Title: There Are No Basketball Courts In Heaven
Author: Dovid Landesman
Publisher: Diamond Press
Rabbi Dovid Landesman jokes that one of his former students used to refer to him as General Eclectic because he could never safely predict how he would come down on various issues. Another talmid reminds me that the rabbi was sometimes referred to as the “adderaba” (Aramaic for “on the contrary”) because he could usually be counted upon to present a viewpoint that never feared challenging the establishment. The most cogent appreciation, however, is that offered by a ninth grader who, after listening to a talk on parashat hashavua, approached him and said, “Rebbi, I don’t like the way you speak!” Somewhat taken aback, Rabbi Landesman asked him to explain his criticism. The student replied, “You always want us to think!”
And that is precisely what this book does. It challenges you to consider the issues as carefully and critically as possible before reacting. It expects you to think about your responses before you release them. How different from the standards and practices we have become used to in our educational institutions. How refreshing and how invigorating.
Small wonder that Rabbi Landesman, director of education and administration at Aish Tamid of Los Angeles, was so popular among his students. I know because I was one of them.
The book contains 25 essays on a variety of subjects: is there a definition of da’as Torah that all sectors of Orthodoxy can or should accept; why do we pray in a language that we find so difficult to understand; earning vs. learning; shidduchim; shomer negiah; going off the derech; drinking in yeshivas; and many others. All are written with a rare combination of wit and candor that is refreshing and unusual in our community.
I enjoyed a number of the essays: “A.Y. Karelitz M.D.” on whether theChazon Ish might have made a greater contribution to humanity had he used his singular talents to study medicine – a question, posed by a student, which he uses to explore the mitzvah and definition of kiddush Hashem; “Shulchan Aruch – Three Ring Binder Edition” challenges both the ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox worlds for deviating from the parameters of halacha; while “The Day That Satmar Went Mainstream” deals with the attitude of the rightwing community toward the State of Israel.
Unafraid of leveling criticism, the author is never strident and never pompous. And one appreciates the honesty and respect for the reader that Rabbi Landesman demonstrates. He is a gifted writer with a clear point of view that you might not always accept, but will be grateful for as you reach your own conclusions and choose the path and direction of your own life.