New and Noteworthy Books

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The New Jewish Canon: Ideas & Debates, 1980-2015, edited by Yehuda Kurtzer and Claire E. Sufrin (Academic Studies Press)
This ambitious anthology gathers over eighty excerpts of important texts from 1980-2015 which the editors argue have been central to shaping and reframing Jewish life and learning in our age. Each text is followed by a corresponding essay by an array of scholars, writers, teachers from across the Jewish world (at least the principally English-speaking, Shalom Hartman Institute orbit). Readers can argue with the selections – what’s in and what’s out – and the editors are aware of the difficulty of elevating any text to canonical status. That’s not the point. Their goal was to produce an anthology which would generate that most authentic of Jewish intellectual responses—learned debate. If so, the collection is worthy of our attention. [Watch the Zoom book launch.] 

Ayala Fader, Hidden Heretics: Jewish Doubt in the Digital Age (Princeton University Press)
Fader’s findings, culled from five years of fieldwork with men and women living double lives, show how the Internet has enabled a generation of Ultra-Orthodox Jews to live both inside and outside their communities. The work shows how the digital world has become the focus for contemporary struggles over authority, truth, faith, and skepticism. [Watch a Zoom conversation with the author.]

Hillel Halkin, The Lady of Hebrew and Her Lovers of Zion (Toby Press)
Halkin, a prolific and talented translator of Jewish literature to English, and an exceedingly keen reader of those texts, presents an array of 19th and early 20th century authors and poets whose work had a profound impact on the Jewish mind and imagination, politics and history. His portraits of writers such as Ahad Ha’am, Mendele, Bialik, Brenner, and Agnon, introduce their lives and their literature, and show how knowledge of their work helps us understand Jewish identity in the contemporary world. [Listen to a conversation between the author and Ruth R. Wisse.] 

Alexander Kaye, The Invention of Jewish Theocracy: The Struggle for Legal Authority in Modern Israel (Oxford University Press)
This book presents Jewish religious approaches to law and politics in the State of Israel, uncovering the forgotten history of religious Zionists who tried to create a “halakhic state” by making traditional Jewish law into Israel’s official law, and the inevitable conflict that effort engendered with secular Zionism. Many of contemporary Israel’s culture wars can only be understood on this backdrop. Perhaps most interestingly, in the name of creating what they suggest would be the most authentically Jewish legal system, proponents of “Medinat Halakha” have ironically borrowed from modern European jurisprudence. [Listen to Alexander Kaye on the New Books podcast.]

Ronen Neuwirth, The Narrow Halakhic Bridge: A Vision of Jewish Law in the Postmodern Age (Urim Publications)
This broad-ranging book explores the role of halakha as a bridge between eternal principles and practical application in an ever-changing world. (The “postmodernism” of the title is often used as a synonym for the “contemporary world,” and sometimes for the cluster of assumptions which come hand in hand with that philosophical tradition.) Neuwirth is particularly concerned with issues of personal freedom and autonomy, and the ability of halakhic texts and rabbinic figures to speak with authority today. [Watch the worldwide Zoom book launch.]

Lukasz Krzyzanowski, Ghost Citizens: Jewish Return to a Postwar City (Harvard University Press)
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, some Polish Jews who had survived the Holocaust returned to their hometowns and tried to start their lives anew. Krzyzanowski, professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences, recounts this largely forgotten story, relating what happened throughout provincial Poland as returnees faced new struggles, contempt and hostility on the part of their Polish neighbors, and the overall upheaval throughput the country due to massive political, social, and legal change.

David Fohrman, Genesis: A Parsha Companion (Aleph Beta Press)
In this first of a projected 5-volume series, Fohrman presents his innovative ideas on the weekly Torah reading (made popular through the videos on his AlephBeta.org website). The book specializes in looking for patterns in the text, which once pointed out to you, seem obvious and the reader puzzles how they went unnoticed until now. The book should also be commended for its handsome design, and effective use of color charts and graphs to demonstrate Fohrman’s central ideas. 

Nechama Price, Tribal Blueprints: Twelve Brothers and the Destiny of Israel (Maggid Tanakh Companions)
Price, of Stern College’s GPATS program, examines the twelve sons of Jacob, how their individual stories in Genesis impact their shifting places within the family. How does each character evolve? What are the roles of their four mothers? Ultimately, considering “ma’aseh avot siman le-vanim” she asks how the brothers’ personalities are reflected in future generations. 

Yonatan Meir, Demuto HaMitologit shal HaBesht  [Hebrew] (Schocken Institute)
Yonatan Meir has emerged as one of the most prolific and original scholars in the fields of Hasidism and Jewish mysticism. This slim volume gathers three intriguing lectures, tracing the evolution in how the Ba’al Shem Tov was understood and presented, from the origins of Hasidism until very near our own day, through the prisms of Hasidic tales, writings of the Haskala, and modern scholarly writing.

Kol Yehuda: Sihot HaRav Yehuda Amital al Parashat HaShavua [Hebrew] (Yediot Sefarim)
This edited volume gathers some of the addresses delivered on the weekly Torah reading by the late and lamented R. Yehuda Amital zt”l of Yeshivat Har Etzion.

Yitzhak Shilat, Bein HaHasidut LeRa’aya [Hebrew] (Shilat Press)
This expansive volume is a comparative study of primary texts of the Hasidic masters and their counterparts in the writings of Rav Kook. Organized thematically, the book covers topics such as kedusha, prayer, redemption, repentance, and more.

Open Access releases from Open Book Publishers:
Studies in Rabbinic Hebrew, edited by Shai Heijmans
Jewish-Muslim Intellectual History Entangled: Textual Materials from the Firkovitch Collection, Saint Petersburg, edited by Camilla Adang, et al.

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

[Published September 15, 2020]

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