Tag Archives: Bible

The Imahot in rabbinic Judaism

“Who knows four? The Imahot in rabbinic Judaism.”
by Alvin Kaunfer “Judaism” Vol.44 (Winter ’95) p. 94-103

Ruth Rudin Imahot Matriarchs

Ruth Rudin, The Four Jewish Matriarchs

Many contemporary siddurim now include the imahot (Biblical matriarchs) in the first blessing of the Amidah, which has traditionally mentioned only the avit (Biblical patriarchs.) This article explores the little known extent and importance of the imahot in rabbinic literature. The author argues that adding the matriarchs into the liturgy is not a radical idea but is consistent with a long tradition that recognized and valued the concept of the imahot.

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Recently there has been much interest in the Imahot (the Matriarchs) and their use in the liturgy. A number of contemporary editions of the siddur have included the imahot, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, in the first blessing of the amidah, as well as in such prayers as the misheberakh which have traditionally mentioned only the avot–the Patriarchs. (1)

Justifications for such additions have been based on sensitivity to gender inclusiveness, as well as on historical precedents of liturgical flexibility, and on halakhic interpretations of the structure and requirements of the berakhah formula. (2)

However, there has been less attention given to an exploration of the concept of the imahot in traditional Jewish sources. Although there have been some attempts to look at classical midrashic images of various female personalities, those studies have been largely focused on individual characters rather than on “the Matriarchs” as a concept and rubric. (3)

This article will explore more fully the concept of the imahot in rabbinic literature, looking at how this concept was understood in classical sources, and how its submotifs developed within the context of rabbinic Judaism. I will also trace the concept beyond the rabbinic period and see how the imahot as a motif was employed in postrabbinic literature. I will suggest that inserting the imahot in the liturgy is not a radical idea, but is consistent with a long tradition that recognized and valued the concept of the imahot.

THE IMAHOT IN BIBLICAL AND RABBINIC TEXTS

The rubric of “the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” occurs numerous times in both Torah and in the subsequent books of the Bible in connection with God’s revelation and covenantal pronouncements. The first time that the phrase occurs with all three of the Patriarchs is at the revelation at the burning bush. In that short narrative, which introduces Moses to God’s plan to rescue the Israelite people, God is described three times as the “God of the father(s) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”(4)

In Leviticus 26 it is the covenant with Jacob, with Isaac, and with Abraham that God will remember; however, neither the word imahot nor the set “Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah” ever appear in Tanakh. Imahot as a concept is absent in biblical literature. Both the Jewish Encyclopedia (1905) and the Encyclopedia Judaica (1972) have entries for “Patriarchs” but no corresponding entry for “Matriarchs.” The Matriarchs as a concept is treated only in passing in both articles, under the heading of the Patriarchs. Given the strong patriarchal emphasis of traditional Judaism, and given the hundreds of entries in rabbinic literature for the avot, and “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” this may not be surprising. (5) Yet, the motif of the imahot definitely exists both in classical Talmudic, and especially in midrashic sources which deal with the biblical narrative.

The number of occurrences of the term imahot and of the set Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah is not insignificant, appearing some 76 times as imahot, and 15 times naming the individual matriarchs. (6)

While a number of those occurrences are parallel versions of the same exegetical comments, the concept of “the imahot” was clearly a recognized motif in rabbinic literature. It would seem that at least to some rabbinic sages, the Matriarchs were deemed worthy of mention as founders of Judaism, along with their male counterparts. The motif of the imahot includes several major midrashic submotifs which, in turn, are transformed and transfigured in numerous permutations.

James Kugel has effectively demonstrated how midrashic motifs can travel through both time and biblical contexts as those motifs evolve. (7) Sometimes the motif is attached to one key exegesis which is then reapplied to other verses. Our concept enjoys a similar varied life as it is employed in a number of submotifs. These include the merit of the Matriarchs, the Matriarchs as prophets, the barren Matriarchs, the use of the Matriarchs as metaphors, and the six Matriarchs. Each of these is worth some discussion.

THE MERIT OF THE MATRIARCHS

Zekhut Avot, the merit of the forefathers, is one of the basic ideas in rabbinic theology. Schechter explored the notion in his classic essay in Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology.(8) The forefathers’ faith serves as a reservoir of merit upon which the Jewish people may call to plead their case for mercy in God’s judgment of their individual and corporate deeds.

Schechter mentions, in passing, the parallel notion of zekhut imahot, the merit of the Matriarchs, but his exploration of the motif is minimal.(9) However, zekhut imahot is a valid rabbinic concept, appearing in several forms in numerous texts. The motif of zekhut imahot seems to focus on an exegesis of the word gevaot, “the hills,” in a number of biblical passages. The exegesis is clearly well known in rabbinic circles. Though it is difficult to ascertain which verse was the original locus for the exegesis, we might surmise, by its simple repetition throughout the literature, that it was connected with Numbers 23:9: “For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him” – “the top of the rocks” refers to the merit of the fathers, “from the hills” refers to the merit of the mothers. (10)

A similar exegesis connects the idea with the verse, “The voice of my beloved, behold he comes, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song 2:8). “Leaping upon the mountains” means the merit of the Patriarchs, and “skipping upon the hills” means the merit of the Matriarchs.” (11)

The choice of “hills” as a metaphor for the Matriarchs would seem to be an apt one, reflecting the contours of the female body. That association, of the merit of the matriarchs with gevaot, “the hills,” leads to a fascinating use of the concept, applied to the story of the battle with Amalek. A Tannaitic Midrash cited in the Mekhilta states: ‘Tomorrow I will stand upon the top of the hill” (givah) (Ex. 16:19).

R. Eleazar of Modim says, (Moses said) Let us declare tomorrow a fast day and be ready, relying on the deeds of the ancestors. For ‘the top’ (rosh) refers to the deeds of the fathers; ‘the hill’ (ha-givah), refers to the deeds of the mothers…. ‘And Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the Top of the Hill.’ (v. 10) This bears upon what we have already said above–to make mention of the deeds of the fathers and of the deeds of the mothers, as it is said: ‘For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him.’ (Num. 23:9). (12)

Moses, in this midrash, is calling upon the zekhut imahot as well as the zekhut avot in a prayerful supplication to God for aid in the imminent danger of the attack by Amalek. The liturgical context is intriguing especially given the more current uses of the imahot in the siddur. One wonders whether this midrash reflects actual rabbinic prayers for fast days which included both the avot and imahot, but which are now lost.

In any case, it is clear that rabbinic tradition included calling upon the merit of the Matriarchs to rescue the Jewish people in times of distress. What happens, however, when the reserve of merit runs out and the “credit” upon which the Jewish people have drawn begins to wane and falter? Leviticus Rabbah states: If you see that the merit of the Patriarchs is failing and the merit of the Matriarchs slipping away, go and occupy yourself with deeds of loving kindness. (“depend on God’s grace”–in a parallel version) (F3) Here the understanding seems to be that there are parallel and equivalent reserves of merit of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs.

Although it must be said that the merit of the Patriarchs is the dominant concept in rabbinic literature, texts such as these indicate that an idea of zekhut imahot not only existed, but held a prominent and parallel status at least in some rabbinic circles. Not only was the merit of the Matriarchs a source for help in times of distress, but it was extended to more positive contexts. The Exodus from Egypt was viewed as a reward for the dedication of the Matriarchs. The Holy One … at length set them free from Egypt, but did so only as a reward for the conduct of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah; as a reward for Sarah’s taking Hagar and bringing her to Abraham’s couch; as a reward for Rebekah who, when asked, “Will you go with this man?” said, “I will go.” (Gen. 24:58) … as a reward for Rachel because she took Bilhah and brought her to Jacob’s couch; and as a reward for Leah because she took Zilpah and brought her to Jacob’s couch. (14)

This midrashic tradition, which is probably a later development, considers the earlier notion of zekhut imahot not only as a reserve of merit to be tapped in prayerful supplication, but also as the key factor in the saving of the Jewish people at the Exodus. This midrash reflects the broader midrashic motif that the righteousness of the Israelite women contributed to their liberation from bondage.( 15) The power of the concept is thus expanded to include historic significance: the imahot become the major factor in the redemption of the Jewish People. In another positive context, the notion of zekhut imahot is extended to the covenant between God and the Patriarchs.

On the verse in Leviticus 26:42, “I have remembered (et) my covenant with Jacob, and also (et) my covenant with Isaac, and also (et) my covenant with Abraham will I remember,” the Tannaitic midrash, Sifra, comments that “et” refers to God’s covenant with the Matriarchs. God not only made his covenant with the Patriarchs; he made it with their wives, the Matriarchs, as well. (16)

THE MATRIARCHS AS PROPHETS

A second major rabbinic leitmotif concerning the Matriarchs is that they were prophets, along with the Patriarchs. (17) The archetype was Rebekah. After Jacob steals the blessing from Esau and Esau plots to kill his brother, the text in Genesis 27:42 comments that “the words of Esau were told (vayugad) to Rebekah.” Genesis Rabbah states in the name of R. Haggai quoting R. Isaac: “The Matriarchs were prophetesses, and Rebekah was among the Matriarchs.” (18)

It seems that the Rabbis based this tradition on the passive voice vayugad–Rebekah “was told,” and “by whom was she told? by none other than ruah hakodesh–The Holy Spirit.”(19) However, the Rabbis had ample textual support in the Torah itself for the fact that God revealed future events to Rebekah. God directly communicated with her in the oracular message: “Two nations are in your womb, and two separate peoples will issue from your body (Gen. 23:23).” On that verse there was a strong midrashic tradition that “an angel” or “the Word” spoke to Rebekah. (20)

That both the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs were considered prophets is also expressed in the exegesis of the verse from Psalms 105:15: “Touch not My anointed ones, and do not harm My prophets.” “My anointed ones” are interpreted to refer to the Patriarchs, while “My prophets” refer to the Matriarchs. This verse is used in conjunction with “It was told to Rebekah,” in the various transmissions of this tradition that both the Matriarchs and the Patriarchs had the status of prophets.(FN21)

THE BARREN MATRIARCHS

One midrashic theme which recurs in a number of sources is the theme of “the barren Matriarchs” which may strike a discordant note to the modern reader. In Genesis Rabbah we read:

Why were the Matriarchs barren? R. Levi said in R. Shila’s
name and R. Helbo in R. Johanan’s name: Because The
Holy One, blessed be He, desires their prayers and their
supplications, as it is written, ‘O my dove, you are like the
clefts of the rock’ (Song 2:14). Why did I make you barren?
So that ‘I might see your countenance, that I might hear your
voice.'(FN22) It would seem that their lengthy state of
childlessness led the Patriarchs to pray to God more
frequently, and God longs to hear the prayers of the
Patriarchs. However, the idea that the Matriarchs’
barrenness provides opportunities only for their husbands to
approach God is not completely uniform in all of the
sources. In Song of Songs Rabbah(FN23) we find a similar
exegesis with a different ending: “Why did God keep the
Matriarchs barren so long? Because God wished to hear
their prayer.” In any case, as uncomfortable as this Midrash
may be to the modern reader, it was clearly meant to project
a positive quality in the Matriarchs, given the context of the
ancient rabbinic writers. The Matriarchs were responsible
for the desired prayers being offered to God.

OTHER METAPHORIC APPLICATIONS

The Matriarchs became symbols not only of merit, of prophecy, and of prayer; they also became metaphors of other concepts associated with the number four and with particularly female qualities.

In Pesikta De Rab Kahana, the “four species” taken on Sukkot are interpreted to symbolize aspects of the lives of the four Matriarchs: ‘The fruit of the tree hadar’ (Lev. 23:40). Hadar stands for our mother Sarah whom the Holy One gave a majestic bearing in her old age….

‘A branch of palm trees’ stands for our mother Rebekah: like the palm tree which bears both fruit and thorns, so Rebekah bore a righteous man and a wicked man. ‘And a tree whose boughs are leafy’ stands for our mother Leah: as the myrtle tree is rich in leaves, so Leah was rich in children.

‘And willows of the brook’ stand for our mother Rachel: as the willow in the lulav cluster wilts before the other three plants in the cluster do, so Rachel died before her sister did.(FN24) The fruitfulness of the four species may be an apt referent especially for females, indicating fertility. Similarly, in the exegesis of Abraham’s future blessing, the three times “great” mentioned is understood to refer to the three future Patriarchs, while the four occurrences of “blessing,” refer to the four future Matriarchs.(FN25) The implication is that we are to associate the Mothers metaphorically with the notion of “blessing,” which may be more relational and thus a more particularly female metaphor than “greatness.” In an exegesis of a verse in the Song of Deborah, “Above women in the tent shall [Yael] be blessed,” “women in the tent” is understood as referring to Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah.(FN26) These four women were the symbols of the “home,” as in the famous midrash in which Rebekah is envisioned as continuing Sarah’s quality of hospitality, as Rebekah enters to occupy Sarah’s “tent.”(FN27)

THE SIX MATRIARCHS

There is some disagreement as to how many Matriarchs there were. The assumption is that the Matriarchs includes only the four wives Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah. Yet, in some sources we find that Jacob’s concubines, Zilpah and Bilhah, are included as Matriarchs, making six: “And they brought their offering before the Lord, six covered wagons” (Num. 7:3) Six corresponding to the six Matriarchs–Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah.(FN28) Other sources connect the number six with the six days of creation.(FN29)

It would seem that some rabbinic traditions recognize that Bilhah and Zilpah were also mothers of the Tribes of Israel and thus deserve the status of “Matriarchs.” In most instances, however, the number is limited to four; indeed, the Tractate Semahot declares that one may not call any “fathers,” “our father” except for the three Patriarchs; and not any “mothers,” our “mother” except for the four Matriarchs.(FN30) Similarly, the unit Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah appears several times, as in the text cited about their merit contributing to the Exodus from Egypt, and in the metaphoric applications mentioned above.

IN LATER LITERATURE

The Matriarchs are mentioned in a variety of liturgical works in medieval and early modern times. The most well known of these is the fifteenth century poem sung at the Seder, “Who Knows One?” in which the answer to “Who knows four?” is the four Matriarchs; yet, there are other medieval poems which mention the Matriarchs. In a less well known piyut for the eve of Rosh Hashanah attributed to Gershom ben Judah of the tenth century, the righteous deeds of our forefathers are invoked. But then the poet asks that God recall, “berit avot v’imahot v’ha-shevatim,” the covenant with the Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and tribes.(FN31) In another medieval piyut, recited in the Italian rite on Shabbat Ha-gadol, after asking Isaac who was bound on the altar to stand by God’s right, the four Matriarchs are asked to stand on God’s left to intercede for Israel.(FN32)

Perhaps one of the most intriguing later liturgical developments of the imahot theme comes in the Yiddish Tehinah literature. These prayers and devotions for Jewish women, so popular among Ashkenazic Jewry, employed ample use of the imahot in expressing the deepest hopes and prayers of the women who recited them. In a “Tehinah of Sore, Rivke, Rokhl, and Leye,” we hear heartfelt supplication: Answer us this month, through the merit of our Mother Sore, for whose sake You commanded and said: ‘Do not dare touch my anointed ones.’ … And may the merit of our mother Rivke, who caused our father Yankev to receive the blessings from his father Yitskhok, cause the blessings to be fulfilled soon through her children Yisroel. And may the merit of our faithful mother Rokhl, to whom You promised that through her merit her children Yisroel would be delivered from exile, cause the promises to be fulfilled…. And for the merit of our mother Leye … that through her merit You may illumine our eyes so that we may overcome darkness. (FN33)

Turning to the merit of the Matriarchs for help becomes very personalized in these prayers. For example, a woman whose own mother is named Leye prays: Because of the merits of our Matriarchs, Sore, Rivke, Rokhl, and Leye, and the merit of my dear mother Leye, who also pleads before God – praised be He – on my behalf, may my wanderings serve as an expiation for my sins. (FN34) The Matriarchs, in these Tehinahs, become tangibly accessible to the woman praying. The sense of complete identification with and closeness to the Matriarchs is striking in this form of very personalized prayer. Here it is clear that the merit of the Matriarchs becomes more than an obscure rabbinic concept. The imahot concept is transformed into a central Tehinah motif.

