Review of Moadei HaRav: Public Lectures on the Festivals by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

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By Rabbi Johnny Solomon

Over the past decade there has been an explosion of both Hebrew and English language books containing and explaining the teachings of the great Jewish thinker and Talmudist Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. However, while many of these books faithfully convey the wide range of creative and insightful ideas of Rav Soloveitchik, far fewer explore his unique talmudic methodology or attempt to present many of the ideas that he taught in his talmudic lectures. The reason for this apparent omission is due to the fact that any (authentic) attempt to explain how the Rav extrapolated his ideas from the Talmud requires a deep knowledge of the talmudic passages which inspired and informed him.

Rabbi Dr Shlomo Pick, himself a former student of Rav Soloveitchik and currently a teacher of Talmud and Maimonidean thought at Bar-Ilan University’s Institute for Advanced Torah Studies, wishes to redress this imbalance through presenting some of the more accessible Talmudic lectures by the Rav that explore themes relating to the festivals.

In 2004 Rabbi Pick published a Hebrew volume titled Moadei HaRav (literally, ‘The Festivals of the Rav’) containing seventeen extended summaries of public lectures delivered by the Rav based on the notes that both he and others took while attending these lectures, in addition to incorporating an introductory chapter on ‘The Rav’s Methodology of Torah Study’. In so doing Rabbi Pick provided a unique window that shed light on the Rav’s methodology that could be understood by both Talmudic experts and laypeople alike.
Continue reading “Review of Moadei HaRav: Public Lectures on the Festivals by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik 

Review of Moadei HaRav: Public Lectures on the Festivals by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

MoadeiHaRav web1
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The Rav On The Holidays

By: Ben Rothke

Title: Moadei HaRav: Public Lectures on the Festivals by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Author: Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Pick
Publisher: Urim Publications

There is no need to state in these pages that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was one of the greatest Talmudists of the past few hundred years. But for English readers, there has long been a dearth of books in English that captured the depth and breadth of R’ Soloveitchik’s Talmudic genius.

In Moadei HaRav: Public Lectures on the Festivals by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Pick has written a fabulous work, based on his notes from the Rav’s shiurim. Rabbi Pick is a former student of the Rav, who now teaches Talmud and Maimonidean thought at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and brilliantly captures the Rav’s ideas in these lectures.

The book begins with an introduction to Rav Soloveitchik’s methodology of Torah study. Rabbi Pick then writes 17 chapters on various Talmudic issues. For me, the most startling point in the introduction is that while the Rav, who studied in Berlin and was familiar with the methodologies of academic Talmud research, was fundamentally opposed to it. Rabbi Pick writes that the Rav felt that way as he thought academic Talmud both focuses on insignificant matters, and puts too much significance on the consequence of socio-historical or psychological processes.

Continue reading “Review of Moadei HaRav: Public Lectures on the Festivals by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Review of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values

EncyclopediaofJewishValues9789655241631
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by  Rabbi Gil Student

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

Review of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring

By Jack ReimerAftertheHolocustWeb1

This is not a book that one can really review, for to review means to be objective and detached. It means to pass judgment on the techniques of the author and to evaluate how well or how poorly he expresses his ideas. But when someone writes a book that bears witness to the horrors that he has gone through, and when someone pours out his soul, and when someone reaches into the very depths of your being, detachment is not an appropriate response.

Joseph Polak has written a memoir that begins where Anne Frank’s diary leaves off. She wrote about the trials and the travails of growing up in a hidden room, and of learning how to become a teenager in a hideout. Her book ends with her and her family being discovered by the Nazis and taken away to Auschwitz. We hear nothing of the starvation, the filth, and the typhus that took away her life there. Jospeh Polak’s book begins when he was taken, first to Westerbook, and then a year and a half later, from there to Bergen Belsen when he was still a small child.

His book is not so much an account of what happened to him there as it is an effort to understand and to convey how what happened to him there has remained within his consciousness ever since.

I read every page of this book at least twice: sometimes wincing, sometimes shivering, sometimes wishing it would end already. In this review, let me share just a few of the insights in it that stay with me ever since I encountered them. Continue reading “Review of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring

A Review of Kaddish, Women’s Voices

by Francisca GoldsmithkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

More than 50 women writers contributed personal essays to this unique collection. It provides readers with considerable insight into the role of women in the contemporary Jewish community, framing their stories within the place of the Kaddish tradition of Jewish mourning. In essays written expressly for this volume, the authors bring to the table an array of cultural backgrounds, including the urban U.S. Northeast, India, and Israel. Because of the nature of the Kaddish tradition, each woman self-identifies as Jewish, but together the women range from Orthodox to Conservative to Reform and even nonpracticing. They have grieved for parents, children, and siblings. Many are comfortable with their roles as active participants in a traditionally male expression, and a few eschew taking that participatory role. In addition to providing a dynamic view of feminism and Judaism, the collection coheres as a community of women experienced in mourning as a human sensibility, opening the titular theme to others who may feel alone in their bereavement.

