Remember the fourth son at the Passover seder? He doesn’t know how to ask. The holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said, “That’s me.”
In the science fiction work “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the supercomputer Deep Thought is asked “the question of life, the universe and everything.” After 7½ billion years of computation, the answer that came up was disappointing: “42”. But there was a good deal of wisdom in Deep Thought’s explanation of the failure to get a good answer. He said: “Perhaps you don’t really know what the question is.”
Covid-19 has many physical ramifications, but it also has stirred a great many people to question “why”. Why has the entire world suddenly changed? What does it mean? What do we need to learn?
Haim A. Gottschalk, Olney, MD ● AJL News and Reviews
From Forbidden Fruit to Milk and Honey: A Commentary on Food in the Torah is a collection of short essays on each individual Bible parashah (passage of scripture). Biblical scholar Diana Lipton assembled a diverse group of Jewish scholars, divided evenly between men and women. Each scholar wrote a short essay, one scholar per parashah (with one exception) about food, and Lipton follows up with a verse by verse commentary on issues that the essays did not cover. Lipton also explains in the introduction that the book does not address what the ancient Israelites ate, sacrifices being discussed, nor kashrut.
The work is not a cookbook. What the work does and does well is give a derash (interpretation) through the prism of food for each parashah (excluding double parashiyot and holidays). The scholars certainly give you plenty of food for thought.
This book is a welcome addition to any library, especially a synagogue library and recommended to those who are looking for something different to grace their Shabbat table.
Ron Rubin’s “Strangers & Natives: A Newspaper Narrative of Early Jewish America 1734-1869,” contains very fascinating and very informative information about the daily life, problems, successes, and customs of Jews in America during the early years of the United States. It includes information about the Jewish involvement in many facets of the country’s life: politics, military, education, literature, journalism, and more.
While there are many history books that address these subjects, this is the first time where the documents, diaries, memoirs, and periodicals are published. Readers can see the originals of these materials which have been scanned and printed in this book. They will also be able to read Professor Rubin’s comments on each original document.
Much is revealed in these documents, such as Grant’s infamous expulsion of Jews from Tennessee, the work of Mordecai M. Noah, the involvement of Jews in the Civil War, the daily activities of Jews during this period, Benjamin Franklin’s philo-Semitism, the hatred of others against Jews, opinions expressed whether Christians should work to convert Jews, and much more.
“Pharaoh realizes that, given Yosef’s self-absorption, his lack of social skills, and his inability to navigate social challenges, Yosef is vulnerable to the maneuverings of those who are more clever, cunning, and calculating. Pharaoh has maintained power through shrewd utilization of his formidable political savvy, but Yosef is particularly ill-suited to deal with the bare-knuckled world of politics and the sharks who will be looking for every opportunity to hurt him – and possibly, by extension, cause harm to Pharaoh himself. Pharaoh preempts these threats by giving Yosef a new and honorable name – and with it a new persona – as well as a wife, who can help protect him from the attacks and advances of others. Significantly, Pharaoh selects a woman who is from a distinguished family – possibly the family of Potiphar – who not only bestows further honor on Yosef by virtue of her pedigree, but who is presumably familiar with the intrigue and machinations of royal politics, and along with her family will be able to anticipate and help ward off challenges to Yosef. With these in place, Yosef is finally safe to go out on his own, leaving the protective watch of Pharaoh and traveling throughout the Land of Egypt.
“The story of Yosef (Joseph) presents some of the most challenging questions of all biblical narratives. Yosef’s behavior, interpersonal relationships, and personal journey and development are often difficult to understand, and at times seem to defy explanation. Leading commentators are repeatedly puzzled both by Yosef’s actions and by the events that surround him: from Yosef’s bitter interchanges with his brothers, which his father Yaakov (Jacob) is apparently unable to mediate, to the events in the Land of Egypt, where Yosef finds both failure and remarkable success, to Yosef’s strange machinations, when his brothers travel to Egypt to purchase food and later settle in Egypt along with Yaakov.
“Orthodoxy” with a capital “O” is a misunderstood and misused word in Judaism. Modern Orthodoxy is used to identify the mainstream of strictly observant Judaism, of course, but “ultra-Orthodox” is an adjective that is applied to the Charedi, Chasidic and Yeshivish movements in Judaism, each of which is distinct from the others.
So, where does “Open Orthodoxy” fit into the Jewish world?
This insightful, well-written, original and important work is one of the best collections of over forty Torah essays in Biblical exegesis and Rabbinics in many years. As such, it is recommended for all libraries and to scholar and layman alike.
Munk is best known for translating Torah commentaries by commentators from the 15th to 18th centuries, but also included in this volume are a selection of his public lectures and independent research. Some of these essays have been published before (for example in L’Eylah, the organ of Jews College in England, or in “Ascent” of Tzefat). Most of the essays included here, however, appear for the first time, providing a great boon to readers and enabling them to benefit further from the breadth and depth of Munk’s Torah knowledge and scholarship. Moreover, the fact that this volume is in English will allow his research to reach a much wider audience.
Roger S. Kohn, Silver Spring, MD ● AJL News and Reviews
This a traditional Haggadah, with translation in English, supplemented by a commentary that is drawn from twelve books and three articles of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits (1908–1992), a Modern Orthodox rabbi and educator. Almost two hundred excerpts are included here, and a quarter of these are from only four books, Faith after the Holocaust, 1973 (17 excerpts), Man and God, 1969 (13), God, Man, and History, 2004 (13), and Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, 1945 (11). The excerpts can be quite long, often over one or two pages, and introduced in the translation with a word or words in bold type; the same expression found in the translation is then used to introduce the excerpt. As the editor warns us in his introduction, the excerpts are all from published works “sometimes with abridgments and slight edits.”
Recommended to all readers interested in the writings of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits.
Dr. Ronald Eisenberg brings two of his great loves, Judaism and Medicie together in “Jews in Medicine” in which he focuses on the contributions made by Jews over time to the medical profession. He shares the history of
More than 450 individual Jewish physicians who he divides by region and area of specialization, “all within a historical context—from Talmudic times to the modern era, from Islamic and Christian lands to the spread of Jewish communities in Europe after the Spanish Inquisition.” There is a large section devoted to the modern era that focuses on European and American physicians and includes Jewish Nobel Prize winners. Included is a description of physicians who were leaders in the Zionist movement and those who contributed to the development of medicine in the State of Israel.
Reflections on Jewish and American Disability Law and on the God Who Makes All Things Good
“Professor Sam Levine, Director of the Jewish Law Institute here at Touro, recently published a book, Was Yosef on the Spectrum. Was Yosef, son of Jacob, son of Rachel, prophet, mystic, favorite of his father, selected savior of the civilized world, master businessman, and Broadway star, on the spectrum?
When Professor Levine first
mentioned that possibility to me and began to explain his reasoning, I felt what
I thought were two different responses.
My first response was, “Isn’t that clever! Isn’t that neat. Isn’t it creative and lawyerly how Professor
Levine has managed to find a way to connect all those events and all those
conversations together to support his thesis.”