Spring has officially sprung here in Israel and the hills are alive with wildflowers. We’re beginning to venture out in public again after a long and strange year! So to ease back into what passes for normal, here are some literary recommendations from around the Jewish blogosphere.
Here I review a remarkable book called Judaism Reclaimed by Shmuel Phillips, which has furnished me with food for thought for the past year. Based loosely on Parashat Hashavua (the weekly Torah reading), the book is actually a philosophical examination of Jewish thought and theology.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz saw his mission as nothing less than bringing the Talmud back to the people. Jewish law is meant to be democratic, but only informed citizens can vote? Then, let’s make sure every citizen is an informed citizen! Or at least, let’s make it possible for any citizen who wants to become informed to do so. This is the basis for his decision to translate the Aramaic portions of the Talmud into ordinary Hebrew (the modern equivalent of Aramaic for Israeli Jews) and then into English. His motto was “Let my people know!”
In the shadow of Corona, most of us have had to spend an inordinate amount of time in lockdown of one sort or another. Some of us won’t be out and about again for some time. What to do with all this extra time? Read! Here are some great book-related posts from around the Jewish blogosphere.
Parashat Terumah is the first of several dealing with the construction of the Mishkan, where the priests would make sacrifice upon a great bronze-clad altar. And yet, only two weeks ago, at the end of parashat Yitro, we read a very different set of instructions: “Make for Me an altar of earth and sacrifice on it … ” How are we to reconcile the need for this elaborate structure to house God’s presence with the instructions to worship Him using a simple altar of earth? In attempting to reconcile these two very different types of encounter, it may be helpful to look at what comes in between.
Spring is in the air here in Israel, and the hills are alive with almond blossoms. Tu B’Shvat is just past, and we’re counting down toward Purim. Here are some recommendations from around the Jewish blogosphere (in more or less alphabetical order). Note that cover images link to the relevant affiliate-linked book page on Amazon.
In Parashat Beshalah, the Israelites are finally freed from slavery in Egypt. But neither the nation of Egypt nor the house of Israel is ready for the events now unfolding. The Israelites, having lived in slavery all their lives, were naturally fearful of freedom. It makes sense then, that they would need to be rescued against their will. The Egyptians, meanwhile, have reason to feel even more overwhelmed than the Israelites; they have been caught up in a process in which each ill-concieved decision breeds another calamity, and yet, they can find no way out of the cycle. How do we reconcile this seeming lack of free will with the Torah’s usual insistence that humans are free to choose?
In this week’s parashah, the plagues in Egypt reach their horrific conclusion, resulting in the freedom for the Israelite slaves (and presumably many others as well) and their expulsion from the country. Along the way, we’re given a fascinating glimpse “backstage” at the divine plan in history.
In honor of the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, here is an excerpt from the story of Ovadya ben Malka. “Here is one task for you to do,” Rav Ish-Shalom told him. “You must remember everything you can about individual people from that place. One cannot keep alive the memory of thousands; it just isn’t possible. Instead, call to mind individuals. Their lives, not their deaths. You must remember everything you can about them; how they were dressed, what they said to one another; any names that you heard spoken. Anything!” In this excerpt, Ovadya finally begins to overcome the barrier to telling what he witnessed.
The episode of Zipora’s emergency circumcision of her son at a wayside inn seems to defy interpretation. Who is it that God sought to kill, and why? We can begin to make sense of this story only when we realize that it has been lifted out of its proper place in the wider narrative; chronologically, it belongs much later, during the plague against the firstborn. But then, why do we find it here, at the very beginning of Moshe’s mission?