Randall C. and Anne-Marie Belinfante ● AJL News and Reviews
In this, the third of Rabbi Nachum Amsel’s Encyclopedias, the author continues to explicate the values and principles that underlie Jewish laws and precepts as they apply to contemporary Jews. In particular, this volume focuses on those laws governing interaction between Jews and the people around them, be they Jewish or otherwise. Amsel covers a diverse range of issues: in addition to considering topics such as war, modesty, tzedakah, and hospitality, he considers more seemingly “modern” concerns such as climate change, advertising and universal health care, weighing how Jewish legal sources apply to them.
With regard to war, Amsel starts by citing Sanhedrin 37a to argue that “For Judaism, life itself is the highest value,” and fighting with one’s fellow man was not a matter to be considered lightly. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that there are some instances in which war was required, and he describes instances, both historical and scriptural, where Jews were obliged to fight. Referencing the Talmud Bavli, he notes that even a groom on his wedding night must fight if needed. (Sotah 44b, codified by Maimonides, Hilchot Malachim 7:4). With regard to healthcare Amsel cites Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, noting that “He emphatically ruled that the Jewish community is indeed responsible for universal health care” (Responsa Ramat Rachel 2:3, 7.28:13). In addition to the numerous source citations found in footnotes throughout the book, Amsel has also collected many pages of Hebrew references for every one of the topics discussed. Thus, it seems that Amsel is developing a new code emphasizing Judaism as a way of life in the modern world. In this compendium he connects values with traditional Jewish sources as a guide for Jews today and demonstrates that “every moral decision and issue, large and small, has a normative Jewish response.”
For the modern English reader, it is it is a superbly accessible overview.