A Review of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy

by Greer Fay Cashman carlebachbioWeb1

In advance of the 19th anniversary next month of the passing of the popular Singing Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who even from the grave has influenced thousands of young Jews to approach religion with open hearts, Dr. Natan Ophir has published a new, comprehensive biography of the charismatic Carlebach. It includes a foreword by the singer’s daughter, Neshama Carlebach, who has followed in her father’s footsteps and become a popular singer in her own right.

An excerpt from the foreword shows the extent of Neshama Carlebach’s appreciation for Ophir’s dedicated work: “I know that Dr. Natan Ophir has worked to clarify the diversified aspects of my father’s rich career. He has recounted relevant events and unearthed a surprising wealth of factual evidence. Undeterred by the daunting task, Natan has worked to present a comprehensive portrayal that will now enable others to come forth and fill the many spaces in time. I appreciate his sincere connection to my father’s legacy, and I know the world will benefit greatly from his devoted efforts at constructing this first book length biography.”

Some of Shlomo Carlebach’s closest associates, who continue to disseminate his legacy, have read review copies of the book and expressed high praise for the definitive biographical study, and its meticulous research and attention to detail. Although other books have been written about Carlebach and all have been eagerly snatched up by his followers, there is consensus among the reviewers that none are as comprehensive and allencompassing, in terms of the rabbi’s life, music, concerts and contributions to Jewish liturgy, as the work produced by Ophir.

This review originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post

The Spiritual Pet

by Liza JaipaulDo animals have souls

Do animals have souls?

“I think that’s a question that many people wonder about,” said Rabbi Ron Isaacs, who is a spiritual leader at Temple Sholom in Bridgewater — and the author of more than 100 books.

So he decided to write another one and address that very topic.

In “Do Animals Have Souls? A Pet Lovers Guide to Spirituality,” he answers many questions about animals, such as are dogs mentioned in the Bible; is it OK to hunt animals; can cats and dogs be blessed, and much more.

“This book is my newest and most unusual,” Isaacs said. “It’s the one I wanted to do most of my life. I have many years of personal experience as a pet owner and as a rabbi, and many people want some guidance regarding the pets in their lives.”

Isaacs said people have come to him asking for blessings for their dogs, and Continue reading “The Spiritual Pet”

Getting A Read On Carlebach

by Ari L. GoldmancarlebachbioWeb1

There has been a huge outpouring of material about the life and music of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach since his death 19 years ago at the age of 69. There have been memoirs, articles, hagiographies, photo collections, magazines, records, tapes and hundreds of Youtube entries. There even was a Broadway show, “Soul Doctor,” which ran for nearly 100 performances until it closed last month.

Now comes a comprehensive biography of the great man, called, simply, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and Legacy.” It was written by Natan Ophir and published by Urim Publications. It runs over 500 pages with footnotes, timelines and a discography that includes all the songs Carlebach recorded. Little about him seemed to escape the author’s eye: There are lists of all the people he ordained as rabbis and accounts of hundreds of weddings he performed and concerts he gave.

For those who were first introduced to Carlebach through “Soul Doctor,” as well as for those who grew up with Carlebach and his music, there is much in Ophir’s volume to explore and enjoy. It is also a good way to fact check the play.

Did he really have a romance with the African-American singer Nina Simone? Continue reading “Getting A Read On Carlebach”

A Review of Kaddish, Women’s Voices

by Francisca GoldsmithkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

More than 50 women writers contributed personal essays to this unique collection. It provides readers with considerable insight into the role of women in the contemporary Jewish community, framing their stories within the place of the Kaddish tradition of Jewish mourning. In essays written expressly for this volume, the authors bring to the table an array of cultural backgrounds, including the urban U.S. Northeast, India, and Israel. Because of the nature of the Kaddish tradition, each woman self-identifies as Jewish, but together the women range from Orthodox to Conservative to Reform and even nonpracticing. They have grieved for parents, children, and siblings. Many are comfortable with their roles as active participants in a traditionally male expression, and a few eschew taking that participatory role. In addition to providing a dynamic view of feminism and Judaism, the collection coheres as a community of women experienced in mourning as a human sensibility, opening the titular theme to others who may feel alone in their bereavement.

This review originally appeared in Booklist.

A Review of Majesty and Humility: The Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by Charles M. RaffelMajesty and Humility

R. Reuven Ziegler’s examination of the Rav’s religious philosophy in this new book is an invaluable resource to perpetuate a meaningful appreciation of the Rav’s legacy. He provides a clear overview of the major essays and significant themes, with patient attention to fleshing out the underlying philosophic ideas of the Rav’s writings….

