Was Yosef on the Spectrum – new review

Professor Ian Hale, PhD, FCIS ● Author of Asperger’s, Autism & You and The Insider’s Guide to Autism and Asperger’s

Samuel Levine is a prominent New York Law Professor and foremost Judaic scholar. He has written a unique and important book. It conjoins both factual Biblical history with modern neuroscience and psychology to tell us part of the yet unacknowledged story of the history of Autism. This book is special, it must be read.

Titled Was Yosef on the Spectrum?, published by Urim Publications, he combines his extensive knowledge of Rabbinical commentary up to the present day; with the Torah, the Talmud, and Autism producing a unique insight linking our past with the future. The Yosef referred to is the one from the book of Genesis.

Yosef was youngest son of Jacob, also known as Israel. He is best known as the wearer of The Coat of Many Colours, given to him by his father as a mark of his special status of wisdom from his youngest years and as the interpreter of dreams, much to the envy of his older brothers who plotted against him and sold him into slavery. After enduring many hardships Yosef rose to find favor with Pharaoh to become his chief adviser and wisest counselor. He was the visionary who saw the significance of his dream of seven lean cows consuming seven fat ones. He told Pharaoh it prophesized seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine throughout the lands of Egypt. Taking his advice, Pharaoh was careful to store the seven years of good harvests which saved his Kingdom from the famine Yosef had foretold.

During his life Yosef showed many of the now-recognized characteristics of an Autistic person. His determination, his special ability to identify and focus on important things, while being poor at the mundane and social aspects of life, which caused him many problems-but he never gave up, eschewing love of power, thinking always of the common good above himself. His strong sense of compassion (he forgave his brothers and made sure his family was looked after), his love of nature and care for people and animals, his fearlessness, his strong sense of justice and total unfailing loyalty to friends, even in adversity, and perhaps most tellingly, his “different brain” which allowed him to see what others couldn’t. It is precisely those characteristics which, today are so sought after by major corporations like Microsoft, IBM and SAP. Autistic people are special with their special, “mystic” skills and non-standard hyper-connection to creation and intelligences.

In recognizing this, we all owe a special debt to Prof Levine. This not just an account of the past, but a proven understanding of the present and a prophesy of Prof Levine himself to us all-here and now of a potentially glorious future. It is also a warning against ignoring what God has given to us with his gift of Autism to those He has chosen.

It is with real joy that I recommend this book without reservation to every reader who seeks true knowledge on all of the many subjects covered. It is a story of triumph against seemingly impossible odds (something all too many Autistic people and their families face today) and a message of hope. Truly one of the most outstanding reads of this, new century. It deserves seven stars.


Between The Lines of the Bible: The Legacy of Fractured Brotherhood

by The Curious Jew Between the Lines of the Bible Exodus

Urim Publications was kind enough to send me a copy of Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible: A Study from the New School of Orthodox Torah Commentary on the book of Shemot quite a while ago. It has taken me a while to read the book, but it was well worth the effort. It is uniquely fitting to read this book before Pesach, and in fact, I think many of you might enjoy reading it, so I recommend ordering it today- that way, you’ll probably get it over Chol Hamoed and will have something interesting to read during the Second Days.

Between the Lines is a thoughtfully considered, well constructed, carefully written text. Etshalom has clearly put a great deal of thought into the issues he addresses, and focuses on overall themes in addition to specific literary techniques (including chiastic structure) in his analysis. His book is academic in nature, and for academic texts, is quite readable. However, I prefer narrative-style books, especially those that weave in the original Hebrew rather than making use of the English translation. They are easier to read, and thus accessible to a larger audience. Ideally, I would have liked this book to have been written more in the style of Rabbi Ari Kahn, who uses that method of writing. While this text does have the Hebrew quoted and highlighted at the beginning of each chapter, I found that flipping back and forth between Etshalom’s analysis and that first page was somewhat of an annoyance.

Topics included in the book range from the binary structure of biblical narrative when it comes to the roots of our subjugation in Egypt, to the different derivations of Moshe’s name, to literary patterns in the education of Pharaoh, studies of intertextuality, a comparison of major characters and a focus on sanctity in time. I am going to sum up one of the Divrei Torah that I found particularly beautiful below.

In Shemot 1:1-4 we read, “These are the names of the Israelites who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.’ Etshalom notes that:

If we compare this list to Continue reading “Between The Lines of the Bible: The Legacy of Fractured Brotherhood”

A Review of Visions from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders

visions:From The Jewish Action

 Nevi’im and Ketuvim, the books of the Prophets and Holy Writings, together with the Five Books of Moses, comprise the broad canvas on which the history, destiny and spiritual mission of the Jewish people are limned. In this survey of Nevi’im and Ketuvim, Rabbi Hayyim Angel achieves a rare combination of breadth and depth. While focusing on broad themes and universal messages, the treatment is far from superficial or perfunctory. Rabbi Angel presents at least one chapter on each book of Nevi’im and Ketuvim, with each chapter analyzing in depth a representative aspect of the book. Using primarily peshat, the plain meaning of the text, Rabbi Angel marshals the Talmud and Midrash, traditional commentaries and modern scholarship in expressing a view of Scripture that is creative as well as subtle and nuanced. With his direct and engaging style, Rabbi Angel conveys his erudition and wealth of knowledge to the reader in a most enjoyable fashion. Here is a small sampling of Rabbi Angel’s thought-provoking conclusions:

Joshua’s flaws made him a more effective leader than Moses to bring the people into the land of Israel.

The Book of Jonah challenges us to be absolutely committed to God while respecting other people who espouse different beliefs.

