Between The Lines of the Bible: The Legacy of Fractured Brotherhood

by The Curious Jew Between the Lines of the Bible Exodus

Urim Publications was kind enough to send me a copy of Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible: A Study from the New School of Orthodox Torah Commentary on the book of Shemot quite a while ago. It has taken me a while to read the book, but it was well worth the effort. It is uniquely fitting to read this book before Pesach, and in fact, I think many of you might enjoy reading it, so I recommend ordering it today- that way, you’ll probably get it over Chol Hamoed and will have something interesting to read during the Second Days.

Between the Lines is a thoughtfully considered, well constructed, carefully written text. Etshalom has clearly put a great deal of thought into the issues he addresses, and focuses on overall themes in addition to specific literary techniques (including chiastic structure) in his analysis. His book is academic in nature, and for academic texts, is quite readable. However, I prefer narrative-style books, especially those that weave in the original Hebrew rather than making use of the English translation. They are easier to read, and thus accessible to a larger audience. Ideally, I would have liked this book to have been written more in the style of Rabbi Ari Kahn, who uses that method of writing. While this text does have the Hebrew quoted and highlighted at the beginning of each chapter, I found that flipping back and forth between Etshalom’s analysis and that first page was somewhat of an annoyance.

Topics included in the book range from the binary structure of biblical narrative when it comes to the roots of our subjugation in Egypt, to the different derivations of Moshe’s name, to literary patterns in the education of Pharaoh, studies of intertextuality, a comparison of major characters and a focus on sanctity in time. I am going to sum up one of the Divrei Torah that I found particularly beautiful below.

In Shemot 1:1-4 we read, “These are the names of the Israelites who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.’ Etshalom notes that:

If we compare this list to Continue reading “Between The Lines of the Bible: The Legacy of Fractured Brotherhood”

Dr. Joshua Golding, Author of The Conversation, Responds to Book Review Comments

From Life in Israel:The Conversation

Last week I wrote a book review of The Conversation, by Joshua Golding.

I now have the honor of hosting Dr. Golding’s response to my review, discussing some of the issues I raised and questioned in my review.

Joshua Golding responds:

 As the author of The Conversation I’d like to express my great thanks to Rafi G for posting a review of my book on his blog! Its nice to read a review where you can tell that the reviewer “got” what the book is all about: a philosophical journey in the form of a novel. However, I did want to respond to a few of his critical comments on certain aspects of the story.
First of all, I do see the main character David as “discussing philosophy himself, and arguing with others.”  From the beginning of the book, he thinks and speaks  critically about what he is being told by his friends, professors and the Rabbis with whom he comes in contact. The development of David’s own views comes gradually in his journal, which grows and deepens in complexity over time. Also, toward the very end of the book, in a conversation held during his senior year graduation party, David really blossoms by suggesting his own view about the nature of wisdom. As the book develops from the beginning of his freshman year to his senior year, David critically sifts through many of the views and arguments he has heard, and develops his own unique approach to things. At the end of the book, David makes an important decision which is driven partly by emotional factors but also by his philosophical journey that has taken place over four years’ time.
As far as his relationship with Esther, what I intended there was that while at the beginning David is interested in Esther primarily because he is attracted to her, as their acquaintance grows he actually becomes more interested in her as a friend, precisely because he comes to know her as a person rather than just as a pretty thing. On the other hand, while Esther at first has no romantic interest in David, gradually as she comes to know him better as someone who is sincerely interested in really learning about Judaism, she comes to Continue reading “Dr. Joshua Golding, Author of The Conversation, Responds to Book Review Comments”

Book Review: The Conversation by Joshua Golding

From Life in Israel:The Conversation

The Conversation, by Joshua Golding, is a book on philosophy. Specifically, Jewish Philosophy.

The Conversation is listed as a book of fiction, because the philosophy is couched in a story, but do not doubt that philosophy in the book is far more dominant than the fictional story in which it is couched. The story makes it readable – to non-philosophers, but the story is clearly secondary to the philosophy.

The story is of a young Jewish college student who is not at all connected to his Jewish heritage, beyond having had a bar mitzvah. So much so, that he is even dating a non-Jewish fellow student and thinks nothing of it. As the story goes, David Goldstein is a student of Philosophy. As a freshman he starts to forge his way in his studies, delving into philosophy and developing his relationships with his friends and professors. An experience by a Holocaust Museum entices him to go in, and he gets touched by something that sparks a search about his Jewish roots and the philosophy of Judaism.

