Rabbi Marc Angel is the rabbi emeritus of Manhattan’s Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, founder and director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, and the author and editor of over two dozen works, including, most recently, The Wisdom of Solomon and Us and a commentary on Pirkei Avot.
What books are you currently reading?
Aside from ongoing Torah studies, I am currently reading/re-reading the works of S. Y. Agnon, the Israeli author who won the Nobel Prize in 1966, and the works of Ayn Rand.
What’s the best book on Judaism you’ve ever read?
The primary sources are best: Tanach, Talmud, Rambam. As for the best secondary sources, that depends on what aspect of Judaism one is studying. For p’sak halakha, I’d recommend Mekor Chayim by Rabbi Haim David Halevy; on halacha, Menahem Alon’s Hamishpat HaIvri; on kabbalah, the writings of Aryeh Kaplan, especially Jewish Meditation; on Rambam, the writings of Menachem Kellner; and on Tanach, the writings of Rabbi Hayyim Angel.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite books and authors?
I was blessed with a mother who was an avid reader, and she set a magnificent example of love of reading and love of learning. As a child, I was mostly interested in books relating to sports.
Hidden gems: Which Jewish book or author should be widely known but isn’t?
I am very fond of the writings of Elias Canetti, a Sephardic Jew who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981. Although his books do not focus on Judaism/the Jewish experience, they have a tremendous breadth of vision. I’ve read his classic Crowds and Power several times, and I find new insights with every reading.
As someone who has written extensively on Sephardic Jewry and culture, what books (other than your own) would you recommend to someone interested in this subject?
Zvi Zohar has written important works on Sephardic chachamim of the modern period; Andre Chouraqui has written on the experience of Jews of North Africa; Jane Gerber has written about Jewish life in medieval Spain; Mair Jose Benardete has written about the Jews of Judeo-Spanish tradition; Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi has written on the experience of Conversos and ex-Conversos… the list goes on and on. Sephardic Jewry is a vast topic.
What book hasn’t been written that you’d like to read?
A first-hand account of life in the days of Mashiach.
Years ago, many rabbanim thought reading novels was a waste of time. Do you read novels? Or just non-fiction?
I believe in the importance of serious reading, and I frown on frivolous reading. Time is very short, and wisdom is vast. Serious reading might be in the form of non-fiction or fiction, just as frivolous reading can be found in both categories. In the best fiction, one can find important insights, beautiful use of language, and powerful ethical dilemmas. Great fiction can enlarge our minds and expand our horizons.
What book do you plan on reading next?
I tend to be a “binge” reader. I like to read all the works of one author before going on to another. At present, I’m in the midst of reading the works of Agnon. When I finish with that, I plan to read the writings of Hannah Arendt.