A Review of Rabbinic Authority: The Vision and the Reality

by Daniel D. Stuhlman, AJL ReviewsRabbinicAuthorityWeb1

Halakhah embodies the legal and communal traditions that began when the Torah was given and transmitted through Moses, the elders, and the rabbis. This book attempts to introduce English speakers to the concept of rabbinic authority. The author is a legal scholar in both secular law and Jewish law; this book is written based on both bodies of knowledge.

Warburg’s book is excellent overall, but it has several short comings. First, it is a very slow read as it is tedious to read the text with several hundred footnotes. Second, the book is lacking a glossary and a topical or subject index. Thus, this book is not for the beginning student, and the audience listed in the preface is not the audience who will understand the text.

Rabbinic Authority has two parts; each reflected in the title. The first part “vision” defines rabbinic authority and attempts to put authority in a communal or global context. The second part “reality” summarizes cases brought before a beit din (religious court) with explanations and decisions. By the time an issue is filed in court, the parties are so far apart only a legal decision can solve the problem. Warburg chooses cases in both business and family law. In one family law case a brother is sued by his two sisters over the estate of their father. While Warburg treats this as an academic example for explaining the law, the reader is left to wonder how the family dynamic could deteriorate to a point to where the court needed to decide the disposition of the estate…. I enjoyed reading it because I have a deep, personal interest in the law—Jewish and secular, business and family. Rabbinic Authority is recommended for libraries that seek to collect academic Jewish law books and have well-educated readers.

A Mother’s Kaddish: Mourning for My Son, From the Women’s Section

By Shelley Richman CohenkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

It is hard to believe that it is four years since Nathaniel’s passing. I still feel his presence throughout the day and miss his warm, smiling face and upbeat outlook. The name Nathaniel means “gift of God,” and that is what he was. He woke up almost every day with a smile, eager to greet the world. An optimist by nature, the words “no” or “can’t” were not a part of his vocabulary. He viewed life as a series of opportunities to explore and experience. Although never seeking the limelight, he always desired to be where the action was. He loved people and places, and was always ready to try something new. Although Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive deteriorative disease, reversed the normal course of his life, he managed to enjoy all that he could participate in.

From the time of Nathaniel’s diagnosis at age 6 he began to decline. He lost his ability to walk at age 8 1/2 and by his early teens was fast becoming a quadriplegic. Instead of being a mother who slowly let her child grow toward independence, I was forced by necessity to be a mother who had to involve herself in every aspect of my child’s life. From showering, to toileting, to dressing and feeding, as Nathaniel deteriorated his every function became the responsibility of those who loved him most, his family.

With his death at age 21, on that cold day in April, my constant physical orchestrations ended, but my emotional desire to care for my son did not. The desire to do for one’s child does not die with that child.

When Nathaniel passed away, we in his immediate family were obligated to say Kaddish for the shloshim, the thirty-day period of mourning. My husband, Ruvan, my other children, Jonathan and Jackie, and I were steadfast in taking on this chiyuv (halachic obligation). After all, didn’t Nathaniel deserve this last act of devotion? As the days of that first month dwindled, Ruvan told me that he wanted to take on the obligation of saying Kaddish for the full eleven months. The minute he said that, I too knew that I wanted to take on this longer obligation, as well. Had Nathaniel had the zechut, the privilege of living a full healthy life, chances are he would have had children to say Kaddish for him. Since that was not to be his fate, who would be more appropriate to say Kaddish for him than his mother? I carried him in my womb, I birthed him, and I orchestrated the life he led. For his 21 years our lives—his and mine—were inextricably bound together. It was out of a profound sense of loss that I took on the commitment to say Kaddish.

At that moment, I don’t think I fully grasped what saying Kaddish would really mean. Yes, I knew it was Continue reading “A Mother’s Kaddish: Mourning for My Son, From the Women’s Section”

Talking About Intimacy and Sexuality: A Review

by Kathe PinchuckCoverIntimacy

It is challenging to discuss intimacy and sexuality with our children, even more so to frame them in the Jewish contexts of respect and holiness. Several issues are repeated through the text: balancing the need to be proactive with giving kids more information than they are ready to process; the pervasive effects of the media (television, internet, cell phones) on everyone’s perceptions of body image and sexuality; and the biblical mandate to be holy. Each chapter begins with a quote and ends with a summary and the footnotes. Topics include Child Development, Tzniut (Modesty), Relationships between the Sexes, Masturbation, Homosexuality, Media and Its Challenges, and Sexual Harassment and Abuse. Within the chapters, there are numerous “model conversations” to have with children on different topics, and a list of these is included in the back matter. Appendix I includes separate student guides for both boys and girls, and Appendix II is a recommended reading list. The book includes a glossary and an index.

Dr. Debow has done extensive research about intimacy and sexuality with children and teenagers in the Orthodox community, and has published sexuality curriculum for Jewish schools. Because the book is meant for more Modern Orthodox Jewish parents, who often have greater access to secular books and the internet than less Modern Orthodox Jews would, most of the secular and basic physiological information could be found in other places. The chapter on “Relationships between the Sexes” is particularly important for parents of teenagers who are interacting with opposite-sex peers, and unfortunately, the “Sexual Harassment and Abuse” information is critical. The book is poorly indexed, which detracts from its usefulness when parents need references on a specific topic. Given that the target audience and the libraries that serve the group are relatively small in number, it is suggested that librarians keep the title on their resource lists. It is recommended for personal and professional purchase.

This review originally appeared in AJL Reviews

A Review of Kaddish, Women’s Voices

by Nathan RosenkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

This excellent collection consists of fifty-two insightful essays addressing the various experiences and issues faced by women mourners who recite Kaddish. The book is very helpful and thought provoking for individual mourners and for the Jewish community as a whole. The contributors come from a wide range of Jewish denominations, backgrounds, religious involvement and education. The writers share their viewpoints and reveal their courage in confronting difficult situations. All testify to the ways in which reciting Kaddish invoked deep spiritual and meaningful experiences. Several of the essays portray the warm presence of community support and solace and the establishment or affirmation of their involvement with Jewish communal life. For them, the recitation of Kaddish indeed served to sanctify God’s name. Others portray synagogues and minyanim where the opposite occurred. At a time where community is most needed, the mourners were set adrift and even faced outright hostility and ostracism. There, the communal response reflected a lack of respect for the dead, the wounding of the mourner and a desecration of God’s name.

This book is well worth purchasing and reading. The essays reflect individual and common experiences and issues that may be unique to women or may be shared by all mourners. Readers will find that many essays speak directly to them on many levels.

This review first appeared in AJL Reviews