Review of Kosher Movies

April 10, 2016

Reviewed by Daniel Renna

kosher movies web2What emerges is an extraordinary story of someone truly committed to the essential elements of the Modern Orthodox ethos, tapping into the inherent tension between Torah culture and that of the surrounding world to tease out unique insights into God’s creation. Tying these carefully selected anecdotes to the motion pictures he reviews, Rabbi Cohen accomplishes the improbable: eliciting divrei Torah from what otherwise might be considered frivolous entertainment. Moreover, through his love of both Torah and film, Rabbi Cohen brings to the fore the comforting attributes that both religion and popular culture share in their inherent relatability.

Kosher Movies succeeds in promoting some ideals that in many quarters have been considered passי, namely the effective synergy of the devotion to Torah and the careful application of general, in this case, popular culture. Coming of age at Yeshiva University in the 1960s, arguably the zenith of these ideas, Rabbi Cohen rejects the contemporary notion that the Modern Orthodox approach is intrinsically flawed and does not work. On the contrary, he states that “We learn about God not only through His words but also His works.

My task as a teacher of . . . film is to give students the tools to discriminate between the wheat and chaff of secular culture.” Rabbi Cohen’s unapologetic love of both Torah and movies is evident throughout. Though the book contains the necessary caveat that one should consult movie parental advisories to determine the propriety of films in family and school settings, Kosher Movies remains a strong advocate for watching films through a specific lens of Torah.

Western society, both Jewish and secular, has taken many turns since the first feature film and the heyday of Modern Orthodox thought. In an age of abject permissiveness in secular culture and the meaningless hollowness of the trend of “Social Orthodoxy,” Kosher Movies reminds us that there are spiritual and inspirational nuggets of gold to be discovered and harnessed from the world around us as depicted in popular culture that truly complement a Torah lifestyle.

This review originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Jewish Action.

 


To Mourn a Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death

May 30, 2013

From The Jewish Action:tomournachild

A Bible scholar once commented that the Bible would have been profoundly incomplete had it not included the Book of Job. Written according to tradition by Moses, the Book of Job describes the suffering that befalls people for no apparent reason.

Nachmanides observed that our inability to account for the suffering of the guiltless represents the biggest challenge to, and unanswered question within, religious faith. These questions assail any honest, sensitive religious person, but often we distract ourselves – after all, why dwell on them? Nothing, however, shocks or focuses us more intently on these agonizing questions than the death of a child. In the realm of human experience, the death of a child is surely one of the most emotionally wrenching events. For a parent, the grief and pain are unendurable. In To Mourn a Child, Jeffrey Saks and Joel Wolowelsky have assembled an anthology which consists primarily of personal accounts written by parents who experienced the death of a child. In addition, there are essays by rabbis and healthcare professionals and selections from traditional Jewish sources.

Many currents flow through the book: theological and Read the rest of this entry »


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

May 19, 2013

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 Read the rest of this entry »


Why Marry Jewish?

April 28, 2013

by Jack Abramowitz Why Marry Jewish

Why should anyone in today’s society care about marrying Jewish? Nowadays, a smoker marrying a non-smoker or a vegetarian marrying a carnivore is likely to raise more eyebrows than a Jew marrying a non-Jew. After all, isn’t anyone who refuses to interdate, and potentially intermarry, elitist? Or worse, aren’t they racist?
Friends and relatives hoping to dissuade intermarriage may give a variety of reasons: Jewish continuity; the prohibition against marrying out of the faith, as outlined in Deuteronomy, chapter 7; what would Bubby say?, et cetera.

Unfortunately, while these arguments may be quite compelling to the giver, the average person contemplating intermarriage doesn’t really care about Jewish continuity; Deuteronomy, chapter 7 or what Bubby would say, et cetera. Anyone seriously at risk of intermarriage is not likely to be swayed by someone quoting Rambam. (Would that it were that simple!) That’s why Doron Kornbluth is here to help.

Kornbluth is an author whose works on modern Jewish thought may already be familiar to readers. In addition to articles he has authored, Kornbluth edited Jewish Matters and co-edited Jewish Women Speak about Jewish Matters (with his wife, Sarah Tikvah Kornbluth). The genius behind Kornbluth’s approach here is that he doesn’t try to appeal to any particular sense of Jewish community (which is unlikely to be successful), or worse, Jewish guilt (which is undoubtedly doomed to failure). Rather, he takes the approach of “what’s in it for me?” demonstrating the potential repercussions intermarriage could have upon the intermarried themselves.

An example of Kornbluth’s approach at work: An argument that could be presented by someone contemplating intermarriage is the very basic question, “What difference does intermarriage make if neither partner is observant in their respective faiths?” With a simple word-association quiz, Kornbluth shows how even Jews who consider themselves unaffiliated may possess “innate negative reactions to much Christian imagery.” The same imagery, of course, may hold very positive connotations for their potential spouses. This exercise reveals some very strong, diametrically opposed emotional reactions that a couple might otherwise not discover until triggered by some event later in life. Baptizing a child, for example, can be very distasteful even to an unaffiliated Jew, but it may not be a topic of conversation until the couple is expecting.

This is by no means the only arrow in Kornbluth’s quiver. In another section, he Read the rest of this entry »