Redeeming Relevance featured in The Jewish Star’s Kosher Bookworm

September 8, 2016
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Redemption and Relevance for Today’s Jew

by Alan Jay Gerber

“Redeeming Relevance: In the Book of Deuteronomy — Explorations in Text and Meaning” (Urim Publishers, 2016) details some of the little-known themes in Devorim. The following teachings by Rabbi Nataf will hopefully motivate you to obtain and read the full text for a better understanding of what motivated Moshe in his last days of leadership of our people.Among the most gifted commentators on the Chumash in Israel today is Rabbi Francis Nataf, a longtime associate of the noted Jewish theologian and thinker, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopez Cardozo of Jerusalem. Recently Rabbi Nataf finished his long-awaited commentary on Devarim, the Book of Deuteronomy, which will be the focus of this week’s essay.

“Most readers are aware that the book of Devarim is significantly different from the other books of the Torah,” writes Rabbi Nataf in an introduction entitled “Moshe’s Torah.”

“For instance, words and expressions that don’t appear anywhere else in the Torah suddenly appear here. This is especially pronounced when we encounter a new word or phrase that describes the very same object or concept referred to by different terms on other books.”

Further on, the author is more specific:

“Moreover, entire stories and commandments from the four previous books are now given completely different treatments. Moshe’s new rendition of the incident of the spies that we already know from the book of Bemidbar is the most famous. Many other stories, such as the appointment of administrative judges, and to a lesser extent the actual giving of the Torah, are recounted from a new vantage point as well.

“Yet the most significant change is that Moshe generally now speaks in the first person, often telling us that “God told me…” as opposed to the more common narrative wherein we are told “God spoke to Moshe…” The most obvious reason for this is that the majority of the book of Devarim records a series of Moshe’s speeches given to the Israelites at the end of his life, a time which, significantly, coincides with the end of their journey.”

Continue reading the article here.


Excerpt from Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Numbers

July 20, 2016

Redeeming Relevance in the book of numbers Chapter Six

The Daughters of Tzelofchad and the Elders of Menashe – Identity, Interests, and Differentiation

The first two chapters of Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Genesis discussed the Bible’s interest in teaching us about real-life trade-offs. We already know from our own lives that we truly cannot “have our cake and eat it too.” And because we would prefer to ignore this truth, the Torah makes a point of frequently repeating the notion that we must make choices about what is the most valuable – or alternatively, the least undesirable – course of action. This means that biblical characters rarely live “happily ever after.” They make difficult choices and have to live with the resultant consequences.(1) Yet, had it been otherwise, the Bible would have been a book of fairy tales that would not have had the tremendous transformative and inspirational power that it has had for so much of human history. In the book of Bemidbar, the theme of trade-offs is examined again with the petition of the five daughters of Tzelofchad from the tribe of Menashe and the subsequent counter-petition of that tribe’s elders. These fatherless, brotherless sisters come out of nowhere,(2) questioning an assumed status quo that their late father’s portion in the Land of Israel will go to the male next of kin. They are successful in their petition, and God reveals that the assumption was actually faulty and that it is, truly, daughters who are next in line in such a situation. Several chapters later, the tribal leaders from Menashe challenge the new status quo with their own concern: that if these women marry men from another tribe, their birth tribe will end up losing part of its inheritance. They too are successful, and the women appear to be commanded to marry only within their tribe. But whether this is an actual commandment or not,(3) the story goes on to tell us that the daughters of Tzelofchad do indeed follow God’s preference and marry within their own tribe.

To continue reading this excerpt, click here.

1 See Redeeming Relevance in Genesis, Chap. 2.
2 Their story appears in Bemidbar 27:1–11. The first we hear of the existence of the sisters and the fact that they did not have brothers is in Bemidbar 26:33, in a general genealogical list.

Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Numbers, written by Rabbi Francis Nataf and published by Urim Publications in 2014.

This chapter was excerpted with permission by the author.


Review of Between the Lines of the Bible: Genesis

April 12, 2016

By Ben Rothke, The Times of Israel

There’s a famous Yiddish expression men shtarbt nisht fuhn ah kasha, roughly translated as “no one ever died from a tough question”. Judaism views doubt and questions as positive, as they can be mechanisms that lead a person to greater spiritual growth.BetweentheLinesoftheBibleGenesisWeb1

While that saying is true in certain contexts; when it comes to dealing with contradictions and challenging questions in the Bible, many people unfortunately haven’t taken the time to determine what the true answers are. Often these unresolved questions or unsatisfactory and unfulfilling answers will lead them to abandoning any future interaction with the sacred text.

