State of the Heart – new review

Dov Peretz Elkins ● Jewish Media Review

In State of the Heart, David Kramer takes us on a journey of Israel’s humanitarian efforts that began more than 70 years ago and continues unabated throughout the world today.

In this extraordinary and inspiring collection of over 50 stories, personal interviews, and photographs, David describes the benevolence and altruism that characterizes the nation of Israel. He engages the reader with narratives that identify and provide a glimpse into the compassionate soul of the Israeli people. 

Featured in these accounts are descriptions of life-saving technology and innovation, helping the disabled and teens at risk, managing food collection and distribution programs for the disadvantaged, immigrant absorption and elder care, infertility programs, women’s empowerment and human rights, rescuing victims in the aftermath of natural disasters worldwide, developing and providing life-saving solutions to those in developing nations, cleaning up and protecting the environment, and so much more. 

State of the Heart captures the unique level of concern, care and uncompromising sense of mission, undertaken by Israelis, within Israel and around the globe.

David Kramer is an educator, author and social entrepreneur. He has spent the past ten years helping Israeli and global non-profit organizations tell their story through a social start-up he founded in Israel. David spends much of his time meeting with tour groups in Israel, connecting them to the reality of life in Israel. He served in the Israeli army and lives in Jerusalem with his wife Tova and their five children. 


The Search Committee: Not Quite “a Novel”

From Shiloh Musings:The Search Committee high res

When I was at the recent Jerusalem International Book Fair, I was offered books to review by a couple of publishing houses. told me to just take a few from their stand, which I did.  One of them is The Search Committee- a novel, by Marc Angel.  When I took it, I didn’t check the copyright date or I would have had discovered that the book is far from recent.  It was published in  2008.

I’ll start with the good…
The book is easy and quick reading, and the main topic is thought-provoking.

Now, why have I titled this “Not Quite a novel?”  Honestly, I don’t see it as a novel.  Here’s the definition of a novel from


a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity,portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes.

The book does not have any real scenes, actions, character development etc. And there is certainly no “complexity.”

Simply put, Marc Angel,  “Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel of New York City and founder of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. He is the author and editor of over two dozen books, and this is his first work of fiction,” has tried to humanize two extreme trends/ideologies in American Jewish Orthodoxy aka Torah Judaism.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t published a lot about the same exact issue as non-fiction.

In Angel’s opinion there’s a danger to Orthodox Jewry if Continue reading The Search Committee: Not Quite “a Novel””

Simple Actions for Jews to Help Green the Planet

by Ruth W. Messinger 

The Jewish heritage has a great deal to teach about the preservation and care of the planet, God’s gift to all of us. Drawing upon the wisdom of biblical, Talmudic, midrashic and other texts, as well as modern, reliable, scientific research, Rabbi Elkins lists scores of specific actions that we can perform to slow, and hopefully reverse, the deterioration of our environmental well-being. While there are other books on the subject of Judaism and the environment, Simple Actions for Jews to Help Green the Planet (Growth Associates / October 2011/ Softcover) is the only one that deals directly with specific actions and behaviors that Jews (and people of all faiths and backgrounds) can perform to become active in helping to green the planet.In this important book, Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins reminds us all of the perils that our environment faces today, and he specifically challenges us to look to our heritage as a guide to becoming better stewards of our earth. As God commands Adam in the Book of Genesis to protect the garden, Rabbi Elkins too challenges us to be protectors of God’s good earth and everything that exists on it. Senator Joseph Lieberman *** This is an extraordinarily practical guide to what we all could and should be doing to reduce our own footprint in the world and to help live a commitment to the survival of our planet, and it is beautifully rooted in Jewish text and teaching. Read and ACT; lots of small steps will help make big change.

The original review appeared on and can be viewed here.

Hearing Text Speak to You Personally

by Batya Yaniger 

What I’m about to describe is a learning experience that I believe is different from typical analytical study but also different from using the text in the service of my own agenda. It has something to do with hearing the text speak to me personally, in the same sense that logotherapy posits that reality is speaking to us personally – challenging us, evoking our will to meaning, eliciting our strengths and calling us out of hiding to become who we are meant to be. Similarly the text is one such reality. Study is an intimate encounter.

In fact for a Jewish person reading Jewish texts God’s personal call should come through even more strongly than the call coming through the reality of life. By being so intent on analyzing the text I believe we are missing that call! This is why it’s so important to me to formulate this process.

Here’s what one such learning experience was like:

A new book has just come out titled Stages of Spiritual Growth: Resolving the Tension Between Self-expression and Submission to Divine Will, by Batya Gallant. Although I know I always say this about every book, I feel this book is particularly suited to chevruta(study partner) study.

