Title: Is the Good Book Bad?
By Rabbi Michoel Stern
Mosaica Press, 288 pages
As Jews, we take great pride in asking complex questions and delving into layers upon layers of interpretation to answer those questions. Questions of faith may seem daunting, but knowing how to answer (or not answer) them is often the hallmark of a mature and thoughtful Jew.
That being said, one can turn to many different paths and teachers to address doubt, and the Orthodox world (particularly the yeshiva world) has lately begun to recognize the need for its own formulation. Rabbi Michoel Stern, in his new release Is the Good Book Bad? seeks to pull together answers both ancient and contemporary to such challenging topics as slavery, violence, gender inequality and capital punishment.
I found the presentation of texts in question and the arguments surrounding them to be compelling and easy to follow, even when I found myself disagreeing with the overall idea. I particularly appreciate that Rabbi Stern not only presents his opinions and those of Torah sources, but even cites support and counterarguments from secular scholars of philosophy. This reveals his seriousness in engaging in such sensitive conversations and allows us all to think critically about our Judaism and resist the urge for apologetics.
Is the Good Book Bad? is a great primer for anyone looking to explore some of the deeper moral quandaries of Judaism, and a sizable portion of the book even provides a general methodology for approaching morality from an Orthodox perspective. Volumes have been and continue to be written on Torah morality, but as the challenges and questions evolve, our answers must evolve ahead of them.
Rabbi Stern’s work is a great example of striving for such a goal in a simplified, readable form. Instead of long doctoral theses, we’re often presented with a few paragraphs of straightforward perspective for each source in question. If you’re a frum person seeking traditional answers to modern questions, this is a resource you’ll want to have on your shelf, both on days when your emunah is clear and on days when the storm clouds begin to gather. We will always have questions, but we can still be proactive enough to give ourselves an anchor, whatever it may look like for each individual. I hope others will follow suit and continue to work on these critical issues.