New and Noteworthy Books Received

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Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Blessings and Thanksgiving: Reflections on the Siddur and Synagogue, ed. Shalom Carmy and Joel B. Wolowelsky (Maggid Books & OU Press)
This volume collects ten of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s studies on prayer, based on edited transcripts of public lectures and previously unpublished manuscripts, as well as essays newly translated from Hebrew and Yiddish. These studies add a new dimension to the Rav’s previously published writings on tefilla, focusing not only on its general aspects but on individual prayers
and blessings and their particular details.

Rabbi Aaron Levine, Seasons of Nobility: Sermons on the Festivals (Maggid Books & Yeshiva University Press)
Seasons of Nobility is a selection of Rabbi Dr. Levine’s sermons on the Jewish holidays and special Shabbatot, transcribed from his manuscripts dating from 1982 to 2011. Drawing upon the author’s deep reservoir of Torah knowledge, the sermons offer original insights into the laws, customs, prayers, and public readings of the Jewish festivals.

Miriam Feldmann Kaye, Jewish Theology for a Postmodern Age (Littman Library)
In the postmodern, relativist world it has become difficult if not impossible to argue in favor of one’s own beliefs as preferable to those of others. This pioneering study is one of the first English-language books to address Jewish theology from a postmodern perspective, probing the question of how Judaism has the potential to survive the postmodern onslaught that some see as heralding the collapse of religion. Basing her arguments on both philosophical and theological scholarship, Feldmann Kaye shows how postmodernism might actually be a resource for rejuvenating religion.

Rachel M. McCleary & Robert J. Barro, The Wealth of Religions: The Political Economy of Believing and Belonging (Princeton University Press)
Which countries grow faster economically—those with strong beliefs in heaven and hell or those with weak beliefs in them? Does religious participation matter? Why do some countries experience secularization while others are religiously vibrant? The authors show that societies with firm beliefs in heaven and hell measured relative to the time spent in religious activities tend to be more productive and experience faster growth. What are the effects of religious beliefs on character traits such as work ethic, thrift, and honesty; the Protestant Reformation and its long-term effects on education and religious competition; Communism’s suppression of and competition with religion; why some countries have state religions.

Daniel Rynhold and Michael J. Harris, Nietzsche, Soloveitchik, and Jewish Philosophy Contemporary (Cambridge University Press)
What does one do as a Jewish philosopher if one is convinced by much of the Nietzschean critique of religion? Is there a contemporary Jewish philosophical theology that can convince in a post-metaphysical age? The argument of this book is that Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik presents an interpretation of halakhic Judaism, grounded in traditional sources, that brings a life-affirming Nietzschean sensibility to the religious life. Soloveitchik develops a form of Judaism replete with key Nietzschean ideas, which parries Nietzsche’s critique by partially absorbing it.

Naomi Seidman, Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement: A Revolution in the Name of Tradition (Littman Library)
The Bais Yaakov schools founded by Sarah Schenirer in interwar Poland had an unparalleled impact on a traditional Jewish society threatened by assimilation and modernity, educating a generation of girls to take an active part in their community. The movement grew at an astonishing pace, expanding to include high schools, teacher seminaries, summer programs, vocational schools, and youth movements, in Poland and beyond; it continues to flourish throughout the Jewish diaspora. Seidman explores the movement through the tensions that characterized it, and presents the context which led to its founding, examining the impact of socialism, feminism, Zionism, and Polish electoral politics on the process, and recounts its history, from its foundation in interwar Kraków to its near-destruction in the Holocaust—and its role in the reconstruction of Orthodoxy in subsequent decades. The book includes selections from Schenirer’s writings published in English for the first time.

Hillel Goldberg, Countdown to Shabbos: Bringing the Week Into Shabbos, Bringing Shabbos Into the Week (OU Press)
Rabbi Goldberg’s Countdown to Shabbos etches how Jews connect this world to the next one day a week. In its accessible yet learned approach Countdown to Shabbos shows how Jews can better transform their lives by bringing Shabbat into the week, and the week into Shabbat.

Shaul Magid, Piety and Rebellion: Essays in Hasidism (Academic Studies Press)
Piety and Rebellion examines the span of the Hasidic textual tradition from its earliest phases to the 20th century. The essays collected in this volume focus on the tension between Hasidic fidelity to tradition and its rebellious attempt to push the devotional life beyond the borders of conventional religious practice. Many of the essays exhibit a comparative perspective deployed to better articulate the innovative spirit, and traditional challenges, Hasidism presents to the traditional Jewish world.

Homosexuality, Transsexuality, Psychoanalysis and Tradition Judaism, eds. Alan Slomowitz and Alison Feit (Routledge)
Explores the often incommensurable and irreconcilable beliefs and understandings of sexuality and gender in the Orthodox Jewish community. The first section of the volume highlights the divide between the psychoanalytic, academic, and traditional Orthodox Jewish perspectives on sexual identity and orientation, and the acute psychic and social challenges faced by gay and lesbian members of the Orthodox Jewish world. The second section focuses on gender identity, and highlights the divide between theories that see gender as fluid and traditional Judaism that sees gender as strictly binary.

James A. Diamond and Menachem Kellner, Reinventing Maimonides in Contemporary Jewish Thought (Littman Library)
The critical studies in this volume explore how Orthodox rabbis of different orientations—including Netziv, Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, Joseph Kafih, Abraham Isaac Kook, Aaron Kotler, Joseph Soloveitchik, and Elhanan Wasserman—have conducted a dialogue with Maimonides. Where do their arguments fit in the mainstream debates about him and his works? The essays published here demonstrate that Maimonides’ legacy remains vibrantly alive today.

Haym Soloveitchik, Collected Essays, Volume II (Littman Library)
In this second volume of his essays on the history of halakha, Haym Soloveitchik grapples with much-disputed topics in medieval Jewish history and takes issue with a number of reigning views. In Part I, devoted to the cultural origins of Ashkenaz and its lasting impact, Professor Soloveitchik questions the scholarly consensus that the roots of Ashkenaz lie deep in Palestinian soil. The second part of the volume treats the issue of martyrdom as perceived and practiced by Jews under Islam and Christianity. The collection concludes with two essays on Maimonides’ Mishne Torah which argue that that famed code must also be viewed as a work of art which sustains, as masterpieces do, multiple conflicting interpretations.

Yosef Salmon, Keeping Divine Law: Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy [Hebrew] (Mosad Bialik)
(יוסף שלמון, ובחקתיהם לא תלכו—נתיבות בקשר האורתודוקסיה (מוסד ביאליק
Modern Jewish life has undergone transformations since the 17th century. Internally the religion has been rocked by Sabbateanism, Frankism, Hasidism, the Jewish Enlightenment, Reform, Conservative Judaism, Zionism, Socialism, and secularism. From outside, modern Judaism has encountered philosophical critique, antisemitism, physical and spiritual oppression, expulsion, and more. Orthodoxy itself sprung up from amidst these whirlwinds. Professor Salmon explores these transformations and developments through portraits and studies of some of the most influential figures to impact on the shaping of Orthodoxy throughout these periods.

Philip Wexler, Social Vision: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Transformative Paradigm for the World (Herder & Herder)
Despite wide recognition of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s impact, this is the first volume to seriously explore his social ideas and activism. The Rebbe not only engineered a global Jewish renaissance but also became an advocate for public education, criminal justice reform, women’s empowerment, and alternative energy. His socio-mystical worldview is compellingly framed as a transformative paradigm for the universal repair of society.

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