Review of Kosher Movies

March 29, 2016

kosher movies web2Reviewed by Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel

I began reading with great anticipation the volume Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema, and I was not disappointed. Rabbi Dr. Herbert Cohen has a well-earned reputation as a first-rate educator, and he combines his educational insights and personal warmth and knowledge of Jewish values, with an obvious affection for great Hollywood films. Having used this methodology professionally in the classroom for forty years myself, I was very curious how Dr. Cohen would harness this all-powerful medium to teach great Jewish lessons and understanding for today. Every page was literally a joy. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of Transforming the World

March 27, 2016

by Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Media Review

transforming web001“Transforming the World: The Jewish Impact on Modernity” asks pressing questions about Judaism in our generation, such as:

  • What is so special about Judaism?
  • Why is the Torah still valid after three millennia?
  • How do ancient traditions and rituals in Judaism enhance everyday lives?

In a modern and educated generation where religion and commandments may seem archaic, Leo Dee examines the tremendous impact that Judaism continues to exert on all of humanity. With a combination of commandments, traditions, and history, Leo Dee shows how Jewish culture transforms your life and the world for the better.

Leo Dee served as a community rabbi in a village in South Hertfordshire and in a Jewish suburb of London for six years. He studied at Cambridge University and then at Yeshivat HaMivtar following a career in business and finance. He now lives in Israel with his wife and five children.


Review of Nefesh Hatzimtzum

March 22, 2016

By Rabbi Johnny Solomon

NefeshHatzimtzumOne1Nefesh HaChaim is the name of R’ Chaim Volozhin’s magnum opus – his ‘Shulchan Aruch of Hashkafa’ – whose small size does not do justice to its extraordinary depth and breadth.

Like many young men and women, I was introduced to the Nefesh HaChaim while in Yeshiva, and I recall the sense of wonderment when introduced to some of its most basic concepts. Nefesh HaChaim provides a roadmap towards living a life of spiritual exaltation, and there are parts in this work where one can catch a glimpse of the blueprint for creation. But like many of those same young men and women – and in contrast to most of my other sefarim – my copy of the Nefesh HaChaim has been opened on very few occasions since then – primarily because I did not feel confident that I had the necessary skills to grasp the depth of this great work. Like all areas of Jewish mysticism, true comprehension of the Nefesh HaChaim demands a guide – someone who has toiled in Torah study and who has pursued a life of Avodat Hashem; someone who is already using the roadmap and someone who has been able to fathom those parts of the blueprint that have been revealed to them.
Read the rest of this entry »


Review of Torah Mysteries Illuminated

March 20, 2016

Reviewed by Michael Dunford, The Midwest Book Review

TMI-pasteon.inddCritique: As informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking, “Torah Mysteries Illuminated: Intriguing Insights into the Essence of Major Torah Topics of Contemporary Relevance” is impressively well written, exceptionally well organized, and deftly presented. Of special note is Thomas Furst’s chapter on “The Torah’s Highly Sensitive Standard of Charity”. Simply stated, “Torah Mysteries Illuminated” is very highly recommended for scholars and non-specialist readers alike, and should be a part of every personal, community synagogue, community library, and academic library Judaic Studies reference collection and supplemental studies reading list.

 

This review originally appeared on The Midwest Book Review


Review of The Jewish Dog

March 15, 2016

by Jeff Fleischer, Foreword Reviews

The Jewish Dog9780983868538Kravitz’s canine narrator describes the events around him without understanding their full impact, offering a new perspective on the Holocaust.

With The Jewish Dog, Asher Kravitz succeeds in the difficult task of finding a new approach to a Holocaust story by telling the tale through the first-person perspective of a family pet. Kravitz treats the material with the appropriate respect while using the dog’s changes in ownership as a clever way to flesh out history and provide an additional perspective.

The story opens with the dog, Caleb, introducing himself and explaining his circumstances, as one of several puppies born in the household of a Jewish family in 1935 Germany. Kravitz drops in hints about what’s on the horizon, whether through Hitler’s voice on the radio or another dog owner bragging about his pet’s pure breeding,

Because of the real-life Nazi decree that banned Jews from owning dogs, the family has to give up Caleb, handing him over to a German with a fondness for the animal. Caleb eventually passes through several owners, who range from kind to cruel, including some involved in the worst crimes of the Nazi era. At various points in his journey, the dog is on the run with a pack of strays, being molded into a prison guard by Nazi trainers, or taking part in a prisoner uprising. At times, Caleb, whose name changes throughout his ordeal, even takes part in atrocities, following the orders of new masters. In doing so, he offers a window into the soldiers or citizens who committed similar crimes, without excusing their behavior. He is haunted by an incident when he was a puppy, when he stood by while a fellow dog hunted and killed a harmless kitten, and thinks about that experience whenever he fails to do right.

Kravitz has some fun with the dog’s food-driven motivation, and the humor does not undermine the story’s tragedy. Because Caleb’s circumstances change so often, the story maintains its suspense, as it’s never obvious which parts of history the dog will experience directly.

This review originally appeared on Foreword Reviews.


