Showing posts from August, 2015
Hayom Harat Olam Rabbi Mordechai Fachler z”l
Renana Publishers / 274 pages
Just in time for Yom Tov!
Hayom Harat Olam is a very beautiful collection of the late[1] Rabbi Mordechai Fachler’s sermons, complied primarily by his son, David Fachler. It contains dozens of easy to read essays covering all the holidays of Tishrei. The book is divided into eight different themes such as, “The Rainbow Covenant”, “Love and Fear”, “Beauty”, “Consolidation, Preservation & Growth”, and more. The entries are short (as a sermon compilation should be!), generally two to four pages long. The material is personable, inspiring, and to the point. It may very well be the clearest sermon compilation I have ever seen. Plenty of divrei Torah and vertlach that you can say over at the table.
Here’s a sample: First Night Sukkot Ahavah – Abraham
As the month of Tishrei moves from the serious first ten days into the pure joy of the Festival of Sukkot, so too does the theme of ahavah veyirah – love and fear – t…

Making of a Gadol

Making of a Gadol
Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky

I'm excited to announce that I finally got my own signed copy of the Making of a Gadol ("Improved Edition").

For those in Israel who do not yet have their own copy -- a visit to Rav Nathan Kamenetsky in Jerusalem to personally pick up a copy at a reduced price is certainly worth the trip!

In the unlikely event that you are unfamiliar with this eternal piece of history, see here:

Rav Nathan's email address is available upon request.

Journey Through Nach

Journey Through Nach Rabbi Daniel Fine / Chaim Golker Adir Press
Let’s face it. We graduates of Chareidi yeshivot have little command of Nach, to say the least. And for various reasons, even fewer of us make the effort to really learn Nach like we make the effort to learn a daf. We give ourselves all kinds of excuses and justifications why we don’t know Nach nearly as well as we should.

Well, those days are over.
Rabbi Daniel Fine and Chaim Golker have done us all a tremendous service with the publication of their Journey Through Nach. Journey Through Nach is a two-volume work that provides a chapter by chapter summary of every book of Nach. Each of these summaries are written in a way that includes and weaves together the interpretations of all the major commentators. There are also all kinds of divrei Torah and mussar that make an appearance every few chapters, and are featured in a distinct grey box. There are maps, charts, and other study aids, as well. Included in the appendix ar…

A Bit of Wit, A World of Wisdom

A Bit of Wit, A World of Wisdom (Volume 2) Rabbi Yehushua Kurland Gefen Publishing / 159 pages
Our sages teach us that a shiur should begin with a joke. Doing so will get the students into a good mood, and the message will be better received. And so it is with A Bit of Wit, A World of Wisdom (Volume 2). 
The book is a delightful compilation of mussar and self-help messages that all begin with a joke or funny story. Most of the jokes will make you chuckle, though some are so corny that one might be required to make a “borei pri ha’adama” before reading them. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)
The book focuses on about twelve different themes including: Man and God, Man and His Fellow Man, Internal Struggles, Change, Education, Prayer, and my favorite unit, Marriage, among others. Every entry is 2-3 pages and often contains an additional joke or story. Here’s an excerpt:
Sam walked into a bar in New York City, ordered three drinks in three separate glasses, and downed them all. He returned th…

A Book About You

A Book About You
Rabbi David Green
Mosaica Press / 224 Pages

I was really excited to see the release of my friend David Green’s new “A Book  About You”.  Rabbi David Green, a laid back veteran kiruv worker with a spiritual twist and a cool life story, has taken his success in helping people discover who they are by now making "the journey" available to all. A bit about David's beginnings:

When I started to become my true Jewish self, one of the things that really bothered me was what seemed to be the lack of personality and individuality in the religious world. So many people dressed the same and talked and walked to the same boring melody. I was not ready to abandon my true inner uniqueness for the sake of becoming a Jewish soldier dressed in uniform. As I started learning some of the deeper Torah sources, I saw how being a robot in my observance was the last thing God wanted of me. My unique qualities were supposed to blossom within the framework of a life of Torah and m…

The Secret of Chabad

The Secret of Chabad
Rabbi David Eliezrie
Toby (Maggid) / 432 pages
The Secret of Chabad is the riveting story of the world wide Lubavitch movement, and more specifically, the shluchim of Chabad who have set up oasis's of Judaism in every part of the world.
Let me cut to the chase: The book is absolutely riveting.

