New and Noteworthy Books

Tradition Online | September 5, 2022

Land and Spirituality in Rabbinic Literature: A Memorial Volume for Yaakov Elman, edited by Shana Strauch Schick (Brill)
This volume, originating in a conference at Yeshiva University’s Center for Israel Studies in memory of Yaakov Elman (a long-time member of TRADITION’s editorial board), presents a collection of studies devoted to the texts, traditions, and practices of the Land of Israel from the end of the Second Temple continuing through the end of the first millennium. Part I comprises studies on literature that examines practices and beliefs that developed in Eretz Yisrael, depicting a rich and textured picture of Late Antique Palestine, which displays certain commonalities with the culture of its Roman overseers and in other ways is highly distinctive. Part II shifts focus to the Babylonian Talmud and how it encountered, incorporated, and differed from traditions from the Land of Israel. Part II presents memorial tributes to the late and lamented scholar, Yaakov Elman, by colleagues and students. [Peruse ToC and read the Editor’s Introduction.] 

Chaim Grade, My Quarrel with Hersh Rassyner, bilingual English-Yiddish edition translated and with an introduction by Ruth R. Wisse (Toby Press & Tikvah Fund)
This classic of modern Jewish literature and modern Jewish thought, by the great Yiddishist Chaim Grade, presents a fictionalized debate that has occupied the Jewish people since the Holocaust. A dialogue between two estranged friends and survivors who meet several times in the 1930s and ‘40s, and argue over the viability of faith after the Shoah. Presented in a new translation with an ever insightful introduction by Prof. Ruth R. Wisse.

Nehemia Polen, Stop, Look, Listen: Celebrating Shabbos Through a Spiritual Lens (Maggid Books)
So much of our experience of Shabbat in the modern world involves focusing on cutting ourselves off from technology—in this new book, Nehemia Polen invites us to encounter Shabbat anew by considering how the day of rest allows us to time and space to reconnect spiritually, not just disconnect electronically. Combining deep readings of classical texts with practical spiritual and meditative practices, Polen offers lifelong Sabbath observers and those new to observance to get at the bedrock experience of what Shabbat offers modern people who may need it more than ever.

Ezra Bick, Shemoneh Esrei: Exploring the Fundamentals of Faith Through the Amida Prayer (Maggid Books)
Three times a day, Jews recite the Amida, requesting that the Creator grant them knowledge and justice, forgiveness and healing, redemption and peace. This book by R. Ezra Bick, long-time Ram at Yeshivat Har Etzion, seeks to unpack themes and thoughts embedded within that central daily prayer. By paying close attention to the text of the Amida and its biblical sources, Bick explores foundational ideas in Jewish belief that lie embedded within the Shemoneh Esrei. [Read Introduction and Chapter 1.]

Isaac Bashevis Singer, Old Truths and New Clichés: Essays, edited by David Stromberg (Princeton University Press)
Old Truths and New Clichés collects nineteen essays—most of them previously unpublished in English—by Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer on topics that were central to his artistic vision throughout his long literary career. These include the literary arts, Yiddish and Jewish life, and mysticism and philosophy. Above all, these essays—many presented from within the author’s archives—present Singer’s ideas in a new way, as universal reflections on the role of the artist in modern society, and will expand our understanding of Singer’s contribution as more than a “storyteller” but also as a formidable intellectual.

Marina Zilbergerts, The Yeshiva and the Rise of Modern Hebrew Literature (Indiana University Press)
The Yeshiva and the Rise of Modern Hebrew Literature argues that the institution of the yeshiva and its ideals of Jewish textual study played a seminal role in the resurgence of Hebrew literature in modern times. Zilbergerts’ original thesis points to Talmud study itself as modern Hebrew literature’s animating forces. Focusing on the early works and personal histories of founding figures of Hebrew literature, such as Moshe Leib Lilienblum and Chaim Nachman Bialik, the book attempts to unravel the complex web of modern Jewish letters with the hallowed tradition of rabbinic learning. 

Tal Sessler, Leibowitz and Levinas: Between Judaism and Universalism (Academic Studies Press)
Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Emmanuel Levinas, two of the 20th century’s prominent Jewish intellectuals, are brought together in this slim volume. The resulting “dialogue” on their respective critiques of political theology, totalitarianism, and approaches to Zionism. Reading the book allows us to encounter some of the central questions of contemporary Jewish identity, including the Holocaust, the State of Israel, Diaspora Jewry, modernity and traditionalism, and continuity and change.

(רועי גולדשמידט, דורשי רשומות: רטוריקה, עריכה, למדנות ומעמדות חברתיים בספרות הדרוש במזרח אירופה (מאגנס

Dorshei Reshumot by Ro’i Goldschmidt examines trends in Hasidic homiletics, the evolution of spoken sermons to written texts which become the ground-floor of Hasidic literature, the style and scope of sermons as rhetoric, and teases out distinct aspects of various texts based upon the original intended audience for the oral presentations upon which later written texts emerge.

(יעקב צ’ מאיר, דפוס ראשון: מהדורת התלמוד הירושלמי ונציה רפ”ג 1523 וראשית הדפוס העברי (מאגנס

The invention of the printing press was revolutionary in myriad ways, including the division of Talmud texts from handwritten-manuscripts to printed books. Defus Rishon, by Yakov Z. Mayer, explores ways that the arrival of print technology raises questions about knowledge transfer and reception. Using a 13th-century manuscript of the Yerushalmi as his test case, Meir shows the movement from manuscript to first edition print book (Venice, 15th century). Through careful textual analysis we come to understand the impact of print technology on knowledge, authority, and the Talmud texts studied until this day.

(יונתן רוזנצוויג ושמואל הריס, נפשי בשאלתי: הלכות בריאות הנפש (מגיד

This ground-breaking and important book explores a comprehensive array of issues surrounding mental health and halakha. Can someone suffering from severe depression listen to music on Shabbat if it will alleviate their symptoms? What is the force of the laws of respecting and honoring abusive parents? How can one suffering from OCD navigate some of the more “triggering” aspects of ritual observance? Co-authored by a rabbi and a psychiatrist, Nafshi be-She’elati not only provides copiously researched examinations of the complicated situations under discussion, but will also help to reorient communal conversation around mental health within the Orthodox community, shattering stigmas and stereotypes.

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