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Title: Torah and Western Thought: Intellectual Portraits of Orthodoxy and Modernity
Publisher: Maggid Books

 

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It wasn’t that long ago that the notion of Torah and western thought were considered to be diametrically opposed. Yeshiva students who wanted to study topics such as mathematics, literature, philosophy and more, had to do so clandestinely, or at the risk of being expelled or ostracized.

In Torah and Western Thought: Intellectual Portraits of Orthodoxy and Modernity, editors Stuart Halpern, Meir Soloveichik and Shlomo Zuckier have collected 10 brilliant essays that beautifully portray some of the leading scholars of the past century. Namely Rabbis Yehuda Amital, Yitzchak Herzog, Immanuel Jakobovits, Avraham Yitzhak Kook, Norman Lamm, Aharon Lichtenstein, Ahron Soloveichik, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Isadore Twersky, and Professor Nechama Leibowitz.

Many biographic anthologies end up failing as the content does not integrate well, and the writers may be of varying capabilities. The editors here have assembled and all-star writing cast and the result is a fascinating and engaging read.

The essays are not hagiography. Rather they briefly address some of the core areas of the specific personality. The truth be told, each of the subjects deserves an entire biography to themselves, which has been done to some degree.

Each of the 10 profiles detail complex personalities. None of them fit in a traditional box, and that what’s makes them all so interesting and fascinating. They all lived in a time of turbulence and transition, which makes this book an exceptionally fascinating read.

Ultimately, the essays show that there does not have to be serious contradiction between Torah and western thought. And they can for the most part, coexist in peace. This path, as the authors so astutely show, is something that should be encouraged for people to gain a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the Torah; in order to comprehend it to its full capacity.

To that, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein was fond of quoting poet Matthew Arnold, to endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world. Those portrayed here have done that; and it’s most definitely worth a read to understand how and why.

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