One may reasonably conclude that a cadre of students, educated and enlightened by this comprehensive and accessible book, will emerge with sufficient fluency in the Rav’s writings to meaningfully engage the original texts on their own. For offering such a luminous entry into the heart of the Rav’s philosophy, we are all in R. Ziegler’s debt.

This review first appeared in the Torah U’Madda Journal

Christian M. Rutishauser on Being Drawn to the Rav

From the Seforim blog:the human condition

Christian M. Rutishauser’s The Human Condition in the Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik has just been published by Ktav (having earlier appeared in German). Quite apart from Rutishauser’s scholarship, the book is noteworthy in that Rutishauser is a prominent Jesuit priest (see here; for those who don’t know, the University of Scranton is also Jesuit). The Seforim Blog is happy to present the introduction to the book where Rutishauser explains what led him to the Rav.

A Catholic Glimpse of Rav Soloveitchik

I never met Rav Soloveitchik personally. The reason is not only that I was born in the second half of the twentieth century and live in Europe. Actually, apart from a few scholars, Soloveitchik was hardly known in the German speaking world of the 1980s and 1990s. As a student of Catholic theology with a deep interest in philosophy, I neither met him nor came across his work, even though I moved around the academic world of Germany and France with an open and interested mind. As a Jesuit and a chaplain at Bern University, I organized study tours to Israel almost every year, but even there I never heard of him. Neither my involvement in Jewish-Christian dialogue in Switzerland nor my deep interest in Judaism altered any of this, at least for some time.

 Then a lucky coincidence changed everything. In July 1997, I was attending an Ulpan at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. During a break one day, I walked over to the Hecht Synagogue on the Mount Scopus campus. I decided look around, more to kill time than out of any particular interest. I wandered about the room, enjoying its coolness on this hot summer day, browsing aimlessly among the books displayed on the shelves along the wall. By chance I picked up a copy of Halakhic Man by the Rav naturally in the English translation, as my Ivrit would not have allowed me to read the original. The name Soloveitchik did not ring a bell. Opening the book at random, I read a few chapters and became so fascinated by its outline of the Orthodox life ideal that I ‘œkidnapped’ the book from the synagogue. Naturally the books were not supposed to be removed, but as everyone knows, students find ways to get around rules of this kind. Actually, I returned the book four days later, after I finished reading it. I would have liked to know more about Soloveitchik, but I didn’t follow up on my interest at that time. Nevertheless, I was deeply impressed by the original way he presented, and above all differentiated, the homo religiosus; the modern scientist and the halakhic man stayed with me.

 One and a half years later, when Continue reading “Christian M. Rutishauser on Being Drawn to the Rav”

A Review of the Nehalel Siddur

by Professor David A. AugustNehalel

When my Rabbi mentioned a new Shabbat Siddur “with pictures” over Rosh Hashanah, my interest was immediately piqued.  As a somewhat regular attendee at Shabbat and Yom Tov service, and as an occasional Shaliach Tzibur and stand-in when our Chazzan is away, I am familiar with the liturgy and attuned to the influence the Siddur can have on my approach to prayer.  I regularly use half a dozen different Siddurim, and was curious about this new concept.  While I was attracted by the promise that it is traditional in scope and content, I was also a bit skeptical of the role the pictures might play in distracting from the “business” of davening.

The Nahalel Siddur, devised (his word) by Michael Haruni, is published by Nevarech (Jerusalem).  It is meant to be used on Shabbat, with the usual additions to allow its use on Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, and various other days that coincide with Shabbat; it is not a holiday Machzor, and not designed for use on the Shalosh Regalim.  It is nearly traditional in its liturgy, although there are some concessions to egalitarian worship (for example, the morning Berachot offer modern versions for women).  I also found myself surprised by the inclusion of some prayers that I was not familiar with, such as, “An Entreaty for IDF Soldiers in Captivity (Prayer recited as long as any IDF soldiers are held in hostile captivity).”  The Hebrew and English fonts are serviceable, and the liberal use of color in the texts is quite helpful.  It is printed on durable paper that gives it a nice feel.  On these merits alone, the Nehalel Siddur is a worthwhile contribution.