CONCLUSIONS

This brief survey of the concept of the imahot indicates that it is not an invention of the past decade to infuse prayers with more egalitarian language. On the contrary, the imahot is a concept central to the classical sources of rabbinic and postrabbinic literature. Granted, it existed in connection with the concept of the avot–the Patriarchs–but it was not merely a subset of that idea. In many sources as we have seen the concept of the imahot was a parallel and independent concept. The imahot had their own merit and their own source of divine prophecy, analogous to, but separate from that of the avot. Their merit was credited with bringing the exodus and they, too, were recipients of God’s covenant.

In addition, the metaphoric symbolism of the imahot was characteristically female: they were the guardians of the “tent” and home; they were the “blessing” promised to Abraham, and they were the “fruitfulness” represented by the four species. The sages who created and transmitted these traditions recognized the significant role that the mothers of Judaism played in preserving both faith and family. In their eyes, the Matriarchs were neither silent nor invisible. Rather, they were partners in the development of Judaism and thus worthy of recognition. This recognition of the Matriarchs is even more noteworthy given the patriarchal society in which the authors of these texts lived.

Moreover, it is significant that many of the sources refer to the imahot in prayerful and liturgical settings. From the early midrashic prayer of Moses, through the medieval piyutim and into the premodern Tehinahs, the merit of Matriarchs was invoked to come to the aid of the Jew in distress. It therefore seems quite in concert with this tradition to include the imahot in the opening berakhah of the Amidah.

After all, in the first berakhah of the amidah, we turn to God who “remembers the loving kindness of the avot.” As Moses “made mention of the deeds of the avot and the imahot,” as the paytanim asked God to “recall the covenant of the avot and imahot” and asked the imahot to stand at God’s right hand, and as the Tehinahs pleaded for God to answer “through the merit of Sore, Rivke, Rokhl, and Leye”; we, too, might direct our prayers to, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, who remembers the loving kindness of the avot and imahot.” Such an addition would not be so much an innovation as it would be a restoration of the concept to its use in former times.

ALVAN KAUNFER is the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, Providence, Rhode Island. He has written about midrash and the teaching of midrash.

To the memory of Rabbi William G. Braude, teacher, colleague, and friend

FOOTNOTES

1. See, for example, Kol Haneshamah (Reconstructionist), and the notes there on the Amidah; and On the Wings of Awe Mahzor (Hillel). The new Siddur Sim Shalom (Conservative) will contain the imahot in an alternative Amidah. Note that the Orthodox siddur, Rinat Yisrael (Sephardic), includes the imahot in the mi sheberakh for the sick. Also see Harry P. Solomon, “Including the Matriarchs: A proposal for Birkat ha-Mazon,” Reconstructionist, March, 1988, pp. 12-14.

2. Joel E. Rembaum, “Regarding the Inclusion of the Names of the Matriarchs in the First Blessing of the Amidah,” unpublished paper adopted by the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly, March 21, 1990. 3. See, for example, Linda Kuzmack, “Aggadic Approaches to Biblical Women,” in The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives, Elizabeth Koltun, ed. (New York: Schocken, 1976). For a more serious midrashic character study of a biblical woman which could serve as a model for other character analyses, see, Devora Steinmetz, “A portrait of Miriam in Rabbinic Midrash,” Prooftexts 8 (1988), pp. 35-65. 4. Exodus 3:6, 15, 16.

5. The Davka CD-ROM locates over 900 entries for avot, and over 700 entries for the set “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

6. The Davka CD-ROM counts 76, excluding the general use of imahot as “mothers” in halakhic contexts. It is interesting to note that the four Matriarchs are named far fewer times, mostly in later midrashic collections.

7. James Kugel, In Potiphar’s House (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1990).

8. Solomon Schechter, “The Zachuth of the Fathers,” in Rabbinic Theology (New York: Schocken, 1909, 1961); see also, Ephraim Urbach, The Sages (Cambridge MA: Harvard Press, 1987), pp. 496-508.

9. Schechter, p. 172.

10. Bemidbar Rabbah 20, 19 and parallels listed in Vayikra Rabbah 36,6, Margulies, p. 852, note to line 6.

11. B. Rosh Hashanah 11a.

12. Mekhilta, Amalek 1, Lauterbach II, pp. 142-143; Horovitz-Rabin, p. 179. I have followed Lauterbach’s translation with minor changes. See Horovitz’s note to line 6 for parallels.

13. Vayikra Rabbah 36,6. See Margulies, p. 852. Note that this midrash quotes Isa. 54:10, again linking the Matriarchs with the word “gevaot.”

14. Tanna Debe Eliyahu, Friedmann, p.138; Braude, p. 340.

15. Shemot Rabbah 1, 12. See notes in A. Shinan, p. 54.

16. Sifra, Weiss, 112c; see also, Vayikra Rabbah 36,5, Margulies, p. 850.

17. Seder Olam, p.92 (see next note), and Gen. 20:7 where Abraham is called “navi.”

18. Bereshit Rabbah 67,9 and 72,6. See Theodor’s note on p. 765. See, also, Ratner’s note 25 to Seder Olam, p. 92, in which he quotes a number of parallel sources as well as suggests that the Seder Olam text should read, “How do we know that the Patriarchs [and Matriarchs] were called prophets?”

19. Midrash Tehillim 105,4, Buber, p. 450; Braude, p. 182. See, especially, Buber’s note 14.

20. See Theodor, p. 188 and J. Sota Chap. 7, and Theodor’s note to line 4 on p. 765.

21. See notes 18 and 19.

22. Bereshit Rabbah 45,14, Theodor, p. 450 and note; also Ginzberg, Legends, V, p. 231, n. 116. See B. Hullin 60b where God longs for the prayers of the righteous in general.

23. Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2,14.

24. Pesikta De Rab Kahana, Mandelbaum, p. 415; Braude, p. 422; Vayikra Rabbah 30, 10; Margulies, p. 708.

25. Bereshit Rabbah 39,11.

26. B. Nazir 23b. See Tosafot for the connection of “tent” with each. See also Bereshit Rabbah 48,15.

27. Bereshit Rabbah 60,16

28. Bemidbar Rabbah 12,17; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 6,4,2 and parallels.

29. Esther Rabbah 1,11; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 6,15.

30. Semahot 1, 12, quoted in B. Berakhot 16b.

31. Abraham Rosenfeld, The Authorized Selichot for the Whole Year (New York: Judaica Press, 1984), p.168.

32. “Kakh Gazru,” Mahzor Kol HaShanah Kefi Minhag Italiani (Livorno, 1856), p.91. My thanks to the JTS library for helping to locate this source based on Ginzberg, Legends VI, p. 7, n. 39.

33. Tracy Guren Klirs, The Merit of Our Mothers (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1992), pp. 84-86, Transliteration of names follows that in the book. Note the use of Psalms 105:15 indicating that the author knew of the exegesis of the verse referring to the Matriarchs. For additional examples, see, Tehinah Rav Peninim (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1916), pp. 176-183, where the merit of both Patriarchs and Matriarchs are invoked.

34. Ibid., p.12.

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How is the Bible historically true

Which stories of the Bible are historically accurate; which are based on true stories yet not literally accurate; and which could be fictional? What does your religious community teach about this – and why do they teach this way?

archaeology

from Tel Aviv University International

There are three major schools of though

A. Biblical inerrancy

People in this group hold that all the stories in the Bible are historically accurate, including the lives of Adam and Eve. The hold that the Torah’s account of the Biblical patriarchs, e.g. Abraham and Sarah, and the Bible’s accounts of prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah, and persons such as King David, are accurate in detail, often down to the quotes.

B. Biblical minimalism

People in this group engage in a historical study of the land of ancient Israel, and it’s relation to stories in the Bible. They conclude that the Bible isn’t reliable evidence, in any way, for what had happened in ancient Israel. They often deny that the Israelite people even existed. Many deny that the kingdom of Israel even existed. They hold that the Bible’s stories are almost entirely later fictions, written to create a fictional past identity.

Minimalists write things like:

The Israelite nation as explained by the biblical writers has little in the way of a historical background. It is a highly ideological construct created by ancient scholars of Jewish tradition in order to legitimize their own religious community and its religio-political claims on land and religious exclusivity.
— Lemche 1998

People in the Jewish community, in particular, are concerned about biblical minimalism. Not because Judaism is theologically threatened by this – any academic can believe what they want if they are engaging in scholarship in good faith – but because in practice, biblical minimalism is often used by anti-Semites to attack the Jewish people, and the validity of the State of Israel.

Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review is one of the leading critics of the new school of biblical minimalism. In a letter first printed in Ha’aretz Magazine (Nov. 5, 1999) and later on the Biblical Archaeology Society website, Shanks writes that most Biblical minimalists are motivated not by history but rather by politics. Some of the leading Biblical minimalists are openly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Many people use Biblical minimalism to promote anti-Semitism, while other people use charges of anti-Semitism in an attempt to discredit Biblical minimalists.

The scholastic position of Biblical minimalism itself is not anti-Semitic. Many Jews themselves hold this view. Some criticism of this school of thought comes about because some rabbis and scholars are concerned about the way that this position is being used to justify pseudo-historical and anti-Semitic beliefs. Other criticism comes about because the position brings cherished beliefs into question. http://www.fact-index.com/t/th/the_bible_and_history.html

C. Biblical maximalism

Biblical maximalism is a historical study of the land of ancient Israel, and it’s relation to stories in the Bible. People in this group hold that the Bible does contain genuine information about the Israelites and Israel. There is no denial of the existence of the Israelite/Hebrew people , or of King David and the kingdom of Israel. They do not claim that the Bible is inerrant, but they do hold that it’s as real as can be expected from a document written in that historical era, and they hold that archaeology shows that this is so.

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Raiders of the Lost Relics

What makes Judaism Jewish?

What makes Judaism, well, Jewish?

Judaism is based on the Hebrew Bible read through the lens of our oral law.

Koren Mishnah closeup of page

While originally transmitted orally, the oral law was ultimately recorded in the Mishnah, the classical Midrash compilations, and later extrapolated on in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds.

Why do we need an oral law? The Torah wasn’t written in a vacuum; it existed within a culture, so cultural/historical context is necessary to understand it.  Reading a book through the lens of a culture’s context, their oral law, in broad strokes is agreed upon as necessary even by secular historians. All the more so, then, for Jewish people who want to live by Torah.

Separate question: How much of the oral law came from the time of the Torah itself is debatable, but whenever the Torah was redacted into its current form, it absolutely had a context.

Joseph Telushkin writes:

Without an oral tradition, many of the Torah’s laws would be incomprehensible. In Deuteronomy, the Bible instructs: “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes” (Deut 6:4).
…Bind what? The Torah doesn’t say. “And they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.” What are frontlets? The Hebrew word for frontlets, totafot is used three times in the Torah – always in this context (Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18) and is as obscure as is the English. Only in the Oral Law do we learn that what a Jewish male should bind – tefillin.

There are other benefits from realizing the existence of context: The oral law rescues us from biblical fundamentalism. Consider Deuteronomy 21:18–21 “If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son… and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town…Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death.”

Only fundamentalists imagine that one should do this. In contrast, rabbinical Judaism teaches that this text was never meant literally: It was a divine rhetorical device, explaining the seriousness of such a transgression. In practice, if there was a rebellious child, one would follow the oral law, written down in

* Mishnah, מִשְׁנָה
* Tosefta תוספתא
* classical Midrash מדרש compilations
* Talmud Yerushalmi (תַּלְמוּד יְרוּשָׁלְמִי, Jerusalem Talmud)
* Talmud Bavli ( תַּלְמוּד בבל Babylonian Talmud)

The Mishnah, Makkot 1:10 says that capital punishment should almost never happen. Jeremy Kalmanofsky translates:

סנהדרין ההורגת אחד בשבוע נקראת חובלנית. רבי אלעזר בן עזריה אומר אחד לשבעים שנה.
רבי טרפון ורבי עקיבא אומרים אילו היינו בסנהדרין לא נהרג אדם מעולם. רבן שמעון בן
גמליאל אומר אף הן מרבין שופכי דמים בישראל.
A Sanhedrin that executes once in seven years is called bloodthirsty. R. Elazar b.
Azariah said: even once in 70 years. R. Akiba and R. Tarfon said: had we been in
the Sanhedrin, none would ever have been put to death. Rabban Shimon ben
Gamaliel said: then these sages would have created more murderers in Israel.

Investigation must following certain rules of evidence, and if certain standards are not met then the death penalty may not be given.

Even if one witnessed an armed man chase another into an enclosed space, then later saw him, bloody sword in hand, standing above the corpse of the other man, dead of stab wounds, this would constitute inadmissible conjecture, not hard enough evidence for conviction [Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37b; Midrash Mekhilta d’Kaspa #20].

Excerpted from Participating in the American Death Penalty,  by Jeremy Kalmanofsky.

This isn’t a modern day reform – according to Judaism, these evidentiary laws were part of the Torah’s system by design. That’s why we can’t “just read the Torah.” People advocate this have never actually read the Bible, for if they did they would find hosts of laws that they personally would find unfulfillable or objectionable – and almost all of the prayers, songs, ceremonies and rituals that they do enjoy, would not even be found there.

 

Sources in Noah and the flood

IN PROGRESS!!!! Don’t use this yet 🙂

How to visualize the source in story of Noah and the flood, as elucidated by the documentary hypothesis.

The J source is black

The P source is blue

The following translation is from the NJPS (New Jewish Publication Society)

