Food for Thought

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.


A Review of Rabbinic Authority: The Vision and the Reality

by Daniel D. Stuhlman, AJL ReviewsRabbinicAuthorityWeb1

Halakhah embodies the legal and communal traditions that began when the Torah was given and transmitted through Moses, the elders, and the rabbis. This book attempts to introduce English speakers to the concept of rabbinic authority. The author is a legal scholar in both secular law and Jewish law; this book is written based on both bodies of knowledge.

Warburg’s book is excellent overall, but it has several short comings. First, it is a very slow read as it is tedious to read the text with several hundred footnotes. Second, the book is lacking a glossary and a topical or subject index. Thus, this book is not for the beginning student, and the audience listed in the preface is not the audience who will understand the text.

Rabbinic Authority has two parts; each reflected in the title. The first part “vision” defines rabbinic authority and attempts to put authority in a communal or global context. The second part “reality” summarizes cases brought before a beit din (religious court) with explanations and decisions. By the time an issue is filed in court, the parties are so far apart only a legal decision can solve the problem. Warburg chooses cases in both business and family law. In one family law case a brother is sued by his two sisters over the estate of their father. While Warburg treats this as an academic example for explaining the law, the reader is left to wonder how the family dynamic could deteriorate to a point to where the court needed to decide the disposition of the estate…. I enjoyed reading it because I have a deep, personal interest in the law—Jewish and secular, business and family. Rabbinic Authority is recommended for libraries that seek to collect academic Jewish law books and have well-educated readers.

A Review of Kaddish, Women’s Voices

by Nathan RosenkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

This excellent collection consists of fifty-two insightful essays addressing the various experiences and issues faced by women mourners who recite Kaddish. The book is very helpful and thought provoking for individual mourners and for the Jewish community as a whole. The contributors come from a wide range of Jewish denominations, backgrounds, religious involvement and education. The writers share their viewpoints and reveal their courage in confronting difficult situations. All testify to the ways in which reciting Kaddish invoked deep spiritual and meaningful experiences. Several of the essays portray the warm presence of community support and solace and the establishment or affirmation of their involvement with Jewish communal life. For them, the recitation of Kaddish indeed served to sanctify God’s name. Others portray synagogues and minyanim where the opposite occurred. At a time where community is most needed, the mourners were set adrift and even faced outright hostility and ostracism. There, the communal response reflected a lack of respect for the dead, the wounding of the mourner and a desecration of God’s name.

This book is well worth purchasing and reading. The essays reflect individual and common experiences and issues that may be unique to women or may be shared by all mourners. Readers will find that many essays speak directly to them on many levels.

This review first appeared in AJL Reviews

A Review of Passages

by Nira G. WolfePassagesWeb1

“For as his name is, so is he” (1 Samuel 25:25): Passages follows meticulously the fifty-four weekly biblical parashot. Rabbi Michael Hattin presents his summary of the various texts by naming each parasha with a new descriptive title. He then leads the reader to a deeper and more profound understanding of the parasha. What is particularly notable is that the reader can beneficially implement what he learns from this book into his daily life.

Rabbi Hattin describes his technique clearly in his introduction. Each parasha starts with a synopsis, followed by the discussion of important topics and concludes with suggestions for further study. An outline of a specific parasha will illustrate Hattin’s method: 1. “Vayera” (Genesis 18:1-22:24); Avimelech’s Pledge: synopsis; The Theme of the Parasha and the Episode of the Akeda; The visit of Avimelech; The Elements of the Encounter; The Interpretation of the Rashbam; The Theme of Covenant; God’s Pledge to Avraham; Reevaluating the Episode of the Akeda; For Further Study. A list of “The Rishonim: 11th – 16th Centuries” concludes the volume.

Passages utilizes a unique format Continue reading “A Review of Passages

Torah Conversations with Nechama Leibowitz: A Review

by Nira G. WolfeTorahConversationsWeb1

Rabbi Yasgur’s Torah Conversations adds light and a human face to the much admired biblical teacher Nechama Leibowitz (1905-1997). Yasgur, who has been Leibowitz’s student since 1972, has maintained a relationship with his teacher via personal correspondence, phone calls and visits. Professor Leibowitz has never left Israel since her arrival in 1930.

Rabbi Yasgur presents biblical discussions like “The Rule of Distant Past” (Avar Rahok), “Jacob’s Masquerade,” “The Arrival and Return of Jethro,” as well as contemporary religious-observant issues. One of the latter is the interesting “Psak from Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach” regarding interaction with drivers on Shabbat. Professor Leibowitz writes in Hebrew and biblical quotations are in Hebrew. The Hebrew texts are supplied with parallel translations into English. Rabbi Yasgur acquaints the readers with Professor Leibowitz’s interactive “Pedagogic Principles,” as well as “Nechama’s Self-Defined Contribution to Torah Learning.” The reader is able to investigate, in English, “A Classic Example: A Gilayon from Nechama Leibowitz on the Binding of Isaac.”

