Books

A Shmooze Through The Torah

New postmodern commentary offers high-tech,
user-friendly guide to weekly portion.

04/20/2010
Staff Writer

The classical commentaries on Acherei Mot–Kedoshim — the Torah portions in Leviticus read in synagogues this Shabbat — by the classical commentators are black and white, graphically and philosophically.

Long blocks of text parse and examine and explain key biblical words that illustrate such concepts as the Azazel goat ritual in the Wilderness, forbidden relationships, and obligations to the poor.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier’s parshah book takes a novel graphic approach.

Measuring The Giant That Was Yehuda Halevi

Hillel Halkin’s new biography of the poet-philosopher does him justice.

04/13/2010
Special To The Jewish Week

Who was Yehuda Halevi? Generations of Jewish schoolchildren here and in the Palestine Yishuv grew up with his classic poetic line, “Libi ba-mizrach, v’anochi b’sof ma’arav” — “My heart is in the East (the Land of Israel), but I, my body, is in the furthest reaches of the West.” Living and working in the 11th and 12th centuries in Spain, he was one of the giants of Hebrew poetry. That he was a significant figure in the history of Jewish thought is unquestioned.

Halkin captures a larger-than-life figure.

The Language Of Memory

01/01/1999
Jewish Week Book Critic

"Not another book on the Holocaust,” a friend of author Anne Michaels lamented, as he came across a new book on the subject, unaware that the first novel Michaels was then working on had a Holocaust theme. “That galvanized me in an important way,” she tells The Jewish Week. “What kind of book could I write that would reach that reader, who felt like he had read it all?” It was a question that Michaels asked herself repeatedly in the 10 years it took her to complete Fugitive Pieces (Knopf).

Daddy Dearest

12/18/1998
Jewish Week Book Critic

Ted Solotaroff wanted to name his memoir “Rachmones.” He was certain that there wasn’t a Jewish reader who wouldn’t understand the word Leo Rosten defines as pity, compassion in “The Joys of Yiddish,” but his editor, and a random sampling of younger Jews, convinced him otherwise. “It’s what this book finally is about,” the 70-year old distinguished editor, essayist, critic and now memoirist tells The Jewish Week.

Books To Light The Way

12/04/1998
Jewish Week Book Critic

A friend who works in a bookstore recounts that whenever Jewish parents or grandparents ask for help in selecting a book, they preface their request: “Oh, he’s 7, but he reads like a 12-year-old,” or “She’s beginning fifth grade but reads on a high-school level.” But despite their parents’ best intentions to get them reading the classics as soon as they can lift them, along with The New York Times, kids really do prefer picture books with great stories.

Souls On Fire

11/27/1998
Jewish Week Book Critic

The road less traveled is getting crowded. Not only are large numbers of Jews embarking on spiritual journeys, but many are writing about them, in full candor. The inner adventure story might be the Jewish book of the moment.

While bookstores are overflowing with memoirs of every stripe — the musings of people from all backgrounds, reflecting on remarkable families, abuse and dysfunction, divorce, relationships — Jewish writers seem to be revealing the details of their spiritual lives: The relationship frequently examined is that with God.

The Way They Lived

11/20/1998
Jewish Week Book Critic

One of the most striking exhibits in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is the three towers of photographs taken in Eishyshok, documenting that shtetl’s Jewish life before it was destroyed by the Nazis. Viewers are encircled by 1,600 photographs collected by Dr. Yaffa Eliach, a professor at Brooklyn College who was born in Eishyshok. Now, Eliach has published a book that links together the moments captured in the photographs, presenting a full and textured description of the once vital community: It is a work about one town, with clues to many pasts.

In The Tennessee Country

11/13/1998
Jewish Week Book Critic

In 1920, the Jewish population of Union City, Tenn., increased by 100 percent. That was the year the Bronson family moved there from New York, becoming the only Jewish family among close to 6,000 inhabitants, and the proprietors of “Bronson’s Low-Priced Store.”

Finding A Comfort Zone

11/06/1998
Jewish Week Book Critic

When Rabbi Naomi Levy became the rabbi of Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, Calif., in 1989, she was 26, recently graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary. A member of the first seminary class to admit women to study for the rabbinate, she became the first female Conservative rabbi to lead a congregation on the West Coast. At first, she was treated like something of a curiosity, but after a short time, after several marriages, births, burials in the community, she went from being their “new young woman rabbi to being their rabbi.”

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