Posts Tagged ‘book’
Jewish Reader, Beware!
It’s Book Week in Israel, and I would like to ask a question. Why are so many Jewish writers in America screaming Leftists? Why do they consider their Israeli brothers “occupiers,” and champion the Palestinian cause? To be honest, I don’t follow the American literary scene anymore, but it seems to me that the Jewish writers who make headlines are the ones who take cheap shots at Israel and Jewish tradition. The novelist, Jack Engelhard, is just about the only American Jewish writer I know who still has his head on straight, and his heart in the right place, even though he’s a Jew in America.
When I was living in America, the big Jewish writers were Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, Philip Roth, and others whose names I’ve forgotten. Arthur Miller was a great writer but he bit into the American Dream so much, he married Marilyn Monroe- the goddess of gentile America. Norman Mailer had eight gentile wives – no kidding. That’s really making it big! To the best of my knowledge, Joseph Heller’s two wives were gentile as well. One of his novels was a rowdy satire about King David, which I am sure he regretted having penned when he went up to novelist’s Heaven. Philip Roth opted for a gentile wife too. His nasty novel about a Jewish son who hated his overbearing Jewish mother was a huge bestseller. Apparently lots of Jewish children felt that way, as the number of copies sold attests. Too bad. After all, it does say, “Honor thy father and mother.” For Roth’s sake, I hope he publishes a retraction before he leaves this world. After all, Mrs. Portnoy wasn’t to blame for being so neurotic. She was a Jew in America, in a country she didn’t belong, trying to fit in to the foreign gentile culture around her – naturally she was schizophrenic and worried for her son. But Roth, like all the other American Jewish writers, didn’t know that the average Jew in America pops uppers and spends time on the couch precisely because he or she doesn’t belong in America to begin with. Even the Jewish writer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, who married a Jew, and wrote a wonderful novel about a baal tshuva, called “The Penitent,” ended his tale with an unusual author’s disclaimer, insisting that the hero of the novel was not, by any means, a self-portrait, and that he himself didn’t believe in Judaism at all.
In those days, the Palestinian issue didn’t dominate the news, so American Jewish writers took out their frustrations and guilt on the Jewish religion and on being
Jewish, as if that was a big scandal and sin. Now the self-hatred of Jewish writers has been projected away from themselves onto the State of Israel. Now that they have successfully assimilated out of being Jewish, they vomit their inner angst out on Medinat Yisrael.
This Book Week don’t waste your money on their dribble. They may know how to put sentences together, but not every writer with a Jewish mother is a Jewish writer. Jewish readers, beware!Tzvi Fishman
History doesn’t need to repeat itself – not when leaders and citizens understand and apply the lessons of the past. That’s the position of information systems expert, researcher and author Ozzie Paez. His recently published “Decision Making in a Nuclear Middle East” uses the Cold War as a template for understanding the risks of nuclear conflict in the Middle East if Iran becomes a nuclear power.
“The Cold War was not as ‘cold’ as many remember,” explains Paez. “More than once, the world came to the brink of catastrophe. Military and political leaders routinely made decisions in environments of high uncertainty, sometimes taking reckless risks with the lives of millions. Even lower ranking military officers sometimes faced tough decisions that could have led to a nuclear exchange. If you are among the many, including politicians, academics and policy makers, who believe that the Cold War turned out as it was destined and that history suggests a similar outcome for a nuclear Middle East, then this book should give you pause.”
Amazon reviewer M E Niehoff agrees with Paez’s analysis, comparing the mutual deterrence mindset of the USSR and USA during the cold war and the “spatial and timing realities of a nuclear conflict in the Middle East. He concludes (and I agree),” Niehoff notes, “that mutual deterrence is not a valid concept for the Middle East. … It appears that unless current nuclear armed countries come together and take a unified hard line against nuclear proliferation in the world (probably very unlikely), eventual nuclear conflict may be inevitable.”
“Decision Making in a Nuclear Middle East” takes an “operational” view of history, and includes documents and interviews with key players from the Cold War. With the release of many classified materials from that era, it’s now possible to objectively assess the conditions and decision making processes behind pivotal nuclear crisis in hot spots like Korea, Berlin and Cuba. They can help us put in context the emerging nuclear standoff in the Middle East and its implications for millions of lives in the region and beyond.
