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Logo Bookjed Digest 119

Bookjed is a service of the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, Bar-Ilan University

In this Issue:

| 1. Book reviews:

The Natural Bible by Baruch Sienna
Berman House, 2012

     Reviewed by Dr. Seymour Epstein (Epi)

On Sacred Ground: Jewish and Christian Clergy Reflect on Transformative Passages from the Five Books of Moses
Edited by Jeff Bernhardt
New York: Blackbird Books, 2012

     Reviewed by Susan Dubin

| 2. Online reviews:
Leviticus! From G-dcast entertainment
Reviews by Eric Hal Schwartz and Liel Leibovitz

| 3. Book Announcements:
- The Jewish Connection by Phyllis Appel
- Haggadot and Shabbat Books from Noam Zion, Jerusalem

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A new issue of the International Journal of Jewish Education Research (IJJER), published by the Lookstein Center of Bar-Ilan University and the School of Education is now available online. See it at


The Winter 2013 issue of Jewish Educational Leadership focuses on Tikkun Olam, and has just been mailed to schools. If you don't receive your copy in the coming weeks, check your membership status - perhaps it has lapsed. New members are warmly welcomed!

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In the last Bookjed Digest, my colleague, Zvi Grumet wrote about a number of illustrated birkonim and siddurim. A point of clarification: The Toby Birkon is no longer available, but copies of The Koren Birkon can be purchased here:

"Like" The Lookstein Center on Facebook to see short updates on our activities, resources, and "current events" in the Jewish education world. Search "The Lookstein Center" or go directly to the Facebook page


1. Book reviews:

The Natural Bible by Baruch Sienna
Reviewed by Dr. Seymour Epstein (Epi)

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Some years back Baruch Sienna, a senior Jewish educator with a love for the environment, received an Etgar (challenge) grant from the then Toronto Board of Jewish Education to research a curricular element that would give students every Jewish source on trees from the Hebrew Bible through to contemporary Jewish authors. As with much research and development, what ensued was very different from the original plan, but in this case, much more exciting and widely comprehensive; also novel in its frontier use of technology.

What Sienna produced after years of research, study, and thoughtful reflection is an iBook that can only be read and enjoyed on an iPad, The Natural Bible, published by Behrman House. Read is probably a misnomer since this book contains audio and video links that beautifully complement the text. It also incorporates all of the reading technology of an itext such as hypertext, bookmarking, dictionary definitions, etc. Sienna is a tech native and I am a tech immigrant, but after the slightest bit of instruction I could immediately begin to appreciate the unique qualities of this relatively new medium. So much for form.

Sienna has brought together a great variety of Jewish sources from across Jewish literature and life on the world of nature. In five comprehensive chapters called Religious Values, Symbol and Metaphor, Garden of Jewish Time, Nature in the Bible, and Resources he has illustrated in word, picture, sound, and video the many varied connections that exist in Jewish life, past and present, between our teachings and the natural world we share with other forms of life. More than that, the author challenges us to view our future relationship with the natural world from the perspective of a Jewish value system based on ancient lessons and contemporary interpretation.

The sources quoted are pluralist in their choice and range from classical Jewish teachings of the Bible and Talmud through contemporary scholars of all Jewish stripes. Some significant non-Jewish sources such as Robert Frost and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are also to be found in this multi-faceted work.

I found the third chapter, Garden of Time, especially rewarding in that Sienna links our lunar/solar calendar of fasts and feasts to the world of nature from whence it came. The divine plan to make humans responsible to the world by connecting their personal and natural history to the setting sun, the waxing and waning moon, the flow of water, and the fruition of the earth is explored in great detail and with ample illustration. So much of this material is not taught in our schools, but if it were, students would be given the opportunity to see themselves in this great plan; one which makes us small in relation to all of God's creation and yet large in responsibility and obligation.

If you care about the environment and you wish to see how the many faces of Jewish texts and values view environmental issues, this iBook is for you. If you simply want to learn about the flora and fauna of the Hebrew Bible, this is where to start. If you prefer a pluralistic approach to all kinds of Jewish learning, you will be comfortable with the breadth of scholarship and research that Baruch Sienna invested in this work. And if you prefer a more narrow view of Jewish sources, read this book and be challenged!

I have been asked many times about funds invested in creative Jewish study and have been hard pressed to illustrate the long-term ROI since it is not always evident. We rarely know how a single classroom lesson or a well-designed book can change a life years later, but the emergence of this wondrous text by Baruch Sienna is solid evidence of an exciting return on the research dollar.

One last word on the format of this book is in order. The great advantage of an iBook is the presence of all the extra peripherals that such a medium provides. Of course, the down side is that only iPad owners can benefit from the book. We need to be reminded of what our reaction to printing was in the 15th century. Jews were among the very first to embrace the new medium and to immediately see the tremendous potential for both study and prayer. And yet, we maintained the ancient rite of reading ritually in the synagogue from a manuscript on parchment. Something about the baby and the bath water... Go to the iBooks store on your iPad or to to see Baruch Sienna's work.