Yasgur and Leibowitz discuss teaching Humash in the Diaspora, and “Living in the Diaspora vs. Israel.” The book will interest all teachers and students of the Bible. It should be a part of Jewish High Schools, Yeshivot, Synagogues and academic libraries. Updates and revisions to the volume may be found at:

This review originally appeared in the AJL Newsletter.

Girl Meets God

From AJL Reviews:GirlMeetsG-d_cover

The catchy, somewhat misleading, title draws you into the journey of a woman who at forty years old discovered the beauty of Judaism at her local Chabad house in Montreal, Canada. The first section of the book describes her“Journey to Observance” with some very personal details and descriptions of Jewish holidays. In “Lessons in Life and Death,” the second section, Tansky shares her feelings about prayer and death. The third part of the book chronicles travels to Chabad houses in Victoria, British Columbia; Sacramento, Alaska, Russia, Munich and outside of Durban, South Africa and offers praise for all the emissaries stationed in remote locations. She also details a trip to Israel. The last two sections, “The Rebbe’s Reach” and “Ripples” are short reflections. A glossary is included.

A Review of Recalling the Covenant by Rabbi Moshe Shamah

by Daniel Scheiderecallingcovenant

Rabbi Shamah is a pulpit rabbi, day school principal and founder of the Sephardic Institute. This Torah commentary incorporates archeological and literary evidence of the ancient Near East along with traditional rabbinic texts in an effort to uncover the peshat (plain sense) of the Bible. Also included are essays on Ruth, Esther and Jonah as well as a bibliography, glossary and in-depth indices. A welcome addition to synagogue and school libraries of all denominations.

This review first appeared in the AJL newsletter.

Lighting Up the Soul by Stanley Abramovitch

by Susan FreibandLightingTheSoulWeb1

This book is a collection of true life stories based on the work experience of the author. For sixty-five years, beginning in 1945, Rabbi Abramovitch traveled the world helping Jews in need under the aegis of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC or “the joint”). The book serves as a complement to the memoir that he published in 2008. It is divided into four parts, starting with the stories coming out of displaced persons camps in post-war Germany. In addition, there are sections dealing with Moslem countries, Europe and the former Soviet Union. The stories are short, generally two or three pages. Some are very moving and powerful. Abramovitch also includes four childhood reminiscences from his life in Poland. The stories provide a glimpse into the life of Jews around the world, their problems and difficulties. A useful addition to Judaica collections in synagogues, community centers and academic libraries.

This review first appeared in the AJL newsletter.

Abuse in the Jewish Community by Michael J. Salamon

by Daniel ScheideAbuse in the Jewish Community

A decade ago, it seemed as if the Catholic Church had a monopoly on sexual abuse scandals. Now, it seems that every week there is a new story about abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. After defining a wide range of types of abuse, Dr. Michael Salamon digs to the roots of the problem, examining the challenges particular to working with ultra-Orthodox victims. Salamon explores halakhic, quasi-halakhic and cultural issues that may prevent victims from reporting their abuse. He also considers the difficulties inherent for therapists in working in these communities. Important both for community leaders as well as psychologists and social workers that deal with these communities.

This review first appeared in the AJL newsletter.

A Review of Modern Orthodox Judaism: Studies and Perspectives

by Fred IsaacMOJWeb1

The world is changing at an extraordinary and increasing rate. How is Modern Orthodoxy to respond, in both specific and general ways? Rabbi Gordon’s recent volume takes on the task with commitment and an open mind.

The book’s essays encompass a wide array of topics. The first chapter attempts to develop an overarching philosophy that balances the reality of the new (in science, technology and life-style) with Halakhic norms and the Observant Jewish life. Rabbi Gordon refers frequently to scientific knowledge, which challenges the assumptions of the Sages and increases the difficulties of living halakhically in contemporary society. The remaining papers deal with specific issues, including women’s roles in Observant Judaism (Chapter 3), the Mezuzah (Chapter 5), and Messianism (Chapter 8). In each Gordon finds positive aspects of the modern view, and balances them with the words and thoughts of the great Jewish thinkers.

While the author is clear in his preference for observance, he is also keenly aware of the difficulties in harmonizing the two sides. His extensive footnotes range from the Talmud to the 20th century. Seven of the eight chapters were previously published in the 1970s and ‘80s. They do not deal with questions of contemporary technology, or recent medical advances. We see Gordon’s struggle at the opening of our new age. In this way, his book is unlike Rabbi David Hartman’s From Defender to Critic, which shows both current and prior analysis of these questions. Because his selected topics remain important, Rabbi Gordon’s statements should be part of our continuing discussion. Its serious content may not be appropriate for synagogues or schools. Academic and seminary libraries, however, will find it useful as a compilation of important views.

Includes notes, Bibliography & Source Lists, Index

This review first appeared in the AJL newsletter.