NEW Book Review: Why be Jewish?

October 24, 2011

I have had the pleasure of hearing Doron Kornbluth, author of  the newly released book, Why be Jewish, speak on several continents. Be it to seminary students in Jerusalem or a room comprised of mostly unaffiliated Persian Jews in Beverly Hills, I’ve always been impressed by his ability to not just captivate and inspire the audience—but to engage and empower them with something to think about as they walk home or drive off into the evening. Arguably most recognized for being the best-selling author of, Why Marry Jewish, Doron chose to tackle an even more fundamental question in his latest release.

Truth be told, this question is one that I presume any good Jew ponders at least once or twice throughout their lifetime!

Frankly, in our contemporary times, a question such as: why be Jewish? is more important to address and truly understand—before one even thinks of the subject of marriage! That said, as a husband, father, religious Jew, and Orthodox Rabbi, I was curious to see if this book was going to speak to me as well.

After reading this book cover to cover, I can report that Why be Jewish exceeded my expectations!

I credit this to the fact that Doron opted not to write this book as he had written his other works (for a full list of his books see here). First, the entire book is written in a  format that allows the reader to flip through the book and select a chapter or section that speaks to them. Second, each chapter is written as a different narrative and allows one to hear various perspectives about the choice and way in which ones Jewish pride developed. In so doing, this allows the the reader to be exposed to a plethora of experiences from which they can relate to and grab a hold of as well! All in all, I found the writing style useful, not just because it will speak to a generation that is increasingly used to reading short blog posts and not long novels—but because if one chapter doesn’t relate to the reader or their life experiences—one is assured that there will be many other stories that do resonate with their upbringing.

While I do not take the author to task about some of the people he elected to write about in his book (see the comments here for instance), I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that even after discussing the cover of the book with the author, I still remain critical of its design on several fronts. Likewise, from a stylistic perspective, in as much as it makes it an enjoyable read (as opposed to setting an intellectual and intense mood throughout the work) I was initially confused as to how the book was written. The reader is forced to discover that the author apparently elected to write narratives of different people (there is no indication as to if they are fictional or not) and relate their story as to what makes them happy or inspired to simply be Jewish. In future printings, I believe that there should be some sort of explanation or preface so as to not leave the reader initially baffled.

Why be Jewish may never win any literary awards or be featured on the New York Times Bestseller List.  That said, I am confident that Why be Jewish is a book that a scholar or a layperson or a colleague or a student will enjoy—a sure sign of success. I would go so far as to say that  I would recommend that this book be required reading not simply to an NCSY or JSU teenager looking into Judaism but to every Yeshiva High School student on up—and certainly to anyone looking for Jewish inspiration.  Why be Jewish makes a good choice as a gift, especially as it is written without preference to any stream of Judaism.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of Why be Jewish, from the publisher, Mosaica Press.

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