Review of Who Stole My Religion?

October 31, 2016

WhoStoleMyReligion9789655242348by Barbara Gardner

Although this book has been written to ‘revitalize Judaism and apply Jewish values to help heal our imperiled planet,” the references used from the Old Testament, apply as much to Christians as they do to Jews. Therefore, I felt it useful to review this book for The Ark.

Schwartz takes a good look at the world today including it politics, economic systems and foreign policies, as well as the environment and our treatment of animals. Actually, only two out of sixteen chapters deal with animal rights, but Schwartz demonstrates that this is part of a larger, interconnected problem which has to be examined as a whole. He says that the book is meant to be a wakeup call as the world is heading towards a ‘perfect storm’ that includes climate change, environmental degradation, world hunger, water shortages, climate wars, Islamic terrorism and other threats. He argues that the only solution is to apply real Jewish values to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, according to Schwartz, most Jews just aren’t doing enough and are failing to see the dangers ahead.

Schwartz identifies a shifting to the political right amongst orthodox Jews, particularly in America, which he demonstrates is inconsistent with the teachings of the Torah and other Jewish texts. This is why he feels that his religion, Judaism, has been stolen. The book seeks to identify who has stolen Judaism and how, and aims to bring us back to the true, original religion which is one based on love and compassion, not rules and rituals, particularly ones which have been misinterpreted.

Simply focusing on the animal rights issues, Schwartz’s arguments for the compassionate treatment of animals, supported by many references from the Torah, leaves one wondering how any Jew (and indeed any Christian) can claim to be genuine to their faith and not be vegan, let alone support any other form of animal cruelty. In particular, he highlights the Torah’s mandate not to cause pain to living creatures – tsa’ar ba’alei chayim and demonstrates how so many Jews are breaking this mandate in the modern world.

Schwartz’s main criticism of such people is their apathy, their failure to challenge current practices, and their preference for ritual over meaning. It is hard to see that this book could be anything less than a wakeup call and, as such, I strongly recommend it.

THis review originall appeared in The Ark.


Hazy Hints of Memory: After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring

October 27, 2016

by Claudia MoscoviciAftertheHolocusttheBellsStillRing9789655241624.JPG

Early childhood development specialists emphasize the importance of having a nurturing and stable environment for infants and toddlers. That’s when the foundations of a child’s personality are formed and influence the rest of their life. Studies have shown that many of the children who grew up in the Communist Romanian orphanages during the 1980’s, living in deplorable conditions and deprived of love, attention, adequate sanitary facilities and healthy food, developed personality deficiencies that marred their lives. Many felt emotionally detached from others and could barely communicate, even as adults.

What about the youngest children of the Holocaust, growing up in the most hellish circumstances imaginable? Most of them perished in the fires of the crematoria, being the first to be selected for immediate death. The few so-called “lucky” child survivors recall bits and pieces of might have been an even worse fate. Rabbi Joseph Polak’s recent memoir, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring (New York, Urim Publications, 2015), winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award, depicts surviving as a toddler in environments whose only certainties were suffering, squalor, misery and death. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of Living in the Shadow of Death: A Rabbi Copes with Cancer 

October 26, 2016

 

by Jack Riemer

Public figures are not allowed a private life. And so, when an oncologist has cancer, or when a politician has pneumonia, or when a rabbi becomes seriously ill, his battle has to be shared with his or her community. And sometimes, a certain suspicion takes place. How can he be a cancer doctor when he cannot protect himself from this diease? How can she be a leader when she herself has taken ill? How can he teach us how to live the way God wants us to when he himself has become seriously sick?

Rabbi Stuart G. Weinblatt understood this truth when he found out that he had cancer just when he was about to leave on a synagogue tour to Israel. Instead of trying to hide his illness, he wrote an e mail to the entire congregation, telling them what he was going through and promising to keep them informed. He went through his first chemotherapy and then left for Israel to catch up with the synagogue tour. And when he came back, he began preparing for a High Holy Days that he knew would be different, both for him and for his people, than any that they had ever experienced before.

The service was pretty much the same as usual, except for the fact that this year he could not shake hands or hug everyone as he went around behind the Torah for fear of catching anything while his immune system was weak, and except for the fact that when he announced the Prayer for the Sick and invited all those who had someone whom they cared about who was ill to rise for the prayer, the entire congregation rose in support for him.

The service may have been pretty much the same, but the sermon that day was different, because Rabbi Weinblatt spoke about what he was learning from the illness that he was struggling with. What he said that day was not very different from what he had said many times before, and from what every other rabbi has  said on the High Holy Days, but this time his sermon had a note of urgency to it that made the obvious truths that he uttered feel powerfully true.