The book both opens and concludes with the story of Rabbi Gabi and Rivki Holtzberg. From the very first chapter to the end, you will be captivated and mesmerized by the stories of the shluchim around the world. The book is inundated with details on important people, places, and events. Sadly there is no index, which is a tremendous loss for the continued use of the book. Sources tell me, however, that the second edition, due out soon, will have one. Every chapter is essentially an independent account of the life and experiences of shluchim all over the world.
The first chapter, the life story and murder of Gabi and Rivki, is absolutely jaw dropping and full of suspense. …

Unlocking the Torah Text

Unlocking the Torah Text (Devarim) Rabbi Shmuel Goldin OU Press/ Gefen Publishing 311 Pages

Unlocking the Torah Text is a five volume series on the weekly parsha, and I recently received the “Devarim” volume. Although I don’t know the author, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, personally, I always admired his leadership of the RCA during his tenure as president, especially how no issue was never too big or too small for him to involve himself with. He comes across as a humble and competent leader with the added benefit of advanced scholarship. I jumped at the opportunity to review his work.

Let me begin by specifically mentioning that Unlocking the Torah Text contains three or four different divrei Torah on every parsha. As one who is in the business of reviewing, critiquing, and advising on the publication of Torah sefarim, I can tell you that this is very significant and important. As I tell all aspiring "parsha book" authors who seek my advice: Always include more than one entry per parsha

Eye to the Infinite

Eye to the Infinite Rabbi Aharon Rubin 285 pages
This is a first for me. I’ve never looked at anything related to meditation before. It just doesn’t interest me. In fact, Rabbi Aryeh’s Kaplan’s book on Jewish meditation is the only one in his series that I haven't read. Nevertheless, I was honored to have been personally requested by Rabbi Aharon Rubin to review his Eye to the Infinite, so I happily took the opportunity, with the clear caveat that this genre does not fall under my purview.
Eye to the Infinite (“How to Increase Your Divine Awareness, A Jewish Meditation Guide”) is a great introduction to the world of Jewish meditation for those, like me, with no knowledge or background. Although the book begins very heavy on kabbala and spirituality, it becomes more practical as it reads on.
There is much discussion on the soul, the brain, and lot’s on prayer and prayer techniques, as well. There are many chapters on practical meditation, with step by step instructions on how and when t…

Talks on the Parasha

Talks on the Parasha Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz
Maggid/435 pages
Talks on the Parsha is the transcription of talks on the parsha that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has given at different venues and to different audiences. As such, the style, content, and depth of the material varies. Some entries are more of a superficial review of the parsha with a gentle message, others contain more concrete divrei Torah. Unfortunately, there is only one essay on every parsha.
What is noteworthy about this parsha book is the continued emphasis on how the Torah is relevant today just as it was in ancient times. For example, in the parshiot of Bereishit there is much discussion on serving God, and living with the lessons and teachings of the Patriarchs. The less relevant, stereotypically “boring” parshiot of Leviticus are given refreshing meaning with teaching on how the messages of sacrifices and ritual purity applies to us today. The messages are contemporary and inspiring, so that everyone can find …

Mesilah: A Weekly Burst of Inspiration

Mesilah: A Weekly Burst of Inspiration

Rabbi Aryeh Berzansky

Mosaica Press / 288 pages

Rabbi Aryeh Berzansky, an avreich in the Jerusalem branch of the Lakewood yeshiva, has done a beautiful job compiling divrei Torah on the weekly parsha in his “Mesilah: A Weekly Burst of Inspiration.”