David breaks up with his girlfriend as his search about Judaism becomes more intense. Eventually he Continue reading “Book Review: The Conversation by Joshua Golding”

Leon Wieseltier to be awarded 2013 Dan David Prize

by Danielle Ziri

American intellectual and philosopher Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, will be awarded the 2013 Dan David Prize during a ceremony at Tel Aviv University on Sunday.

The Dan David Prize, given out by the Dan David Foundation, is an international award divided into three prizes accompanied by $1 million each for scientific, technological, cultural or social achievements that have a strong impact on society.

Each year, fields are chosen within the categories of past, present and future.

Wieseltier, who has been chosen along with French philosopher Prof. Michel Serres in the “present” category, says he received a “fine Jewish Zionist education.” He attended the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn.

“I was briefly a member of the Jewish Defense League,” he told The Jerusalem Post, “but then I visited Israel, and that cured me of all that darkness.”

Wieseltier first visited Israel at the age of 17, in the summer of 1969, a trip he recalls vividly.

“It was the Yeshiva University summer tour and we got an extensive tour of Israel and an extraordinary guide; I have very fond memories of what he taught me along the way,” he recalled. “From then on, I became a Zionist and I visited as often as I could.”

From a very young age, Wieseltier was fluent in Hebrew, which he believes has strengthened his relationship with the Jewish state.

“I’ve always said that the Jewish people have two homelands: They have the Land of Israel and they have the Hebrew language,” he said. “If you live as a Jew in Hebrew, then you are already in some sense participating in Israeli life, even if you don’t live there.

“My Hebrew is as good as my English, and as a Jew, I live in Hebrew and that makes a huge difference,” he said. “There is incredible excitement in the story of the recreation of Hebrew as a living language. In some way, that was more miraculous even than the restoration of Jewish sovereignty.”

It was always clear to Wieseltier that he would study Jewish history and thought, which led him to pursue his studies at Columbia University, Oxford and later on, Harvard.

“I once told my parents that I’m addicted to all things Jewish,” he said. “I’ve been writing about Jews ever since I’ve been writing for two reasons: The first is that it’s the greatest human story ever told, and the second is that it’s our story.

“I don’t believe that people have only one identity, we have many identities and we choose from those identities the ones that we wish to be most known by,” Wieseltier explained. “My identity as a Jew is obviously salient.”
Continue reading “Leon Wieseltier to be awarded 2013 Dan David Prize”

Let My RV Go!

From the Me-Ander blog:letmyrvgo

I haven’t written any of my humorous “Baile Rochel” articles for a very long time.  I had first written them for the Counterpoint newspaper, which had been edited by Rachel Katzman and my husband. That was decades ago.  I was known as the “Erma Bombeck of Judea/Samaria.”  I wrote about many topics, such as laundry, teaching, women’s Purim Parties, Passover cleaning and more.

But one topic I shied away from.  Maybe it was just too close to heart and not something it had ever occurred to me to joke about.  That’s the fact that I’m a “BT,” Ba’alat Teshuva, a Jew who has mastered “repentance,” someone who although not raised in a Torah observant home made my way on the rocky road to frumkeit, full Torah Observance aka Orthodox Judaism.

Even now, almost fifty years, half a century since I was first introduced to Torah observance by the OU’s NCSY National Conference of Synagogue Youth, and over forty-five years since I enthusiastically took on G-d’s commandments, I still feel insecure.  Maybe I’m not doing it right.  I never got up the guts to Continue reading Let My RV Go!

Unlocking the 5 Locks that Block Us

by Benjamin RapaportSelfDiscovery-fullCover_resized

Scientists and mystics agree that we are each blessed with tremendous potential.

This means that we possess an awesome capacity for developing ourselves. At times, this awareness may be frustrating, knowing that we are so capable yet somehow stuck in a place that does not give us the satisfaction we are seeking.

In order to access our inner treasure, we need to recognize and release the five locks that keep this treasure confined.

Lock 1: Lack of clarity

Despite our natural strengths as our greatest resources, few of us are clear about the nature of the specific strengths that we possess. Considering that they are the paramount tools that we have been given to make our mark in this world, this is tragic. Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (the spiritual leader of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland (1873-1936), expressed this when he said:

Woe unto he who does not know his weaknesses, but woe and woe unto he who does not know his strengths, for even the tools that he possesses to lift himself up with, he does not know.

Let us then attempt to identify our strengths.

