

We read that Jews were overrepresented in the Russian army, more than their percentage in the general population. Many of them, including Marateck, continued to observe Jewish practices in the army. They wore the tzitzit under their shirts, put on tephillin, and prayed daily. There is an episode where Marateck seeks to identify whether a man is Jewish and looks below his shirt to see if he is wearing tzitzit. There is an adventure where Marateck and his friend try to find a synagogue to attend Yom Kippur services, although they weren’t sure whether Yom Kippur was today or tomorrow. There is an incident where a vicious anti-Semite who sought ways to hurt Marateck Continue reading The Accidental Anarchist by Bryna Kranzler”

How to Choose a Career

by Rabbi Benjamin Rapaport SelfDiscovery-fullCover_resized

Whatever career we choose determines how we spend a large part of our lives. Work that really fits us, that taps into our reservoir of potential and challenges us to become our best, can make all the difference in our quality of life.

It is encouraging to know that the struggle to find a good match between who we are and the work we do is not a new one. Bachye Ibn Pakudei, in his classic work entitled “Duties of the Heart,” written around the year 1040 in Zaragosa, Spain, deals with this issue and offers a brilliant, five-piece framework for finding a career that really fits. Here it is (Duties of the Heart, The Gate of Trust, Ch. 3):

  1. Does it pull you? Just like a cat is drawn to mice, and a hawk is attracted to birds, so too within each of us is a nature and a desire for a particular livelihood.
  2. Does it match your resources? A bird that captures fish possesses a long beak and extended thighs. A lion, that tears apart other animals for food, has powerful teeth and claws. So too, our physiology, and character is more suited for certain types of work than others.
  3. Are you willing to invest? Each profession has its hurdles to overcome, its entering price that needs to be paid before it can be practiced. Medicine requires many years of study. Professional sports require years of serious training. When considering what you want to do, ask yourself if you are willing to pay the price it takes.
  4. Do you have a desire in it? Passion may not always be there, but for you to love your work that level of vitality, of absorption, needs to be there at least some of the time.
  5. Emunah – translated loosely as faith. Keep the faith that once all the above line up and you have committed yourself to whatever path it is, that you will meet with success. Don’t get derailed the first time you get challenged, or even knocked down. Dig deep and stay the course.

If we want the pride of great work, we need to choose our path with these in mind. An easy way to remember these five pieces is Continue reading “How to Choose a Career”

Family Redeemed: A Review

by Israel Drazinfamilyredeemed

This is one of about a half dozen volumes published after Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik death (1903-1993) based on writings he never published. This one, the first of the posthumous volumes, contains six essays that focus on family relationships. It is the second of his posthumous book that I read – see my review of The Emergence of Ethical Man, which is the most recently published volume. In both, contrary to the current thinking of many religious Jews, the rabbi frequently uses biblical sources that show that Judaism expects its adherents to live a full, enjoyable, and natural life. These ideas, although opposed by many in Judaism’s right wing, are not contrary to the halakhah. However, as we will see, his views about women, based on halakhah, do not reflect this open spirit.

In his essay “Adam and Eve,” he states that “man is part of nature” and must act according to its laws. “Indeed, the naturalistic formula of man – the conception of the human being as a part of nature – was a truism among Hazal (the ancient sages).” Both humans and animals “belong to nature; both sprang forth from the soil.” The difference is that humans are created in “the image of God.” This is “not a gratuitous grant…but rather a challenge.” Man “is encouraged (to use his distinctiveness) to build, to plant, to beautify his life, to enjoy his life as much as he can (within reason).” His earthly role is to create “change, improvement and progress.”

Man, Rabbi Soloveitchik writes, needs a wife. He describes a woman as Continue reading Family Redeemed: A Review”