J source highlighted
When men began to increase on earth and daughters were born to them,
2 the divine beings saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them.—
3 The LORD said, “My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he too is flesh; let the days allowed him be one hundred and twenty years.”—
4 It was then, and later too, that the Nephilim appeared on earth—when the divine beings cohabited with the daughters of men, who bore them offspring. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown.
5 The LORD saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time.
6 And the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened.
7 The LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created—men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.”
8 But Noah found favor with the LORD.
9 This is the line of Noah.—Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.—
10 Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
11 The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness.
12 When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth,
13 God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.
14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch.
15 This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.
16 Make an opening for daylight in the ark, and terminate it within a cubit of the top. Put the entrance to the ark in its side; make it with bottom, second, and third decks.
17 “For My part, I am about to bring the Flood—waters upon the earth—to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is breath of life; everything on earth shall perish.
18 But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives.
19 And of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female.
20 From birds of every kind, cattle of every kind, every kind of creeping thing on earth, two of each shall come to you to stay alive.
21 For your part, take of everything that is eaten and store it away, to serve as food for you and for them.”
22 Noah did so; just as God commanded him, so he did.
7
1 Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, with all your household, for you alone have I found righteous before Me in this generation.
2 Of every clean animal you shall take seven pairs, males and their mates, and of every animal that is not clean, two, a male and its mate;
3 of the birds of the sky also, seven pairs, male and female, to keep seed alive upon all the earth.
4 For in seven days’ time I will make it rain upon the earth, forty days and forty nights, and I will blot out from the earth all existence that I created.”
5 And Noah did just as the LORD commanded him.
6 Noah was six hundred years old when the Flood came, waters upon the earth.
7 Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the Flood.
8 Of the clean animals, of the animals that are not clean, of the birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground,
9 two of each, male and female, came to Noah into the ark, as God had commanded Noah.
10 And on the seventh day the waters of the Flood came upon the earth.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day All the fountains of the great deep burst apart, And the floodgates of the sky broke open. (
12 The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.)
13 That same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, went into the ark, with Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons—
14 they and all beasts of every kind, all cattle of every kind, all creatures of every kind that creep on the earth, and all birds of every kind, every bird, every winged thing.
15 They came to Noah into the ark, two each of all flesh in which there was breath of life.
16 Thus they that entered comprised male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in.
17 The Flood continued forty days on the earth, and the waters increased and raised the ark so that it rose above the earth.
18 The waters swelled and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark drifted upon the waters.
19 When the waters had swelled much more upon the earth, all the highest mountains everywhere under the sky were covered.
20 Fifteen cubits higher did the waters swell, as the mountains were covered.
21 And all flesh that stirred on earth perished—birds, cattle, beasts, and all the things that swarmed upon the earth, and all mankind.
22 All in whose nostrils was the merest breath of life, all that was on dry land, died.
23 All existence on earth was blotted out—man, cattle, creeping things, and birds of the sky; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
24 And when the waters had swelled on the earth one hundred and fifty days,
8
1 God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and God caused a wind to blow across the earth, and the waters subsided.
2 The fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were stopped up, and the rain from the sky was held back;
3 the waters then receded steadily from the earth. At the end of one hundred and fifty days the waters diminished,
4 so that in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.
5 The waters went on diminishing until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.
6 At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made
7 and sent out the raven; it went to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth.
8 Then he sent out the dove to see whether the waters had decreased from the surface of the ground.
9 But the dove could not find a resting place for its foot, and returned to him to the ark, for there was water over all the earth. So putting out his hand, he took it into the ark with him.
10 He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove from the ark.
11 The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth.
12 He waited still another seven days and sent the dove forth; and it did not return to him any more.
13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the waters began to dry from the earth; and when Noah removed the covering of the ark, he saw that the surface of the ground was drying.
14 And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.
15 God spoke to Noah, saying,
16 “Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives.
17 Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds, animals, and everything that creeps on earth; and let them swarm on the earth and be fertile and increase on earth.”
18 So Noah came out, together with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives.
19 Every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that stirs on earth came out of the ark by families.
20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking of every clean animal and of every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar.
21 The LORD smelled the pleasing odor, and the LORD said to Himself: “Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done.
22 So long as the earth endures, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Summer and winter, Day and night Shall not cease.”
9
1 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth.
2 The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky—everything with which the earth is astir—and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand.
3 Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.
4 You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it.
5 But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man!
6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image Did God make man.
7 Be fertile, then, and increase; abound on the earth and increase on it.”
8 And God said to Noah and to his sons with him,
9 “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come,
10 and with every living thing that is with you—birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well—all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth.
11 I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 God further said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come.
13 I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.
14 When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds,
15 I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth.
17 That,” God said to Noah, “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.”
18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth—Ham being the father of Canaan.
19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole world branched out.
20 Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.
21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.
22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.
23 But Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned the other way, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.
24 When Noah woke up from his wine and learned what his youngest son had done to him,
25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; The lowest of slaves Shall he be to his brothers.”
26 And he said, “Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; Let Canaan be a slave to them.
27 May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be a slave to them.”
28 Noah lived after the Flood 350 years.
29 And all the days of Noah came to 950 years; then he died.
P source highlighted
When men began to increase on earth and daughters were born to them,
2 the divine beings saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them.—
3 The LORD said, “My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he too is flesh; let the days allowed him be one hundred and twenty years.”—
4 It was then, and later too, that the Nephilim appeared on earth—when the divine beings cohabited with the daughters of men, who bore them offspring. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown.
5 The LORD saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time.
6 And the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened.
7 The LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created—men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.”
8 But Noah found favor with the LORD.
9 This is the line of Noah.—Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.—
10 Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
11 The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness.
12 When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth,
13 God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.
14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch.
15 This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.
16 Make an opening for daylight in the ark, and terminate it within a cubit of the top. Put the entrance to the ark in its side; make it with bottom, second, and third decks.
17 “For My part, I am about to bring the Flood—waters upon the earth—to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is breath of life; everything on earth shall perish.
18 But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives.
19 And of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female.
20 From birds of every kind, cattle of every kind, every kind of creeping thing on earth, two of each shall come to you to stay alive.
21 For your part, take of everything that is eaten and store it away, to serve as food for you and for them.”
22 Noah did so; just as God commanded him, so he did.
7
1 Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, with all your household, for you alone have I found righteous before Me in this generation.
2 Of every clean animal you shall take seven pairs, males and their mates, and of every animal that is not clean, two, a male and its mate;
3 of the birds of the sky also, seven pairs, male and female, to keep seed alive upon all the earth.
4 For in seven days’ time I will make it rain upon the earth, forty days and forty nights, and I will blot out from the earth all existence that I created.”
5 And Noah did just as the LORD commanded him.
6 Noah was six hundred years old when the Flood came, waters upon the earth.
7 Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the Flood.
8 Of the clean animals, of the animals that are not clean, of the birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground,
9 two of each, male and female, came to Noah into the ark, as God had commanded Noah.
10 And on the seventh day the waters of the Flood came upon the earth.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day All the fountains of the great deep burst apart, And the floodgates of the sky broke open. (
12 The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.)
13 That same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, went into the ark, with Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons—
14 they and all beasts of every kind, all cattle of every kind, all creatures of every kind that creep on the earth, and all birds of every kind, every bird, every winged thing.
15 They came to Noah into the ark, two each of all flesh in which there was breath of life.
16 Thus they that entered comprised male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in.
17 The Flood continued forty days on the earth, and the waters increased and raised the ark so that it rose above the earth.
18 The waters swelled and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark drifted upon the waters.
19 When the waters had swelled much more upon the earth, all the highest mountains everywhere under the sky were covered.
20 Fifteen cubits higher did the waters swell, as the mountains were covered.
21 And all flesh that stirred on earth perished—birds, cattle, beasts, and all the things that swarmed upon the earth, and all mankind.
22 All in whose nostrils was the merest breath of life, all that was on dry land, died.
23 All existence on earth was blotted out—man, cattle, creeping things, and birds of the sky; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
24 And when the waters had swelled on the earth one hundred and fifty days,
8
1 God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and God caused a wind to blow across the earth, and the waters subsided.
2 The fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were stopped up, and the rain from the sky was held back;
3 the waters then receded steadily from the earth. At the end of one hundred and fifty days the waters diminished,
4 so that in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.
5 The waters went on diminishing until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.
6 At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made
7 and sent out the raven; it went to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth.
8 Then he sent out the dove to see whether the waters had decreased from the surface of the ground.
9 But the dove could not find a resting place for its foot, and returned to him to the ark, for there was water over all the earth. So putting out his hand, he took it into the ark with him.
10 He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove from the ark.
11 The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth.
12 He waited still another seven days and sent the dove forth; and it did not return to him any more.
13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the waters began to dry from the earth; and when Noah removed the covering of the ark, he saw that the surface of the ground was drying.
14 And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.
15 God spoke to Noah, saying,
16 “Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives.
17 Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds, animals, and everything that creeps on earth; and let them swarm on the earth and be fertile and increase on earth.”
18 So Noah came out, together with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives.
19 Every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that stirs on earth came out of the ark by families.
20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking of every clean animal and of every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar.
21 The LORD smelled the pleasing odor, and the LORD said to Himself: “Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done.
22 So long as the earth endures, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Summer and winter, Day and night Shall not cease.”
9
1 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth.
2 The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky—everything with which the earth is astir—and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand.
3 Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.
4 You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it.
5 But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man!
6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image Did God make man.
7 Be fertile, then, and increase; abound on the earth and increase on it.”
8 And God said to Noah and to his sons with him,
9 “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come,
10 and with every living thing that is with you—birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well—all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth.
11 I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 God further said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come.
13 I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.
14 When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds,
15 I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth.
17 That,” God said to Noah, “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.”
18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth—Ham being the father of Canaan.
19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole world branched out.
20 Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.
21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.
22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.
23 But Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned the other way, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.
24 When Noah woke up from his wine and learned what his youngest son had done to him,
25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; The lowest of slaves Shall he be to his brothers.”
26 And he said, “Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; Let Canaan be a slave to them.
27 May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be a slave to them.”
28 Noah lived after the Flood 350 years.
29 And all the days of Noah came to 950 years; then he died.

What books should we have?

What books should every Jewish housebound have?

1. The basics

“Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition and Practice”, Wayne Dosick. Written by an originally Reform rabbi who then joined the Conservative movement, and who appreciates Orthodox traditions, this is a unique introduction to Jewish belief and practice.

“To Be A Jew: A Guide To Jewish Observance In Contemporary Life”, Hayim H. Donin.
“First published in 1972, the book still stands as a reliable, practical and versatile resource …begins with an overview of Judaism’s basic credo (Israel’s people, land, God, and Torah), ….the laws governing Jews’ daily lives, the Jewish calendar, and Special Occasions of Life” from birth to death and mourning… Donin not only describes what right belief and righteous action look like but provides a rationale for these observances that engages and embraces the basic conditions of modern life.” – Michael Joseph Gross

“The First Jewish Catalog”, “The Second Jewish Catalog” by Michael and Sharon Strassfeld, and Richard Segal. Gives a good overview of Judaism from a do-it-yourself, chavurah perspective. Much of it certainly reflects the culture of early 1970s, but overall it holds up extremely well.

2. The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)

“Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible” Joseph Telushkin. Arranged by people, events, laws and ideas, this reference makes available in one volume all the Bible’s stories.

“The Jewish Study Bible” Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, Michael Fishbane, Oxford Univ. Press, 2300 pages. Uses the New JPS translation, with a commentary on every chapter. Reflects contemporary biblical scholarship and the richness of Jewish tradition.

“The Prophets”, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Studies the lives of the Prophets, the historical context their missions were set in, their work, and their psychological state. It gives a detailed treatment of the entire phenomenon of prophecy, and what it means.

“Who Wrote The Bible?” Richard Elliot Friedman. The best book on what modern critical biblical scholarship has learned about the origin of the Torah and the Bible; discusses the documentary hypothesis, and related topics.

“The Soncino Books of the Bible” Presents the complete Hebrew text and English translation, 14 volumes. Used volumes are quite affordable from Amazon. Yes, it’s core Bible translation is dated, but that’s not what we read it for. Rather, its value lies in its English translations of the Meforshim – medieval rabbinic commentators, e.g. Abraham ibn Ezra, Rashi, Ramban, Radak, Sforno and Gersonides. Also draws from the Midrash and Talmud, discussing both the peshat and the derash. Best read alongside a modern Bible translation.

For more advanced reading:

The JPS Tanakh Commentary Series, the Jewish Publication Society. Makes use of literary analysis and comparative Semitics; intertextual commentary relating each book to other biblical books, and evidence from modern archaeological discoveries. Based on the the highest standards of critical historical scholarship. Written from a Jewish religious, yet non-fundamentalist, point of view.

The Anchor Bible Commentary series, Doubleday. These detailed commentaries attempt to arrive at the meaning of the Bible through exact translation and extended exposition, to reconstruct the ancient setting of the biblical story. and to delineate the historical fashion in which the final text was redacted. It is an international, interfaith project, with both Jewish, Catholic and Protestant scholars, working on all books of the Bible.

3. Chumash/Pentateuch/Torah

A Chumash is a Torah printed in book form, arranged for weekly liturgical readings in synagogues. Each weekly Torah portion is followed by a thematically related reading from another book in the Bible, called a haftarah. So a Chumash has: Torah broken into weekly readings, Haftarah readings, and commentary/explanation.

“Etz Hayim: A Torah Commentary”, Ed. David Lieber. The JPS Torah commentary series is the basis of this amazing commentary. It is used in the Conservative and Havurah movement. There are two commentaries for each section of the torah, Peshat and Derash: The Peshat commentary focuses on the plain meaning of the text – what is the story about? What meaning did the original author intend to convey to the original audience? What do these words, terms and places mean? The Derash commentary explains how the text has been understood by Judaism’s oral law: How has this passage been understood by the sages in the Mishnah, Midrash and Talmud? What theological, legal or ethical principles can we derive from the text? Features of this Chumash include:
* traditional and modern rabbinic commentators
* teachings from the Mishnah, Midrash and Talmud
* insights from literary analysis and comparative Semitics
* intertextual commentary relating each book to other biblical books
* evidence from modern archaeological discoveries.

“The Pentateuch and Haftorahs”, aka The Hertz Pentateuch. J. D. Hertz. For most of the 20th century this was the standard in most English speaking synagogues. Explains the spiritual teachings of the Torah from a wide range of classical and scholarly literature. Some sections focus on Peshat, others on Derash. Little distinction is made between the two. (This book’s apologetics against higher biblical criticism are outdated; that alone mar this otherwise classic work.)

“The Chumash: The Stone Edition” aka The ArtScroll Chumash. Ed. Nosson Scherman, Mesorah Publications. Presents the Hebrew text and English translation of the Torah and the Haftorahs, along with Hebrew-only commentaries of Onkelos and Rashi. Has an extensive English commentary explaining the text based on what the editors deemed to be the “correct” classical rabbinic sources. The theology is right-wing Orthodox. Does not include scholarship outside Haredi sources. The editors don’t fully acknowledge the traditional distinction between Peshat and Derash. Any midrash may be treated as a historical fact, and much later interpretations of Jewish law are mistakenly presented as if they came from the Bible itself. Nonetheless, this is a good source of some otherwise hard to find rabbinic commentary. Used in most Orthodox synagogues in the USA and Canada.

“Torah: A Modern Commentary” Ed. W. Gunther Plaut, UAHC Press. The official Chumash of Reform Judaism. Complete with the Hebrew text; English translations; commentaries and essays; and gleanings from talmudic sources and the writings of scholars, ancient and modern; evidence from modern archaeological discoveries. Has a theologically liberal view of God, Torah and revelation. The commentary generally focuses on the Peshat, the plain meaning of the text – what is the story about? What meaning did the original author intend to convey to the original audience? What do these words, terms and places mean?

“The Soncino Chumash” by Dr. A Cohen and A. J. Rosenberg. Soncino Press. This is not organized for synagogue use, and does not include haftarahs. It presents the Hebrew text and a somewhat aged English translation. The Torah translation itself isn’t great – but we treasure it for its valuable English commentaries from the classic Bible commentators: Abraham ibn Ezra, Rashi, Ramban, Radak, Sforno and Ralbag (Gersonides.) This is the perfect volume for someone who wants to be introduced to classical Jewish exegesis of the Torah.

More advanced readings:

“The JPS Torah Commentary Series” (Five volume set). Each volume covers one book of the Torah. Each contains the Hebrew text, the New JPS Eglish translation, extensive commentary, and additional essays and notes on significant subjects. Makes use of traditional rabbinic commentaries, and the Mishnah, Midrash and Talmud. It also makes use of literary analysis and comparative Semitics; intertextual commentary relating each book to other biblical books, and evidence from modern archaeological discoveries.

4. Siddur – The Jewish prayerbook.

“Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals” 1998
“Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays” 2002
Conservative Judaism. Follows the traditional Ashkenazi text, especially the outline of Seder Avodat Yisroel (late 1800’s.) It differs from Orthodox work, as references to sacrifices in the Temple have been modified. While recalling the Temple service, it stresses that morality and repentance bring forgiveness, not sacrifices. It has gender-sensitive translations of the names of God, options to use the Imahot in the Amidah, and is Zionist and egalitarian. Has an easy to follow layout with some instructions, brief commentary, some transliteration.

The Koren Sacks Siddur, Ed. Jonathan Sacks, Koren Publishers, 2009. The first Modern Orthodox siddur to be published in 50 years. The text and commentary is traditional, Zionist and respectful of women. Beautiful lay-out and editing, with detailed notes and instructions and a summary of laws pertaining to prayer. Contains a detailed introduction and a significant amount of helpful commentary.

“Siddur Lev Shalem for Shabbat and Festivals” A new official siddur of Conservative Judaism. It features a four column format, new translations in gender-sensitive, contemporary language, kavanot, poetry and prose. Commentary is from the Midrash, Talmud, classic rabbinic commentators, and modern day scholars. Has choreography info: when to sit, stand, bow, etc. The page layout surrounds prayers with a variety of English commentaries and readings, as one finds in classical rabbinic commentaries. “includes traditions from the vast array of Jewish cultures, including North African, Italian, Sephardic, Middle Eastern, as well as Ashkenazi”

http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/resources-ideas/lev-shalem-series

“The Artscroll Siddur”, Ed. Nosson Scherman, 1984
The Expanded ArtScroll Siddur – Wasserman Edition, 2010
Both editions are from Mesorah Publications. This is perhaps the most popular series of siddurim out there. “The complete Hebrew text completely reset in crisp, modern type Scriptural sources Clear, concise instructions. New, highly readable English translation of the entire prayer services. A clear, inspirational commentary on every prayer, and an introductory overview providing perspective and insight ” Beautiful lay-out, with detailed notes and instructions. Commentary is from a Haredi (right-wing) Orthodox point of view. Ethics appear to be secondary to detailed recitations of animal sacrificial rituals. Non-Zionist. The text generally presumes that the readers are men. Available in multiple editions (Ashkenazim, Hasidic, Transliterated, for Russian speakers, etc.)

5. Guide to the Siddur.

“To Pray As A Jew” by Hayim HaLevy Donin. (384 pages). A classic which teaches the history and meaning behind the prayers; the orchestration of the daily, Sabbath, and festival prayers; the themes of special prayers, such as the Blessing After Meals and the Kaddish; and the essential experience of making prayer a vital part of one’s life.

