Publishers Weekly Review of Do Animals Have Souls?

Do animals have soulsWell-researched and informative, this concise volume on animals will settle any concerns or inquiries a Jewish pet owner may have. Isaacs (Kosher Living: It’s More than Just the Food), a much published congregational rabbi, touches upon all aspects of animal life and behavior, including their status in Judaism and their relationship with humanity. There is a chapter dedicated to animal quotes and organizations, but the majority of his work answers questions posed to him over the years by his congregants. The queries cover a broad spectrum, ranging from “Does Judaism have any mythical animals in its tradition?” to “Isn’t the slaughtering of an animal for food considered cruelty to animals?” to “Can I sit shiva for my pet?” The rabbi, a pet enthusiast with his own brood, is clear in distinguishing between humans and animals, urging readers never to blur that sacred line. This honest and clear compilation will serve as a ready handbook for pet lovers with questions.

The original review can be viewed here.

Prayer by Rote: Is Prayer Really That Simple?

by Rabbi Yaakov KlassJewishPrayerWeb1

The Rambam, in his opening chapter to the laws of tefillah (Hilchot Tefillah 1:1), states the following: “It is a positive command to pray every day, as it states in Exodus 23:25: ‘Va’avadetem eit Hashem Elokeichem… – You shall serve Hashem your G-d…’ ” We have learned, as transmitted by tradition, that this avodah is prayer, as it states in Deuteronomy 11:13: “U’le’avdo b’chol levavchem… – to serve Him with all your heart…” Our sages (Ta’anit 2a) offer this explanation: “What is [meant by] service of the heart? This is prayer. And the number of [daily] prayers is not Biblically commanded, nor is their form [text]. And [lastly] prayer has no Biblically-set time.”

Rambam sets forth no less than 15 chapters specifically devoted to the topic of prayer. He includes its laws in numerous other chapters in his magnum opus work, the Yad Hachazakah. The Tur, the Mechaber and the Rema devote no less than 45 simanim to this topic. Notwithstanding, many of our present day practices will not be found in their works. Yet, as these are ingrained in our prayer service, we question why and where. That is, many of these practices seem to have no reason and no obvious source.

Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen is an erudite scholar and long-serving pulpit rabbi in numerous positions in the U.S. and Australia, a prolific author of seven books on halacha, and a longtime halacha columnist for The Jewish Press. He set about to resolve these dilemmas with the publication of his most recent work, Jewish Prayer: The Right Way, Resolving Halachic Dilemmas.

In this volume Rabbi Cohen navigates the Continue reading “Prayer by Rote: Is Prayer Really That Simple?”

Rabbinic Authority, a Review

by Shlomo GreenwaldRabbinicAuthorityWeb1

Rabbinic Authority: The Vision and the Reality  is a smart addition to the literature on beit din – how they operate in theory and in practice. In this work, Rabbi Warburg, a veteran dayan, presents ten rulings in cases of Jewish family law and civil law which he handed down as a member of a beit din panel. In each decision, the author offers a rendition of the facts of the case, followed by claims of the toveah (plaintiff), the reply of the nitvah (defendant) and any counterclaims. Subsequently, there is a discussion of the halachic issues emerging from the parties’ respective claims and counterclaims, followed by a decision rendered by the beit din panel. As Rabbi Chaim Jachter puts it, “The publication of ten of Rav Warburg’s decisions is a major step in the direction of realizing the vision articulated by Rav Uzziel of the enhancement of the prestige of Torah litigation.”

This review first appeared in The Jewish Press.

For the Love of Man

Rabbi Dr. Nachum AmselSperberOnTheRelationshipweb1

Rabbi Dr. Sperber has just added another outstanding volume to his always-interesting and thought-provoking collection of books. In stating the purpose and thesis of this newest book, On the Relationship of Mitzvot Between Man and his Neighbor and Man and his Maker, Rabbi Sperber attempts to show the superiority in Judaism of man to man mitzvot over man to G-d mitzvot.

The dichotomy of these two categories of commandments is as old as the Ten Commandments themselves, which were given on two separate tablets (they could have been given on one long tablet), in order to demonstrate these two distinct types of commandments within Judaism (commandment number 5, honoring one’s parents, is a bit problematic within this framework, but serves as a bridge commandment with elements of both categories). Saadia Gaon further elaborates on these two classes of mitzvot, and many other great rabbis throughout Jewish history have gone even further in explaining and differentiating these categories. Rabbi Sperber reveals, through many halachik sources and Torah logic that the man to man category is clearly the morally superior one in Judaism. Whenever there is a clash between two commandments, the man to man mitzvot almost always takes precedence.

An additional reason that this sefer is unique and enjoyable is that it operates on three different levels, almost simultaneously. In the main section, the author takes 15-20 examples of clashes between the obligation to perform commandments and shows through Jewish law that the man to man mitzvot are preferred or are to be performed first. At the same time, literally “below the line” of these explanations, Rabbi Sperber goes into much greater detail and depth in his explanations of these sources. This section is of particular interest to any Jewish scholar.

Finally, rather than leave the volume as a purely halachik sefer, which some might find too esoteric or dry, the author, in the final section of the book, shows how these concepts were put into practice by great rabbis, with many stories and practical examples, which are not only very interesting but also emotionally satisfying. Thus, there is something in this book for everyone.