Review of A Girl From There

March 13, 2016

A beautiful book describing the effects of brutality

by Israel DrazinAGirlFromThere web2

This is a significant work of art and a singular testimony to the holocaust and the memory of it in a woman who was just an infant at the time. She was sick with typhus when she saw her dad die, she remembers how her grandparents were transported to be killed. She was hidden by non-Jews, returned to her aunt and uncle after the war and the butchery, and was later reunited with her mom in Israel.
Her free-flow descriptive poems in this book are beautiful. They prompt readers to think. They raise questions, some of which have no answer. She describes not only the time of butchery, but also the difficulties she faced after she was free.

 


AJL Review of Reading the Sacred Text

March 10, 2016

by Ilka Gordon, Beachwood, OH

ReadingtheSacredText web1Reading the Sacred Text provides a short overview of the Five Books of Moses. The book’s purpose as stated by the author is, “a serious reading based on the proposition that the Torah says what it means and means what it says.” Well written and easy for anyone somewhat familiar with the Torah’s content to understand, Lichtenstein discusses only the plain and literal meaning of the text. Each sacred book is treated as a unique literary unit with a distinct beginning and ending. Reading the Sacred Text is recommended for all libraries because it is unique in its literal interpretation of Biblical text and it is extremely interesting and enjoyable to read.

This review appeared in the AJL Reviews February/March 2016 issue.

 


AJL Review of Meditations at Twilight on Genesis

March 8, 2016

by Ellen Share, Librarian, Washington Hebrew Congregation

meditationstwilight web01Meditations at Twilight on Genesis is a commentary on each parsha (chapter) in the book of B’reshit (Genesis). Rabbi Granatstein provides his own insights and wisdom along with a wide range of traditional sources, including the Talmud; Midrashic classics, such as B’reshit Rabba, Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer, and Midrash Tanhuma; Jewish philosophical works, such as Rambam’s Moreh Nevukhim (Guide for the Perplexed) and the Zohar; as well as the commentaries of Rashi, and Ibn Ezra, to name but a few. This book by an Orthodox rabbi is not about ritual, rather it has universal appeal for all Jews. The chapters are short and provide a good supplementary commentary to the parshot in the Chumash (Torah) and ideas for discussion at the Shabbat table. For example, In Parashat Vaychi, which is the final chapter in Genesis, Granatstein cites the story of Joseph as to show how our ancestors strove to maintain their Jewish identity and how we might learn from them. Thus, Joseph, who had become second in command in Egypt, made the Israelites promise that he would be buried in Canaan. Joseph never forgot that he was a Hebrew and of the land that God promised our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Recommended for any synagogue library.

This review appeared in the AJL Reviews February/March 2016 issue.


After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring Won!

March 6, 2016

NJBA winnerUrim Publications is honored to announce that After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring is the winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award in the category of Biography / Autobiography.

After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring
by Joseph Polak
Foreword by Elie Wiesel
Hardcover, 141 pages
978-965-524-162-4

AftertheHolocustWeb1“Another book on the Holocaust? Yes and no; this book is about a different Holocaust—the one that survivors of concentration camps endured after April 1945. That is when survivors began to experience the horrific and persistent memories of what they had lived through, according to Joseph Polak, who entered the camps when he was just a toddler.”
-Eleanor Ehrenkranz, Jewish Book Council

“As one of the last witnesses to the Shoah, certainly one of the youngest, Joseph Polak has written a memoir that is an essential contribution to the body of Holocaust literature….This is a must read for anyone not afraid of grappling with the unfathomable.”
–Blu Greenberg
.
“Joseph Polak has written a memoir that begins where Anne Frank’s diary leaves off…. We don’t have many books like this one, books that tell what Hell was like for children who were too innocent to understand where they were, and too young to remember it clearly afterwards. So read this book and absorb what it has to say. And take some comfort from the fact that its author grew up to be a teacher of Torah and a counselor of young people on campus, hard as that is to comprehend.”
-Jack Reimer, South Florida Jewish Journal

“The story is so fantastic that, as Polak himself says, it goes against what we know of the Holocaust and the concentration camps. Every page teaches the reader something new, in language that is fresh and original.”
-Alan Rosen, PhD

“It is haunting and melancholic, unforgettable and poignant. Polak is a wonderful writer, proffering a terrifying truth while speculating about the wisdom of the Torah and the apparent absence of God.”
-Charles Weinblatt, NY Journal of Books


AJL Review of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values

March 2, 2016

By Beverly Geller, The Frisch School, Paramus, NJ

EncyclopediaofJewishValues9789655241631

Knowing how often the teachers in my school request Rabbi Nachum Amsel’s The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues, I was eager to see his new volume. It does not disappoint. This book is an extremely valuable reference work for learning the Jewish view on numerous topics, including some for which I was not even aware there was a Jewish view (i.e. self-esteem in Judaism). It provides a source for in-depth essays on classic moral and ethical issues, such as anger, jealousy and revenge, as well as other important topics that confront our generation, such as cloning, stem cells, the ethics of downloading films and songs, and many others. Rabbi Amsel includes over two hundred pages of source material, Biblical and Talmudic selections quotes from works of Jewish philosophy, so that the reader can follow up on the essay. This volume is highly recommended.

This review appeared in the AJL Reviews February/March 2016 issue.