Review of Memoirs of a Hopeful Pessimist

January 16, 2017

A Collection of Light-Hearted Autobiographical Stories
By Martin Lockshin

The State of Israel appropriately takes pride in its many achievements. In technology, science, research as well as militarily, Israel’s success seems unprecedented, especially considering its small population. Advanced Jewish studies and many varied forms of Jewish culture thrive. Historians say that never before in history has such a high percentage of Jews had expert-level knowledge of Jewish texts.

On the social level, however, the picture in Israel is far from rosy. While Israel’s raison d’être is the ingathering of exiles to build a new society together, serious tensions abound between Jews who are Ashkenazi and Sephardi, religious and secular, and haredi (ultra- or fervently Orthodox) and non-haredi. Women’s rights are more fraught than in most western democracies, because of the religious-secular divide and the lack of separation of religion and state. Israeli supporters and opponents of the settlements often do not even talk about their differences – it’s just too painful. Tensions between the 80 per cent of the population who are Jewish and the 20 per cent who are Muslim or Christian are part of everyday existence. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of Who Stole My Religion?

December 13, 2016

By Dov Peretz Elkins

WhoStoleMyReligion9789655242348 “Who Stole My Religion?” is a thought-provoking and timely call to apply Judaism’s powerful teachings to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. While appreciating the radical, transformative nature of Judaism, Richard Schwartz argues that it has been “stolen” by Jews who are in denial about climate change and other environmental threats and support politicians and policies that may be inconsistent with basic Jewish values. Tackling such diverse issues as climate change, world hunger, vegetarianism, poverty, terrorism, destruction of the environment, peace prospects in Israel, and American foreign policy, he offers practical suggestions for getting Judaism back on track as a faith based on justice, peace, and compassion. He urges the reader to reconsider current issues in line with Judaism’s highest values in an effort to meet the pressing challenges of today’s world.

Right now the new Trump administration is on the cusp of deciding whether climate change is real, and human-created, or not. The President-elect should read this book, and he will be convinced beyond doubt that there is so much more that we humans and governments must do to save our planet.

Read the rest of this entry »


Review of Who Stole My Religion?

December 8, 2016

WhoStoleMyReligion9789655242348‘Who Stole My Religion?’ Spells Out Cure for an Ailing Planet
by Craig Shapiro

Catastrophic climate change. Major food and water shortages. Species extinction.

Even though our planet is beset by “existential crises,” writes Dr. Richard H. Schwartz in Who Stole My Religion?, we can realign the balance. The subtitle of his new book explains how: Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet.

“Many Jews have forgotten the Jewish mandate to strive to perfect the world,” Schwartz writes. “God requires that we pursue justice and peace, and that we exhibit compassion and loving kindness.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Review of The Shame Borne in Silence

December 1, 2016

shameBy Daniel Stuhlman

In 1997, shortly after the publication of the first edition of this book, Rabbi Twerski, speaking at an overflow Baltimore audience, said that “True Torah observance is not conducive to any kind of abuse, physical, emotional or otherwise….” This is still his message in this revised and updated second edition.

Community members have a hard time believing that a “pillar of the community” can be a saint in public and a monster at home. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, and/or physical. Too often an abused wife is naively told to stay in the marriage and preserve shalom bayis (domestic peace). Even if the accuser is lying, we have to take an accusation seriously and try to help those involved. Rabbi Twerski, who is both a Chasidic rabbi and a psychiatrist, has many years of experience treating alcohol and other types of substance abusers. He knows that those who are sick, need professional help. Denial does not make the problems disappear.

This book is well written, but it is not a happy book. The case studies presented are sad because too often the person seeking help was not helped in the early stages by the parents, rabbis, or community members. After reading this book, you should be able to better recognize the signs of abuse and help the abused parties get the kind of help to make her or him whole. This book should be read and discussed by every rabbi, parent, teacher, and anyone else who could see domestic abuse.

It is highly recommended for every kind of library – personal, synagogue, academic, and community.

This review originally appeared in AJL Reviews.