One day I was reading and contemplating the chapter on gevurah (to predominate/prevail) with a friend. The author describes the spiritual process towards a healthy relationship towards authority and how our preconceived ideas about submitting to authority can make us feel diminished and disempowered…

As we studied the book we went through a process of Continue reading “Hearing Text Speak to You Personally”

Tefila On Demand

by Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen

As to whether Tefila is a request or a demand, the following related article published this month in my latest book, Jewish Prayer: The Right Way, Resolving Halachic Dilemmas (Urim Publications) suggests at times it may be a demand. (See pp.21-22)

Different Approaches To Prayer

Question: Are there different mindsets and approaches to prayer?

Response: Yes.The following response was culled from a taped shiur of HaRav HaGoan R. Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik,(ZL) Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva University which was recorded over fifty years ago at Congregation Moriah in Manhattan, NY.

The Talmud (Berachot 34b) reports the following:

Rav Gamliel’s son was ill. To pray for his son’s recovery, Rav Gamliel sent two Torah scholars to Rav Chanina ben Dosa. Upon viewing the scholars approach, Rav Chanina went up to his attic and solely prayed for recovery. When they came before Rav Chanina, he informed them that the sick person was already cured. Subsequently, the scholars were able to substantiate not only the cure but also the time the cure took place.

Some issues of concern. Why did Rav Gamliel send two students? Why not one? Why the necessity to send Torah scholars? Also, why did not Rav Chanina wait for the scholars to formally make the request?

Subequently, Rav Chanina ben Dosa became a student of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai. Once Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai’s son was ill and Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai asked his student, Rav Chanina to pray for his ill son. Rav Chanina ben Dosa put his head down by his knees and prayed and cured the illness.

At issue is the rationale for Rav Chanina’s bizarre mode of prayer.Why did he put his head down by his legs? What message did such a prayer impart? Continue reading “Tefila On Demand”

Chapter 3 from Covenantal Imperatives: Essays by Walter S. Wurzburger on Jewish Law, Thought and Community

Essay excerpt by Walter S. Wurzburger,
edited by Eliezer L. Jacobs and Shalom Carmy

Covenantal Imperatives

Darkhei Shalom1 (on account of the ways of peace) represents a maxim which is frequently invoked in Talmudic literature as justification for a variety of rabbinic ordinances designed to supplement or modify biblical legislation. The range of subjects where the application of this rule has exerted a pronounced impact is rather extensive. But for fairly obvious reasons, it was primarily in areas where the utilization of this principle has affected relationships to the non-Jewish world that the analysis of its meaning and significance has evoked the greatest interest.

The basic question that must be faced is whether the enactments prompted by concern for darkhei shalom should be regarded as expediency measures dictated by the enlightened self-interest of the Jewish community or whether we are dealing in these cases with a supreme ethical principle which transcends purely pragmatic considerations.

Historically, divergent views have been presented on this question. On the one hand, Christian writers, bent as they are on demonstrating the alleged superiority of Christian universalism over Jewish particularism, tend to relegate darkhei shalom to the level of a purely prudential device aiming at facilitating coexistence with the non-Jewish world.

In what appears to be an overreaction precipitated by apologetic fervor, an array of prominent scholars such as Professors Hoffman, Lazarus, and

Lauterbach categorically reject any suggestion that darkhei shalom was intended solely as a device to protect the stability and security of the Jewish community. The ordinances promulgated to advance the “ways of peace,” they argue, were inspired not by purely pragmatic considerations of enlightened self-interest, but rather by lofty ethical principles.

One of the most crucial arguments advanced in support of the thesis that the “ways of peace” represent an overriding ethical principle, and do not merely reflect considerations of expediency, is based upon a Talmudic passage.2

The Babylonian Talmud states that the entire Torah reflects “the ways of peace,” as it is written, “Its ways are the ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.”3It has been argued, that if, “the ways of peace” represent an all pervasive distinguishing feature of the entire Torah, how could such a prominent characteristic be relegated to the purely pragmatic level. What is overlooked in this argument is Continue reading “Chapter 3 from Covenantal Imperatives: Essays by Walter S. Wurzburger on Jewish Law, Thought and Community

Jewish Prayer: The Right Way, Resolving Halachic Dilemmas

by Rabbi Marc D. Angel 

Rabbi Jack Simcha Cohen has devoted many years to researching and writing on halakhic topics. His latest book is “Jewish Prayer: The Right Way,” Urim Publications, 2012.

This book is composed of a series of questions and answers on basic topics relating to prayer: general orientation to tefilla; the role of the hazzan; synagogue customs; the Shema; the public Torah readings; rules relating to Cohanim; the Kaddish. Rabbi Cohen offers concise and clear answers, drawing on a wide range of halakhic sources.

In his introductory chapter, he offers insights on the significance of public worship based on a fixed text. He explains how the halakhic framework of prayer underscores the value of time, and our ability to appreciate the significance of an ongoing relationship with the Almighty. The Amidah is recited silently as an indication of our personal connection with the Almighty. Yet, the Amidah is formulated in the plural to remind us that we pray not only as individuals, but as members of the larger community.

“To pray is thus not a mere personal dialogue with the Almighty. It is an opportunity to Continue reading Jewish Prayer: The Right Way, Resolving Halachic Dilemmas