Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel writes in his introduction that the term “encyclopedia” in the title is “a bit presumptuous.” Even though this is the first of a projected four-volume series, the task of encompassing the entirety of Jewish thought in any encyclopedia seems impossible. The Torah is described as being “longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” Indeed, each of the volume’s thirty-nine essays lacks a systematic and unified style, perhaps because the topics are so expansive. Yet the essays contain so much material, rich in depth and breadth, full of insight and contemporary relevance, that we can forgive the title. This book might not be an encyclopedia but it is a gold mine of Jewish values. Masterfully combining Biblical, legal and philosophical texts, Rabbi Amsel, director of education at the Destiny Foundation, an educational media foundation, gives each topic extensive treatment. Each essay seems like a well-organized, multi-hour lecture on the topic (rabbis and teachers take note!). Continue reading “Review of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values“→
Knowing how often the teachers in my school request Rabbi Nachum Amsel’s The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues, I was eager to see his new volume. It does not disappoint. This book is an extremely valuable reference work for learning the Jewish view on numerous topics, including some for which I was not even aware there was a Jewish view (i.e. self-esteem in Judaism). It provides a source for in-depth essays on classic moral and ethical issues, such as anger, jealousy and revenge, as well as other important topics that confront our generation, such as cloning, stem cells, the ethics of downloading films and songs, and many others. Rabbi Amsel includes over two hundred pages of source material, Biblical and Talmudic selections quotes from works of Jewish philosophy, so that the reader can follow up on the essay. This volume is highly recommended.
This review appeared in the AJL Reviews February/March 2016 issue.
The literary work that is my subject for the next few weeks is entitled, “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values” (Urim Publications, 2015), a series of essays on some of the most provocative subjects of contemporary interest, by Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel.
Rabbi Amsel is graduate of Yeshiva University, ordained a rabbi by HaRav Joseph B. Soloveitchik,zt”l, whose career centered for over 30 years on the enhancement of Jewish education all over the world. This book goes a long way in helping us to understand issues that confront us in our daily lives and are regularly discussed and debated in the public arena (including gun control and legalized gambling and the use of lotteries, will be my focus in upcoming columns).
This week I will focus on my interview with Rabbi Amsel wherein you will get a measure of his intellectual prowess.
How do we figure out how to live a good and just life? How do we set our moral compass so that it points us in the right direction? How do we develop an ethical code that helps us make our day-to-day decisions?
Nachum Amsel, a rabbi and educator, is convinced that people are searching for answers to these questions now more than ever before. His response is this book, a volume that contains a thorough explanation of Jewish values—moral principles which he says are God-given and not subject to change even though each generation may see the world through new eyes.
Rabbi Amsel sees Judaism not only as a religion, but also as a way of life, and thus his book goes far beyond traditional rituals to encompass every action of our lives. He believes that all our decisions and the behavior that results from them, even eating and sleeping, can be done in a Jewish way—that is, with a moral purpose that conforms to the timeless ethical precepts of Judaism.
He makes the point that he is not concerned with Jewish law, over which there have always been many disputes, nor Jewish thought, in which there are multiple viewpoints and divergent customs, but rather with values, the deeper, underlying set of moral principles that guide our overall lives and keep them clean and correct. Continue reading “Review of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values“→
The numerous shootings of many innocent people in the past few years, which have occurred in public places such as schools and movie theaters, have caused renewed debate and attempts at legislation regarding prevention or limitation of gun ownership, popularly known as gun control. This issue is especially acute in the United States, where the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”, gives each citizen the legal right to protect himself, even with guns obtained legally and quite easily. In 2008 and again in 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States issued two landmark decisions officially establishing the interpretation that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Continue reading “Excerpt from The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values“→
The dilemma of killing one person to save many people seems to be a simple enough concept to understand. But a classic moral dilemma always pits two different values against one another. What are the two values in conflict here? It is the ethical concept to save life versus the ethical prohibition to kill and end a life. In this case, the only way to save many lives is to do the unthinkable, and actually kill someone innocent and end his or her life. Rather than discuss this dilemma in the abstract, actual scenarios based on real-life cases will be presented. However, instead of having to decide what to do in a matter of seconds, as is the situation that occurs quite regularly in reality, this chapter will present what Judaism believes is the right action based on the myriad of ancient sources.
A follow-up to his widely acclaimed The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues, this is a comprehensive reference book on Jewish ethics for contemporary times. The topics addressed in this work include Jewish attitudes toward homosexuality, stem cell medical procedures, the environment, Internet piracy, and more. Gleaning from the Bible and classic Jewish texts, as well as later authorities such as Maimonides, Nachmanides, Rashi, and the Code of Jewish Law, this work is accessible to readers of all backgrounds. Continue reading “Review of Encyclopedia of Jewish Values“→
Nachum Amsel has done it again. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values presents over forty exciting and pressing issues of the day where clarity from a Jewish perspective is so urgently needed and sought. Some of the topics include: Alternative Medicine, Birthdays, Capital Punishment, Competition, Gun Control, Homosexuality, Music, the Land of Israel, Ransoming Hostages, Leaders who Sin, and much, much more.
The chapter on “Sports” was exceptionally interesting, and frankly, fun to read. There are many halachic issues relevant to sports, such as a variety of Shabbat related laws, and responsibility for damage and injury incurred in the course of sports. Readers will learn about sports in Judaism throughout the ages, right from the Biblical (with examples in Job, Zacharia, and Lamentations, no less!) and the Talmudic (Kohanic altar races, among other creative games and sports). The chapter also includes a brief review of famous Jewish baseball players in Unites States history.
Some of our greatest sages encourages sports and exercise and even engaged in it themselves. For example, The Chafetz Chaim advises walking and swimming, as does Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzkly, a swimmer himself. Rav Avraham Kook writes that a healthy body is as important as a healthy spirit. Rabbi Shlomo Goren did fifty push-ups daily. As you can see, there is much Jewish value to be found in sports (not to be confused with sitting in front of a television set with beer and pretzels and watching a football game). Here are some excerpts from that chapter: Continue reading “Review of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values“→