September 29, 2014
By Rabbi Francis Nataf
Familiarity with Bible stories often works against us. That’s because we remember simple, sometimes fantastic stories from our childhood and then have a hard time re-reading these stories as adults.
Reading the Book of Jonah as an adult, as I finally decided to do, made me realize that Jonah should be remembered for much more than using a whale (the text only tells us it was a big fish but it is a reasonable assumption to say it was a whale) as the world’s first submarine. A more mature read shows Jonah to be one of the Bible’s most outrageous characters. Such a read has this small book that we read every year on Yom Kippur emerge as one that requires serious thought in order to understand.
From what I make of it, Jonah’s main problem was that he had too much integrity. In fact, he had so much integrity as to even disagree with how God runs the world! That is to say that he felt that it lacked the “higher standards” that he would have expected from God. Read the rest of this entry »
September 22, 2014
By Susan Freiband, AJL Reviews
This fascinating memoir of life in the Pale of Jewish Settlement is the author’s grandmother’s story. It is based on recordings made by the author’s father of his mother’s tales of her early life. The cassettes recorded in Yiddish were translated, the recollections supplemented with information from questioning other family members, historical research and background reading. The book includes maps of the Ukraine, the Pavolitch area, as well as an abridged family tree. It is divided into four parts, from 1835 to 1925, beginning with great grandfather Akiva. Included is a section of old photographs of the family, a glossary of Yiddish terms and a bibliography. The book’s easy reading style captures interest and attention, like a novel. The author is a journalist, from Cornwall, England; this is her first book. It is a useful addition to Judaica collections in academic and public libraries, as well as of interest to Temple and synagogue library users.
This excerpt is from the Association of Jewish Libraries
September 21, 2014
By Kathe Pinchuck, AJL Reviews
Rabbi Dov Lipman was elected to the Israeli Knesset in 2013 on Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party ticket. The party won a surprising 19 seats in the Knesset, with its representatives coming from diverse backgrounds, both in religious affiliation and culture. Since then, Rabbi Lipman has been active and vocal in addressing many issues, particularly those where religious and secular society clash—mandatory military or national service for all Israeli citizens, the role of women in Israeli society, marriage laws. Lipman argues that the greatest threat to the future of the Jewish people is the “abandonment of core Jewish values and ideals which include loving-kindness, respecting others, and not doing onto others what you don’t want done to yourself.”
This short volume is a personal manifesto that includes experiences that influenced Rabbi Lipman’s world view as well as observations on current Israeli events. Because of the nature of the essays, most references are not sourced in detail. While Rabbi Lipman does not shy away from some of today’s pressing issues, including African migrants and women wearing tallit (prayer shawl) and praying at the Kotel (the Western Wall), most of these matters have been festering for years and will not be solved quickly, even with a return to core Jewish values. He has had success in confronting local extremists and focusing on common ideals in Bet Shemesh. It will be interesting to see which aspects of Rabbi Lipman’s vision will be implemented and when during his promising political career. The book is a good choice for libraries whose patrons are interested in the history of modern Israel and its complicated politics.
This excerpt is from the Association of Jewish Libraries .
September 15, 2014
by Caryl Harvey
Doctoral candidate Keith Jessup has an interesting thesis: suppose there was a hidden meaning to Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and another manuscript that explained it. Suppose the manuscript isn’t an endorsement of faith at all, but quite the opposite. The theory isn’t original; in fact there are several scholars, one of whom is Keith’s mentor, who lecture on the same premise. It all might be rather tedious and boring, researching dusty manuscripts looking for some kind of coded message in each word. Then, Keith’s mentor is killed in a car crash that may not have been accidental. There are people who openly oppose Keith’s work and try to discredit him, and there are those who utter dark threats behind closed doors. When Keith is nearly killed himself, he might abandon the quest except for one thing: his mentor left his estate to Keith, including his research and the charge to bring forth the truth. But until that truth is out, and the plots exposed, someone is working “like hell” to bury Keith, his girlfriend and the Milton Manuscript.
If someone told me that the gospels proved the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ to be lies, I would fight like… well, like hell to defend heaven. That is the premise on which Barry Libin bases his story. He knows his scripture, and his observations about the scholarly world his protagonist lives in are spot-on. The mystery is engaging and the reader does feel the threat emerging page-by-page. My only reservation is a big one. As a Christian, I would be enraged to find someone trying to prove that the gospels were actually well-coded attempts to say that the story of Christ was a fable. But a poem written by someone who doesn’t claim divine knowledge? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the book. But Dan Brown, who wrote “The DaVinci Code” knew how to sell controversy; to sell a plot to his readers; the author must make them believe in the world he has created and to accept the idea that it MATTERS. Libin is faced with the same task — in this case convincing his readers that Milton’s manuscript is a huge threat to the world of established faith. For me, that didn’t happen. Good story, good characterization, nice glimpse into the world of academia. It is even a nice read. But I wasn’t forced to hang onto the book so I wouldn’t miss a word while I reached around it to brush my teeth. That is the litmus test.
This review was originally written on iloveamysterynewsletter.com