Amazon reviewer Ben Gilad notes that, “Ozzie’s analysis of the nuclear Middle East is based on a novel application of ‘benchmarking’ – a technique used in business to compare best practices. Dissecting the Soviet-US Cold War nuclear deterrence history with great clarity. … Paez shows how fickle and unreliable mutual deterrence can be in the Middle East context. This is one of […] if not the most insightful, concise, clear-eyed analysis I’ve read about the Middle East’s fragile balance of power.”
Paez is also the author of “Going Nuclear: The Influence of History and Hindsight on the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations.” His upcoming book, “Informed Decision Makers—And Other Myths and Fallacies,” will address informed decisions across time and industries to illustrate the challenges and possibilities inherent to information driven environments.David Israel
A book of fairytales that was once owned by Anne Frank has been sold at auction in New York for $62,500 by the Swann Auction Galleries on East 25th Street. The book is a German language copy of the 1925 edition of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” including Snow White and Hansel and Gretel. Anne Frank wrote her name and her sister Margot’s on the first page.
According to a spokesman for the auction house, the auction included half a dozen potential buyers and lasted a minute.
Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl,” which she wrote in an attic in Amsterdam from June 1942 to August 1944, hiding from the Nazis, has sold more than 30 million copies and translated into 67 languages. She dies in Bergen-Belsen in 1945. The Grim Brothers book was left behind in the Frank apartment when the family moved to their hiding place. It was bought by the Museum of World War II near Boston.
Kenneth Rendell, the museum’s founder, told the New York Times he plans to make the book would a centerpiece of the museum’s Holocaust collection, which includes other personal possessions belonging to members of the Frank family, alongside what he calls “very human pieces” from other concentration camp victims. These include the concentration camp pajamas worn by Josef Wolski, a prisoner in Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Buchenwald, and a chess set, made from rye bread by a prisoner at Auschwitz for an SS guard. The King piece on the brown German side was crafted to resemble Hitler.David Israel
By Anna Rudnitsky/TPS
Yediot Books Publishing House will print a new edition of their 1997 wine guide that will include wines produced in Judea and Samaria.
Wines from Judea and Samaria had been included in Daniel Rogov’s widely respected Guide to Israeli Wines first published in 2005 and updated annually until the author’s death in 2011. Israel Hayom wine correspondent Yair Gat and wine consultant Gal Zohar filled the void this year with their publication of the New Israeli Wine Guide, but they had originally decided not to include wines from Judea and Samaria in the guide.
The project’s launch was celebrated with a special event in the Knesset. As an exception to regulations that generally forbid consumption of alcohol in the Israeli parliament, wines from Judea and Samaria were brought to the presentation, and a number of high-ranking guests made the Jewish blessing on wine and gave their blessing to the idea of a new guide.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett reminded those in attendance that Judean and Samarian territories had many wineries during Biblical times, and that while no wines were produced in the Land of Israel during the years of Muslim rule due to the Islamic prohibition on alcohol, “our generation is renewing the tradition that is more than 2000 years old.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein praised the idea of a new guide as yet another step in the fight against the boycott of Israeli products and suggested that consumers and political entities have equal power in this battle. “Whenever I go to a restaurant, I always ask if they have wines from Judea and Samaria. Once it becomes an issue of consumer demand and not simply about ideology, it can lead to changes in attitudes and policies,” Edelstein said.
Science Minister Ofir Akunis added that wines from Judea and Samaria are his personal choice because “they simply are good.”
“The territories of Judea and Samaria are the perfect place to cultivate grapes because they are at the right altitude and have the right weather conditions a number of wineries that produce excellent wines have been founded there in recent years,” Israel Wine Experience CEO Oded Shoham told TPS. He added, however, that these wines have faced difficulties reaching consumers because of the controversy over their place of origin. “Owners of Judea and Samaria wineries used to ask me to help sell their wines in Tel Aviv area stores and restaurants, but it really depends on the owner of the place and the political attitudes of his clients,” Shoham said.
Critics of the original decision not to include Judean and Samarian wines noted that besides the fact that it lent support to the boycott of products from Judea and Samaria, it was also illogical because many wineries inside the Green Line use grapes grown in Judea and Samaria.
