BOOK REVIEW: NEFESH HATZIMTZUM BY AVINOAM FRAENKEL

February 29, 2016

Bridging the Kabbalistic Gap

Nefesh HaTzimtzum by Avinoam FraenkelNefeshHatzimtzumOne1

Vol. 1: Rabbi Chaim Volozhin’s Nefesh HaChaim with Translation and Commentary

Volume 2: Understanding Nefesh HaChaim through the Key Concept of Tzimtzum and Related Writings

(Jerusalem: Urim, 2015)

Reviewed by Bezalel Naor

Recently there has been a spate of English translations of the classic of Mitnagdic philosophy, Nefesh ha-Hayyimby Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin (1749-1821), eminent disciple of the Vilna Gaon. This is perhaps the most glorious—certainly the lengthiest—of the translations, one that attempts to rewrite the debate between Hasidim and Mitnagdim.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Review of Nefesh HaTzimtzum and Interview with the Author

January 25, 2016

NefeshHatzimtzumTwo1By Alan Brill

The famed Yeshiva in Volozhin  (founded 1803) stands as an emblem of complete devotion to Torah study. According to Prof. Imamnuel Etkes, the yeshiva had three principle qualities when administered by Rabbi Hayim (d.1821). First, the Yeshiva in Volozhin studied Torah round the clock in mishmarot (watches or shifts) of study because the study of Torah maintains the world. Second, they had an uncompromising approach to the true and simple meaning of the text of the Talmud, avoiding pilpul. Third, was the value of fear of God (yirat hashem) defined as control of one’s passions, Kabbalah, and devotion.  Rabbi Hayim wrote his work Nefesh Hahayim The Living Soul presenting this path. Read the rest of this entry »


Book Review of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy

December 24, 2015

By Judah M. Cohen

carlebachbioWeb1Natan Ophir’s book, a major new study of Shlomo Carlebach, doubles as a treatise on researching modern figures who exist most vividly in the followers’ memories and recordings. Scholarship today must reckon more than ever with nonwritten sources. Commercial sound, image, and video repositories such as YouTube stand alongside nonprofit efforts such as the Internet Archive (archive.org), institutional portals at museums and research centers, digital archives at national and university libraries, and massive and growing personal media archives in home collections. Charismatic leaders still often present their ideas through written texts; but the immediacy of audio/visual sources, coupled with expanded options for their creation, dissemination, and preservation—whether on cassettes or the internet—can now match or exceed the significance of their textual output. Faced with such a range of materials, how will scholars organize and interpret them? Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson offers some hints of the emerging situation: though the author of a considerable written oeuvre that continues to anchor his intellectual legacy, he remains the subject of a huge, even growing collection of images, audio, and video. But what about a significant and influential thinker whose media presence vastly outweighs his written work?

Few twentieth-century figures offer as interesting a case in this regard as Shlomo Carlebach. Despite a slight literary output, Carlebach’s vast array of teachings—in person and in performance, preserved in memory and on recording—continue to occupy a formidable space in contemporary Jewish life and in reverberating circles beyond. Understanding his worldview, however, arguably requires a fundamentally different scholarly paradigm for research and analysis. Ophir takes on this challenge with intelligence and enthusiasm; and his consideration of Carlebach as “a modern day Baal Shem Tov” (pp. 425–427) late in the book perhaps best characterizes the result.
Actively recognizing a sometimes hagiographic level of hyperbole that accompanies his subject, Ophir views Carlebach’s spiritual and intellectual legacies as a universal “Hasidic” message, which he documents in large part through the eyes and narratives of others. Read the rest of this entry »


“Reb Shlomo, Why Are you So Happy?”

October 26, 2015

A review of “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and LegacycarlebachbioWeb1by Rabbi Natan Ofir

By Izabella Tabarovsky for The Times of Israel

When asked about Rabbi Carlebach’s music, Timothy Leary, that dedicated explorer of mystical experiences and expanded states of consciousness, is reported to have said: “If I had ever had a chance to listen to Shlomo’s music before I ever took drugs, I would have never needed to take them in the first place, that’s how powerful his music was!”

This testimonial is one of many filling the pages Natan Ofir’s meticulously researched and documented book, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and Legacy.” For the devoted followers of Carlebach, the book is a wonderful opportunity to re-encounter the man they knew and loved in a rich new context. For those who are just discovering his music, the book offers a wonderful starting point for a journey that can lead as far as the reader wishes to go. Read the rest of this entry »


Interview with Rabbi Dov Lipman

July 14, 2014

by TJC staffTo Unify a Nation

Two members of Knesset — Israeli Parliament — discuss their new books in English on TJC’s episode of Up Close.