“Entering Jewish Prayer” Reuven Hammer. Deals with the basic issues in prayer, the historical compilation of the Siddur; the orchestration of the daily, Sabbath, and festival prayers; the themes of special prayers, and the essential experience of making prayer a vital part of one’s life. Explains differences between the liturgy of each of the Jewish movements.

“My People’s Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries”, Jewish Lights Publishing. 10 volume set.
“Provides diverse and exciting commentaries to the traditional liturgy, written by some of today’s most respected scholars and teachers from all perspectives of the Jewish world. They explore the text from the perspectives of ancient Rabbis and modern theologians, as well as feminist, halakhic, medieval, linguistic, biblical, Chasidic, mystical, and historical perspectives…provides a new translation of the authentic Hebrew prayer book text with commentaries for the daily and Shabbat liturgy. Accented with beautifully designed Talmud-style pages.”

Volume 1: The Sh’ma and its Blessings
Volume 2: The Amidah (Shemonah Esrah)
Volume 3: The P’sukei D’zimrah
Volume 4: Seder K’riyat Hatorah (Shabbat Torah Service)
Volume 5: Birkhot Hashachar (Morning Blessings)
Volume 6: Tachanun and concluding prayers
Volume 7: Shabbat at home
Vol. 8: Kabbalat Shabbat
Vol. 9: Welcoming the Night—Minchah and Ma’ariv
Vol. 10: Shabbat Morning: Shacharit and Musaf

Advanced:

“Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History”, HC, Ismar Elbogen. 500 pages, JPS. The most thorough academic study of the Jewish liturgy. Originally published in German in 1913, then updated in Hebrew, the latest edition is translated into English by Raymond P. Scheindlin. Covers the entire range of liturgical development, beginning with the early cornerstones of the siddur; through the evolution of the medieval piyyut tradition; to modern prayerbook reform in Germany and the United States.

“Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer”, Seth Kaddish. The issue of praying with kavvana (meaning, intention) as opposed to rote recitation has been central to the discussion of prayer throughout Jewish history. In this exhaustive study of the topic, Rabbi Seth Kadish gathers and analyzes the wealth of rabbinic teachings and academic studies on the topic.

Many parts of this book are available for free download by the author:
https://sites.google.com/site/kadish67/kavvana-en

“The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer” Macy Nulman. Info on every prayer in the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions. Arranged alphabetically by prayer, it has includes extensive liturgical information on the prayers, their composers and development, laws and customs, and their place in the service. Features cross-referencing and bibliographic information to facilitate further study.
The publisher writes “arranged alphabetically by prayer, the encyclopedia entries include extensive liturgical information on the prayers, their composers and development, the laws and customs surrounding them, and their place in the service. All prayers, including not only prayers recited in the synagogue, but also the Grace After Meals and the prayers to be said before going to bed, prayers for special occasions such as weddings and circumcisions, prayers for the funeral ritual and for private devotion, are featured. The entries make extensive use of cross-referencing and bibliographical information to facilitate further study. In addition, the author discusses the many poetic insertions, known as piyyutim, recited on special Sabbaths, Holy Days, and festivals… it contains several indexes: two title indexes – one in Hebrew and one in transliteration – as well as an index of biblical verses and a name index.”

6. Machzor – High Holy day prayerbook

“Mahzor Lev Shalem: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur” Ed. Rabbi Ed Feld, The Rabbinical Assembly. The new machzor of the Conservative movement, it features a four column format. Restores some prayers not in earlier Conservative editions. A variety of commentaries from classical and modern rabbis, gender-sensitive translations, and choreography (when to sit, stand, bow, etc.) Has more literal translations than previous non-Orthodox machzorim. English transliterations are offered for all prayers recited aloud. The page layout surrounds prayers with a variety of English commentaries and readings, as one finds in classical rabbinic commentaries. By leaving out certain texts and choosing other included options, it could be used in Open Orthodox or Reform congregations.

http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/resources-ideas/lev-shalem-series

“The High Holiday Prayer Book”, aka the Birnbaum Machzor. Ed. Philip Birnbaum. Clear translations and good notes. From the 1950s until the late 1980’s it was the standard in most Orthodox and many Conservative shuls; still sometimes used today. A nostalgic choice, I go back to it occasionally for its warm memories and still useful commentaries.

“The Complete Artscroll Machzor” Used in Orthodox synagogues. Two volume set. Has excellent notes, and is more comprehensive than any other. Includes a lot of lesser known prayers and piyuttim (religious poetry), and info on special customs and observance. Commentary is often from a right-wing Orthodox point of view, but there is no denying it’s comprehensive reach, piety, and inspiring commentaries. Just as Orthodox Jews should occasionally learn from non-Orthodox prayerbooks, non-Orthodox Jews should likewise make the same attempt.

Mahzor Hadash – A Mahzor edited by two Conservative rabbis, Sidney Greenberg and Jonathan D. Levine, using gender-neutral translations, used by some Conservative, Traditional-Egalitarian synagogues and chavurot.

7. Yamim Nora’im (High Holy Days: Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur)

“Prayer And Penitence”, Jeffery Cohen. Describes every prayer in each prayer service including :
Shacharit (morning), Musaf (additional service), Minchah (afternoon), Maariv (evening), Tashlikh (casting away sins), Selichot (penitential prayers), Yizkor (Memorial for the departed), and Neilah (“closing of the gates”). For each prayer, it explains their historical origin and spiritual meaning. Written from a Modern Orthodox point of view, it includes historical scholarship on the development of the machzor, and is refreshingly respectful of the non-Orthodox liturgy.

“Entering the High Holy Days” Reuven Hammer. Provides background to understand the meaning and composition of the service. Describes and interprets the ideas, practices, and liturgy that lend them contemporary relevance to today’s Jews. Includes historical scholarship on the development of the machzor.

8. Haggadah – for Passover.

“The Feast of Freedom: A Passover Haggadah” Ed. Rachel Anne Rabinowicz. An official haggadah of Conservative Judaism. The original version was edited by Michael Strassfeld, author of “The Jewish Catalog”. Next, Rachel Anne Rabinowicz came on board as editor, creating a hallmark of 20th century liturgy. Generally follows the Ashkenazi traditional text, with a modern English translation. As with past haggadahs some sections were dropped and replaced with others. The editors link the Exodus to events in our own day, including the Holocaust, persecution of Jews in foreign nations, and establishment of the State of Israel. Text is surrounded by an English commentary, elucidating the text.

“The Lieberman Open Orthodox Haggadah”, Shmuel Herzfeld. ” As we recognize that in every generation we are to seek liberation and freedom, this Haggadah demonstrates an activism that stems from rather than being stymied by our ancient traditions. Open Orthodoxy is a stream of Orthodoxy that combines a strict adherence to Jewish law with an openness and flexibility on certain contemporary issues. With contributions from prominent and original thinkers and an introduction to the term Open Orthodoxy from Rabbi Avi Weiss, this Haggadah discusses some of these cutting-edge concerns such as women as clergy within Orthodoxy (i.e., the Maharat phenomenon), the agunah crisis, and the interaction between Jews and Gentiles.”

“The Concise Family Seder”, Alfred J. Kolatch. “This best-selling, condensed version of The Family Seder contains all major elements of the Passover Seder service.” Much shorter than a full size Haggadah, it nonetheless fulfill halakhic requirements, and it’s translation and instructions make it meaningful and useful,

“The Haggadah” Joseph Elias. This Artscroll/Mesorah Haggadah is a popular choice. Has a detailed commentary filled with classic sources. It explains the Seder, step by step, with clear instructions, explains the meaning of every part of the tradition.

Note: there are hundreds of editions of haggadahs. Everyone suggests having a few of one edition as your “core” text – but each person at a seder is encouraged to bring their own favorite. As the night progresses, everyone contributes an insight from a different source.

Advanced:

“The Scholar’s Haggadah: Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Oriental Versions” Heinrich Guggenheimer. The complete text for European, Sephardic, and Yemenite Jewish communities as well as Yiddish and Ladino (Judeo-Arabic) editions. Presents a complete English translation for all versions, along with an extensive historical and literary commentary tracing the history of the text and Passover rituals.

9. Tanakh translation (Hebrew Bible).

“The JPS Tanakh” Jewish Publication Society. Has received accolades for its clear and faithful presentation. Represents more than 25 years of research and collaboration between rabbis of all denominations. Translations take advantage of the findings of archaeologists, Semitic language scholars, and and Biblical scholars.

10. Bentcher – A booklet that contains Birkat HaMazon (grace after meals) and kiddush services for Shabbat, and Zemirot (songs sung on Shabbat).

“B’Kol Echad – With One Voice” The Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative). In addition to the traditional contents it contains some prayers for the State of Israel, and Israeli songs. This bentcher is egalitarian.

“The NCSY Bentcher” The Orthodox Union/NCSY (Traditional/Orthodox). Non-egalitarian.

“The Family Zemiros” or “Bircas Hamazon – Grace After Meals” Mesorah/Artscroll (Orthodox). Comprehensive selection of Zemirot, with short commentary. Non-egalitarian.

11. The Mishna and Talmud

“The Essential Talmud” Adin Steinsaltz. Considered by many to be the most useful introductory work on the Mishnah and Talmud. Strives to present the Talmud’s history, flavor and spirit, and summarizes its main outlines and principals.

“Rereading the Rabbis: A Woman’s Voice” Judith Hauptman. Acknowledging that Judaism, as described in both the Bible and the Talmud, was patriarchal, Hauptman demonstrates that the rabbis of the Talmud made significant changes in key areas of Jewish law in order to benefit women. Reading the texts with feminist sensibilities, the author shows that although the rabbis whose rulings are recorded in the Talmud did not achieve full equality for women, they should be credited with giving women higher status and more rights.

Translations of the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli):

“The Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud”, also known as The Artscroll Talmud. Each English page faces the Hebrew page. The question and answer sequence is elucidated, and the translation is clearly explained so the reader understands the reasoning and flow. Notes on each page provide additional background material. Much easier to follow than the Soncino edition, but also more expensive. Does not use the results of critical textual study.

“Koren Talmud Bavli Noé” An English translation of the monumental Steinsaltz Talmud, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a team of additional rabbis, and published by Koren Publishing, Jerusalem. The Hebrew and Aramaic text is set in a clear typeface with vowel points. Abbreviations are fully spelled out. There is a complete translation and commentary; It’s like having your own private Talmud teacher. Asides on terminology, history, geography and biographical backgrounds, with color pictures. Includes the results of historical critical text study.

12. Rabbinic Literature

Intro level:

“Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts”, Barry W. Holtz. Ten experts in Jewish rabbinic works present a readable explanation and overview of basic Jewish texts, including the Torah, Tanakh (Bible), Mishnah and Talmud, philosophical writings, Kabbalah, Hasidic writings and Siddur. A nice introductory work.

“Swimming in the Sea of Talmud” Michael Katz and Gershon Schwartz
“A clear, accessible guide to reading and understanding the Talmud. This book offers a unique introduction to the study of the Talmud and suggest ways to apply its messages and values to contemporary life. ”

“Searching for Meaning in Midrash” Michael Katz and Gershon Schwartzte
Explores the fascinating body of Jewish literature called Midrash: creative interpretations of the Bible, designed to reveal hidden or deeper meaning in Scripture. Each of the over 50 midrashim sit next to its corresponding biblical text so that readers can compare them, along with commentary on the times and insights of the Rabbis who wrote each midrash. Readers are given guidance for answering “What does this text mean to me?”

The next level up:

“Learning to Read Midrash”, Simi Peters
“Presenting a systematic approach to the study of midrash, each of the readings featured in this book attempts to reconstruct the reasoning behind midrashic commentary … The study begins by defining what midrash is, discussing why it can be so difficult to understand, and explaining how the Jewish sages used midrash to interpret biblical text. It then explores two genres of midrash—the parable and the midrashic story—and utilizes detailed readings to demonstrate how to “translate” the language of the sages into contemporary terminology. Among the texts analyzed are… the binding of Isaac, the sin of David and Bathsheba, the book of Jonah, and Moses and the burning bush.”

“Introduction to Rabbinic Literature” Jacob Neusner. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library/ Doubleday, 719 pages. A summary of Neusner’s 40 years of work. For each of the works presented, discusses the text’s origin, available English translations, purpose of the work, and a discussion of its form and methodology. Offers generous samples of translations, and guides the reader through them. Covers the Mishnah, Tosefta, Talmud of the Israel, Talmud of Babylon, and midrash compilations from this era (up to 700 CE)

“Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash”, H. L. Strack and G. Stemberger. Frankly, for text nerds. (That’s me.) In this reference guide each classic rabbinic text is briefly discussed; variant textual versions of texts are discussed; English translations are noted; and a detailed review is then given of the past hundred years of critical study on it. Covers the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, Babylonian Talmud and the extra-canonical tractates. Covers all midrash compilations. This is more for scholarship in the field, not for beginners.

13. Bereavement funerals, the afterlife.

“A Time to Mourn a Time to Comfort” Ron Wolfson, Jewish Lights Publishing. “includes the specifics for funeral preparations and practical guidance for preparing the home and family to sit shiva. Advice is given for attending a Jewish funeral, how to help during shiva, what to say to the mourners, and what to write in a condolence letter…. topics include helping children grieve, and understand shiva, deaths from AIDS, and mourning the death of an infant or child.”

“To Comfort the Bereaved: Guide for Mourners and Those Who Visit Them” By Aaron Levine. Contains the traditions, customs, and prayers pertaining to nichum aveilim, comforting mourners. It demonstrates how Jewish customs address themselves to the various stages of the mourning process. This highly practical guide covers all aspects of appropriate behavior by a visitor to the house of mourning. Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski writes about this book: “How do we deal with troubled people or broken hearts? Either by delegating the job to an understaffed and underfunded agency, or by prescribing a pill to make one oblivious to one’s emotional pain. Rabbi Levine gives us the Torah approach. Not an agency person, not a pill. You can assuage another person’s pain by giving of yourself. But you may ask, ‘How can I, a person without special psychological skills, possibly help another person?’ This is why you should read _To Comfort the Bereaved_.”

“Jewish Views of the Afterlife” Simcha Paull Raphael, Jason Aronson Inc. Many Jews assume that Judaism does not believe in an afterlife. In fact Judaism has many teachings on this subject. This book is an excellent introduction and overview of how the afterlife is viewed in the Bible, Talmud, medieval works, Kabbalah, etc. Many medieval Jewish texts are presented here for the first time in English.

14. Jewish codes of life, law and practice.

Every Jew should have a comprehensive how-to book. It’s essential for Conservative and Orthodox Jews, and although Reform teaches that halakha is not binding, it also teaches that one must be be educated in order to make an informed choice.

“The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews” Martin S. Cohen and Michael Katz, The Rabbinical Assembly. “A comprehensive guide to life in the 21st Century. Chapters on Jewish rituals including prayer, holiday, life cycle events and Jewish ethics such as citizenship, slander, taxes, wills, the courts, the work place and so much more… explains the way halakhah (Jewish law) impacts on the way Jews actually live in the world and interact with the world.”

An Orthodox guide is “The Concise Code of Jewish Law”, by Gersion Apel, Koren.
Based on the Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh, adding material from the Shulkhan Arukh, and several 20th century Orthodox commentaries & responsa (right-wing Modern Orthodox/Centrist Orthodox, some Haredi.) New edition updated by Rabbi Daniel Goldstein, addresses technological developments.

“A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice” Isaac Klein. Published by the Conservative movement. Based on all the classical Jewish codes of law, and later responsa. Each chapter discusses the philosophy, history and the reasons why these practices developed. Covers daily prayer, tallit & tzitzit, weddings, births, adoption, divorce, bar/bat mitzvahs, death and mourning, the High Holy Days, the festivals and fast days, Shabbat, keeping kosher, the laws of family purity, abortion and other topics.

“To Be A Jew” Hayim Halevy Donin. A brief yet comprehensive guide to creating an observant Jewish life. Discusses the philosophy and history of Judaism, daily prayer, the Jewish life cycle, weddings, births, divorce, bar and bat miztvahs, death and mourning, the High Holy Days, the Jewish festivals and fast days, Shabbat, keeping kosher, the laws of family purity and many other topics.