This review originally appeared in Booklist.

Female Reactions and Feelings on Saying Kaddish

by Israel DrazinkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

Smart and Ashkenas collected some fifty essays by articulate women of the various Jewish denominations in which they tell poignant emotional tales about relatives who died and their experiences in saying the mourner’s prayer, kaddish, what motivated them to do it, and how they felt doing so. Virtually all the stories are positive. The women derived much from saying the kaddish for eleven months. However some of the women had unfortunate contacts with Orthodox men. Some men felt that saying kaddish is a male prerogative and they mistreated the women who paid honor to deceased relatives by saying the kaddish. The book also includes three short chapters by rabbis concerning the laws of mourning and the saying of kaddish.

Many women reported feeling that saying kaddish provided them with an opportunity to engage others in helping them heal. It also facilitated them in creating new and lasting bonds of friendship in their communities. The kaddish aided them in keeping their relatives alive. It was a special time together with deceased dads, mom, kids. They had a feeling of doing something concrete and appealing. They felt they helped their love ones end their life’s journey. Some accepted the mystical idea that saying kaddish helped elevate their relatives to a higher heavenly level. They knew that the kaddish was a prayer that praised God and this gave meaning to them. Sitting in the services, many developed attachments to certain prayers and their knowledge of Judaism deepened. Some women were so moved by the kaddish that they abandoned Reform and Conservative synagogues and joined traditional Orthodox ones. Continue reading “Female Reactions and Feelings on Saying Kaddish”

A Review of Passages

by Nira G. WolfePassagesWeb1

“For as his name is, so is he” (1 Samuel 25:25): Passages follows meticulously the fifty-four weekly biblical parashot. Rabbi Michael Hattin presents his summary of the various texts by naming each parasha with a new descriptive title. He then leads the reader to a deeper and more profound understanding of the parasha. What is particularly notable is that the reader can beneficially implement what he learns from this book into his daily life.

Rabbi Hattin describes his technique clearly in his introduction. Each parasha starts with a synopsis, followed by the discussion of important topics and concludes with suggestions for further study. An outline of a specific parasha will illustrate Hattin’s method: 1. “Vayera” (Genesis 18:1-22:24); Avimelech’s Pledge: synopsis; The Theme of the Parasha and the Episode of the Akeda; The visit of Avimelech; The Elements of the Encounter; The Interpretation of the Rashbam; The Theme of Covenant; God’s Pledge to Avraham; Reevaluating the Episode of the Akeda; For Further Study. A list of “The Rishonim: 11th – 16th Centuries” concludes the volume.

Passages utilizes a unique format Continue reading “A Review of Passages

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”

Book Review: The Conversation by Joshua Golding

From Life in Israel:The Conversation

The Conversation, by Joshua Golding, is a book on philosophy. Specifically, Jewish Philosophy.

The Conversation is listed as a book of fiction, because the philosophy is couched in a story, but do not doubt that philosophy in the book is far more dominant than the fictional story in which it is couched. The story makes it readable – to non-philosophers, but the story is clearly secondary to the philosophy.

The story is of a young Jewish college student who is not at all connected to his Jewish heritage, beyond having had a bar mitzvah. So much so, that he is even dating a non-Jewish fellow student and thinks nothing of it. As the story goes, David Goldstein is a student of Philosophy. As a freshman he starts to forge his way in his studies, delving into philosophy and developing his relationships with his friends and professors. An experience by a Holocaust Museum entices him to go in, and he gets touched by something that sparks a search about his Jewish roots and the philosophy of Judaism.

David breaks up with his girlfriend as his search about Judaism becomes more intense. Eventually he Continue reading “Book Review: The Conversation by Joshua Golding”

A Review of Let My RV Go!

by Hadassah Sabo Milner letmyrvgo

I was recently sent this book to review, and although it took me a couple of weeks to get to it, once I picked it up I did not want to put it down.

I am a big reader – but I don’t usually go for Jewish-themed books, having found many of them in the past to be twee and self-serving, pushing religion down my throat. When I read, I want to lose myself in a story, I want to be carried along with the narrator, to be a bystander as events unfold. I don’t want lectures on how to be a better person.

Nicole Nathan’s book has made me re-evaluate the Jewish-theme book embargo. While Judaism and Pesach were central to the theme of her book, it wasn’t shove-down-your-throat religion.

Yes, there were a couple of scenes where I thought the “gam zu letovah” (everything happens for the good) angle was a tad overdone, but other than that, I really enjoyed this book.

The Berkovitz family, baalei teshuva, live in Middleton, Canada and one year decide that instead of making Pesach at home, they would rent an RV (Recreational Vehicle) and shlepp their family down south to a Florida trailer park for the holiday. They convince their close friends to join them, and their adventure begins. It’s more than just a road trip – it’s a spiritual journey, a quest to find meaning.

Pauline, Mrs Berkovitz, is the chronicler of this trip, and interspersed between relating events she discusses her faith and her journey to religious Judaism. She questions many things, and Continue reading “A Review of Let My RV Go!