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Review of Moadei HaRav: Public Lectures on the Festivals by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik 

October 11, 2016

MoadeiHaRav web1

By Rabbi Johnny Solomon

Over the past decade there has been an explosion of both Hebrew and English language books containing and explaining the teachings of the great Jewish thinker and Talmudist Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. However, while many of these books faithfully convey the wide range of creative and insightful ideas of Rav Soloveitchik, far fewer explore his unique talmudic methodology or attempt to present many of the ideas that he taught in his talmudic lectures. The reason for this apparent omission is due to the fact that any (authentic) attempt to explain how the Rav extrapolated his ideas from the Talmud requires a deep knowledge of the talmudic passages which inspired and informed him.

Rabbi Dr Shlomo Pick, himself a former student of Rav Soloveitchik and currently a teacher of Talmud and Maimonidean thought at Bar-Ilan University’s Institute for Advanced Torah Studies, wishes to redress this imbalance through presenting some of the more accessible Talmudic lectures by the Rav that explore themes relating to the festivals.

In 2004 Rabbi Pick published a Hebrew volume titled Moadei HaRav (literally, ‘The Festivals of the Rav’) containing seventeen extended summaries of public lectures delivered by the Rav based on the notes that both he and others took while attending these lectures, in addition to incorporating an introductory chapter on ‘The Rav’s Methodology of Torah Study’. In so doing Rabbi Pick provided a unique window that shed light on the Rav’s methodology that could be understood by both Talmudic experts and laypeople alike.
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Interview with Richard Schwartz, author of Who Stole My Religion?

October 10, 2016

WhoStoleMyReligion9789655242348Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at JewishVeg.com/schwartz. He is President Emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.”

Have you always been a vegan? How was your trajectory regarding this lifestyle?
Until 1978, I was a “meat and potatoes” man. My mother would be sure to prepare my favorite dish, pot roast, whenever I came to visit with my wife and children. It was a family tradition that I would be served a turkey drumstick every Thanksgiving. Yet, I not only became a vegetarian, and later a vegan, but I now devote a major part of my time to writing, speaking, and teaching about the benefits of veganism. What caused this drastic change?

In 1973 I began teaching a course, “Mathematics and the Environment” at the College of Staten Island. The course used basic mathematical concepts and problems to explore critical issues, such as pollution, resource scarcities, hunger, energy, population growth, the arms race, nutrition, and health. While reviewing material related to world hunger, I became aware of the tremendous waste of grain associated with the production of beef at a time when millions of the world’s people were malnourished. In spite of my own eating habits, I often led class discussions on the possibility of reducing meat consumption as a way of helping hungry people. After several semesters of this, I took my own advice and gave up eating red meat, while continuing to eat chicken and fish.

I then began to read about the many health benefits of vegetarianism and about the horrible conditions for animals raised on factory farms. I was increasingly attracted to vegetarianism, and on January 1, 1978, I decided to join the International Jewish Vegetarian Society. I had two choices for membership: (1) practicing vegetarian (one who refrains from eating any flesh); (2) non-vegetarian (one who is in sympathy with the movement, while not yet a vegetarian). I decided to become a full practicing vegetarian, and since then have avoided eating any meat, fowl, or fish. In 2000 I became a vegan.

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Review of Moadei HaRav: Public Lectures on the Festivals by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

October 5, 2016

The Rav On The Holidays

By: Ben Rothke

Title: Moadei HaRav: Public Lectures on the Festivals by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Author: Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Pick
Publisher: Urim Publications

There is no need to state in these pages that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was one of the greatest Talmudists of the past few hundred years. But for English readers, there has long been a dearth of books in English that captured the depth and breadth of R’ Soloveitchik’s Talmudic genius.

In Moadei HaRav: Public Lectures on the Festivals by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Pick has written a fabulous work, based on his notes from the Rav’s shiurim. Rabbi Pick is a former student of the Rav, who now teaches Talmud and Maimonidean thought at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and brilliantly captures the Rav’s ideas in these lectures.

The book begins with an introduction to Rav Soloveitchik’s methodology of Torah study. Rabbi Pick then writes 17 chapters on various Talmudic issues. For me, the most startling point in the introduction is that while the Rav, who studied in Berlin and was familiar with the methodologies of academic Talmud research, was fundamentally opposed to it. Rabbi Pick writes that the Rav felt that way as he thought academic Talmud both focuses on insignificant matters, and puts too much significance on the consequence of socio-historical or psychological processes.

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