New and Noteworthy Books Received

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Norman Lebrecht, Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947 (Scribner)
The recent controversial NY Times op-ed which drew on this book should not discourage readers from exploring Lebrecht’s interesting portrait of a dozen Jewish scientists, artists, thinkers and politicians who made singular contributions to western civilization (read an excerpt).

Alec Goldstein, A Theology of Holiness: Historical, Exegetical, and Philosophical Perspectives (Kodesh Press)
This work traces how the idea of holiness has been applied throughout the ages, using historical, exegetical, linguistic, literary, anthropological, and philosophical tools in an interdisciplinary analysis, helping the reader achieve a deeper understanding of holiness—arguably the most important religious term of them all.

Geoffrey Herman and Jeffrey L. Rubenstein, editors, The Aggada of the Bavli and Its Cultural World (Brown Judaic Studies)
The Talmud’s aggadic traditions often echo conversations with the surrounding cultures of the Persians, Eastern Christians, ancient Babylonians, and others. The essays in this volume analyze aggadot to reveal this rich engagement of the Talmud with its cultural world. Among the topics explored: An analysis of the different conceptions of martyrdom in the Talmud as opposed to the Eastern Christian martyr accounts, and a demonstration of the presence of Persian-Zoroastrian royal and mythological motifs in various Talmudic sources.

Meira Polliack and Athalya Brenner-Idan, editors, Jewish Biblical Exegesis From Islamic Lands: The Medieval Period (SBL Press)
Medieval Judeo-Arabic translations of the Hebrew Bible and their commentaries provide a rich source for understanding a formative period in the intellectual, literary, and cultural history and heritage of Jews in Islamic lands. The texts selected in this volume offer insight into Arabic translations and commentaries from the tenth to the twelfth centuries CE. Each text is embedded within an essay discussing its exegetical context, reception, and contribution.

Shalom E. Holtz, Praying Legally (Brown Judaica Studies)
In biblical sources, prayer is an opportunity to make one’s case before the Divine Judge. Prayers were formulated using courtroom or trial language, including demands for judgment, confessions, and accusations. Holtz highlights legal concepts that appear in prayers, including the motif of the speakers’ oppression in Psalms, the possibility of a countersuit against God through prayer, and divine attention and inattention as legal responses. By reading ancient prayers together with legal texts, this book shows how speakers took advantage of prayer as an opportunity to have their day in the divine court and even sue against divine injustice.

Moshe Sokolow, Reading the Rav: Exploring Religious Themes in the Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Kodesh Press)
This volume explores how Rabbi Soloveitchik understood ideas central to Jewish life, including the relationship between man and God, the role and centrality of prayer from historical and philosophical perspectives, belief in redemption, the role of Zionism in Judaism.

The Legends of Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah: With the Commentary of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, introduction, translation and notes by Bezalel Naor (Kodesh Press)
The enigmatic aggadot of Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah (Bava Batra 73a-74a) have fascinated interpreters for millennia. Rav Kook’s early commentary on these “legends” were written early in his career but not published until the 1980s. Bezalal Nair now brings Rav Kook’s exploration of the aggadot to the English reader through his lucid translation and insightful exegesis.

Samuel Lebens, Dani Rabinowitz and Aaron Segal, editors, Jewish Philosophy in an Analytic Age (Oxford University Press)
Since the classical period, Jewish scholars have drawn on developments in philosophy to enrich our understanding of Judaism. This methodology reached its pinnacle in the medieval period with figures like Maimonides and continued into the modern period with the likes of Levinas. The explosion of Anglo-American/analytic philosophy in the twentieth century means that there is now a treasure chest of material, largely unexplored by Jewish philosophy, with which to explore, analyze, and develop the Jewish tradition. This book gathers together a number of analytic philosophers and invites them to turn their training to an investigation of Jewish texts, traditions, and/or thinkers, in order to showcase what Jewish philosophy might look like in an analytic age.

Roberta G. Sands, The Spiritual Transformation of Jews Who Become Orthodox (SUNY Press)
A psychological study, based on extensive interview data, this book examines the process of adopting Orthodox Judaism and the extensive life changes that are required. The book examines family backgrounds, initial explorations, decisions to make a commitment, spiritual struggles, and psychological and social integration, and frankly explores challenges to furthering one’s education, gaining cultural knowledge, and raising a family without parental role models. By showing how ba’alei teshuva integrate their new understandings of Judaism into their identities, Sands provides insight into a significant aspect of contemporary Orthodoxy.

Jerome Yehuda Gellman, Perfect Goodness and the God of the Jews: A Contemporary Jewish Theology (Academic Studies Press)
The age-old challenge of reconciling belief in a perfectly good God has always been challenged by the dissonance between contemporary standards of morality judging His actions, which appear, according to those standards, to be in fact immoral. In addition, there is the perennial “problem of pain” and the suffering of those who seem to us as righteous. Gellman offers a fresh attempt to wrestle with these problems, relying both on analytical philosophy as well as Hasidic teaching.

My Opposition: The Diary of Friedrich Kellner – A German Against the Third Reich, edited by Robert Scott Kellner (Cambridge University Press)
A mid-level official in a provincial town, Friedrich Kellner kept a secret diary from 1939 to 1945, risking his life to record Germany’s path to dictatorship and genocide, and to protest his countrymen’s complicity in the regime’s brutalities. Just one month into the war he notes how soldiers on leave spoke openly about the extermination of the Jews, while he also documents the Gestapo’s merciless rule at home from euthanasia campaigns against the handicapped and mentally ill to the execution of anyone found listening to foreign broadcasts. This testimony of everyday life under the Third Reich is accompanied by a foreword explaining the remarkable story of how the diary was brought to light by Kellner’s grandson. Read the foreword here.

Uri Zur, Studies in Tractate Eruvin of the Talmud Bavli: Structure, Language, Redaction, and Halakha (Academic Studies Press)
Topics discussed in this volume include different types of structure in Talmudic texts from a literary point of view; the study of the Aramaic language from a linguistic and interpretive perspective; the redaction of sugyot in the Talmud Bavli analyzed from a textual point of view; and matters of halakha and halakhic rules. The volume’s appendix includes Zur’s thoughts on contemporary topics such as modern Judaism in Israel and peacemaking efforts grounded in the Biblical and Talmudic tradition.

Elisabeth Gallas, A Mortuary of Books: The Rescue of Jewish Culture After the Holocaust (New York University Press)
This book tells the story of the many Jewish organizations and individuals who, after the Holocaust, sought to recover the looted cultural property of the Jewish people and return the millions of treasured objects to their rightful owners. Some of the most outstanding Jewish intellectuals of the twentieth century, including Lucy Dawidowicz, Hannah Arendt, Salo W. Baron, and Gershom Scholem, were involved in this herculean effort, leading to the creation of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, an international body that acted as the trustee for heirless property and transferred hundreds of thousands of objects to the new centers of Jewish life after the Holocaust. Read the introduction here.

Norman Lamm, Torah Beloved: Reflections on the Love of Torah and the Celebration of the Holiday of Matan Torah (OU Press/Ktav)
Torah Beloved, a collection of sermons relating to the festival of Shavuot, expresses the Jewish attitude toward Torah study as the preeminent value in our lives with the eloquence and felicity for which Rabbi Lamm is renowned. In addition to the collected sermons, Torah Beloved also contains two essays by Rabbi Lamm on subjects related to this volume, on the relationship between scholarship and piety, and on the relative value of learning versus knowing.

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[Published February 3, 2020]

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