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
Subscribe to this blog
Follow by Email
Forgotten Giants: Sephardic Rabbis before and after the Expulsion from Spain
Rabbi Yosef Bitton
Gefen Publishing House / 121 pp.
Although most of us have heard about such Sephardic greats like
Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel and Rabbi Yosef Caro, and their accomplishments, the
same may not be true regarding such other greats like Rabbi Avraham Saba and Rabbi
Tam Ibn Yahya.
As such, Rabbi Yosef Bitton, an author and rabbi living in
New York City, has done a tremendous service and Kiddush Hashem by resurrecting the
memory of over two dozen Sephardic Scholars from the pre to post Spanish expulsion
Era with his “Forgotten Giants”. Although brief, but inspiring, Rabbi Bitton
presents the basic biographies of these rabbis, from where they were born to
the works they left behind, many of which continue to shape Jewish law today.
I would like to take this opportunity to mention --not unique to the
welcome addition of “Forgotten Giants”-- that today’s orthodox produced biographies
can generally not be relied upon from a historical or academic perspective to
present the entire person, the whole picture. Today’s rabbinic biographies,
almost without exception, present their subject as being completely holy and
righteous, sin free, from birth to death. This is of course untrue, and in
fact, what makes most of these rabbis so great is that they were normal people
just like us, facing the same challenges and yetzer haras, and yet they become the
great men that they were. The entry on Rabbi Yisrael Najara in “Forgotten
Giants”, for example, was interesting and inspiring, and I knew little about
the Syrian community of Jobar until reading it. However, there are some very “alternative”
biographies of Rabbi Najara that Rabbi Bitton makes no mention of. While, for various reasons, I don’t fault Rabbi
Bitton (or other authors of rabbinic biographies) for presenting his subjects
in this matter, I feel it is important to remind readers that while such
rabbinic biographies have their place, they are rarely accurate or complete.
Nevertheless, "Forgotten Giants" does a wonderful job of giving us a taste of past greatness and allows us to better appreciate what we have lost.
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…
Nefesh Hatzimtzum Rabbi Avinoam Fraenkel Urim Publications I am at a loss for words to
describe how blown away I am by the magnitude of Avinoam Fraenkel’s Nefesh
Hatzimtzum. Nefesh Hatzimtzum is a translation and study guide to R’ Chaim
Volozhin’s Nefesh Hachaim. For those unfamiliar, Nefesh Hachaim is the “Shulchan Aruch” of hashkafa and philosophy. The concepts presented by R. Chaim are a basic platform to give us knowledge of the closest that is humanly achievable in relating to God and by extension, our ability to serve Him. Nefesh Hatzimtzum is simply outstanding. It is a
crisp and clear presentation of what has essentially been a closed book. Now
Nefesh Hachaim is not only accessible, but in Fraenkel’s two volume set (over
1600 pages!), one also enjoys the benefits of a spoon fed education on the
material. In addition to being the best
translation of Nefesh Hachaim that I have yet to see, volume one of Nefesh Hatzimtzum
includes the full facing page Hebrew text of Nefesh Hachaim, al…