“If you look at the number of awards received in international competitions by Israeli wines, including those from Judea and Samaria, it’s almost as disproportionate as with Nobel Prize laureates,” Amichai Luria, a Samaria winemaker attending the event, told Tazpit News Service (TPS).TPS / Tazpit News Agency
One of the most difficult challenges of the 21st century was made very clear by the recent Pew study on American Jews. The fact is that except for Orthodoxy – Jewry is shrinking. I need not go into the statistics. They have been discussed ad infinitum by just about everyone. The shrinkage is due to a combination of factors mostly having to do with the lack of any significant meaning attributed to Judaism by those devoid of a religious education. Young Jews even with the highest of ethical values see no value in the religion of their forefathers. They see themselves as ethical human beings – same as anyone else with ethical values. They see all religious ritual adding nothing to their sense of ethics.
The question arises – what do we do about that? As Orthodox Jews who understand the value of the Torah and the importance of following Halacha – how can we change this new secular Jewish paradigm?
There are those who would answer: Nothing! There is nothing we can do to significantly change the attrition away from Judaism the masses are undergoing… that there has been attrition one way or another in every generation. Although they might wish things were different, they say it is virtually impossible to influence the minds of the vast majority of Jews whose secular – even ethical values were formed by a society devoid of Torah.
They will therefore say that we Orthodox should instead turn inward and work on ourselves and that the future of Judaism rests with us. While I understand that mentality and would certainly agree that we all need to work on our ourselves – I strongly disagree that we ought to ignore the rest of Jewry. We are not talking about a few Jewish souls here. We are talking about the vast majority of them. Fully 90% of all American Jewry is not Orthodox. Are we simply to just write them off? I don’t think so.
Thankfully neither do all the outreach organizations. They have had much success in reaching out to our secular brethren. But it is still a drop in the bucket. We Orthodox remain only 10% of the total. We may be growing, but a lot of that is internal because of our higher birth rate. The amount of successful outreach is still relatively small.
One way to reach more people is by interdenominational interaction. The problem with that is that some of the greatest religious leaders of the 20th century – including Rav Soloveitchik – have forbidden doing that. They forbade religious interaction of any kind because it would grant them tacit recognition. We cannot be seen to recognize movements that legitimize heretical thought. I understand and appreciate that.
Which is why the actions of the well intentioned Yeshiva Chovevei Torah are so problematic. Outreach is what motivated them to host leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism at a round table discussion during the installation of their new president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin. That certainly does seem to legitimize them. Both in the eyes of the leaders themselves and in the eyes of those who attended the session. While I support YCT’s intentions, I believe they have crossed a line here. As much as I would love to see cooperation between the denominations towards the goal of outreach that we all share – it cannot be at the expense of undermining our theology.
I know that YCT argues that such interactions do not validate heterodox movements. But it is impossible for those who attend to not see it that way – watching them all discuss their religious views as equals at the same table.So even though I agree with their motives, I disagree with what they did. That leaves the problem unsolved.
But there are other ways that we can participate with them and at the same time not be seen to recognize them. One way was when Yosef Reinman, a right wing Orthodox Rabbi from Lakewood, co-wrote a book with Amiel Hirsch, a Reform rabbi he had befriended… and then went on a book tour with him.
He was immediately – roundly criticized by the Agudah Moetzes for violating the ban on interacting with heterodox rabbis. They asked him to stop the tour and withdraw his book. He acceded to their requests but lamented the fact that he was now impeded from making the inroads he had started making with Reform Jews he would have otherwise never met.Harry Maryles
It is the most famous, majestic and influential opening of any book in literature: “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” What is surpassingly strange is the way Rashi – most beloved of all Jewish commentators – begins his commentary:
Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah should have begun with the verse (Exodus 12:1), “This month shall be to you the first of the months,” which was the first commandment given to Israel.
Can we really take this at face value? Did Rabbi Isaac, or for that matter Rashi, seriously suggest that the Book of books might have begun in the middle – a third of the way into Exodus? That it might have passed by in silence the creation of the universe – which is, after all, one of the fundamentals of Jewish faith?
Could we understand the history of Israel without its prehistory, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their children? Could we have understood those narratives without knowing what preceded them: G-d’s repeated disappointment with Adam and Eve, Cain, the generation of the Flood, and the builders of the Tower of Babel?
The 50 chapters of Genesis, together with the opening of Exodus, are the source book of biblical faith. They are as near as we get to an exposition of the philosophy of Judaism. What then did Rabbi Isaac mean?