Alas, no book is perfect, and this reviewer has a few suggestions that might have improved this volume. First, Rabbi Sperber is wont to often write in first person. I believe that the use of the style of “I suggest” or “I cannot refrain myself from relating” a particular story is a bit out of place in a book of halachik analysis and of such magnitude. Some might find the pictures he inserted to be extraneous at best, or in the way, although this reviewer found them quite interesting. One or two of Rabbi Sperber’s proofs seem a bit forced, where the sources could have been interpreted in more than one manner. Because there are so many clear-cut examples to conclusively prove his thesis, Rabbi Sperber could have omitted these debatable examples. On the other hand, some famous sources proving the thesis of the book were not included.

For example, in Parshat Noach, Rashi asks why it is that the generation of the Tower of Babel, who sinned against G-d and were guilty of idol worship, were not killed, while the generation of Noach, who were guilty of man to man crimes, such as stealing, were destroyed totally. Rashi answers that the people who built the Tower had the redeeming value of working together, showing some positive man to man activity. This is an example, omitted from the volume, showing that man to man positive activity is held in higher esteem by G-d, which saved the Tower-builders from death.

All of these minor critiques are relatively inconsequential when the magnitude and importance of this book is viewed in its entirety. The concepts, ideas and halachot are especially significant in an era today when many observant Jews sometimes trample upon some of the man to man commandments, while strictly observing man to G-d mitzvot. Rabbi Sperber’s ability to find, explain and use important but obscure sources that would be almost impossible for the average reader to obtain, is yet another reason to read this important work.

All in all, On the Relationship is a book that is both significant, enjoyable and a pleasure to read.

This review first appeared in The  Jewish Press

Endorsement for Rabbinic Authority

RabbinicAuthorityWeb1œ”Rabbinic Authority: the Vision and the Reality, by Rabbi A. Yehuda Warburg, is a deeply learned and lucidly written description and analysis of the inner workings of the beit din. It will be of interest to rabbinic scholars and to academic scholars alike for the originality and thoroughness of its arguments and to all educated readers who wish to better understand the halakhic institutions and concepts that stand at its core.”

– Rabbi Professor Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Law at Yeshiva University Fellow, American Academy for Jewish Research

A Review of Rabbinic Authority: The Vision and the Reality

RabbinicAuthorityWeb1Rabbinic Authority: The Vision and the Reality (Jerusalem: Urim) introduces the English-speaking public to the scope of rabbinic authority in general and the workings of the institution of the beit din (Jewish arbitration) in particular.

In this work, R’ A. Yehuda (Ronnie) Warburg presents ten rulings in cases of Jewish family law and civil law that he handed down as a member of a beit din panel. In each decision, as a dayan (rabbinical court judge), he offers a rendition of the facts of the case, followed by claims of the tovea (plaintiff), the reply of the nitva (defendant), and any counterclaims. Subsequently, there is a discussion of the halachic issues emerging from the parties’ respective claims and counterclaims, followed by the decision rendered by the beit din panel. To preserve the confidentiality of the parties involved in these cases, all names have been changed, and some facts have been changed or deleted.

These piskei din (decisions) touch on issues of employment termination, tenure rights and severance pay, rabbinic contracts, self-dealing in the not-for-profit boardroom, real-estate brokerage commission, drafting a halachic will, a revocable living-trust agreement, the division of marital assets upon divorce, spousal abuse, and a father’s duty to support his estranged children. In short, these cases reflect some of the issues that affect our community.

Among the scenarios that are addressed in the beit din cases are the following: In one case, a wife demands a get (Jewish divorce) because her husband coerces her to have relations with him so frequently that she is left sleepless and exhausted. Consequently, she left the home with their children and seeks spousal and child support from her husband until she receives her get. The husband, citing the Talmud, claims that he is within his rights and that she is not entitled to receive her get. Continue reading “A Review of Rabbinic Authority: The Vision and the Reality

Book Review: Herod: The Man Who Had To Be King

Herod The Man Who Had To Be King

From the Life in Israel blog:

This book, “Herod: The Man Who Had To Be King” is not a history book, but a novel. It is an historic novel, where the story is based on the actual history, but some parts are made up and details are made up as poetic license, but as stated in the introduction, Shulewitz, as a historian who spent much of his work researching Herod, insisted that all facts available be included in the story and he minimized his use of poetic license. Shulewitz did use imagination to fill in some gaps, but the story itself is very true to history.

Yehuda Shulewitz was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois. That makes us practically landsmen.

For some background, from his bio in the book – Yehuda (Louis) Shulewitz moved to pre-state Israel in 1947 to study Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He had previously received a degree in economics from the University of Illinois and served in the U.S. military in Europe during WWII.

The murder of the Hadassah medical staff on its way to Mount Scopus and the subsequent Arab invasion of the nascent Jewish state put his studies on hold. Yehuda remained alone and hungry in a friend’s Jerusalem apartment during the siege of the city. Later, he courageously made his way over the hills until he reached Tel Aviv, exhausted but safe. There he enlisted in Mahal — the overseas volunteer regiment of the Israel army.

After Israel’s War of Independence, Shulewitz returned to his beloved Jerusalem and, apart from occasional visits abroad, continued to live there until his passing in 2007. An observant Jew and gifted writer, his published materials include articles, short stories, and academic papers, as well as radio scripts, which were broadcast in many different languages. He also worked as the English editor of the Bank of Israel.

Following his retirement, Yehuda Shulewitz researched and wrote this historical novel set during the Herodian period in the largely Roman-dominated Mediterranean region of that time.

The book is fascinating. It is not a Continue reading “Book Review: Herod: The Man Who Had To Be King