In a fascinating new book, Between the Lines of the Bible: Genesis: Recapturing the Full Meaning of the Biblical Text (Urim Publications ISBN-13 978-9655242003), author Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom has written an engaging work that provides significant new insights and a fascinating approach to the Biblical text. The book is a pleasure to read and the reader is certain to come out with significant insights to the text. Read the rest of this entry »


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.


Excerpt from Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Exodus

January 7, 2016

Redeeming Relevance in the Book of ExodusChapter 3

Exile, Alienation and the Jewish Mission

When a man is in his place, everyone knows him, and respects him according to his worth and according to the rank of his forbears. He, too, is familiar with his surroundings, knowing what he should say and what he should not say, what he should do and what he should not do. Once uprooted from his landscape, a man is at a loss, bewildered and perplexed.  (Haim Sabato, Aleppo Tales)

In the last chapter, we explored the unusual self-awareness that Moshe brought into his first set of interviews with God. Of course, this perspective did not appear in a vacuum – as with everyone, Moshe was shaped by his life experience. In this chapter we will look at part of this experience, which will both resemble and yet be at variance with many other Biblical Jewish leaders. Looking at Moshe’s early life, we find a fascinating paradox: The greatest Jew to walk the face of the earth spent his childhood and youth in a completely non-Jewish culture. This forges the great irony that, as opposed to all the other Jews whom the Midrash praises for preserving their Jewish identities through keeping their Israelite names, language and dress, (1) young Moshe’s name, (2) language and certainly mode of dress were all Egyptian.

Read the rest of this entry »


Between the Lines of the Bible

November 18, 2015

OU PRESS IN CONJUNCTION WITH URIM, ANNOUNCES NEW RELEASE, “BETWEEN THE LINES OF THE BIBLE: RECAPTURING THE FULL MEANING OF THE BIBLICAL TEXT,” BY RABBI YITZCHAK ETSHALOM

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OU Press announces the publication of Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible: Recapturing the Full Meaning of the Biblical Text – Genesis, published in conjunction with Urim Publications.

This new and expanded edition of the Genesis volume of Rabbi Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible series, presents an opportunity for readers to become familiar with the work of one of the great proponents of the “new Orthodox school” of Biblical commentary. Rabbi Etshalom advocates a return to the pshat, or plain sense, of the text, while incorporating insights culled from modern disciplines such as archeology and literary analysis.

This methodology, which has emerged over the last generation primarily in religious Zionist circles in Israel, offers an approach which is rooted in tradition but also highly innovative. In encountering the text on its own without preconceived notions, Rabbi Etshalom discovers new solutions to ancient questions, as well as solving more recent questions raised by Biblical critics. Between the Lines of the Bible is an excellent introduction to a new world of Torah commentary which is both highly original and deeply committed.

Between the Lines of the Bible is the newest book from OU Press, the publishing division of the Orthodox Union. OU Press publishes high quality works of Jewish thought and Torah commentary, including the Chumash Mesoras Harav, the first Chumash containing the commentary of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik; Rabbi Norman Lamm’s Derashot Ledorot, a selection of sermons by one of the most gifted pulpit rabbis of our time; and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Covenant & Conversation, essays on the weekly Torah portion by the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom.

OU | Enhancing Jewish Life

www.UrimPublications.com


Review of Tanakh: An Owner’s Manual: Authorship, Canonization, Masoretic Text, Exegesis

June 7, 2015

By Shmuel Ben-Gad, AJL ReviewsTanakhAnOwnersManualWeb1

This book is written from a Modern Orthodox point of view and is aimed at “discerning traditional readers.” As the subtitle indicates, it deals with six discrete topics. Some chapters are drier than others. I imagine the part that will be of most interest to readers is the author’s argument that a modern, religiously motivated, scientific study of the Tanakh—using recent archaeological discoveries and the recovery of ancient languages related to Hebrew, for example—is in accordance with the methods of the mediaeval exegetes even if it sometimes leads to different conclusions. The discussion and comparison of eight exegetes is also quite enlightening. Dr. Sokolow of Yeshiva University is evidently a lover of the Tanakh but I cannot say that this book, for all its information and argumentation, conveys the actual atmosphere of the text. I suppose it might be argued that this can only be experienced by diving into the Tanakh itself, something which this book certainly encourages.