15. Hisotry of Jewish law

“Jewish Law: An Introduction” Mendell Lewittes. Explains how the Oral Law (midrash, Mishna and Talmud) developed as the authoritative exposition of the Torah. Records the expansion of the Oral Law by medieval rabbis, and various codifications of halakha such as the Shulkhan Arukh. Describes the challenges brought about the modern era. Covers the developments of Sephardi halakhic authorities. Reviews the responses of modern rabbis to the halakhic problems generated by modern technological advances and the creation of the State of Israel.

“A Tree of Life: Diversity, Creativity, and Flexibility in Jewish Law” Louis Jacobs. Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. Throughout the ages halakhic rulings have been influenced by the attitudes of the rabbis towards the wider ideals and demands of Judaism and by social, economic, theological, and even political considerations…. factors that have influenced halakhic rulings are considered in turn: philosophy, mysticism and kabbalah, Hasidism, the non-Jewish world, and the need to combat sectarianism within Judaism. Responses to changed social conditions are also considered-for example, changes in the status of classes of persons, including women; in the Sabbath laws; and concerning matters of economic practice, sexual mores, attitudes to non-Jewish courts of law, and so forth. General principles are followed by detailed examples of how the process actually functions. Responses to new inventions and discoveries are likewise examined: printing, electricity, and smoking, as well as medical developments.

16. Jewish holidays

“The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary” Michael Strassfeld. A guide to the practice and meaning of the holidays by the co-editor of “The Jewish Catalog” series. A fascinating weave of the traditional and the contemporary, the communal and individual, the letter and the spirit. It presents an in-depth explanation and interpretation of each holiday’s origins, rituals and significance.

“The Jewish Way: Living The Holidays” Irving Greenberg. Explanation and interpretation of each holiday’s origins, rituals and significance. The detailed instructions emphasize how the rituals, prayers, foods and song reflect and reinforce its central motif. Examines the social and theological implications that derive from each observance; his chapters on Yom HaShoah [Holocaust memorial day] and Yom Ha’Atzmaut [Israel Independence Day] constitute a groundbreaking theological view.

17. Kashrut

“Kashruth: Comprehensive Background and Reference Guide to the Principles of Kashruth”, Yacov Lipschutz. Explains the halakhic principles of the laws; discusses how modern technology has affected the field of kashrut; areas of practical concerns to the Jewish consumer.

“The Jewish Dietary Laws: Their Meaning For Our Time” Dresner, Siegel and Pollack. The Rabbinical Assembly. An essay on the meaning of the dietary laws for our lives, followed by a practical guide of kashrut observance, from a Conservative point of view.

“The Jewish Dietary Laws: Sanctify Life”, James M Lebeau. United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. An overview of kashrut, starting with a discussion of the reasons for, and benefits of the Jewish dietary laws. Advice for those who want to being keeping kosher. Explains the Conservative movement’s understanding of various kashrut issues, such as the kashrut of gelatin, cheese, wine, and swordfish. Other topics include: Passover, cruelty to animals, and a question and answer section on Leviticus 11.

“Why Kosher? An Anthology of Answers” by Irving Welfeld. Offers a variety of opinions on kashrut. Sources explored come from ancient Egypt and the Internet, from hasidic stories and the Bible, and from Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jews. Among the comments expressed are those of Maimonides, Nehama Leibowitz, Cynthia Ozick, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Dennis Prager, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Adin Steinsaltz.

18. Raising children

“To Raise a Jewish Child” Hayim Halevy Donin. A guide for Jewish parents who want direction from a contemporary yet traditional voice; Gives invaluable advice on how to bring your child up into two cultures (American and Jewish), how to teach your child about God and religion, and how to decide what kind of Jewish education to give your child. It is written from a perspective that essentially is Modern Orthodox or Conservative, but would also be of value to religious liberal Jews.

“Teaching Your Children About God: A Modern Jewish Approach”, David J. Wolpe. Shows parents how to explain spirituality and the important themes of Judaism to their children. Presents ways to their children about the Jewish idea of God, what God expects of human beings, how humans talk to God, and why bad things happen to good people. Through engaging and touching anecdotes, Wolpe provides parents invaluable insight into nourishing their own souls as they nurture their children’s.

“Putting God on the Guest List: How to reclaim the spiritual meaning of your child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah.” Jeffrey K. Salkin. Finding core spiritual values in American Jewry’s most misunderstood ceremony… offers new insights into bar and bat mitzvah’s origins, new ways for non-Jewish parents to participate in their child’s bar/bat mitzvah ceremony. How did bar and bat mitzvah originate? What are the ethics of celebration? How to make the event more spiritually meaningful? Winner of the 1993 Benjamin Franklin Award for the Best Religion Book. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1996

“Golden Rules: The Ten Ethical Values Parents Need to Teach Their Children” Wayne Dosick, HarperCollins

“Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter” Debra Nussbaum Cohen (Jewish Lights)
When a son is born, every Jewish parent knows what ceremony will welcome him into the community and signal his part in the Jewish people – the brit milah. What to do when a girl is born? How can parents welcome their new daughter in a truly Jewish way, and celebrate their joy with family and friends? In the past, parents who wanted a Simchat Bat (celebration of a daughter) ceremony for their new daughter often had to start from scratch. Finally, this first-of-its-kind book gives families everything they need to plan a celebration.

“The New Jewish Baby Book: Names, Ceremonies & Customs” Anita Diamant (Jewish Lights)
A complete guide to the customs and rituals for welcoming a new child to the world and into the Jewish community, and for commemorating this joyous event in family life–whatever your family constellation. Includes new ceremonies for girls, celebrations in interfaith families, and more.

19. Sex, Love, and Marriage

“God, Love, Sex, and Family: A Rabbi’s Guide for Building Relationships That Last” by Michael Gold. 1998, Jason Aronson. Gold writes that this book “grew out of my years of counseling families on a variety of issues. It deals with such questions as the relationship between parents and children, sibling rivalry, making marriages that work, the role of sexuality, and the meaning of family. It is written as a passionate moderate, who believes that family is a God given ideal.”

“This Is My Beloved: This Is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations”, Elliot N. Dorff and The Rabbinical Assembly’s commission on sexuality. Discusses from a religious, yet non-fundamentalist perspective, Jewish teachings on all aspects of human sexuality. sexual relations within marriage, non-marital sex, having children, dealing with infertility, divorce, adultery, incest, single parenthood, contraception, homosexuality, and the practice of taharaht ha’mishpacha, family purity.

“Divorce is a Mitzvah: A Practical Guide to Finding Wholeness and Holiness When Your Marriage Dies”, Perry Netter, Jewish Lights Publishing. “Full of practical inspiration about growing through loss and crisis [this book is a] supportive companion in this trying time as it helps you address these essential questions: Why is this happening to me? To leave or not to leave; how do I decide? Is divorce kosher? What do I do with all this anger? How do we tell the kids? How do I get closure? What do I say? To litigate or to mediate? How do we continue to raise children together?”

20. Intermarriage

“Mixed Blessings: Overcoming the stumbling blocks in an interfaith marriage”, Paul Cowan with Rachel Cowan, Penguin Books
Susan Katz Miller writes “…This book very clearly represents a Jewish perspective on intermarriage, culminating in an unabashed paean to the joys of a unified Jewish family and a plea for synagogues to open their doors to intermarried couples. While making their point of view clear, the Cowans strive to be respectful of the other choices an interfaith couple might make. … the book is based on their own experience, on interviews with interfaith families, and on a series of workshops for interfaith couples which they led. Their central argument is that when people of different faiths intermarry, they often surpress their religious and ethnic identities. However, they believe these identities often resurface as “time bombs” set off by moments of stress such as the December holidays, the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one. The book describes how different couples have faced these challenges, and how being aware of such time bombs can help to defuse them. ”

“Building the Faith”, Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. Co-author Rabbi Charles Simon writes “It’s a hands-on practical manual about keruv – bringing closer. It recognizes the reality that interfaith marriages exist and that Conservative Jews are among the intermarried. This book is about how to reach them and their families, how to ease them toward adopting Jewish lifestyles. If we succeed in encouraging the non-Jewish spouse to convert that’s icing on the cake for us.”

“It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Intermarriage”, Alan Silverstein
“Preserving Jewishness in Your Family After Intermarriage Has Occurred” Alan Silverstein
“Written on behalf of the Conservative Movement’s Leadership Council and published in September 1995 by Jason Aronson, these books offer a comprehensive guide for anyone struggling with interdating and intermarriage, from teenagers to parents to interfaith couples wondering how to raise their children.

21. Women’s issues

“In the Image of God: A Feminist Commentary on the Torah” Judith S. Antonelli. Jason Aronson Inc. Uses classical Jewish sources as well as material from history, anthropology, and feminist theory. Examines every issue pertaining to women in the Torah… by looking at the Torah in the context in which it was given – the pagan world of the ancient Near East – it becomes clear that the Torah actually improved the status of women as it existed in the surrounding societies… Sexism within Judaism is acknowledged and challenged, and exposes such elements as sociological rather than divine law.

“Women and Jewish Law”, Rachel Biale, Shocken Books. How has a legal tradition determined by men affected the lives of women? What are the traditional Jewish views of marriage, divorce, sexuality, contraception, abortion? Women and Jewish Law gives contemporary readers access to the central texts of the Jewish religious tradition on issues of special concern to women. Combining a historical overview with a thoughtful feminist critique, this pathbreaking study points the way for “informed change” in the status of women in Jewish life.

“Tears of Sorrow, Seeds of Hope: A Jewish Spiritual Companion for Infertility and Pregnancy Loss”, Nina Beth Cardin. A spiritual companion that enables the reader to mourn within the words and ways of Judaism. Drawing on the wellspring of comfort found in traditional Jewish texts and prayer; it also offers readings and rituals created especially for parents struggling with the uncertainty and sorrow of pregnancy loss and infertility, providing a source of compassion, healing, and hope.

“On Women and Judaism: A View from Tradition” Blu Greenberg, Jewish Publication Society. A liberal Orthodox Jew and an outspoken feminist, Greenberg offers help in integrating both positions in a wide range of issues. Her position is that the respect that Jewish law, even within an Orthodox context, can be flexible enough to respond to the concerns of feminism.

“On Being a Jewish Feminist”, Susannah Heschel, Shocken Books. Essays on the image of all aspects of Judaism and women: Law, aggadah, liturgy, sociology, and the role of Jewish women in the modern day world.

“Lifecycles – Volume 1: New Perspectives on Life Passages and Personal Milestones from Jewish Women” Debra Orenstein, Jewish Lights. Brings together over fifty women writers, rabbis, and scholars to create the first comprehensive work on Jewish lifecycle that fully includes women’s perspectives. Topics covered include childbirth, welcoming children into name and covenant, marriage, singlehood, conversion, parenting, divorce, mid-life, aging and more. Presents a male-friendly and Judaism-friendly version of feminism, as opposed to some of the more radical feminist works.

“The War on Women in Israel: A Story of Religious Radicalism and the Women Fighting for Freedom”, Elana Maryles Sztokman
“Across Israel women are being threatened and abused as ultra-Orthodox Jewish factions seek to suppress them… Elana Sztokman reveals the struggles of Israeli women against this increasing oppression, from segregation on public buses – to being silenced in schools and erased from newspapers and ads. This alarming patriarchal backlash isn’t limited to Israel either: its repercussions endanger the rights and freedoms of women from Afghanistan to America. But there’s hope as well: courageous feminist activists within the Orthodox world are starting to demand systemic change on these fronts, and, with some support from non-Orthodox advocates, they’re creating positive reforms that could help women everywhere.”

“Women Who Would Be Rabbis” Pamela S. Nadell, 1999 Beacon Press.

22. Men’s Issues

The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs publishes a series of booklets on issues that affect Jewish men. http://fjmc.org/content/hearing-mens-voices

“Our Fathers, Ourselves: Hearing Men’s voices – Volume One” Written to help men gain insight into the relationships they have, or didn’t have, with their fathers. Some of these programs focus on aging parents and accordingly also attempt to provide your members with an understanding of the health issues which their fathers – and ultimately they themselves – might be facing.

“Body and Spirit: Men Staying Healthy and Fit: Hearing Men’s Voices – Volume Two” To develop an awareness of the importance of maintaining one’s physical health To foster a connection between our spiritual Jewish lives and our physical ones

“Hearing God’s Voice: Hearing Men’s Voices – Volume Three” To initiate discussion about the dynamic spirituality of Jewish men and about the religious elements of masculinity. Consists of more than a dozen lesson plans designed to stimulate discussion in three distinct areas: Men experiencing God through crisis; men experiencing God through joy; and men experiencing God through prayer

Volume 4: Work and Worth. Ed. Daniel M. Kimmel. Essays on the significance of work in men’s lives. Includes structured program ideas to explore work-related topics in your community. Covers everything from security issues to workplace ethics, illness, and the loss of a job. Contributors range from doctors and lawyers to rabbis and cabinetmakers.

Volume 5: Jewish Men at the Crossroads, Ed. Charles Simon. “How do we explain the disappearance of men from the Jewish community? Why do so many of today’s Jewish men find their experience in the synagogue unfulfilling? Indeed why do they stay? Jewish Men at the Crossroads addresses these and other questions facing modern Jewish men — everything from intermarriage to co-parenting, sexual dysfunction to retirement, the role of men in a post-feminist world to the role of God in men’s lives. Jewish Men at the Crossroads is essential reading for today’s Jewish man”

“From Your Father’s House: Reflections for Modern Jewish Men” Kerry Olitzky, JPS.
“This book ..is the beginning of an inquiry into the emerging Jewish men’s movement and should provide men who are exploring their Jewish side of self with a great deal of direction and material for reflection.”

“And You Shall Teach Them To Your Sons: Biblical Tales for Fathers and Sons” Allan C. Tuffs. “A Project of the North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods. For generations, men have passed down Jewish tradition, culture, and values. With the growth of the Jewish feminist movement over the last three decades, the borders between traditional male and female roles have been altered. As women have broken ground in the traditionally masculine arenas – becoming rabbis, mohelets, and cantors and increasingly taking on congregational leadership – Jewish men need to redefine their own role in Jewish life, now and for the future.”

23. Shabbat

For a good overview of Shabbat see the relevant chapters in Isaac Klein’s “A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice”, Hayim Halevy Donin’s “To Be a Jew” and Michael Strassfeld’s “The First Jewish Catalog”.

“The Sabbath: A Guide to Its Understanding and Observance”, Isidor Grunfeld. Feldheim. A traditional introduction to the meaning of Shabbat, and a concise overview of all the major laws and traditions, including the 39 melakhot (prohibited labors).

“The Sabbath: Its Meaning For Modern Man” Abraham Joshua Heschel. A Jewish classic, it offers a profound, scholarly, and beautiful meditation on the nature and celebration of the Seventh Day, rooted in the thesis that Judaism is a religion of time, not space, and that the Sabbath symbolizes the sanctification of time.

24. Kabbalah – Jewish Mysticism

“The Jewish Mystical Tradition”, Ben Zion Bokser, Jason Aronson. A comprehensive overview, with excerpts from important Kabbalistic works. Topics include mysticism in the Bible and Talmud, early mystical works such as Mystical Midrashim, Sefer Yezirah, and Sefer haBahir. Also covers Abraham Abulafia, The Zohar, Moses Cordovero, Isaac Luria, Judah Loew of Prague, Moses Hayyim Luzzato, the rise of Hasidism, and latter-day mystics.

“Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism”, Gershom Scholem, Schocken Books. A seminal work in Kabbalah scholarship, by the world’s foremost authority on the subject. This volume is indispensable for anyone interested in the details of the Kabbalah’s history and development. It covers Jewish mysticism from its early beginnings to recent times.

“Kabbalah”, Gershom Scholem, Jewish Publication Society. The world’s foremost authority on Kabbalah presents in a single volume a summary of his life’s studies. Covers the historical development of the Kabbalah and Kabbalah in modern times, explanations of all the basic ideas, studies of the influence of Kabbalah on Judaism and on Christianity. Presents chapters on many related topics including the false messiahs Shabbetai Zevi and Jacob Frank; the Zohar, the Bahir, demonology, the Doenmeh (an Islamic/ Christian/ Jewish offshoot of the Shabbatean movement), Gematria (mystical numerology), gilgul (reincarnation), the Golem, Lilith, and more.

“Inner Space: Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation and Prophecy”, Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing. Discusses the basis of Kabbalah, the Kabbalistic universes through which we may draw close to God, the interplay between the spiritual and the physical realism, and the concept of Divine Providence. Explores the Kabbalistic mysteries of Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot.