Every entry contains a short but inspiring thought provoking message that is suitable for readers of all backgrounds. The material is very “Shabbat table” friendly, making for a springboard for further discussion around the table. So too, stories and anecdotes make a frequent appearance in order to better illustrate the weekly message.

The primary reoccurring themes in these divrei Torah are emunah, bitachon, and hashgachapratit. Many parshiot contain more than one entry. There is also a section containing divrei Torah relating to the holidays.

For an author stemming from the “Lakewood” network of yeshivot, the tone and “hashkafa” of the sefer is refreshingly moderate and balanced.

Sefer Barkai

Sefer Barkai The Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics / 295 pages

The Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics, founded by my friends and colleagues, Rabbis David Fine and Shlomo Sobel, aims to improve the fabric of Israeli society by intensively training Israeli rabbis in all aspects of communal rabbinics so that they can lead their communities to a more meaningful connection with Judaism and act as a unifying force in Israeli society.Based in Modiin, the Barkai Center trains Religious-Zionist rabbis to become communal professionals with the skills needed to build and lead communities in Israel.
As part of their initiatives, they recently released their first sefer (Hebrew) containing over 20 halachic essays concerning synagogue and rabbinic life, contributed by their avreichim and other prominent rabbinic leaders. Among the topics:
1. The Halachic Status of a Synagogue 2. Hashavat Aveida Among Congregants 3. Designs on the Parochet 4. Lo Titgodedu 5. Secular Jews in Synagogue Life 6. …

Reference Guide to the Talmud

Reference Guide to the Talmud
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
Koren / 500 pages

Wow. When I received the Reference Guide to the Talmud, I promptly rescheduled my plans for the day, and took several hours to go through the book cover to cover. It is overflowing with so many important facts, terms, concepts, and instructions, that are vital to properly understanding of Talmud. The best way to give it over is simply to tell you what it contains!
Following the Introduction of the book, which discusses the development of the Talmud, chapter 1, “Life in the Talmudic Period”, is about the history of Jewish life in the Land of Israel and Babylonia during the Talmudic era. Very, very, well done.
Chapter 2, “Jewish Communities”, discusses the Jewish communities of Eretz Yisrael and Babylonia during the Talmudic era. For example, one will learn about Lod, Yavneh and Jerusalem in Israel, and Pumbedita, Sura, and Hutzal in Babylonia.
Chapter 3, “Generations of Tanna’im and Amora’im”, contains a listing of all the…

A Rational Approach to Judaism and Torah Commentary

A Rational Approach to Judaism and Torah Commentary Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin
Urim Publications / 238 pages

I knew from the very first sentence of the book that I was in for something radically different. As is written in the introduction: “This book rejects the notion that religious people must avoid using their intellect, live in the past, steer clear of personal and social progress, focus every moment and thought on life after death and shun the goods of this world. These people do not understand the truth and value of religion.”
There is one entry on every parsha. In some cases, the chapter is a discussion of the events in the parsha, in other cases it is a discussion of a topic, usually controversial, that is only loosely related to the parsha.  Every chapter opens with a few questions which are answered in accordance with a number of different meforshim.
Some of the chapters are indeed radical, such as the claim that Midrash might derive from Greek philosophy, the idea, based on …

The Serpent’s Skin

The Serpent’s Skin Marc Klein Urim Publications / 207 pages
The Serpent’s Skin is a book of Torah commentary that examines the major stories of the Book of Genesis. It compares and contrasts the various stories and shows how many of them are interconnected and interrelated. Many of these insights are exceptionally amazing, and frankly, ‘cool’. The book brings nuances and details to our attention that most of us wouldn’t realize are there even if we read the Torah’s text 100 times. For example, readers will discover:
How the six days of creation can be divided into two: the first three days where God prepares the world for inhabitation, and the last three days of creation where He fills it.The first account of creation where man was last to be created while in the second account man is the first to be created.How only man knows that one day he will die, something that has been hidden from the animals.The snake as a symbol for both life and death.The presentation on the story of Noah is esp…