To Mourn a Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death

May 30, 2013

From The Jewish Action:tomournachild

A Bible scholar once commented that the Bible would have been profoundly incomplete had it not included the Book of Job. Written according to tradition by Moses, the Book of Job describes the suffering that befalls people for no apparent reason.

Nachmanides observed that our inability to account for the suffering of the guiltless represents the biggest challenge to, and unanswered question within, religious faith. These questions assail any honest, sensitive religious person, but often we distract ourselves – after all, why dwell on them? Nothing, however, shocks or focuses us more intently on these agonizing questions than the death of a child. In the realm of human experience, the death of a child is surely one of the most emotionally wrenching events. For a parent, the grief and pain are unendurable. In To Mourn a Child, Jeffrey Saks and Joel Wolowelsky have assembled an anthology which consists primarily of personal accounts written by parents who experienced the death of a child. In addition, there are essays by rabbis and healthcare professionals and selections from traditional Jewish sources.

Many currents flow through the book: theological and Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of Let My RV Go!

May 28, 2013

by Hadassah Sabo Milner letmyrvgo

I was recently sent this book to review, and although it took me a couple of weeks to get to it, once I picked it up I did not want to put it down.

I am a big reader – but I don’t usually go for Jewish-themed books, having found many of them in the past to be twee and self-serving, pushing religion down my throat. When I read, I want to lose myself in a story, I want to be carried along with the narrator, to be a bystander as events unfold. I don’t want lectures on how to be a better person.

Nicole Nathan’s book has made me re-evaluate the Jewish-theme book embargo. While Judaism and Pesach were central to the theme of her book, it wasn’t shove-down-your-throat religion.

Yes, there were a couple of scenes where I thought the “gam zu letovah” (everything happens for the good) angle was a tad overdone, but other than that, I really enjoyed this book.

The Berkovitz family, baalei teshuva, live in Middleton, Canada and one year decide that instead of making Pesach at home, they would rent an RV (Recreational Vehicle) and shlepp their family down south to a Florida trailer park for the holiday. They convince their close friends to join them, and their adventure begins. It’s more than just a road trip – it’s a spiritual journey, a quest to find meaning.

Pauline, Mrs Berkovitz, is the chronicler of this trip, and interspersed between relating events she discusses her faith and her journey to religious Judaism. She questions many things, and Read the rest of this entry »


Book Review: Let My RV Go!

May 26, 2013

From Trip’n Upletmyrvgo

I have to admit it, I have always wanted to take an RV vacation.  Keeping kosher on vacations in the US is a challenge.  The idea that you could bring the “hotel” with you and with a kitchen to boot, always sounded like a great adventure.  Unfortunately, I never got the chance.  It seems RVs are not as popular in Israel and anyway, you have access to kosher food throughout the country.

Time for another true confession – I hate Pesach cleaning. I know, I know, I am not the only one.  There are women out there who relish the Spring cleaning aspect of it though.  I’ve met them.  I don’t understand them.  I will do anything to avoid cleaning, especially Pesach cleaning.

Let My RV Go is a story about journeys.  The Berkovitz and Shapiro family travel from frigid Canada to sunny Florida in their RVs.  As Baalei Teshuva, they all have been on a spiritual journey and we learn about their pursuits to balance their lives and reconcile their present with their past.  Pauline especially struggles to fit in to her new life. Their interactions with each other, and those they meet on their trip, remind us that life is a journey and we all have things to teach one another.

A Pesach without scrubbing the house from top to bottom and an RV adventure.  This book  had great potential from the start.  Add to it a light, readable text, humorous anecdotes, and a moving journey, and you have the perfect novel for pre-Pesach craziness.


