Welcome to Torah Book Reviews! Torah Book Reviews is a blog for reviews of books on all Torah related topics. Publishers and authors are welcome to submit books, in Hebrew or English, for review on the site.
Books can be sent to me at: Rechov Nachal Dolev 31/15, Ramat Beit Shemesh, 99630, Israel. Email: rabbiari / hotmail / com
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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.
“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 major Tanaim and Amoraim, and the chronological order in which
Chapter 4, “Tractates of the Mishna and the Talmud”,
discusses all the tractates of the Talmud, including the “minor tractates”
giving a summary of the major topics that each tractate deals with.
Chapter 5, “The Layout of a Talmud Page”, is all about the
layout of a page of Talmud, along with a very thorough explanation of all the commentaries
and cross reference guides found on a page of Talmud. The chapter then moves on to an explanation
of all the other commentaries that are found in the back of most editions of
the Talmud. Great biographical information there.
Chapter 6, “Aramaic”, is all about the Aramaic language, including a conjugation table. Of extra interest is the relationship between
Hebrew and Aramaic, and how letters are sometime interchanged from one language
to the other. For example, “gold” is “zahav” in Hebrew and “D’hav” in Aramaic,
as “zayin” and “dalet” are often interchangeable.
Chapter 7, “Glossary of Common Verb Forms”, includes all the
common verbs in Talmudic discourse. Everything is translated and explained. The same is true for chapter 8, a “Glossary of Basic Words.”
Chapter 9, “Guidelines for Talmud Study”, is a great
primer for beginners on how to approach the study of Talmud. It is slightly academic
(as opposed to “yeshivish”) in style and presentation.
Chapter 10, “Mishnaic Methodology”, contains several
dozen terms and concepts for deciphering the Mishna (and Talmud).
Chapter 11, “Talmudic Terminology”, contains about 75 pages of
the most common Talmudic phrases and terms along with their definition, and an explanation.
Chapter 12, “Principles of Talmud Hermeneutics” was especially
interesting. Every morning we read about “Rabbi Yishmael’s Thirteen Principles of
Interpretation”. This chapter goes through each of them, and gives examples. Other hermeneutic principles are discussed, as well.
Chapter 13, “Principles Governing Halakhic Decision Making”, is a short chapter on how halacha is decided in the Talmud, and in accordance
with whose opinion. For example, the halacha is in accordance with Rabbi
Yehoshua in a dispute with Rabbi Eliezer, and in disputes between Rav and
Shmuel, we follow Rav in ritual law, and Shmuel in civil law.
Chapter 14, “Halakhic Concepts and Terms”, is about 250
pages of all the halachic terms that come up in each and every tractate.
Chapter 15, “Talmudic Weights and Measures”, needs no elaboration.
Whether its units of time, weight, or distance, it’s all there.
Chapter 16, “Rashi Script”, is a short discussion on the
Rashi style of script that is used in a variety of places.
Chapter 17, “Plan of the Temple”, contains a diagram, with an
explanation of every part of the Temple complex.
Chapter 18, “Abbreviations”, contains the primary
abbreviations and acronyms that are used in the Talmud and rabbinic literature.
This book is suitable for Talmudists of all backgrounds
and levels. For the beginner, it is eye opening and instructive, and for the more
advanced, all the common terms and phrases are organized, arranged, and clearly articulated.
Indeed, there are a number of new features in this second edition, such as topical
organization, a reorganized halacha section, and an alphabetical Hebrew index,
among others. This book is something special.
Sexuality and Jewish Law
In his Sexuality and Jewish Law, Yaakov Shapiro, an ordained
rabbi and non-conformist Lubavitcher chassid, offers a thorough, unapologetic,
and uncensored presentation of everything relating to sexual activity and
All rabbinic texts that deal with sexual matters are cited along
with the interpretations and comments of all the relevant rishonim, achronim,
and poskim. There is also a full presentation of the various halachic opinions
and resolutions to the contradictions between them. The exhaustive endnotes are
essentially an additional book in their own right.
While the book is extremely well researched and impressive
in its scope, the author clearly has an agenda and bone to pick. As he writes in
the introduction, the book was born out of a bad experience and frustrations with
what he was being taught in chattan classes and the “one-sided” approach to
the laws of intimacy. The author seeks to put an end to the strain, fe…
The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook
The Writing of a Jewish Mystcic
By: Rabbi Ari Ze'ev Schwartz
Gefen / 270 pp
I was wildly impressed with the Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook. After getting my hands on everything available in English over the years on Rav Kook's writings, this is the first, yes, the first, English book on Rav Kook that I was able to fully understand.
Although not a translation of any single work of Rav Kook (as most other translations are) The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook contains important and inspiring excerpts from all over Rav Kook's writings. The book is divided into four categories. The first is "The Individual" which contains teachings on God, Torah, prayer, Teshuva, personal growth, and more. The second is "The Nation" which includes many of his (in)famous teachings on Zionism. The third is "Humanity" which includes a chapter on our relationship with other religions. The fourth is "Creation" which is a…
Welcome to Our Table
Rabbi Ari Wasserman
Distributed by Feldheim / 465 pp.
Ari Wasserman has done it again! This time with a parsha sefer, a book on the weekly Torah portion. As the subtitle says, it is full of "Words of Torah, Insightful Questions and Inspiring Stories."
There are two entries on every parsha. Every entry contains a short Dvar Torah. Following the opening Dvar Torah, there is another short essay, often a story, thought, and/or practical application of the opening Dvar Torah. Finally, a question is posed that is intended to trigger the mind and the mouth. The book is made especially personable as it includes responses that the author received from guests and family when he first posed the question at his table!
Being familiar with virtually every other "Family" parsha book that is available today, I can assure readers that "Welcome to Our Table" has upped the bar and set a new standard.