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: http://www.ConversationswithNechama.com.

This review originally appeared in the AJL Newsletter.

A Review of Torah Conversations with Nechama Leibowitz

by Moshe SokolowTorahConversationsWeb1

Nechama Leibowitz was an intensely private individual. In the thousands—if not tens of thousands—of classes she taught and lectures she gave in a career that spanned over sixty years, she never allowed herself to be filmed or videoed, and very rarely permitted herself to be recorded on tape. (Rabbi Yasgur reports this idiosyncrasy in detail.) I was present on occasion when Nechama expelled someone from her lecture hall for concealing a tape recorder. It is due primarily to her students and correspondents, like Rabbi Benjamin Yasgur, that we are able to glimpse the person behind the public aura.

Nechama’s public reserve sheltered an unaffected private reticence. Nechama was always Nechama: not Dr. Leibowitz (PhD from the University of Marburg, Germany), not Professor Leibowitz (of Tel Aviv University); just Nechama. Perhaps the greatest tribute to her lies not so much in the publication of previously undisclosed insights and interpretations, as in the self-evident fact that Rabbi Yasgur is as finely attuned to the Torah text as Nechama encouraged her students to be, and that he is carrying her work forward through his exemplary service with his pulpits and pupils.

Rabbi Yasgur’s book provides insights into a score of Torah texts, punctuated by the records of exchanges he had with Nechama over those interpretations—in person or via correspondence. The Torah lessons, per se, need no further approbation. Instead, I would like to elaborate an insight the book offers into the master teacher herself. In expounding on the moral of the story of God’s visit to Abraham shortly after his circumcision, Rabbi Yasgur quotes Nechama as stating that, “it is more important to offer help… than Divine revelation.”

Nothing was of greater importance to Nechama than Continue reading “A Review of Torah Conversations with Nechama Leibowitz