Acts of the Mind in Jewish Ritual Law

Acts of the Mind in Jewish Ritual Law
Rav Isaac Cohen z"l
Urim Publications / 870 pages

It is very difficult for me to write a book review on Rabbi Isaac Cohen’s: Acts of the Mind in Jewish Ritual Law. This is because it is a book that I would love to see succeed. However, there a number of deficiencies preventing this from happening.

First let’s discuss what’s good in the book. The book is devoted to explaining the abstract and theoretical concepts in the Talmudic law. There is also much emphasis on contractual law and legal fictions.

There book focuses on 14 different units including, emunah, kedusha, kavana, teshuva, middot, Shabbat, marriage, and more. In each of the units, one will find all the many different terms, principles, and concepts that fall under that category. For example, in the unit on kavana, one will find discussions, explanations, and definitions of topics such as the role of kavana in: yibum, shofar, shechita, prayer, responding amen, Kiddush, marriage, divorce, and much more. Of course, the halachic ramifications in each of these categories are huge. In divorce, one will find discussions of concepts such as: get yashon, bereira, get al tnai, and more. From this perspective, the book serves as a great resource and reference for one who is interested in learning about all the various different concepts and principles that would find themselves within these 14 different units. One gets a good basic exposure to the Talmudic background right through to the practical halacha.

The problem with the book is that it is very “old school” in both style and layout. The English is also very old school, as well. The book was Rav Cohen’s lifetime work. He spent over 25 years preparing it. Rav Cohen died in 2007 at the age of 90, which explains some of the old school feel. He was Irish, and was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland for many years which further illustrates what I mean. As such, one must make a concerted effort to internalize the material when reading it due to the less appealing style of yesteryear’s sefarim. The index is terribly incomplete, lacking entries for many of the important Talmudic concepts that the book sets out to explain! Furthermore, the index only references what chapter the entry can be found in; it does not include the page number, which, in an 800+ page book, makes for a very unfriendly index. Simply put, the book is not on par with today’s “industry standards” with other books of the genre.

Make no mistake, there is a treasury of information contained in its pages, especially appropriate for the layman who wants to expose himself to Talmudic law. I have no doubt that if someone took the initiative to restructure and reconstruct this book, it could be a smashing success. I envision this book being reformatted into an “Encyclopedia of Talmudic Principles”, or something similar. This would be a great project for a sponsor, or family member to oversee.

Popular posts from this blog

The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook

Sexuality and Jewish Law

The Rabbi Daniel Travis Collection