First, MK Ruth Calderon, a secular Israeli who is also a Talmud scholar, talks about the new English translation of her book A Bride For One Night: Talmud Tales, in which she writes fictional accounts of some of the Talmud’s most provocative stories from her own unique perspective.

Then, MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, a fellow member of Calderon’s Yesh Atid party who originally hails from the United States and considers himself haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, discusses his new book, To Unify a Nation: My Vision for the Future of Israel. Lipman has made a goal of bringing the more extreme sectors of the haredi community back to the center though education and career opportunities.

To watch highlights from the interview click here.

To listen to the full interview click here.


Interview about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach with Natan Ophir

July 3, 2014

by Alan Brill carlebachbioWeb1

Most people who even briefly knew Reb Shlomo Carlebach understood that he had a multifarious life with many interesting turns. Natan Ophir (Offenbacher) has recently published a chronology of the events in the life of Reb Shlomo called Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacygarnered from an exhaustive range of interviews making it the first place to look in order to know about these twists and turns. The book is best on people, place, and dates and at many points reads like an almanac.

The book does not seek to push to understand his personality, mission, or contradictions of his persona. It mentions Reb Shlomo’s dark side but quickly moves on to other topics. The interviews are most thorough when dealing with Orthodox youth influenced by him in the 1950’s and least complete when discussing his connections to the Greenwich Village music scene or his connection to the Israeli world of the Chasidic Song Festival. It also does not interview bystanders or outsiders to gain context. One would not get from the book a sense of what it was like to live at the House of Love and Prayer or at Moshav Me’or Modiin. Personally, I would have liked to have seen a description of how his Torah changed over the decades or how the seven hour wedding ceremony was slowly created. Did I say that it reads like an almanac at many places?

carlebach

In the interview below with the author, I tried to bring out some of the themes of the book in a more analytic way that in the book.

1) How did you come to write the book?
I first met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach at his shul on Shemini Atzeret in 1969. My family had moved from Philadelphia to Manhattan, just two blocks away from the Carlebach Shul. At the time, I was a student at Yeshiva University and did not really appreciate what I perceived then as a “Hippie Rabbi”.

Only many years later, when my son became a Carlebach Hasid, set up a Carlebach band, and named his second son Hod Shlomo for Reb Shlomo, that I began to take a real interest in the life and legacy of Reb Shlomo. The more I researched the more I became fascinated by a Rabbi whose influence was quite remarkable.

If I was writing the book again I would write it a little differently. I would try to condense some of the events and the laudatory stories so that the book can read more like an objective academic biography. Maybe I would try and put these into an appendix with a list of places and dates where he appeared.

2) What was the most meaningful thing that you found out about Reb Shlomo? 
I was surprised to discover the extent of influence of Reb Shlomo on so many different types of people from Jewish Renewal to haredim. Even just last week when I was visiting New York, I encountered people who vividly described how they had been close friends and some had even been “adopted” by Reb Shlomo.
If I were to narrow down Shlomo’s legacy to one word that would capsulize a key message of his approach to life it would be “Empathy”. Shlomo’s dynamo was “empathy”, a genuine attempt at appreciating other people and bringing out their best….Everyone is Best of the Best, Holy Brother, Holy Sister, holy everyone… If you ask how can that be possible when there is so much sin, evildoing and lowliness? The answer is in his Beshtian type stories of the Hidden Tzadik, the lamed vav zadikim and their leader who all disguise themselves. Read the rest of this entry »


Getting A Read On Carlebach

November 21, 2013

by Ari L. GoldmancarlebachbioWeb1

There has been a huge outpouring of material about the life and music of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach since his death 19 years ago at the age of 69. There have been memoirs, articles, hagiographies, photo collections, magazines, records, tapes and hundreds of Youtube entries. There even was a Broadway show, “Soul Doctor,” which ran for nearly 100 performances until it closed last month.

Now comes a comprehensive biography of the great man, called, simply, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and Legacy.” It was written by Natan Ophir and published by Urim Publications. It runs over 500 pages with footnotes, timelines and a discography that includes all the songs Carlebach recorded. Little about him seemed to escape the author’s eye: There are lists of all the people he ordained as rabbis and accounts of hundreds of weddings he performed and concerts he gave.

For those who were first introduced to Carlebach through “Soul Doctor,” as well as for those who grew up with Carlebach and his music, there is much in Ophir’s volume to explore and enjoy. It is also a good way to fact check the play.

Did he really have a romance with the African-American singer Nina Simone? Read the rest of this entry »