Tag Archive: Book Review

NEW Book Review: Why be Jewish?

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.

60 Minutes, 22 Minutes, 2 Minutes. No Minutes Left?

We live in unprecedented times! With a click of a button you can communicate with practically anyone in the world, transfer funds seemingly instantaneously, and purchase items ranging from diapers to wine all on the internet. And so, gone are the days when the average American could dedicate sixty solid minutes to a sole television news magazine such as CBS’: 60 Minutes. While it still broadcasts into American homes each week, they have had to “spice it up” with additions to the staff such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper or Katie Couric (who really rose to fame on another network!). In all honesty, I don’t watch 60 Minutes, what with living in Jerusalem, not having a television and all, but I do enjoy hearing it in Podcast format. All you have to do is simply download it from iTunes (here) and you can enjoy the famous tick, tick, tick, that starts the show, as well as the vast array of topics that they cover on a weekly basis.

While on the topic of time, I always found it funny that one of the busiest places in the world is know as: Times Square. Here you will see New Yorkers and tourists who appear constantly busy. The hustle and bustle along with the lights is exhilarating to say the least. And yet, one could get soo consumed that a person could loose the importance of time, in the very area that is called, Times Square! Indeed, I’ve hear many people suggest that it’s because of the hectic scene in Manhattan, and more specifically, Times Square, that New York is known as: “The City that Never Sleeps!”

On that note, I believe it’s without coincidence that in such a city there’s a radio station, WINS (1010 kHz), known on-air as “Ten-Ten Wins” that is arguably world famous for their slogan, “You give us twenty-minutes minutes, we’ll give you the world!” Indeed, millions of commuters and listeners tune in each year to this very station to get a quick dose of news, traffic, and weather, in just twenty-two minutes.

Why you might ask?

Truthfully, they want/need to be informed, but for many people that’s all the time they have to spare in their busy chaotic life that they lead on a daily basis.

While many New Yorkers tune in to WINS to hear the latest events as they commute to work every morning, there are millions of Americans across the country who watch NBC’s Today Show to become updated with all the latest happenings across the country. People view this program as they get dressed for work, eat their breakfast, and so on and so forth. And yet, perhaps emblematic of our ever bustling society, the Today Show has just recently introduced: Today in Two Minutes.

And frankly I get it!

In a day in age in which there are many different mediums to advertise on, you need to constantly reach your consumer and target audience. The Today Show doesn’t want to become a “thing of the past!” And so, if they can retain or reel in an additional age demographic by introducing this short new feature…then as we say…Kol HaKavod!

That said, I think it’s important that every person still have some minutes left in their day that they can call: ME TIME! I encourage everyone to set aside even just two minutes that will enable you to learn, grow, and continue to improve and refine your inner-self! It’s important to not get soo wrapped up and consumed by the world we live in. Unfortunately we all know people who if they would take the time to look up from their Blackberry, they might see how much they’ve alienated everyone else around them.  Moreover, they may even realize that the person they have hurt the most by constantly consuming media or the like, is the person that they know as: Me, Myself, and I!

And so, a great book I’d like to recommend is: Positive Word Power. As a Husband, Father, Educator, and Jew, there are days where I’m left gasping for air. There are days where I need to ask myself, “where did my ‘ME TIME’ go?” This book is perfect to read by yourself or along with a partner (I read it with my wife!). Through daily lessons, it succinctly allows one to focus on the power of speech and positivity, which in today’s world, can erode rather quickly.

All in all, whether you have sixty minutes, twenty-two minutes, two minutes, or think that you have NO TIME, make it a point to learn this book for your ME TIME. I assure you will only see positive results!

Can you recommend some other book or action that although read or performed quickly can impact your entire day? I’d love to hear from you in the Comments Section below.

Photo courtesy of Leo Reynolds

Spring, Baseball, and Judaism…

Living in Israel, I don’t really have the opportunity (or the same drive) to follow the sports teams of my youth. That said, as a kid who learned additional and subtraction by following the Dodger scores, I have this sixth sense that as we begin to prepare for the joyous holiday of Purim, we are also edging closer to spring training and the start of a new baseball season!