Review of Moadei HaRav

November 30, 2016

MoadeiHaRav web1By David B. Levy

Rabbi Shlomo Pick’s edition of Moadei HaRav succeeds in offering the English-speaking, observant reader a better understanding and appreciation of some of Rav Soloveitchik’s ideas, analysis, and methodology relating to halachic (legal) teachings, regarding the chagim (holidays). Many of these shiurim (lessons) were originally delivered in English or Yiddish. Rabbi Pick provides a clear overview of the topics and offers explanations using the Brisker method of interpretation.

The book comprises an introduction and 17 chapters from the Rav’s lectures organized into three distinct parts. The first section includes an excellent essay describing the Rav’s position on the peshat (simple meaning) of talmudic passages, the role of minhagim (customs) within Jewish law, the Rav’s understanding of the teacher/student dynamic, and the relationship between philosophy and law. The second part contains shiurim on the holidays; for example, setting the date of Shavuot (based on a number of Rishonim). Some of these shiurim include an appendix to elucidate particular issues raised by the Rav.

Rabbi Pick also provides helpful footnotes that contain references to additional oral remarks or discourses by the Rav and/or other primary and secondary sources by and about him. The third section includes five studies on Jewish law and customs such as the mitzvah of Charoset (the Rav on the Rambam).

Rabbi Pick and his helpers (including Rabbi Shimon Altshul) have made a most positive contribution by sharing many of the Rav’s insights, innovative approaches, and intellectual brilliance in a very clear manner.

Highly recommended.

This review originally appeared in AJL reviews.


Review of From Mourning to Morning

November 28, 2016

 

From Mourning to MorningIn the pages of “From Mourning to Morning: A Comprehensive Guide to Mourning, Grieving, and Bereavement”, Rabbi Simeon Schreiber (Senior Staff Chaplain at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Florida), translates his many years of experience and considerable expertise into a greater understanding of the emotions surrounding death, grieving, mourning, and bereavement in Judaism. From “Mourning to Morning” deftly presents these principles in a comprehensive format. Focusing on the Shiva, the seven day period of mourning in Judaism, Rabbi Schreiber explains the foundation of visiting a house of mourners, and suggests proper etiquette in conducting a visit. With sensitivity and expertise, Rabbi Schreiber provides unique and practical advise on how to cope with death, mourning, and the related issues that we all will inevitably face. Impressively well written, organized and presented, “From Mourning to Morning” is unreservedly recommended.

This review originally appeared on Midwest Book Review.


Review of Who Stole My Religion? 

November 7, 2016

WhoStoleMyReligion9789655242348How Jewish Teaching Can Save The Planet

Review in the Jewish Georgian, “the largest Jewish newspaper in the South,” by Lewis Regenstein, president of The Interfaith Council for the Protection of Animals and Nature, and author of the book “Replenish the Earth: The Teachings of the World’s Religions on Protecting Animals and Nature.”

Dr. Richard Schwartz, an expert on Jewish teachings on the environment, vegetarianism, and animals, has given us a preview of his new book, due out by early July 2016, on the environmental crisis we are facing.

“Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet,” Richard says, ” is meant to be a wake-up call – the most urgent that I can make- – to alert Jews and others that we must do all we can in applying Jewish values to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.”

Its primary aim is to show that the world is heading toward a “perfect storm … of existential crises: sudden, catastrophic climate change; severe environmental degradation; devastating scarcities of food, water and energy; widening terrorism; and other critical threats to life as we know and value it,”

“Everything possible must be done,” Richard warns, “to avert such potential catastrophes, since they threaten humanity and all life on the planet.”

A main theme of this book, as Richard puts it, is that “in the face of today’s urgent problems, Jews must return to our universal Jewish values and to our missions: to be ‘a light unto the nations,’ a kingdom of priests and a holy people, descendants of prophets, champions of social justice, eternal protestants against a corrupt, unjust world, dissenters against destructive and unjust systems.”

“I hope that this book’s discussion of Jewish teachings on these critically important issues will help move our precious planet away from its present perilous path onto one that is more just, humane, peaceful, and sustainable.”