Haim A. Gottschalk, Olney, MD ● AJL News and Reviews
From Forbidden Fruit to Milk and Honey: A Commentary on Food in the Torah is a collection of short essays on each individual Bible parashah (passage of scripture). Biblical scholar Diana Lipton assembled a diverse group of Jewish scholars, divided evenly between men and women. Each scholar wrote a short essay, one scholar per parashah (with one exception) about food, and Lipton follows up with a verse by verse commentary on issues that the essays did not cover. Lipton also explains in the introduction that the book does not address what the ancient Israelites ate, sacrifices being discussed, nor kashrut.
The work is not a cookbook. What the work does and does well is give a derash (interpretation) through the prism of food for each parashah (excluding double parashiyot and holidays). The scholars certainly give you plenty of food for thought.
This book is a welcome addition to any library, especially a synagogue library and recommended to those who are looking for something different to grace their Shabbat table.
In this collection of short halachic essays Rabbi Cohen ‘seeks to offer contemporary creative halachic responses to issues and problems that affect modern Jews’ (p. 16).
In general, most books within this genre of contemporary halachic guides on the laws of Shabbat are excessively strict and rarely provide the rationale for each decision. Rabbi Cohen, who is a community Rabbi in West Palm Beach, believes that his explorations must include a clear-cut decision, and be based ‘upon a process of open-minded Torah research rather than upon a preconceived tendency to be strict or lenient’ (p. 14). As such, within each essay he provides clear answers as well as a presentation of the sources that led him to his conclusion.
Some of the questions covered in this volume provide us with a greater understanding of Shabbat rituals such as when the Friday night candles should be lit or whether one should stand or sit for Kiddush.
Others provide refreshing insights into oft-misunderstood laws such as whether one can take pills on Shabbat or set a dishwasher on a timer on Shabbat.
However, perhaps the most refreshing element in this volume is where Rabbi Cohen addresses questions that rarely receive attention in English-language guides such as the halachic considerations of a Shabbat bus.
This is a wonderful book that provides the reader with a genuine yet accessible understanding of the halakhic process as well as insights on a wide range of Shabbat issues. Enjoy!
The original review appeared on Rabbi Johnny Solomon’s blog.
The application of Shabbat laws to contemporary circumstances is no simple task. So much of daily life has changed over the past century, not least of which is the blossoming of electronic technology, that the rabbinic discussions are dizzying to the untrained. Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen has selected topics on the laws of Shabbat, explaining simply and concisely the different opinions on the issues and offering practical conclusions. The book is not comprehensive, but instead focuses on highlights throughout the twenty-five-hour Shabbat period. He chooses some basic but interesting topics such as the details of Kiddush—the proper way to fill and hold the cup, whether to stand or sit, and more—and complex subjects such as showering on Shabbat and dancing at a sheva berachot. Rabbi Cohen is at his best when presenting the views of great authorities on the issues of the day. His clarity of language and thinking make him an excellent conduit of the halachic decisors of our day.
The original article appeared in the Jewish Action and can be viewed here.