Girl Meets God

May 23, 2013

From AJL Reviews:GirlMeetsG-d_cover

The catchy, somewhat misleading, title draws you into the journey of a woman who at forty years old discovered the beauty of Judaism at her local Chabad house in Montreal, Canada. The first section of the book describes her“Journey to Observance” with some very personal details and descriptions of Jewish holidays. In “Lessons in Life and Death,” the second section, Tansky shares her feelings about prayer and death. The third part of the book chronicles travels to Chabad houses in Victoria, British Columbia; Sacramento, Alaska, Russia, Munich and outside of Durban, South Africa and offers praise for all the emissaries stationed in remote locations. She also details a trip to Israel. The last two sections, “The Rebbe’s Reach” and “Ripples” are short reflections. A glossary is included.


NEW: גרזן, the First Hebrew Translation of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet

May 20, 2013

by Gary Paulsen hatchet front high
translated into Hebrew by Didi Hanoch
Publisher: Urim Publications
Softcover, 157 pages

On his way to visit his recently divorced father in the Canadian mountains, thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is the only survivor when the single-engine plane crashes. His body battered, his clothes in shreds, Brian must now stay alive in the boundless Canadian wilderness.

More than a survival story, Hatchet is a tale of tough decisions. When all is stripped down to the barest essentials, Brian discovers some stark and simple truths: Self-pity doesn’t work. Despair doesn’t work. And if Brian is to survive physically as well as mentally, he must discover courage.

Honors and Praise for the English edition of Hatchet: 

* A Newbery Honor Book
* An ALA Notable Book
* Booklist Editor’s Choice
* SLJ 100 Books that Shaped the Century

“Brian Robeson, 13, is the only passenger on a small plane flying him to Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of Visions from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders

May 19, 2013

visions:From The Jewish Action

 Nevi’im and Ketuvim, the books of the Prophets and Holy Writings, together with the Five Books of Moses, comprise the broad canvas on which the history, destiny and spiritual mission of the Jewish people are limned. In this survey of Nevi’im and Ketuvim, Rabbi Hayyim Angel achieves a rare combination of breadth and depth. While focusing on broad themes and universal messages, the treatment is far from superficial or perfunctory. Rabbi Angel presents at least one chapter on each book of Nevi’im and Ketuvim, with each chapter analyzing in depth a representative aspect of the book. Using primarily peshat, the plain meaning of the text, Rabbi Angel marshals the Talmud and Midrash, traditional commentaries and modern scholarship in expressing a view of Scripture that is creative as well as subtle and nuanced. With his direct and engaging style, Rabbi Angel conveys his erudition and wealth of knowledge to the reader in a most enjoyable fashion. Here is a small sampling of Rabbi Angel’s thought-provoking conclusions:

Joshua’s flaws made him a more effective leader than Moses to bring the people into the land of Israel.

The Book of Jonah challenges us to be absolutely committed to God while respecting other people who espouse different beliefs.

The Book of Ecclesiastes, with all of its Read the rest of this entry »


Vision from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders

May 12, 2013

by Gil Studentvisions

Torah expertise requires, at a minimum, mastery of the entire corpus of primary literature. Detailed familiarity with the texts is a necessary but insufficient requirement of Torah greatness. This includes the Bible, yeshiva curricula notwithstanding.

On the description of Moshe’s receipt of the tablets on Mt. Sinai, Rashi (Ex. 31:18) quotes a midrash that compares Moshe to a bride. Just like a bride wears 24 ornaments, so too a Torah scholar must master all 24 books of the Bible. Why, we can ask, does the midrash locate this sensible requirement in the second half of Shemos, which largely discusses the building of the Mishkan?

I suggest that the passage immediately preceding that verse discusses the obligation to observe Shabbos. The Mishnah (Shabbos 115a) states that you are forbidden to study Kesuvim, the third part of the Bible, on Shabbos because it detracts from attendance at the rabbi’s lecture. The Gemara (ibid., 116b) quotes a later debate whether the prohibition only applies to the location or the time of the lecture. Regardless, we see a clear limitation on Bible study.

You might have thought that this deemphasis on Bible study implies its unimportance. The midrash teaches us that we should not mistake practical priorities with abstract values. Even though local concerns require lowering the urgency of Bible study on Shabbos, in the end you cannot be a scholar without mastering the Bible. You might not find time to study Kesuvim on Shabbos but that is no excuse for ignorance.