There are four clues that can help us do this:

a) What pulls us? The 11th century Spanish philosopher Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda (author of Duties of the Heart) taught that we each are blessed with a natural proclivity towards those things that are best suited to us. The Talmud likewise teaches that we should study what we are interested in, that which we desire to learn, because our interests will motivate us, thereby making our learning most successful. We need to tune into what pulls us.

b) What fills us? When we engage in an activity that matches who we are, there is a natural positive feedback loop, an inner feeling of “Yeah! That was great. I want to do that again sometime.” It is the sense of satisfaction that comes from doing a task that involved effort, concentration and some level of challenge. We need to notice which activities provide this kind of satisfaction.

c) What occupies us? When we find some activity that provides a good channel to release our natural resources, it will begin to occupy our minds. We suddenly find ourselves thinking about this activity from different angles, dreaming about it during the workday. Take notice of this because our brains are telling us something.

d) Where are our growth spots? Some activities nurture us better. When we find ourselves catching onto something quickly, deeply engaging in the activity and making adaptations naturally – recognize and embrace it. Areas in which we naturally experience a quicker pace of growth tell us a lot about where our potential lies.

Lock 2: Lack of planning

Without a plan we do not have a target to direct our strengths.  A good plan provides Continue reading “Unlocking the 5 Locks that Block Us”

Majesty and Humility: A Review

by Alex OzarMajesty and Humility

Soloveitchik aimed to provide his students with a window into the soul of a genuinely religious individual, to open their hearts to the depth and breadth of a full-blooded experience of faith. For modern man in search of authentic religion, both the intellectual brilliance and the spiritual resonance of Soloveitchik’s thought can, with due investment of energy and care, provide invaluable direction, illumination, and inspiration. Reuven Ziegler’s Majesty and Humility is a good place to start.

This review originally appeared in First Things.

Remembering Janusz Korczak, Anew

by Sandee Brawarsky Kaytek the Wizard

At the recent Jerusalem Book Fair, with many publishers from all over the world showcasing their new titles, it was Janusz Korczak who caught my attention.

Born in 1878, Korczak was a distinguished Polish-Jewish writer, educator and pediatrician. In 1923, he established an orphanage in Warsaw, which became well-known for his progressive ideas about child development and moral education. When the Nazis occupied Warsaw, his orphanage was moved to the ghetto, and when the Nazis later ordered that the orphanage be evacuated, Korczak chose deportation along with his children rather than saving himself. I’ve seen remarkable documentary footage of Korczak, with great dignity and kindness, marching the 200 children to the train that would take all of them to their deaths in Treblinka. Korczak was killed in August 1942.

Like Anne Frank, he left behind a diary, along with outstanding books for and about children, plays, essays and works on innovative education. His novel “King Matt the First” is a classic, telling of a boy king who tried to bring about reform.

Two of Korczak’s books are newly available, in illustrated editions, one in English and one in Hebrew.
Originally published in 1933, “Kaytek the Wizard” (Penlight Publications) is available in English for the first time. Designed to entertain and educate, this is the story of a mischievous schoolboy who discovers that he has great magical skills, but ultimately learns that with these powers come responsibility. Antonia Lloyd-James, the translator, points out in an afterword that Korczak wrote this in consultation with the orphanage children. The book is great reading for children and their parents, with illustrations by Avi Katz.

Korczak believed that Continue reading “Remembering Janusz Korczak, Anew”

Herod: The Man Who Had to be King

From The Canadian Jewish NewsHerod The Man Who Had To Be King

Last month, in Jerusalem, the Israel Museum opened a new exhibit of wide panoramic proportions called Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey. The exhibition has sparked a great deal of excitement and is attracting large numbers of visitors. (Please go to for a story about the exhibit.)

Herod strides imperiously and brutishly through the cities and villages of Judea and, of course, in Jerusalem in the last century BCE. Historians have tried to imagine precisely who he was ever since time, wind and nature’s eternal elements buried the broken columns of his spectacular archeological masterpieces in the sand and earthy clumps of the ancient land.

And now, a new book, brings Herod to life once again, enabling us to imagine him afresh, if not actually anew.

Written by Yehuda Shulewitz, Herod: The Man Who Had to be King (Penina Press, 2012) is an ambitious work that sweeps character, drama, intrigue, history, classics and theology into one epic novel.

The novel, however, was not completed by Shulewitz. Alas, he died around this time six years ago, during Passover 2007. His wife, Malka Hillel-Shulewitz, a renowned scholar of Jewish history in her own right, completed the work that was ultimately published some five years after the author’s death.

Yehuda Shulewitz was a rare multi-disciplined scholar: economist, historian of Continue reading Herod: The Man Who Had to be King