He meant something profound, which we often forget. To understand a book, we need to know to what genre it belongs. Is it history or legend, chronicle or myth? To what question is it an answer? A history book answers the question: what happened? A book of cosmology – be it science or myth – answers the question: how did it happen?
What Rabbi Isaac is telling us is that if we seek to understand the Torah, we must read it as Torah, which is to say: law, instruction, teaching, and guidance. Torah is an answer to the question: how shall we live? That is why he raises the question as to why it does not begin with the first command given to Israel.
Torah is not a book of history, even though it includes history. It is not a book of science, even though the first chapter of Genesis – as the 19th-century sociologist Max Weber pointed out – is the necessary prelude to science, because it represents the first time people saw the universe as the product of a single creative will – and therefore as intelligible rather than capricious and mysterious. It is, first and last, a book about how to live. Everything it contains – not only commandments but also narratives, including the narrative of creation itself – is there solely for the sake of ethical and spiritual instruction.
Jewish ethics is not confined to law. It includes virtues of character, general principles and role models. It is conveyed not only by commandments but also by narratives, telling us how particular individuals responded to specific situations.
It moves from the minutest details to the most majestic visions of the universe and our place within it. But it never deviates from its intense focus on these questions: What shall I do? How shall I live? What kind of person should I strive to become? It begins, in Genesis 1, with the most fundamental question of all. As the Psalm (8:4) puts it: “What is man that You are mindful of him?”
Pico della Mirandola’s 15th century Oration on the Dignity of Man was one of the turning points of Western civilization, the “manifesto” of the Italian Renaissance. In it he attributed the following declaration to G-d, addressing the first man:
We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgement and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.
Homo sapiens, that unique synthesis of “dust of the earth” and breath of G-d, is unique among created beings in having no fixed essence – in being free to be what he or she chooses. Mirandola’s Oration was a break with the two dominant traditions of the Middle Ages: the Christian doctrine that human beings are irretrievably corrupt, tainted by original sin, and the Platonic idea that humanity is bounded by fixed forms.
It is also a strikingly Jewish account – almost identical with the one given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in Halakhic Man: “The most fundamental principle of all is that man must create himself. It is this idea that Judaism introduced into the world.” It is therefore with a frisson of recognition that we discover that Mirandola had a Jewish teacher, Rabbi Elijah ben Moses Delmedigo (1460-1497).
Born in Crete, Delmedigo was a Talmudic prodigy, appointed at a young age to be head of the yeshiva in Padua. At the same time he studied philosophy, in particular the work of Aristotle, Maimonides and Averroes. At 23, he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Padua. It was through this that he came to know Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who became both his student and his patron. Eventually, however, Delmedigo’s philosophical writings – especially his work Bechinat ha-Dat – became controversial. Other rabbis accused him of heresy. He had to leave Italy and return to Crete. He was much admired by Jews and Christians alike and, when he died young, many Christians as well as Jews attended his funeral.
This emphasis on choice, freedom and responsibility is one of the most distinctive features of Jewish thought. It is proclaimed in the first chapter of Genesis in the most subtle way. We are all familiar with its statement that G-d created man “in His image, after His likeness.” Seldom do we pause to reflect on the paradox. If there is one thing emphasized time and again in the Torah, it is that G-d has no image. “I will be what I will be,” He says to Moses when he asks Him His name.
Since G-d transcends nature – the fundamental point of Genesis 1 – then He is free, unbounded by nature’s laws. By creating human beings in His image, He gave us a similar freedom, thus creating the one being capable itself of being creative. The unprecedented account of G-d in the Torah’s opening chapter leads to an equally unprecedented view of the human person and our capacity for self-transformation.
The Renaissance, one of the high points of European civilization, eventually collapsed. A series of corrupt rulers and popes led to the Reformation, and to the quite different views of Luther and Calvin. It is fascinating to speculate what might have happened had it continued along the lines signalled by Mirandola. His late 15th century humanism was not secular but deeply religious.
As it is, the great truth of Genesis 1 remains. As the rabbis put it (Bereishit Rabbah 8:1; Sanhedrin 38a): “Why was man created last? In order to say, if he is worthy, all creation was made for you; but if he is unworthy, he is told, even a gnat preceded you.” The Torah remains G-d’s supreme call to humankind to freedom and creativity on the one hand and, on the other, to responsibility and restraint – becoming G-d’s partner in the work of creation.
Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks