Rabbi Dr. Yitzhak (Isadore) Twersky zt”l, was justly renowned for his brilliantly insightful, meticulously researched and felicitously formulated scholarly oeuvre, concentrating generally upon medieval Jewish intellectual history and with special attention to the Maimonidean corpus. But the Nathan Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy at Harvard University also was the Talner Rebbe of Boston, as comfortable delivering divrei Torah at Shalosh Seudos in the Talner Beis Midrash as he was conducting doctoral seminars on medieval Jewish rabbinic literature in Room G of Widener Library in Harvard Yard.
Synopsis: A rabbi is a spiritual leader or religious teacher in Judaism. One becomes a rabbi by being ordained by another rabbi, following a course of study of Jewish texts such as the Talmud. The basic form of the rabbi developed in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era, when learned teachers assembled to codify Judaism’s written and oral laws.
There are no coincidences in life, and it was surely prescient that Jewish Action editor Nechama Carmel asked me on the cusp of the corona outbreak to review two books on Jewish mindfulness. I began writing this in March, a few days before Rosh Chodesh Nissan (my wedding anniversary), and finished it in late April. I don’t know what will have changed by the time Jewish Action goes to press.
The two books—Living in the Presence: A Jewish Mindfulness Guide for Everyday Life, by Dr. Benjamin Epstein, and Mindfulness: A Jewish Approach, by Dr. Jonathan Feiner—are helping me through the crisis. I hope they will help you too, no matter what is happening to you in life.
Women have been degraded since ancient history. Scholars debate whether the Torah is pro-women or indifferent to them with some exceptions. The ancient Greeks seemed to use women only for procreation and for taking care of their homes. Even the remarkably wise philosophers Aristotle among the Greeks and Maimonides among the Jews made negative statements about women. Scholars explain that they did so based on what they saw; women were not educated. There were, of course, exceptions such as the Greek Socrates seeking wisdom from a woman.
“I fully believe that the Halacha [Jewish law] has to respond actively and positively to the burning challenges of the times, and, in our days, high on these priorities is the status of women.”
Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber is a champion of the emergence of highly-educated women taking on leadership roles in the Orthodox Jewish community today. In the acknowledgment section of his newest book, Rabba, Maharat, Rabbanit, Rebbetzin, Sperber explains why he supports this change in Jewish life.
“…and love your fellow as yourself…” [Lev. 19:18] Rabbi Akiva says: “This is a great general principle of the Torah.” [Midrash Raba, Genesis Ch. 24]
“…God asks of us to love. This may sound simple, but it turns out that it doesn’t come naturally; and it takes time and effort to learn to do it. To love others, we must uncover hidden forms of our self-interested concerns. Only then can we direct our thoughts, feelings, and actions toward giving to others. In addition, we need to recognize the aspect of divinity in each human being we encounter. When we see the greatness of others, this awakens within us our love for them. In particular, the greatness in their aspect of divinity connects our love of them to a love of God.”*
A professor at Harvard, a chassidishe Rebbe, and the son-in-law of a Litvish gadol. The combination is unusual, to say the least, but it accurately describes the late Rabbi Dr. Isadore Twersky.
Rabbi Twersky (1930-1997) was the Talner Rebbe of Boston, a professor of Hebrew literature and philosophy at Harvard University, and married to the older daughter of Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University.
Synopsis: Halakhah is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the written and Oral Torah.
The role of halakhah is to serve as a bridge between our eternal Torah and the world’s changing realities. However, the dizzying pace of developments in postmodern society and the obsession with personal freedom are generating unprecedented gaps between Torah and reality, challenging our obedience to Halakhah, contributing to the erosion of rabbinic authority and causing a growing confusion within our community.
In “The Importance of the Community Rabbi” Rabbi Daniel Sperber, whose prominence and accomplishments need no introduction, argues vigorously for today’s rabbis to rule more leniently. He presents a fascinating and engaging treasury of hundreds of lenient halachic rulings throughout the ages. Rabbi Sperber argues that issues like sensitivity to people’s feelings, human dignity, “changing circumstances” and “ko’ach d’heteira” should be given more weight in halachic decision making. The precedents are there, clearly presented one after the other with seemingly no end.
Ever since the Bible was written there have been attempts to understand the characters and events of its narrative. Indeed, in The Ancient Commentary on the Bible (1993) Hananel Mack suggested that as long as there has been Bible, there has been commentary, whether Deuteronomy commenting on the preceding books of the Torah, or Psalms and Chronicles on earlier sections of the Bible. The Apocryphal books continued the tradition, as did Philo’s Bible commentary (first century Alexandria), Josephus, then the many forms of Midrash, and since Saadiah Gaon (10th century Babylon), a steady flow of authors, the most known among Jewish readers being Rashi (11th century France), Ibn Ezra (12th century Spain) and Ramban (13th century Spain), and most recently Nehama Leibowitz, who have all published commentaries on the Bible text. While each commentator may ask some unique questions, many clearly duplicate each other. How is it that each commentator emerges with different answers, and that often they are distinctive to that author? The answer must lie not only in each new questioner emerging from a particular cultural background but also having different responses that are suitable for their readership: Rashi writing at the time of the Crusades and the destruction of Jewish communities, Ibn Ezra having travelled the world and seen many cultures, etc.