“Meditation and Kabbalah”, Aryeh Kaplan. Samuel Weiser. Reveals the methodology of the ancient Kabbalists and stresses the meditative techniques that were essential to their discipline. Offers a lucid presentation of the mantras, mandalas and other devices, as well as a penetrating interpretation of their significance in light of contemporary meditative research. Also presents relevant portions of classic Jewish meditative texts.

“Zohar: Annotated & Explained” Daniel Chanan Matt and Andrew Harvey , Skylight Paths.
“brings together in one place the most important teachings from the Zohar, the cornerstone of Kabbalah-described as a mixture of theology, mystical psychology, anthropology, myth, and poetry-alongside facing-page stories, notes, and historical background that illuminate and explain the text.”

“Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment” (Classics of Western Spirituality) Daniel Chanan Matt, Paulist Press, 1988. An anthology of texts from the Zohar.

The Early Kabbalah (Classics of Western Spirituality) Joseph Dan, Paulist Press, 1986. “Prof. Joseph Dan is one of the leading Kabbalah scholars alive today. In this book, he presents selections from the early Kabbalists, those of the late 12th and early 13th centuries, before the publication of the Zohar. This anthology contains brief and heavily annotated selections from the ‘Iyyun Circle, the Bahir, Rabbi Isaac the Blind of Provence, Rabbi Azriel of Gerona, Rabbi Jacob ben Sheshet of Gerona, and the Kohen brothers, Jacob and Isaac. These are the men who pave the way for the glories of the *Zohar*” (Book review on Amazon.Com)

“Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction”
Dan sheds light on the many misconceptions about what Kabbalah is and isn’t–including its connections to magic, astronomy, alchemy, and numerology–and he illuminates the relationship between Kaballah and Christianity on the one hand and New Age religion on the other. Discusses the mystical groups that flourished in ancient Judaism in the East, and the medieval schools of Kabbalah in Northern Spain and Southern France, to the widening growth of Kabbalah through the school of Isaac Luria of Safed in the sixteenth century, to Hasidism. Looks at the Sefer Yezira, Bahir, and Zohar.

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/author/dr-joseph-dan/
http://www.josephdan.com/english/

Kabbalah: New Perspectives, Moshe Idel
“In this prizewinning new interpretation of Jewish mysticism, Moshe Idel emphasizes the need for a comparative and phenomenological approach to Kabbalah and its position in the history of religion. Idel provides fresh insights into the origins of Jewish mysticism, the relation between mystical and historical experience, and the impact of Jewish mysticism on western civilization.”

“The Wisdom of The Zohar: An Anthology of Texts”, 3 volumes, Ed. Isaiah Tishby, translated from the Hebrew by David Goldstein, The Littman Library.
“This classic and definitive three-volume work has been acclaimed as an indispensable guide to the Zohar, the fundamental work of Jewish mysticism: it won its author the Israel Prize, the Bialik Prize, and the Rothschild Prize. David Goldstein’s translation, awarded the Webber Prize for Translation from Hebrew, makes the complexities of the Zohar accessible to the English-speaking reader in all their poetry.”
imprint-The-Littman-Library-of-Jewish-Civilization

25. Books by Abraham Joshua Heschel

“Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion” Abraham Joshua Heschel. A profound work that reflects on how man can apprehend God and have an encounter with the ineffable, and the radical amazement that man experiences when experiencing the presence of the Divine. Major themes include the problems of doubts and faith; What Judaism means by teaching that God is One; The essence of man and the problem of man’s needs; The definition of religion in general, and of Judaism in specific, man’s yearning for spirituality; Judaism as a pattern for life, and a study of what piety really is.

“God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism” Abraham Joshua Heschel. The companion volume to “Man is not Alone”, “God in Search of Man” combines scholarship with reverence and compassion as it elucidates the nature of religious thought, how thought becomes faith, and how faith creates responses in the believer. Section one discusses ways to God’s Presence, and the legacy of wonder that religion gives; the sense of divine mystery; the illusion of nature worship; man’s metaphysical loneliness; God in search of man, and the concept of the chosen people. Section two deals with the idea of Revelation and prophetic inspiration. Discusses revelation as a process as opposed to an event, and Israel’s commitment to God. Section three discusses a Jew’s response to the Jewish Religion. There is a study and rejection of the idea that mere faith (without law) alone is enough, but also a cautioning against of those rabbis that add too many hedges to the law, who mistakenly act as if all Jewish law was revealed at Mount Sinai. It discusses the need to correlate ritual observance with spirituality and love, the importance of Kavvanah (intention) when performing mitzvot, and a discussion of religious behaviorism – when people strive for external compliance with the law, yet disregard inner devotion.

26. Theology

Introductory:

“Maimonides: A Guide for Today’s Perplexed” by Kenneth Seeskin, Behrman House, 1991. “How should we describe God? What is so important about monotheism? If God created the universe, why is there evil? How will we know when the Messiah has come? These are among the questions that Maimonides contemplated in the 12th century, and they still can perplex today. The classic questions in Maimonides original “Guide for the Perplexed” are now addressed in modern language. The philosophy and teachings of Maimonides are now accessible to all.”

“A Question of Faith: An Atheist and a Rabbi Debate the Existence of God” William E. Kaufman, Morton Shor. Jason Aronson, 1994. Rabbi Neil Gillman writes: “This spirited encounter between a hardheaded atheist and a sophisticated theologian, on the nature and existence of God, can serve as a model for how to conduct a passionate and intelligent conversation on this most ultimate of issues. The exchange quickly takes us beyond the more elementary forms of theism into limited-God and process theologies. The findings of contemporary scientific inquiry are invoked on both sides of the issue. Hovering over the entire inquiry is the ever-present challenge posed by the presence of persistent and pervasive human suffering, clearly the core issue for any thinking human being.”

“Great Jewish Thinkers: Their Lives and Work”, Naomi E. Pasachoff
A short (200 page) introduction to Jewish thinking. Presents the lives and work of classical Jewish philosophers such as Saadia Gaon, Yehudah Halevi, Maimonides (Rambam), Mystics such as Moses de Leon (author of the Zohar), Isaac Luria and Israel Ben Eliezer – The Baal Shem Tov (founder of Hasidic Judaism.) Modern Jewish thinkers such as Moses Mendelssohn, Theodore Herzl (founder of modern Zionism), Ahad Haam, and 20th century Jewish philosophers such as Herman Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Leo Baeck, Abraham Isaac Kook, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Mordecai Kaplan. A concluding chapter presents current trends in Jewish thought such as the Holocaust, feminism and post-modern life.

“Aryeh Kaplan Anthology – Volume 1”, Aryeh Kaplan, Mesorah Publications/National Council of Synagogue Youth, 1991. A collection of four classic essays on God by the reknowned Orthodox writer, this includes his famous essays “If You Were God” and “The Infinite Light”. His works are also available as standalone booklets.

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, Harold Kushner. How can an omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing) God allow evil to happen (such as murder, starvation, the Holocaust, etc.) “All the response to tragedy which we have considered have at least one thing in common. They all assume that God is the cause of our suffering, and they try to understand why God would want us to suffer….Many of the answers were sensitive and imaginative, but none was totally satisfying. Some led us to blame ourselves in order to spare God’s reputation. Others asked us to deny reality or to repress our true feelings. We were left either hating ourselves for deserving such a fate, or hating God for sending it to us when we did not deserve it.” Kushner removes the dilemma by noting that perhaps God is not omnipotent, and not to blame for mankind’s abuse of free will. This view, while considered radical by some, actually has roots in Gersonides “The Wars of the Lord”, and in parts of the Kabbalah, and may be more consistent with the Biblical picture of God.

“Knowing God: Jewish Journeys to the Unknowable” by Elliot N. Dorff. Jason Aronson. Most Jews do not understand the Jewish concept of God, and their belief in God rests on childhood Hebrew school images. In response, Rabbi Dorff probes what we as adults can know about God through human reason, human and Divine words, and human and Divine action. Without assuming a background in philosophy, he takes us through some of the major philosophical options and conundrums in using each of these sources of knowledge about God, and the images of God that result. This results in a vibrant Jewish faith, one that takes due regard for both our emotional and intellectual sides.

Jewish Theology in Our Time: A New Generation Explores the Foundations and Future of Jewish Belief, by Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
“At every critical juncture in Jewish history, Jews have understood a dynamic theology to be essential for a vital Jewish community. This important collection sets the next stage of Jewish theological thought, bringing together a cross section of interesting new voices from all movements in Judaism to inspire and stimulate discussion now and in the years to come.”

Intermediate:

“Philosophies of Judaism” by Julius Guttmann, trans. by David Silverman, JPS. 1964. An authoritative history of Jewish philosophy and theology. Covers Jewish thought from the Hebrew Bible to the beginning of the 20th century. Among others, it covers the rabbis of the Talmudic era, the medieval luminaries such as Saadia Gaon, Halevim Ibn Gabriol, Maimonides, Crescas, Nahmanides and Gersonides, and more modern figures such as Moses Mendelssohn, Nahman Krochmal, Samson Raphael Hirsch and others.

“Contemporary Jewish Philosophies”, William E. Kaufman, Wayne State Univ. Press. A systematic critique of the theological and philosophical views of the major Jewish thinkers of the 20th century, including Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Richard Rubenstein, Eugene Borowitz, Emil Fackenheim, Leo Baeck, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, Arthur Cohen and Jacob Agus.

“The Case for God”, William E. Kaufman, Chalice Press, 1991. “In this riveting rejection of both atheistic skepticism and traditional forms of theism, Rabbi Kaufman offers a cogent rendering of the perspectives of Whitehead and Hartshorne on the way to presenting “the first Jewish process theology.” The author examines the traditional views of God as omnipotent and omniscient. No longer finding such orthodox views tenable, the author studies philosophical responses to these questions, examing the perspectives of Bertrand Russel, Albert Camus, and Jean Paul Satre. He then moves on to a study of Mordecai Kaplan’s religous naturalism, and finally to the views of God in process theology. He argues that this latter view of God is compatible with Jewish theology, and is ethically and intellectually defensible.

“Contemporary Jewish Theology: A Reader”, Elliot N. Dorff and Louis Newman. Oxford Univ. Press. Provides a wide-ranging collection of 20th century Jewish thelogical writings. Include selections from both pre- and post-World War II thinkers, with emphasis on writings of the last four decades. Offers essays on God, creation, revelation, redemption, feminist theology, covenant/chosenness, Jewish law, the Holocaust and the State of Israel.

Advanced:

“The Theology of the Oral Torah: Revealing the Justice of God” Jacob Neusner, McGill-Queen’s University Press. “[This book] demonstrates the cogency and inner rationality of the classical statement of Judaism in the Oral Torah… Neusner shows how the proposition that God is One and all-powerful but also merciful and just defines the system and structure of rabbinic Judaism… Neusner crafts the central conceptions of rabbinic Judaism into a rigorous, coherent argument by setting forth four cogent principles: that God formed creation in accord with a plan which the Torah reveals; that the perfection of creation is signified by the conformity of human affairs to a few enduring paradigms that transcend change; that Israel’s condition, public and personal, is indicative of flaws in creation; and that God will ultimately restore the perfection embodied in his plan for creation.”

“Orot” Abraham Isaac Kook, trans. by Bezalel Naor, Jason Aronson Inc. 1994. Rabbi Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of modern Israel, was a mystical visionary. Bezalel Naor presents Rav Kook’s seminal work, Orot, along with a detailed introduction, providing the reader with a valuable tool for the study of the teachings of this modern master.
http://www.orot.com/

“Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitance, Lights of Holiness, The Moral Principles, Essays, Letters and Poems” Trans. Ben Zion Bokser, Paulist Press, 1978.

“Halakhic Man” and “The Lonely Man of Faith”, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.

“Heavenly Torah: The Theology of Classical Judaism” Abraham Joshua Heschel, trans. Gordon Tucker. Continuum Publishing. Heschel’s most ambitious work was his “Torah Min HaShamayim”, a 3 volume study of classical rabbinic theology, and until recently it has only been available in Hebrew. It is now available in English, 900 pages.
“Heschel’s general insight is that the world of rabbinic thought can be divided into two schools, those of Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Ishmael, and that the historic disputes between them are based on a fundamental disagreement over the nature of religion and revelation. Furthermore, this disagreement constitutes a basic ongoing polarity between immanence and transcendence, mysticism and rationalism, neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism. Heschel then shows how these two fundamental theologies may be used to interpret many topics central to Judaism.”

27. Jewish history and sociology

“A History of the Jews” Paul Johnson, HarperCollins, This 600-page tome is one of the most highly recommended books on the subject. Delivers a comprehensive survey covering 4,000 years of Jewish history.

“Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews” Chaim Potok, Fawcett Books, 1990. A firm and reliable history book, written with the grace of a master storyteller.

“The Atlas of Jewish History” by Martin Gilbert. Simply indispensible!

“Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” by Martin Gilbert. Balanced and comprehensive visual history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in 147 annotated maps, spanning from the early history of the region (c.1000 B.C.) to the foundation of the State of Israel, the intifada, and the peace plans of the 1990s.

“Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages” Mark R. Cohen, Princeton Univ. Press. “Did Muslims and Jews in the Middle Ages cohabit in a peaceful “interfaith utopia?” Or were Jews under Muslim rule persecuted, much as they were in Christian lands? Rejecting both polemically charged “myths,” Mark Cohen offers a systematic comparison of Jewish life in medieval Islam and Christendom–the first in-depth explanation of why medieval Islamic-Jewish relations, though not utopic, were less confrontational and violent than those between Christians and Jews in the West.”

“A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America” by Jack Wertheimer. Brandeis Univ. Press, 1997. Studies American Jews as a religious group, rather than an ethnic group, discussing the history, philosophy, and vital statistics of each of the major branches: Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform; the conflicts among rival groups; patterns of religious behavior and how they correlate with broader trends in American life; and such issues as intermarriage and declining rates of affiliation among younger Jews.

28. Zionism and Post-Zionism

“The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul” Yoram Hazony, 2000. Natan Sharansky, Interior Minister, State of Israel, writes: “Fifty years after the birth of the State of Israel, the greatest challenge facing the Jewish State is not securing it from external enemies, but rather preventing its internal disintegration. An ascendant ‘post-Zionism’ threatens Israel’s very foundations as a Jewish state, and its central role in the lives of entire Jewish People. In tracing the intellectual roots of ‘post-Zionism’ and showing its pervasive influence in Israeli society, Yoram Hazony’s book is invaluable for anyone who wants to understand this heart-wrenching inner challenge.”

“The Postzionism Debates: Knowledge and Power in Israeli Culture” Laurence J. Silberstein, Routledge, 1999.
The author writes: “The growing use of the term postzionism is indicative of an increasing sense among many Israelis that the maps of meaning provided by zionism are simply no longer adequate. Among other things, postzionists have challenged the dominant versions of Israeli history and the ways in which Israeli society has been portrayed. The conflict over postzionism is, therefore, a conflict over national memory. Such conflicts are less about the past, than about the ways in which the past affects the present. Of particular concern to postzionists are the voices that have previously been marginalized or silenced, such as women, Jews of Middle-Eastern origin, and Palestinian Israelis. At stake in these struggles are such questions as: who is included in or excluded from Israeli cultural space? whose voice will be granted a hearing? which groups will be allowed to tell their story? The struggles over postzionism are struggles for the control of Israeli cultural space, that is, the spaces within which Israeli collective identity is constructed, produced and circulated.”

“While not comprising an organized political group, postzionists generally agree that Israel should be a democratic state of all of its citizens. They reject the zionist principle, inscribed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, a Jewish state. There is no consensus among postzionists as to how to bring about the desired democratization. While some postzionists advocate repealing the law of return which grants immediate citizenship to all Jews desiring it, others, although advocating full and equal rights for the Palestinian minority, continue to see the need for this law.”

“Zionist critics of postzionism, committed to protecting zionism’s dominant position, often identify postzionism with anti-zionism, sometimes going so far as to link postzionism to anti-Semitism. Those who identify with the postzionist position sharply reject this claim as well as the premise that loyalty to the state is synonymous with loyalty to zionism. While disagreeing with specific Israeli policies and military actions, they remain committed to the survival of the state and willingly serve in the military. I seek to provide the reader with a map that will enable him/her to make sense of the debates over postzionism, understand their relation to previous debates, and grasp their significance for Israeli culture and identity in particular, and Jewish culture and identity in general.”

“Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism” Aviezer Ravitzky. Michael Swirsky (Translator), 1996, University of Chicago Press. “The Orthodox Jewish tradition affirms that Jewish exile will end with the coming of the Messiah. How, then, does Orthodoxy respond to the political realization of a Jewish homeland that is the State of Israel? In this cogent and searching study, Aviezer Ravitzky probes Orthodoxy’s divergent positions on Zionism, which range from radical condemnation to virtual beatification. Ravitzky traces the roots of Haredi ideology, which opposes the Zionist enterprise, and shows how Haredim living in Israel have come to terms with a state to them unholy and therefore doomed. Ravitzky also examines radical religious movements, including the Gush Emunim, to whom the State of Israel is a divine agent. He concludes with a discussion of the recent transformation of Habad Hassidism from conservatism to radical messianism. This book is indispensable to anyone concerned with the complex confrontation between Jewish fundamentalism and Israeli political sovereignty, especially in light of the tragic death of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.”

“Deepening a Commitment: Zionism and the Conservative/Masorti Movement: Papers from a Conference of Conservative/Masorti Movement Leadership” John S. Ruskay, David M. Szonyi, Eds. 1990, Jewish Theological Seminary of America

29. Shoah (the Holocaust)

“The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust As Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum”, pb, Michael Berenbaum. Little Brown & Co, 1993. Draws on the museum’s extensive eyewitness, artifact, and photograph collection to tell the story of the perpetrators, bystanders, rescuers, and, above all, the victims, before, during, and after the Holocaust.

“The Destruction of the European Jews” Raul Hilberg. Holmes & Meier, 1985. 3 Volumes. This authoritative reconstruction of the Holocaust remains the standard text to which all others are compared. Focus is on the methods of the Nazi murder process, including the organizational and bureaucratic machinery of destruction. Also see the one volume abridgement of “The Destruction of the European Jews”.

“The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945” Lucy S. Davidowicz. Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub, 1991. This book raises three questions: How was it possible for a modern state to carry out the systematic murder of a people for no reason other than that they were Jewish? How did European Jewry allow itself to be destroyed? How could the world stand by without halting this destruction?

“The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust” David S. Wyman, Pantheon Books, 1986. During the course of the war, numerous opportunities presented themselves for rescuing substantial numbers of Jews. This well-documented study shows that the U.S. State Department, President, or the British Foreign Office had no intention of rescuing large numbers of European Jews. In addition to his criticism of the official response from the U.S. government, Wyman also indicts some of the American Zionist leaders.

“Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory” Deborah Lipstadt, 1994, Penguin. “Denial of the Holocaust has about as much credibility as the theory that the earth is flat. Yet some people argue today that the deaths of six million Jews in Nazi concentration camps is a myth. For a long time, proponents of this theory have been regarded as distasteful eccentrics on the lunatic fringe. But lately they have gone on the offensive and have achieved a shocking new degree of credibility; As more and more actual witnesses to the Holocaust die, the need becomes more urgent to expose this sinister fraud and refute its contentions.”

“Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust” Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Knopf, 1996. “Drawing principally on materials eithet unpublished or neglected by previous scholars, Goldhagen marshalls new, disquieting primary evidence – including extensive testimony from the actual perpetrators themselves – to show that many beliefs about the killers are fallacies: They were not primarily SS men or Nazi Party members, but perfectly ordinary Germans from all walks of life, men (and women) who brutalized and murdered Jews both willingly and zealously. And they did so, moreover, not because they were coerced (for, as he shows irrefutable, so many were informed by their own commanders that they could refuse to kill without fear of punishment)…not because they slavishly followed orders…not because of any tremendous social, psychological, or peer-pressure to conform to the behaviour of their colleagues….They acted as they did because of a widespread, profound, unquestioned and virulent antisemitism that led them to regard Jews as a demonic enemy who extermination was not only necessary but just.

30. Religious and philosophical responses to the Holocaust

“Post-Holocaust Dialogues” Steven T. Katz, NYU Press, 1984.
“Charging that many widely held opinions found in the body of modern Jewish philosophy are inadequate if not false, Katz attempts a reconstruction of these beliefs into a more compelling and tightly composed account of Jewish thought.” The main concern is religious responses to the Holocaust by Eliezer Berkovits, Richard Rubenstein, Emil Fackenheim, and Ignaz Maybaum.

“Historicism, The Holocaust and Zionism” Steven T. Katz, NYU Press, 1992. Essays herein offers a critical exploration of several of the most important topics in modern Jewish thought. Besides containing papers on Franz Rosenzweig and Abraham Joshua Heschel, Katz discusses the role of racial antisemitism in Germany after WWI; outlines and analyzes the issues of comparing the Holocaust to other historical events, such as the mass witch burnings of the middle ages, black slavery, the decimation of North American Indians, the Nazi assaults on Gypsies and homosexuals, and Polish and Ukranian losses during WWII. Discusses the various ideas concerning the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and more theological responses to it.

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, Harold Kushner

“Theological and Halakhic Relctions on the Holocaust” Bernhard Rosenberg and Fred Neuman, Ktav, 1992. “This collection of articles represents in great measure the theological response of centrist Orthodoxy a generation after, and represents a rejection of ‘God’s judgment theory’. It contains a wealth of material, some of them classic pieces long unavailable and many written for this volume by distinguished Orthodox thinkers”. Contributors include Rabbis Joseph Soloveitchik, Norman Lamm, Emanuel Rackman, Haskel Lookstein, Reuven Bulka, Eliezer Berkovits, and more.

“The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness”, Simon Wiesenthal, Shocken Books. Put yourself in the position of a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks for your forgiveness. What would you do? In The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal raises that question for readers to wrestle with, and they have been passionately doing so ever since. As a young man imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Wiesenthal was taken one day from his labor brigade to a hospital at the request of Karl, a mortally wounded Nazi soldier. Tormented by the crimes in which he had participated, including the murder of a family with a small child, the SS man wanted to confess to–and if possible, receive absolution from–a Jew. Wiesenthal, left the room in silence, but remained intrigued by the issues the man’s request raised about the limits and possibilities of forgiveness. Must we, can we, forgive the repentant criminal, no matter how heinous the crime? Can we forgive crimes committed against others? What do we owe the victims? Twenty-five years after the Holocaust, Wiesenthal asked leading intellectuals what they would have done in his place. Collected into one volume, their responses became one of the most enduring documents of Holocaust literature and a touchstone of interfaith dialogue. This new edition of The Sunflower, issued in honor of the twentieth anniversary of it’s publication in the United States, brings together the voices of a new generation of thinkers, including Robert Coles, Matthew Fox, Arthur Hertzberg, Harold Kushner, Dith Pran, the Dalai Lama, Dennis Prager, Tzvetan Todorov, and Harry Wu. Their answers reflect the teachings of their diverse beliefs, and remind us that Wiesenthal’s question is not limited only to events of the past.

31. Antisemitism

“Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred”, Robert S. Wistrich. Pantheon Books, 1992. Discusses antisemitism from its beginnings to the present, tracing it from its pagan roots to the Christian charge of deicide and beyond, to the massacres of the Crusades and the Inquisition, which heralded later blood libels and fantasies of Jewish conspiracies for world domination. Focuses on the dramatic reemergence of antisemitism in the wake of the collapse of Communism and the new national hysteria which has set the ground burning under the feet of a still substantial Jewish minority. Provides a country-by-country survey, showing the modern guise of antisemitism as it appears today throughout the world.

“Antisemitism in the New Testament”, pb, Lillian C. Freudmann, 358 pages, University Press of America, 1994. The publisher writes “This is the first book since the canonization of the New Testament which studies its anti-Jewish contents on a thorough, systematic, verse-by-verse basis. The author identifies every misquotation and mistranslation from the Hebrew Bible and rebuts every antisemitic assertion in the Christian Scriptures. The book examines the historical background in which the Gospels and Epistles were written and how contemporary conditions affected their contents. The final chapter deals with the impact of the New Testament on Jews and Christians for the past two millennia and the possibilities of revising this trend through alternate interpretations.”

“Christian Antisemitism : A History of Hate”, William Nicholls, Jason Aronson Inc., 1995. Nicholls writes, “Many Jewish writers have said, quite simply, that the Nazis chose the Jews as the target of their hate because two thousand years of Christian teaching had accustomed the world to do so. Few Christian historians and theologians have been sufficiently open to the painful truth to accept this explanation without considerable qualification. Nevertheless, it is correct.” This book traces how Christian teachings about Jews affected Western culture, and how it still influences the world today. This book also shows us the historical Jesus (who was likely an observant Jew), and shows that it was the Romans who were his killers.

32. Orthodox, Chassidic and Haredi Judaism

“The World of Orthodox Judaism”, pb, Eli W. Schlossberg, Jason Aronson, 1997. From an Orthodox perspective, this book gives a portrait of an Orthodox Judaism, the institutions of Orthodox Jewish Life, the many groups and lifestyles, and how Orthodox Jews observe Judaism.

“American Jewish Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective” by Jeffrey S. Gurock, 1996, Ktav. Illustrates how Orthodoxy is composed of a spectrum of approaches. Contains 15 of Gurock’s most important essays with a new intro. Beginning with his classic “Resisters and Accommodators” and “The Orthodox Synagogue,” this collection proceeds to case studies that examine the ways in which Orthodox Jews understood Christian religious threats, modern Zionist ideologies, the varieties of Orthodox lay behavior, profiles of influential Orthodox rabbis, styles of American Orthodox synagogues, etc.

“Piety and Power: The World of Jewish Fundamentalism” by David Landau, Pub. by Hill and Wang, 1993. Illuminates philosophies and lifestyles of the various right wing Orthodox Jewish sects. Landau (an Orthodox Jew and editor of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz) examines the resurgence of haredism and its sociopolitical impact. Describes haredi and Chassidic communities in the Diaspora and Israel, and their newly emerged political power. Both the rightist Likud and the left-leaning Labor parties woo the haredim with financial support for their yeshivas, and with draft deferments. Landau documents the extent of all this kosher political pork, tracing it back to Israel’s founding years. The emerging messianism within Lubavitch is discussed. Also details the schisms that divide the sects from one another, and the even wider breach between them and Modern Orthodox Jews, who are often seen as an enemy. Concludes with a study of the “Who is a Jew?” debate.

“The Faith of the Mithnagdim: Rabbinic Responses to Hasidic Rapture” Allan Nadler, John Hopkins Univ Press. The first study of the theological roots of the Mithnagdim, the opponents to Hasidic Judaism. This effort fills the void in scholarship on Mithnagdic thought and corrects the impression that there were no compelling theological alternatives to Hasidism during the period of its rapid spread across Eastern Europe at the turn of the 19th century. Nadler recovers the work of Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon, Gaon of Vilna; Rabbi Phinehas ben Judah, Maggid of Polotsk; and other figures who established Mithnagdism as an influential movement in Jewish religious thought.

33. Conservative (Masorti) Judaism

“Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors To Our Descendants” Elliot N. Dorff, United Synagogue Book Service. An authoritative sourcebook on the origins and philosophy of the Conservative Movement. Covers the development of Judaism from the time of the Torah to the enlightenment, and discusses the theology and philosophy of the Jewish movements that developed in response to the modern age: Conservative, Reform, Orthodox and Reconstructionist Judaism. Explains Conservative Judaism’s philosophy on tradition and change within halakha (Jewish law), social issues and more.

“Conservative Judaism: The New Century” Neil Gillman, Behrman House. Through history, photographs, and personal recollection, this book recreates the history of the Conservative movement. Written from an insider’s perspective, this book explores the history and ideology behind the development of the modern Jewish movements. It then discusses the key issues that have forced the movement to come to terms with its identity.

“Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism” The official statement of beliefs of the Conservative movement. 64 pages.

“Halakhah For Our Time: A Conservative Approach to Jewish Law” David Golinkin. One of the crucial differences between the three major Jewish religious denominations is their approach towards halakhah (Jewish law): Is halakhah obligatory? If so, why? Who has the authority to interpret halakhah? Is it permissible to change halakhah, and if so, according to which principles? This book tries to answer these questions from the perspective of the Conservative (Masorti) movement.

“Tradition and Change: The Development of Conservative Judaism”. Statements by the founders and leading spokesmen of the Conservative movement on Judaism, halakha, theology and Zionism. Includes rabbinic responsa dealing with the use of electricity and automobiles on the Sabbath.

“Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America”, Two volumes, Ed. Jack Wetheimer, JTS Publications, NY, 1997

“Jews in the Center: Conservative Synagogues and Their Members”
Ed. Jack Wertheimer, Rutgers Univ. Press, 2000

“The Conservative Movement in Judaism: Dilemmas and Opportunities”
Daniel Judah Elazar, Rela Mintz Geffen, SUNY Press, 2000

34. Reform Judaism

Michael A. Meyer “A Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism” Wayne State Univ Press. David Singer, in Commentary magazine, writes: “Meyer is associated with Reform Judaism as a faculty member at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, but his book bears none of the marks of a potted institutional history. He presents the Reform movement in all its diversity and complexity, paying particular attention to the intellectual element without, however, slighting the institutional side. Meyer also consistently underscores the larger historical context in which Reform developed, pointing up the interplay with concurrent trends in both Jewish and general society. Finally, and most importantly, Meyer shows eminent good sense in his judgments, readily acknowledging the achievements of Reform but also facing up to its more problematic aspects. All in all, he has produced an important work of historical synthesis, one that will be cited for years to come.”

W. Gunther Plaut “The Growth of Reform Judaism” World Union for Progressive Judaism, 1965.

Eugene Borowitz “Reform Judaism Today”, Behrman House. (Originally published by UAHC Press, 1977) An omnibus volume that discusses the evolution of Reform Judaism. Covers the Reform vision of God, Torah, and Israel; what it means to be a Reform Jew today, and the place of Reform in the spectrum of Jewish rituals and practices. pb

“Liberal Judaism” Eugene Borowitz , UAHC, 1984. This book probes the varieties of Jewish thought and ritual practice from the perspective of liberal Judaism.

35. Reconstructionist Judaism

“Judaism As a Civilization” by Mordecai M. Kaplan, Jewish Publications Society, 1994. 640 pages. One of the most original contributions toward creating a comprehensive program for creative Jewish life. Kaplan describes his concept of Judaism as an evolving religious civilization.

“The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion” Mordecai M. Kaplan. One of his most easily understood works. Organized around the Jewish holidays, it actually is an elaboration of the basic concepts of his theology, naturalism. This edition includes a new introduction, in which Kaplan’s thought is put in a historical perspective.

“Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach”, Rebecca T. Alpert and Jacob J. Staub, The Reconstructionist Press, 1988.

36. Ethics

“The Book of Jewish Values” Joseph Telushkin, 519 pp. Bell Tower, 2000.

“The Challenge of Wealth: A Jewish Perspective on Earning and Spending Money” by Meir Tamari, Jason Aronson, 1995. A study on the subject of money as it applies to earning and spending, business transactions, financial management, charity, and Judaism’s teachings on the use of wealth. Emphasizes the idea that concepts of morality and ethics (rather than economic systems) are the real basis for achieving economic justice and a more equitable market. Studies moral issues related to the creation of wealth. Reviews the causes of economic immorality and the solutions offered by religion, free markets, and socialism.

“The Kabbalah of Money: Insights on Livelihood, Business, and All Forms of Economic Behavior”, Nilton Bonder. Shambhala. Drawing on Jewish ethical teachings, mystical lore, and tales of the Hasidic masters, the author examines a wide range of subjects, including competition, partnerships, contracts, loans and interest, the laws of fair exchange, and tips and presents. It challenges readers to take a broad and ethical view of economic behavior.

“The Business Bible: 10 New Commandments for Bringing Spirituality & ethical values into the workplace”, Wayne Dosick. (Jewish Lights) “If you get up each morning to go to work, this guide contains the reminder you need to succeed: you can do well and, at the very same time, you can do good. Rabbi Wayne Dosick gives us tools to solve both the major moral dilemmas and the day-to-day questions of life at work. He offers ten new commandments that can transform our work and work environment into places for accomplishment and satisfaction, honesty and integrity, decency and dignity—and success. Through stories, real-life business situations, and artfully chosen spiritual texts, The Business Bible reminds us that principles don’t have to be sacrificed for profits, that value means more than net worth, and that spiritual ethics can lead to business excellence.”