And so, while the sport continues to receive a black eye from the use of performance enhancing drugs such as steroids and HGH, I’d be remiss to not point out this great book from Rabbi Dov Moshe Lipman entitled, Time-out: Sports Stories as a Game Plan. In addition to teaching yeshivot and seminaries and also writing a weekly column in the OU’s Torah Tidbits, he is arguably best known for his almost decade of service at Sportstar Academy. All in all, if you are looking for a great bar mitzvah gift for a Jewish sports fan, I’d highly recommend this book.

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel—A Real Kabbalist

While I am not of Sephardic decent, I have a great amount of respect for their practices and heritage. Indeed, I even enjoy praying at the occasional Sephardic Minyan and listening to the Middle Eastern incantations and melodies. Recently, I was fortunate to meet with and speak to one of the most well respected Sephardic Sages of our time-the great Rabbi Yaakov Hillel. Accordingly, I thought it would be appropriate to enlighten my readership to some of his English and Hebrew books that exude the wisdom of Judaism.

In his first book to ever be translated into English, Faith and Folly: The Occult in Torah Perspective (Tamim Tehiyah) Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, the Dean of Yeshivat Chevrat Ahavat Shalom in Jerusalem and a authoritative figure on mystical subjects, tackles the issues of superstitions, astrology, palmistry, sorcery, and other esoteric practices. In this 119 page book, Rabbi Hillel guides us clearly and concisely through the practices, telling us what is sanctioned and what is forbidden today.

It is worth noting however, that he strongly does not approve of Practical Kabbalah:

“If a person uses Practical Kabbalah…the evil that adheres to the good will cling to him. His soul which he had hoped to purify, will be sullied with evil (Faith and Folly page 45).”

“No one should use Practical Kabbalah unless he has been informed by Eliyahu Ha-Navi or shown clear signs that God wills it and his soul is suited for it (ibid page 47).”

In fact, the holy Arizal not only forbade teaching this form of Kabbalah to his disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital, but he also prohibited the use of Practical Kabbalah (Sha’ar Ha-Mitzvot, Parashat Shemot)

While there is much more that can be discussed on this topic, it is worth surveying the sources that Rabbi Hillel provides us. Quickly, we will all be able to make an educated opinion as to both our study of Torah and spiritual focus.

Additionally, another work of his that has recently been made available to the English speaking public is titled, Roni Akarah: A Guide for the Childless Couple. Whether one is religious or unaffiliated, Jewish or non-Jewish, infertility afflicts thousands of couples every year. To that end, this book is written with wisdom and sensitivity and is a treasure house of knowledge and encouragement for a Jewish husband and wife.

Finally, arguably the most recognized work of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto is Messillat Yesharim (The Path of the Just).  Nowadays however, some people feel that they can’t relate to the ebb and flow of this work. In light of the above, while many fine translations have been written for this work, the way in which Rabbi Yaakov Hillel presents and explains Luzzatto’s words in Ascending the Path, truly makes it once again relevant for our generation.

Amongst the many books that he has authored in Hebrew, I have most enjoyed the small but powerful Ad HaGal HaZeh. Rabbi Reuven Boshnack provides a nice summary of just some of the points that Rabbi Hillel discusses. Truthfully, what I benefited from the most was not just the Rabbi Hillel’s clear style of conveying esoteric concepts, but it was the organized Table of Contents that helped me navigate the work despite the complicated ideas written in Hebrew. Likewise, I enjoyed the fact that every quote was sourced and annotated to its fullest extent. Indeed, while I enjoyed the fact that the most recent English book from Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, Ascending Jacob’s Ladder, spoke to both the layperson and scholar alike, I felt that it was lacking his normal citations that apparently had been lost in translation

All in all, with thousands of Jews and non-Jews alike searching for knowledge of “Kabbalah,” but instead receiving a watered down version of pop-psychology mixed with a tea spoon of traditional Jewish mysticism, I would encourage any seeking soul to learn from the words of Rabbi Yaakov Hillel-A Real Kabbalist!

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