The Book of Ecclesiastes, with all of its Continue reading “A Review of Visions from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders

Vision from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders

by Gil Studentvisions

Torah expertise requires, at a minimum, mastery of the entire corpus of primary literature. Detailed familiarity with the texts is a necessary but insufficient requirement of Torah greatness. This includes the Bible, yeshiva curricula notwithstanding.

On the description of Moshe’s receipt of the tablets on Mt. Sinai, Rashi (Ex. 31:18) quotes a midrash that compares Moshe to a bride. Just like a bride wears 24 ornaments, so too a Torah scholar must master all 24 books of the Bible. Why, we can ask, does the midrash locate this sensible requirement in the second half of Shemos, which largely discusses the building of the Mishkan?

I suggest that the passage immediately preceding that verse discusses the obligation to observe Shabbos. The Mishnah (Shabbos 115a) states that you are forbidden to study Kesuvim, the third part of the Bible, on Shabbos because it detracts from attendance at the rabbi’s lecture. The Gemara (ibid., 116b) quotes a later debate whether the prohibition only applies to the location or the time of the lecture. Regardless, we see a clear limitation on Bible study.

You might have thought that this deemphasis on Bible study implies its unimportance. The midrash teaches us that we should not mistake practical priorities with abstract values. Even though local concerns require lowering the urgency of Bible study on Shabbos, in the end you cannot be a scholar without mastering the Bible. You might not find time to study Kesuvim on Shabbos but that is no excuse for ignorance.

We once discussed a chapter-by-chapter method to gaining familiarity with Continue reading Vision from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders

A Review of Between the Lines of the Bible

Between the Lines of the Bible Exodus

by Yaakov Beasley

Having begun t read the parshiyot of our leaving Egypt, it behooves us to review one of the more important books on parshanut on Sefer Shemot to come out in the past several years Volume 2 of Rabbi Yitz Etshalom’s work Between the Lines of the Bible. Like his original ground-breaking volume, this book is hailed as an exemplar of the “new school” of Biblical interpretation, what is being called either the “theological-literary approach” or the “Gush/Herzog derech”. The roots of this methodology are two-fold, stemming from both the appearance almost four decades ago of a literary-based approach stream in academia that focused on the poetics and structure of the text as opposed to traditional critical questions about the formation of the text (and supposed pre-texts) and speculations as to the historical milieu in which it occurred; along with the revolutionary shiurim and articles that simultaneously emanated from the Yitzchak Herzog Teacher’s College and Yeshivat Har Etzion. (The exact relationship between the two streams has yet to be fully charted, see the author’s review of R. Etshalom’s first volume in Tradition 2009, 42:1, “Return of the Pashtanim” for the first attempt in this direction).

Within pages of opening Rav Etshalom’s book, one senses both the forethought and planning that went into achieving both of the goals that he set for it: to demonstrate the fundamental mechanics of how the “new school” reads the Biblical text, and to serve as an interpretation of Sefer Shemot. In this respect, volume 2 differs from volume 1, which used Sefer Bereishit as a springboard to present methodology, but not as a commentary on Sefer Bereishit itself. This time, the entries are sorted by chapter, and are meant to serve as a running commentary on Shemot as well. That R. Etshalom is an engaging speaker comes through in the clear and lucid prose; more importantly, especially for a book on methodology, he doesn’t simply present his conclusions, but guides the reader through his thought processes so that the tools can be applied elsewhere.

Almost of all the ‘tools’ of the “new school” toolbox are on display:  parallelisms, chiasms, differing points of view, archeology, philology, etc. Responsive to one of the criticisms of the first volume, where each chapter consisted of only one example to demonstrate it, in volume 2, R. Etshalom provides several examples of each pattern when it is presented. The first entry reveals R. Etshalom’s structuralist roots, as he attempts to find the underlying structure of chapter 1. Like his mentor R. Elchanan Samet, he divides the chapter (ignoring the first verses, which serve as the introduction to the entire book) into two equal halves, both in terms of verses and words, with Pharaoh’s first commands to enslave the Israelites comprising the first half, and his command to the midwives to kill the male children comprising the second half. However, unlike Samet who concentrates on the literary parallels between the two halves, R. Etshalom develops a philosophical explanation as to why the two halves are necessary, based on the principle of dual causality (events in the world unfold due to both Divine plan and human actions), and then attempts to find literary parallels for each half with their literary precedents in Bereishit.

Several examples from R. Etshalom demonstrate not only the strength of his readings, but the necessity for the usage of the “new school” methodology. In his analysis of the conversation between Hashem and Moshe in the attempt to convince Moshe to serve as the Divine agent to free the Jewish people, R. Etshalom notes that Moshe speaks seven times, beginning with the eager response “Here I am” “hineni“, and ending with the rejection “Send whom you will send [but not me]”. How did this change occur? By placing Moshe’s seven statements in a row, R. Etshalom Continue reading “A Review of Between the Lines of the Bible

The Kosher Bookworm: Ten Commandments and Counting

by Alan Jay Gerber

Rabbi Etshalom’s new commentary, Between the Lines of the Bible volume two [OU Press / Urim Publications, 2012] is unique in many ways, however, simply put, for an English work it is quite different in both content and organization.

My good friend, Rabbi Gil Student who brought Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom’s latest commentary on Shemot, the Book of Exodus, to my attention, noted that, “with his captivating prose, penetrating depth and dazzling breadth, Rabbi Etshalom analyzes topics in the Bible in classical Brisk fashion.”

With the reading of the Ten Commandments this coming Shabbat, it would be interesting to see the application of this method to this holy event and to the details of the commandments themselves. It is this chapter, entitled “The Ten Commandments: Reassessing what we ‘know’” that will serve as the main focus for this week’s review.

A brief outline should be sufficient to give you an idea as to what this work and teaching has to offer.

Rabbi Etshalom treats the text with Continue reading “The Kosher Bookworm: Ten Commandments and Counting”