“You Shall Strengthen Them: A Rabbinic Letter on the Poor” Elliot N. Dorff and Lee Paskind. The Rabbinical Assembly, 1999. 60 pages.

“Matters of Life and Death: Jewish Bio-Ethics” Elliot N. Dorff, Jewish Publication Society, 1998. Discusses modern medical ethical dilemmas from a Conservative Jewish point of view, which advocates adherence to traditional Judaism along with a modern understanding of how Jewish law develops in a historical and social context. Summarizes the beliefs underlying Jewish medical ethics. Address a number of issues including: infertility, artificial insemination, genetic engineering, cloning, surrogate motherhood, and birth control. Discusses living wills, hospice care, euthanasia, organ donation, autopsy and the distribution of health care.

“Life & Death Responsibilities in Jewish Biomedical Ethics”, Ed. Aaron L. Mackler, JTS, 2000. Contains teshuvot from the law committee of the Conservative movement written between 1975 and 2000. Subjects: artificial insemination; in-vitro fertilization; surrogate motherhood; abortion; medical care at the end of life and care for the terminally ill; assisted suicide and euthanasia; organ transplants; autopsy; responsibilities for the provision of health care; genetic engineering and smoking.

“Practical Medical Halakha” Fred Rosner and Moshe Tendler, Jason Aronson Inc., 1997. Also see “Medicine and Jewish Law” Volumes 1 and 2, Fred Rosner, Pub. by Jason Aronson Inc., 1994, pb, 216 pages. These are authoritative presentations of modern medical ethics from an Orthodox Jewish point of view (which, on these issues, is often very similar to that in Conservative Judaism.)

(D) Series of 3 new books by Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff from JPS

37. Agunah

“The Wed-Locked Agunot: Orthodox Jewish Women Chained to Dead Marriages”
Susan Aranoff and Rivka Haut
“This book takes the reader inside the rabbinic courts, into civil divorce courts and legislatures that contend with this problem and into the lives of victimized women and children. Well-versed in Jewish divorce law, the authors have counseled thousands of agunot and challenged the Orthodox rabbinate’s inaction in response to the injustices faced by these women.”

“Women and Jewish Divorce: The Rebellious Wife, the Agunah and the Right of Women to Initiate Divorce, in Jewish Law, a Halakhic Solution”
by Shlomo Riskin, Ktav, 1988

38. Science and religion

Introduction:

“Is There a God?” Richard Swinburne, 144 pages, 1997, Oxford Univ. Press, pb, $10.95. A condensation and popularization of “The Existence of God” (see below) is an argument from the orderliness of the universe, maintaining that theism accounts for that orderliness more simply and more completely than humanism or materialism.

“When Science Meets Religion”, Ian G. Barbour, 192 pagesm 2000, Harper SanFrancisco. The Amazon.Com review states “…In this slim volume, physicist and theologian Ian Barbour summarizes his own decades-long accumulation of knowledge….Writing with clarity and a scientist’s eye for organization, Barbour takes on the scientific and theological significance of the big questions: the big bang, quantum physics, Darwin and Genesis, human nature (the question of determinism), and the relationship between a free God and a law-bound universe. In each chapter, Barbour recognizes four possible ways of responding to the dilemmas posed by these topics: conflict, represented by Biblical literalists and atheists, both of whom agree that a person cannot believe in both God and evolution; independence, which asserts that “science and religion are strangers who can coexist as long as they keep a safe distance from each other”; dialogue, which invites a conversation between the two fields; and integration, which moves beyond dialogue to explore ways in which the two fields can inform each other. Barbour notes that his own sympathies lie with dialogue and integration. Barbour won the 1999 Templeton Prize for his role in advancing the study of science and religion.”
http://www.harpercollins.com/hc/bookPage/index.asp?isbn=006060381X

Advanced:
“The Existence of God (Revised edition)” Richard Swinburne 327 p., 1991 Clarendon Press, $42 HC, $30 pb. British philosophy professor Richard Swinburne offers what is quite possibly the most sustained attempt to argue for God’s existence since the middle ages. Formally a philosopher of science, Swinburne avoids many of the absurdities that characterize many recent defenses of theism. He is clearly familiar with logic and the tools of analytic philosophy and presents some interesting versions of several classic arguments. His strategy is to argue that no single argument is cogent in isolation but that when several arguments are examined together their combined weight makes God’s existence more probable than not.

Ian G. Barbour “Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues”, 1997, $19, Harper SanFrancisco. This is an expanded and revised version of “Religion in an age of science” (1990); It covers the same topics as “When Science Meets Religion” (see above) but in more detail.

39. Judaism and Christianity

“Judaism and Christianity: The Differences” Trude Weiss Rosmarin. “analyzes the basic differences between Judaism and Christianity. She maintains that there is an inherent conflict between the basic views of these mother/daughter religions, a conflict that cannot be resolved but that must be understood. Among the subjects addressed are miracles, sin and atonement, faith versus law, Free Will versus Original Sin, asceticism, and the place of Jesus in Jewish thinking.”

“A Rabbi Talks With Jesus” Jacob Neusner. “Imagine yourself transported two thousand years back in time to Galilee at the moment of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. After hearing it, would you abandon your religious beliefs and ideology to follow him, or would you hold on to your own beliefs and walk away?… Placing himself within the context of the Gospel of Matthew, Neusner imagines himself in a dialogue with Jesus of Nazareth and pays him the supreme Judaic gesture of respect: making a connection with him through an honest debate about the nature of God’s One Truth. Neusner explains why the Sermon on the Mount would not have convinced him to follow Jesus and why, by the criterion of the Torah of Moses, he would have continued to follow the teachings of Moses. He explores the reasons Christians believe in Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven, while Jews continue to believe in the Torah of Moses and a kingdom of priests and holy people on earth.”

40. Stories and folkore

Pito Rosario See:

“Mimekor Yisrael: Classical Jewish Folktales”
Micha Joseph bin Gorion Prepared, Dan Ben-Amos, and Emanuel bin Gorion, 560 pages

“Mimekor Yisrael: Selected Classical Jewish Folktales”
Abridged and Annotated Edition
Micha Joseph bin Gorion Prepared, Dan Ben-Amos, and Emanuel bin Gorion. 1991, 288 pages.

“Folktales of Israel”, Dov Noy (Editor), Gene Baharav (Translator), University of Chicago Press; (January 1969) 221 pages.

“Because God Loves Stories: An Anthology of Jewish Storytelling”, Ed. Steven J. Zeitlin. 1997
“olklorist Steve Zeitlin assembles the work of thirty-six Jewish storytellers, each of whom spins tales that express his or her own distinctive visions of Jewish culture. Contemporary storytellers re-interpret stories from the Talmud for modern sensibilities, the Grand Rabbi of Bluzhov tells tales of the Holocaust, beloved comedian Sam Levenson regales readers with hilarious vignettes of Jewish life in America, and much more.”

“Jewish Folktales” Pinhas Sadeh, 1989, 468 pages.
“Translated by Hillel Halkin, this is a remarkably diverse and immensely entertaining gathering of Jewish legends and the first worldwide anthology of Jewish folktales. It draws from both traditional Eastern European literary sources and the vast body of oral material from the Middle East and North Africa.”

41. Misc.

“Encyclopaedia Judaica”, Keter Publishing.
Perhaps the best and most comprehensive Judaica resource, covering all aspects of Jewish religions, history and civilization, is the 26 volume Encyclopedia Judaica. When it was originally released in 1972 it had 16 original volumes; these were updated with eight subsequent year books and two later decitennial volumes. While most people will find it too expensive to own their own print copy, this resource is widely available in academic libraries, as well as in most synagogues. A more affordable way of owning this is the CD-ROM version, containing all 26 volumes, many new updates, and new audio and visual material.

Peshat and Derash

Jews study the Tanakh (Bible) on multiple levels:

The first level is פְּשָׁט‎ peshat, taking the text at face value, in context . This doesn’t quite mean “literal”, because we of course take into account idioms, metaphors, personification, etc. The peshat is the message that the original author intended to get across to the original audience.

The second level is the distinctively Jewish way of reading our Bible: דְּרַשׁ ,derash. This the way that Ḥazal (חז”ל‎‎) – the rabbis of the Mishnah, Midrash and Talmuds – interpreted the text.  In derash we ask why the text is phrased the way that it is. Rabbinical literary techniques plumb the depths of the text to find new meaning, or may bring out lessons that may not have been intended by the original authors.

Discussions by Ḥazal (חז”ל‎‎) reveal that, in some cases, they felt that derash was discovering the original meaning of the text, while in other discussions they clearly understood derash as filling-in-the-blanks – creating new meaning. Often they were writing Biblical homilies. See Are Midrash literally and historically true?

During the medieval era both schools of thought continued: Some meforshim (classical Bible commentators) such as Rashi, often accepted much derash as literally and historically true, while others (Rashbam, Abraham Ibn Ezra) felt otherwise.

Conflating the derash with the peshat later became a defining characteristic of fundamentalist versions of rabbinic Judaism. Understanding that they are not identical became characteristic of non-fundamentalist versions of rabbinic Judaism.

Ari Marcelo Solon writes “Rashi’s grandson, Rashbam (R. Samuel ben Meir) clearly
distinguished between peshat and derash. His terminology relating to the peshat category is well-defined. Rashbam consistently interpreted in accordance with the peshat method; that is to say, he limited himself to the text itself, interpreting it according to its vocabulary, syntax and context, in relation to biblical parallels, according to common sense as well as derekh eretz (what is customary). Unlike Rashi, Rashbam did
not integrate biblical text and Midrash. It was Rashi who paved the way towards a clear distinction between peshat and derash in the writings of his successors. Yet in his commentaries, such a distinction still remains unrevealed.”

Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) may deny that there is any difference between peshat and derash. They characterically teach that we are obligated to accept the derash as if it is the literal, original and only interpretation of the Bible. They may refer to any other approach as heretical.

In contrast, rabbis who appreciate great medieval Bible commentators such as Abraham Ibn Ezra and Rashbam, or who follow philosophical rationalism, have the opposite approach: Such rabbis are found within some of Modern Orthodoxy and all of non-Orthodox Judaism (Conservative Judaism, Masorti, Reform, etc.)

To see examples of Jewish bible study, see Jewish Tanakh (Bible) commentaries in English.

Modern Orthodox Rabbi Shalom Carmy (Yeshiva University) explains the difference between peshat and derash like this

1. Peshat–what text meant for first generation audience. Derash- what it may mean in retrospect. (Rabbi D.Z. Hoffmann says this).
2. Peshat– what’s in the lines; Derash- what’s hinted at between the lines, OR
2′. Peshat–what’s in the text; Drash- “filling in gaps” of what’s not explicit in text.

The relations between these levels is complicated & function differently in Halakhic and narrative contexts.
There are also ambiguities–what’s written in the first chapter of a book often has one meaning when you read the book the first time and another meaning when you get to the end. Likewise what a pasuk means in Shemot may appear different after you have reached Dvarim.

Articles

Correctly Construing Biblical Verses Upon which Halakhot Claim to be Based, Professor Rabbi Marty Lockshin

Ibn Ezra vs. Rashbam –  Can The Torah Contradict  Halacha (Jewish Law)?

http://thetorah.com/can-torah-contradict-halacha/

Does Halakha Uproot Scripture? Prof. Rabbi Marty Lockshin

Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis” by Rav Prof. David Weiss Halivni (Oxford U. Press 1991)

The Religious Significance of the Peshat, Uriel Simon. Tradition 23 (2), Winter 1988 also here at http://www.lookstein.org/articles/simon_peshat.htm

Book: Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra: Studies in the Writings of a Twelfth-Century Jewish Polymath, Edited by Isadore Twersky and Jay M. Harris. Chapter Abraham Ibn Ezra as an Exegete, by Nahum M. Sarna

What do we do when a verse in the Torah says one thing but halakha, Jewish law, attributes a very different meaning to it? Some people engage in fundamentalist wordplay to conclude that there’s no difference between the peshat of the Torah, and Halakhah. But such differences exist; Even the Talmud notes this:

In the nineteenth century, Samuel David Luzzatto (Shadal; 1800-1865) developed a new way of solving the peshat-halakha dilemma, suggesting that midrash halakha (rabbinic interpretation of biblical legal texts) often represents rabbinic legislation, and NOT biblical commentary. He makes his clearest and most detailed statement on the topic in his commentary on Parashat Tzav…. Shadal’s approach to the peshat–derash issue is novel and simple: Whenever the peshat says one thing and the midrash says something very different, Shadal says that the peshat is what the Torah means and the midrash represents rabbinic legislation, not biblical interpretation…. From a halachic point of view, this approach may be problematic: these laws that were connected to biblical verses by means of a derashah were standardly considered by the rabbis to be of Torah, not rabbinic, origin (דאורייתא, not דרבנן), as Shadal’s approach apparently implies. Remarkably, for Shadal, the classical rabbis were religious reformers who changed the laws of the Torah, making them less stringent. Shadal lived in the early days of Reform Judaism and took issue with its innovations. Accordingly, he takes pains to distinguish the motivations of the classical rabbis from what he understood to be the motivations of his more liberal contemporaries [Classic German Reform Judaism]

Peshat vs. Halakha Dilemma: Shadal and Tradition

Oral law

The Written law [Tanakh] makes it clear that it was being transmitted side by side with an oral tradition. Many terms and definitions used in the written law are undefined. Many fundamental concepts such as shekhita (slaughtering of animals in a kosher fashion), divorce and the rights of the firstborn are all assumed as common knowledge by text, and are not elaborated upon. The Oral Law, then, is a legal commentary on the Torah, explaining how its commandments are to be carried out. – Wikipedia, Oral Torah

Pages of Talmud

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes:

Common sense suggests that some sort of oral tradition was always needed to accompany the Written Law, because the Torah alone is an insufficient guide to carrying out the laws in practice. For example, the fourth of the Ten Commandments, ordains, “Remember the Sabbath day to make it holy” (Exodus 20:8). From the Sabbath’s inclusion in the Ten Commandments, it is clear that the Torah regards it as an important holiday. Yet when one looks for the specific biblical laws regulating how to observe the day, one finds only injunctions against lighting a fire, going away from one’s dwelling, cutting down a tree, and plowing and harvesting. Would merely refraining from these few activities fulfill the biblical command to make the Sabbath holy? Indeed, the Sabbath rituals that are most commonly associated with holiness – lighting of candles, reciting the kiddush, and the reading of the weekly Torah portion – are found not in the Torah, but in the Oral Law.

The Torah also is silent on many important subjects. The Torah has nothing to say concerning a marriage ceremony. To be sure, the Torah presumes that people will get married “Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) – but nowhere in the Torah is a marriage ceremony recorded. Only in the Oral Law do we find details on how to perform a Jewish wedding. {Telushkin}

Without an oral tradition, many of the Torah’s laws would be incomprehensible. In Deuteronomy, the Bible instructs: “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes” (see Deuteronomy 6:4).

“Bind them for a sign upon your hand,” the last verse instructs. Bind what? The Torah doesn’t say. “And they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.” What are frontlets? The Hebrew word for frontlets, totafot is used three times in the Torah – always in this context (Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18) and is as obscure as is the English. Only in the Oral Law do we learn that what a Jewish male should bind – tefillin.

Despite its name, the Oral Law today is a written law, codified in law collections known as the Mishna and the two Talmuds. It used to be passed along orally, but after many centuries it was finally written down so that information wouldn’t be lost.

Strangely enough, the Oral Law today is a written law, codified in the Mishna and Talmud. Orthodox Judaism believes that most of the oral traditions recorded in these books dates back to God’s revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. When God gave Moses the Torah, Orthodoxy teaches, He simultaneously provided him all the details found in the Oral Law. It is believed that Moses subsequently transmitted that Oral Law to his successor, Joshua, who transmitted it to his successor, in a chain that is still being carried on (Ethics of the Fathers 1:1).

Given this chain of authority, one might wonder why the Mishna and Talmud are filled with strong debates between rabbis,who have very different understandings of what the law shoud be. Shouldn’t they have all been recipients of the same, unambiguous tradition Orthodox teachers respond that the debates came about either because students forgot some of the details transmitted by their teachers, or because the Oral Law lacks specific teachings on the issue being discussed.

– Joseph Telushkin. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History. William Morrow and Co.