Upon hearing about this Siddur, however, my skepticism was stoked by two overriding questions.  First, would the Siddur be practical to use for davening, or would the pictures be so distracting and intrusive that it would function better as a coffee table book rather than as an instrument of prayer?  Second, how would the inclusion of pictures effect the experience of for davening?  The layout of the Nehalel Siddur immediately allayed both of these concerns.  The pictures were chosen to exemplify a line in the text of a prayer; there is an additional visual link through the highlighting of the line of text in English and Hebrew to help the user make the intended connection.  The pictures (all still life photographs or pictures of people or animals) are tastefully chosen, artistic, and almost unfailingly relevant.  They are not Continue reading “A Review of the Nehalel Siddur”

A golem versus tween super-heroes

By Donald H. Harrison Jordan cover final1

SAN DIEGO –Jewish tweens and teens who enjoyed the Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling may find themselves charmed by a new juvenile fiction series launched by Karen Goldman about a village in the northern part of Israel where all the children have special powers.

Jordan, who was named for the nearby Jordan River, can change himself into any form of water — whether it be a gentle brook or a powerful wind-driven tsunami.  His little brother can spot auras.  Another child in the neighborhood can manipulate clouds, while yet another, just by imagining, can bring strange animals to life.

Yet, if anyone were to visit the fictional Kfar Keshet (Rainbow Village), one wouldn’t suspect the children were different from any other kids..  Like the Super-Heroes that seem to make their homes in America, these children live by a code of honor. They are supposed to use their powers only for good.  Sometimes, however, the line of demarcation between the public interest and self-interest is not always clear to our young heroes.

In this introductory volume, an old Israeli man left crazed by Continue reading “A golem versus tween super-heroes”

‘Kaddish, Women’s Voices’ depicts struggle between modernity and modern Orthodoxy

by Rabbi Jack Riemer kaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

Rabbi Norman Lamm once said that when modernity fights with the liberal movements in Judaism, it is not a fair fight because modernity always wins, and that when modernity fights with the right wing of Orthodoxy, it is not a fair fight because the right wing always wins. Kaddish, Women’s Voices is a book in which modernity fights with modern Orthodoxy, and the results are fascinating.

Fifty-two women write their accounts of what it was like for them to say the Kaddish prayer for their deceased loved ones in the daily minyanim of modern Orthodox synagogues.

Two emotions wrestle within these women. One is anger. They were not feminists, and they were not asking for the removal of the mechitza or for the right to lead services. They were only looking for minimal respect for their right to be there and minimal courtesy for their sincere religious yearnings, but they report that in many places they did not receive either. They tell of places where men walked out when they said Kaddish, where the tzedaka box was never carried over to their section, and where they were made to feel unwanted and invisible. They tell what it felt like when the lights were lit in the men’s section, and no one remembered or bothered to light them in the women’s section as well.

But anger is not the only, or even the most important, emotion in this book. These women describe, as many men have, the powerful spiritual effect that saying Kaddish every day had on them.

One woman writes, “Even as I hit upon its limits, I Continue reading “‘Kaddish, Women’s Voices’ depicts struggle between modernity and modern Orthodoxy”

Female Reactions and Feelings on Saying Kaddish

by Israel DrazinkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

Smart and Ashkenas collected some fifty essays by articulate women of the various Jewish denominations in which they tell poignant emotional tales about relatives who died and their experiences in saying the mourner’s prayer, kaddish, what motivated them to do it, and how they felt doing so. Virtually all the stories are positive. The women derived much from saying the kaddish for eleven months. However some of the women had unfortunate contacts with Orthodox men. Some men felt that saying kaddish is a male prerogative and they mistreated the women who paid honor to deceased relatives by saying the kaddish. The book also includes three short chapters by rabbis concerning the laws of mourning and the saying of kaddish.

Many women reported feeling that saying kaddish provided them with an opportunity to engage others in helping them heal. It also facilitated them in creating new and lasting bonds of friendship in their communities. The kaddish aided them in keeping their relatives alive. It was a special time together with deceased dads, mom, kids. They had a feeling of doing something concrete and appealing. They felt they helped their love ones end their life’s journey. Some accepted the mystical idea that saying kaddish helped elevate their relatives to a higher heavenly level. They knew that the kaddish was a prayer that praised God and this gave meaning to them. Sitting in the services, many developed attachments to certain prayers and their knowledge of Judaism deepened. Some women were so moved by the kaddish that they abandoned Reform and Conservative synagogues and joined traditional Orthodox ones. Continue reading “Female Reactions and Feelings on Saying Kaddish”