Ronen Neuwirth portrays Halacha as the “narrow bridge” between the eternal Torah and the shifting reality, but in need of change to meet the challenges of postmodern society. Neuwirth served as a pulpit rabbi in Israel, rabbi of Bnai Akiva in the US, and founded Beit Hillel, an organization building bridges between religious and secular Israelis. His audience is a modern Orthodox lay readership. In his introduction, he presents those elements of contemporary society which challenge the acceptance of halacha. He follows with seven chapters tracing the development of the halachic process and an extensive treatment of the basic principles of rabbinic decision making, with over a thousand sources.
Giving: The Essential Teaching of the Kabbalah is a conceptual overview of the teachings of Rabbi Yehuda Lev Ashlag, author of the Sulam commentary on the Zohar, with extensive explanations and interpretations by his living student, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Gottlieb (“with commentary and insights for living the Kabbalah”), translated into English by Aryeh Siegel. This is a book of substance because it presents in a popularized form the teachings of an authentic master of Kabbalah. As such, it is an intense and demanding book. And it is in many ways the opposite of most such popular explanations of Judaism because it is unyieldingly and uncompromisingly dedicated to explaining that a person must set aside expectations and desires of receiving and focus as completely as possible solely on giving.
The title of this book suggests that the author is offering a simple book with practical advice for the community or shul rabbi. However, Sperber has put together an in-depth discussion that teaches the reader how to think more deeply about the methods used to issue a halachic ruling.
While there is a tendency toward greater stringency and conservatism, the author talks about sensitivity to the questions and questioner. When new situations occur, the rabbi has to weigh the legal codes of the past with the implications of the facts in front of him. What was once forbidden could now be permitted and what is forbidden to one may be permitted to another.
For example, Sperber considers how to deal with the issue of congregants with hearing problems and the use of hearing aids on Shabbat. Normally, electronic devices such as microphones, phones, screens, etc. are forbidden on Shabbat. However, someone who is hard of hearing would not be able to hear the Torah reading or respond to Shabbat greetings without a hearing aid. Thus, the author guides community rabbis to lead by considering that humanitarian needs may override the rabbinic limitations of mukhsah (items forbidden to touch on Shabbat)….
In this fascinating study, law professor and Hebrew scholar Samuel Levine looks at Joseph from the Bible with a fresh perspective. I found his arguments well-reasoned and fascinating, but I also understood some of the pushback the book received. Can any modern-day person bestow an autism diagnosis on someone who lived and died thousands of years ago?
This broad-ranging book explores the role of halakha as a bridge between eternal principles and practical application in an ever-changing world. (The “postmodernism” of the title is often used as a synonym for the “contemporary world,” and sometimes for the cluster of assumptions which come hand in hand with that philosophical tradition.) Neuwirth is particularly concerned with issues of personal freedom and autonomy, and the ability of halakhic texts and rabbinic figures to speak with authority today.
The book fascinated me because I am autistic and Jewish, and because it’s interesting to think about how an autistic person might have appeared to others in the long centuries and millennia before the condition was medically recognized and named. Although “presumed diagnosis of the dead” is inherently an uncertain endeavor, it is fascinating to see how the author (a Jewish scholar who is also familiar with autism and its sensory/neurological manifestations) finds many commonalities between the Biblical figure of Joseph (as depicted in Scripture and in Hebrew tradition) and modern-day people on the autism spectrum (in terms of shared traits, inclinations, sensitivities, aversions, and so on). Samuel Levine’s book makes me wish that we could go back in time, present the Biblical Joseph with a copy of the book (translated into Hebrew or Egyptian) and ask him if Levine got it right! (I suspect that the answer would be “Yes — is he, too, a dreamer of accurate dreams?” But of course we will never know for sure). The book may be very encouraging to autistics who are Jews, and to their parents/teachers/fellow congregants/congregational leaders.
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.