Rabbi Avi Shafran is the author of several books, including It’s All in the Angle, and Migrant Soul. He serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.
What books are currently on your night stand?
All Who Go Do Not Return; Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power; and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
What’s the best book on Judaism you’ve ever read?
The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite books and authors?
An avid one. I was enamored of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and mysteries like the Nancy Drew series. (Hardy Boys, not so much.) A bit older, I devoured suspense stories and science fiction, like the works of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and John Wyndham. As a teen, I found essays by people like William F. Buckley Jr. and Lewis Thomas enthralling.
If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?
No book. Only my parents, rabbeim, and wife are to blame for me.
Hidden gems: Which Jewish book or author should be widely known but isn’t?
Sarah Shapiro and Akiva Tatz are well known, but I think they should be more widely known.
You often defend Jewish values in secular media. Is there a particular book you would recommend to media personalities that explains the Torah weltanschauung?
The Collected Writings of Samson Raphael Hirsch.
What books might people be surprised to find on your bookshelves?
The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes; The Far Side Gallery 4; and Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce.
What book hasn’t been written that you’d like to read?
How Moshiach’s Arrival Changed the World.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
War and Peace. But not really.
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
Kaddish by Leon Wieseltier.
Years ago, some rabbanim opposed reading novels, arguing that they were a waste of time. Do you read novels? Or just non-fiction?
Most novels are indeed a waste of time (or worse), especially for adults, who have (or should have) many more meaningful pursuits. But some carefully selected works of literature can serve to provide useful insights into life. I generally only have time for non-fiction reading.
If you could require Jewish leaders to read one book, what would it be?
Why, my collected columns, It’s All in the Angle, of course!
What do you plan on reading next?
Rising Moon: Unravelling the Book of Ruth by my once-chavrusah and true talmid chacham Rabbi Moshe Miller.