We once discussed a chapter-by-chapter method to gaining familiarity with Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of Torah Conversations with Nechama Leibowitz

May 9, 2013

by Moshe SokolowTorahConversationsWeb1

Nechama Leibowitz was an intensely private individual. In the thousands—if not tens of thousands—of classes she taught and lectures she gave in a career that spanned over sixty years, she never allowed herself to be filmed or videoed, and very rarely permitted herself to be recorded on tape. (Rabbi Yasgur reports this idiosyncrasy in detail.) I was present on occasion when Nechama expelled someone from her lecture hall for concealing a tape recorder. It is due primarily to her students and correspondents, like Rabbi Benjamin Yasgur, that we are able to glimpse the person behind the public aura.

Nechama’s public reserve sheltered an unaffected private reticence. Nechama was always Nechama: not Dr. Leibowitz (PhD from the University of Marburg, Germany), not Professor Leibowitz (of Tel Aviv University); just Nechama. Perhaps the greatest tribute to her lies not so much in the publication of previously undisclosed insights and interpretations, as in the self-evident fact that Rabbi Yasgur is as finely attuned to the Torah text as Nechama encouraged her students to be, and that he is carrying her work forward through his exemplary service with his pulpits and pupils.

Rabbi Yasgur’s book provides insights into a score of Torah texts, punctuated by the records of exchanges he had with Nechama over those interpretations—in person or via correspondence. The Torah lessons, per se, need no further approbation. Instead, I would like to elaborate an insight the book offers into the master teacher herself. In expounding on the moral of the story of God’s visit to Abraham shortly after his circumcision, Rabbi Yasgur quotes Nechama as stating that, “it is more important to offer help… than Divine revelation.”

Nothing was of greater importance to Nechama than Read the rest of this entry »


A Circle in the Square

May 7, 2013

By Gary Rosenblatt, the Jewish Weekcircle squareweb1

A 2008 book, “A Circle in the Square: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Reinvents the Synagogue” [Urim Publications], by Edward Abramson, an early member now living in Israel, offers a detailed and thoughtful look into the history of Lincoln Square and the lasting impact of the rabbi’s work.


The Litvak Pluralist

May 5, 2013

by Gil Student In Search of Torah Wisdom

Extreme religious pluralism is spiritual chaos, even when severely limited. If you accept as equally authoritative every Orthodox rabbi, even just the giants, then you will be forced to contend with their conflicting views and attitudes through either ignorance, dissonance or harmonistic gymnastics. The best citizen of a pluralistic society knows firmly his own approach and is therefore able to sift through the incompatible views he inevitably faces. Pluralism is politeness, not surrender.

I find that this is often lost in even Charedi circles. On one side we have extremists who denounce all who disagree with their narrow path. On the other we have syncretists who blend various traditions into a distorted and inconsistent whole. Politeness, some may call it political correctness, prevents the middle ground from stating publicly that what Rabbi X said is not “my approach.” But there are exceptions.

R. Yisroel Miller’s In Search of Torah Wisdom: Questions You Forgot to Ask Your Rebbi is a refreshing example of principled pluralism. He is a Litvak, a yeshiva devotee, unafraid to state his views but also uninterested in fighting. R. Miller was a long-time student of the Lakewood yeshiva and satellite kollel before becoming a community rabbi. He does not mention any family relation but he was clearly influenced by R. Avigdor Miller, as seen in his attitudes and many specific citations.

In this book, R. Miller discusses philosophical issues of communal importance, some of the touchpoints of controversy. He neither shies away from them nor uses them as opportunities to denounce others. Instead, he eloquently explains how an intelligent person can accept Da’as Torah, reject banned books, embrace Torah over science and treat biblical figures as saints (among many other topics). His views are nuanced and defy stereotypes but they are hardly progressive.

R. Miller adopts the views of the mussar yeshiva, unsurprising given his background. He sees Torah as Read the rest of this entry »