New and Noteworthy Books

Tradition Online | March 21, 2021

Natan M. Meir, Stepchildren of the Shtetl: The Destitute, Disabled, and Mad of Jewish Eastern Europe, 1800—1939 (Stanford University Press)

This fascinating book examines the poorhouse in Eastern European Jewish towns with its resident beggars, madmen, disabled people, and poor orphans. Meir’s presentation of these marginalized figures through careful historical research and archival documents is enhanced by his attention to their representation in Hebrew and Yiddish literature, theatre, and culture [read introduction here].

Omri Asscher, Reading Israel, Reading America: The Politics of Translation Between Jews (Stanford University Press)

Daily headlines and recent Israeli court decisions prove that American and Israeli Jews have historically clashed over the contours of Jewish identity, and their experience of modern Jewish life has been radically different. In this monograph Asscher explores the politics and complexities of translation as it shapes the understandings and misunderstandings of Israeli literature in the United States (Amos Oz, A.B. Yeshoshua, and others) and American Jewish literature in Israel (Roth, Malamud, Bellow, et al.) [read introduction here].

Mordechai Zalkin, Beyond the Glory: Community Rabbis in Eastern Europe (De Greyter/Magnes)

The heroes of this book are not the “famous” 19th-century Eastern European rabbis you have heard of. Rather, Zalkin examines the lives of a thousand community rabbis: How were they trained? How did they win and retain their positions? What were their working conditions and their financial situation? What was their relationship with the local rabbinic scholars and the economic elite? How did they balance their communal responsibilities with their desire to advance their own lehrnen?

Shadal on Leviticus: Samuel David Luzzatto’s Interpretation of the Book of Vayikra, translated and edited by Daniel A. Klein (Kodesh Press)

Kodesh Press continues its important work of bringing the writings of Shadal to an English-speaking public. This third volume in the series, on Leviticus, contains the commentary of the significant Torah commentator, Samuel David Luzatto (1800-65), and covers such topics as the sacrificial system, and the concepts of ritual purity and impurity. This si the first complete translation of Shadal’s commentary.

Haym Soloveitchik, Collected Essays III (Littman Library)

This third installment in Prof. Soloveitchik’s collected essays focuses on the Hasidei Ashkenaz pietistic movement and on the writings and personality of the 12th-century Provencal commentator Ravad of Posquières. In his iconoclastic manner, Soloveitchik challenges reigning views to provide a new understanding of medieval Jewish thought. The volume also presents two new essays: a methodological study of what constitutes a valid historical inference (excerpted recently in Tablet), and an examination of the validity of the sociological and anthropological inferences presented in contemporary historiography. 

Zvi Faier, A Day Is a Thousand Years: Human Destiny and the Jewish People and Movements in a Dance: A Fresh Approach to Knowing (Mazo Publishers)

These posthumous works by Zvi Faier, a physicist, poet, and Torah scholar and translator, present his original ideas on a variety of subjects: Jewish destiny, our interplay with other nations and mankind as a whole, human awareness and attainment of truth, and God’s providential presence. 

Rachel B. Gross, Beyond the Synagogue: Jewish Nostalgia as Religious Practice (NYU Press)

This curious study suggests that nostalgic activity can serve as a parallel religious act, and not merely as cultural engagement. If so, Gross argues, the sociologists’ predictions of population doom draw data from the wrong places. But can a “kosher-style” deli or a museum visit replace the synagogue as a force to transmit Jewish life of any meaningful variety?

Dianna Lynn Roberts-Zauderer, Metaphor and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Thought: Moses ibn Era, Judah Halevi, Moses Maimonides, and Shem Tov ibn Falaquera (Palgrave Macmillan)

This book examines how the four figures of its subtitle understood metaphor and imagination, and their role in human description of God, and shows how they engaged with Arabic-Aristotelian thought, specifically with regard to imagination and its role in cognition. In her examination of select passages in the Guide, Roberts-Zauderer discusses how Maimonides’ attitude towards imagination may have developed.

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