New and Noteworthy Books

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Judith Bleich, Defenders of the Faith: Studies in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodoxy and Reform (Touro University Press)
The Emancipation of European Jewry during the nineteenth century led to conflict between tradition and modernity, creating a chasm that few believed could be bridged. Unsurprisingly, the emergence of modern traditionalism was fraught with obstacles. The essays published in this collection, some of which first appeared in TRADITION, depict the passion underlying the disparate views, the particular areas of vexing confrontation, and the hurdles faced by champions of tradition.

Naftali Loewenthal, Hasidism Beyond Modernity: Essays in Habad Thought and History (Littman Library)
The Habad school of hasidism is distinguished today from other hasidic groups by its famous emphasis on outreach, on messianism, and on empowering women. Hasidism Beyond Modernity provides a critical, thematic study of the movement from its beginnings, showing how its unusual qualities evolved. Topics investigated include the theoretical underpinning of the outreach ethos; the turn towards women in the twentieth century; new attitudes to non-Jews; the role of the individual in the hasidic collective; spiritual contemplation in the context of modernity; the quest for inclusivism in the face of prevailing schismatic processes; messianism in both spiritual and political forms; and the direction of the movement after the passing of its seventh rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. 

Amnon Bazak, To This Very Day: Fundamental Questions in Bible Study (Maggid Books)
A welcome addition to Maggid Books’ “Tanakh Companion” series. Bazak, of Yeshivat Har Etzion and Michlelet Herzog, has emerged as a critical voice in Modern Orthodox Bible study and this volume wrestles with topics such as: The composition of biblical books, the contradictions found in legal and narrative sections, the findings of archaeology and our knowledge of the ancient Near East, the relationship between peshat and derash, and the sins of biblical characters. [Read the Introduction and first chapter here; read the review of the original Hebrew edition in TRADITION here.]

Yoel Bin-Nun and Binyamin Lau, Isaiah: Prophet of Righteousness and Justice (Maggid Studies in Tanakh)
Many consider Isaiah to be the prophet of world peace, a utopian visionary who transcends the boundaries of political reality and inhabits the realm of ideal cosmic harmony. This book, co-authored by two leading scholars in contemporary Tanakh study, explores another dimension to Isaiah – a political thinker who spent decades around the royal palace in Jerusalem, promoting justice and charity, speaking truth to power, struggling to avert disaster. By recapturing the prophet’s voice and highlighting the dilemmas faced by the rulers he challenged, this work presents Isaiah’s story in all its vitality and drama.

Adam Kirsch, Who Wants to Be a Jewish Writer (Yale University Press)
Adam Kirsch is one of today’s finest literary critics. This collection brings together his essays on poetry, religion, and the intersections between them, with a particular focus on Jewish literature. He explores the definition of Jewish literature, the relationship between poetry and politics, and the future of literary reputation in the age of the internet. Kirsch also examines why so many American Jewish writers have resisted that category, inviting us to consider “Is there such a thing as Jewish literature?”

Paul Mendes-Flohr, Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent (Jewish Lives/Yale University Press)
This biography is organized around several key moments in the life of Buber, such as his abandonment by his mother when he was a child, a foundational trauma that, Mendes-Flohr shows, left an enduring mark on Buber’s inner life, attuning him to the fragility of human relations and the need to nurture them with what he would call a “dialogical attentiveness.” The book situates Buber’s life and legacy in the intellectual and cultural life of German Jewry as well as in the broader European intellectual life of the first half of the twentieth century.

Joshua Teplitsky, Prince of the Press: How One Collector Built History’s Most Enduring and Remarkable Jewish Library (Yale University Press)
The story of one of the largest collections of Jewish books, and the man who used his collection to cultivate power, prestige, and political influence. David Oppenheim (1664–1736), chief rabbi of Prague, built an unparalleled collection of Jewish books and manuscripts, all of which have survived and are housed in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. His remarkable collection testifies to the myriad connections Jews maintained with each other across political borders, and the contacts between Christians and Jews that books facilitated. The story of his life and library brings together culture, commerce, and politics, all filtered through this extraordinary collection. Teplitsky’s book offers a window into the social life of Jewish books in early modern Europe.

Dov Singer, Prepare My Prayer: Recipes to Awaken the Soul (Maggid Books)
Prepare My Prayer is a unique attempt to develop a distinct language for the worship of the heart – a language of prayer. In an innovative and enlightening style, this volume presents a range of “recipes” for the soul – short, practical directions and steps for each and every person, veterans of prayer and novices alike, to enter the world of prayer, develop skills, and find meaning, fulfillment, and connection. This book aims to expand the concept of prayer beyond the synagogue and the siddur – to awaken the inner wellspring from which prayer flows and to breathe new life into the liturgy. [Read the opening of the book here.]

Appearance here does not preclude review in our print journal or on TraditionOnline.org. Publishers can contact our editor to submit titles. 

[Published on April 28, 2020]

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