This book challenges all humans to take seriously the rabbinic notion that we are God's partners in the ongoing creation of the world - first by learning more about the natural world and then by taking responsibility for its growth and maintenance.

This eBook is available from iTunes at

On Sacred Ground: Jewish and Christian Clergy Reflect on Transformative Passages from the Five Books of Moses
Edited by Jeff Bernhardt
New York: Blackbird Books, 2012
Reviewed by Susan Dubin, Off-the-Shelf Library Services, Past President Association of Jewish Libraries
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There are many, many books of Biblical commentary available today . Of course, there are the classics by Rashi and Onkelos. There is modern commentary by Nechama Leibowitz and Hertz. And, there is Midrash from many points of view. Where On Sacred Ground differs is that this is not simple commentary. It does not seek to explain merely what a particular passage means or how it can be expanded. This unique book asks over one hundred clergy from Jewish and Christian institutions to choose a passage from the Five Books of Moses and share how that passage has had meaning in their lives.

Especially enlightening is the commentary by different clergy about the same passage. One example is the different ways in which Rabbi Steven Greenberg, Rabbi Steven Vogel, and Father Tim Klosterman interpret the famous verse “You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, and you shall not bear any grudge against the children of your people; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Eternal One.” Leviticus 19:17-18. Rabbi Greenberg said that “When we love freely and easily we don’t need a commandment. When we don’t, not only is the Torah powerless, but we ourselves feel powerless to make ourselves love.”Rabbi Vogel felt the first half of the verse had the most meaning for him. “While we would all agree that revenge or bearing a grudge are not ways to live our lives, it is the rabbinic interpretation of the verse that provides me a philosophy of life.” He felt that bearing a grudge or taking revenge diminishes our goodness and allows the acts of others to determine who we truly are. Father Klosterman reflects on the difficulty of loving one’s neighbor and finding beauty in the world even when driving in Los Angeles traffic. He concludes, “We must find beauty in the place where it is at times the most difficult – in ourselves.”

A remarkable similarity amongst the clergy who contributed to this book is that so many of them felt drawn to a particular passage from their childhood or young adulthood. Although logic would dictate that different passages have special meaning during different stages of life, most of those in this book settled on only one passage that has helped define their philosophies of life. A phrase repeated over and over is, “This has been my favorite verse for as long as I can remember.” It seems that a particular verse has found a place in their hearts and had a direct influence on how they chose to live their lives.

Because these religious leaders look at all of the five books of Moses, this book can easily be used in supplemental or day schools to expand students’ understanding of the biblical text. By taking any one passage discussed in the book, a teacher could develop a lesson that would challenge students to share their own understanding of the text as well as helping the students to explore the relevance to their own lives. By including the observations of a particular clergyman, teachers could encourage students to compare and contrast the written commentary with their own understanding of a passage. Students could search the book to see if there is a particular experience that matches their own, or they could choose a biblical passage and explain how it has affected their own lives.

Jeff Bernhardt, a Jewish educator, has brought together meaningful insights into the relevance of the Bible to the lives of people today. When asked to choose the biblical passage that has meant the most in their own lives, these rabbis, priests, and ministers looked into their hearts and wrote these profound insights into how passages from an ancient text have shaped their beliefs. Coming from very different religious backgrounds, the clergy included represent the spectrum of modern Christian and Jewish theology. Their personal religious perspectives make this an extremely rich and varied work.

This book is available at

2. Online reviews:
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Leviticus! From G-dcast entertainment

Reviewed by Eric Hal Schwartz

Learning the rules of sacrificing digital cows popping up and down on the iPhone screen along with doves and bags of oil and flour may not be quite the same as how the ancient Israelites did things but there's a lot of Torah in this brand new game, the first from G-dcast Entertainment, aptly named "Leviticus!"

…and by Liel Leibovitz 

Titled Leviticus!, the game, as its title suggests, is both irreverent and deeply faithful to the source text—all that business about doves and cows and purity is right there in the book. But whereas Leviticus is too thick with rules to make for a very compelling read, it’s perfect when played.

Download the Leviticus! app at!/id589546556?mt=8 

3. Book Announcements:
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The Jewish Connection by Phyllis Appel

Graystone Enterprises LLC is proud to announce our newest e-book publication The Jewish Connection.

The more than fifty individuals profiled in this book are a small representation of those who overcame challenges to make important contributions to society and to the eradication of many religious stereotypes. Through these biographies the reader will learn the role these men and women played in the American Revolution, the Civil War, World Wars I & II, the Holocaust, the Women's Rights Movement, labor unions, and a great deal more.

Learn how Solomon Carvalho tried to keep kosher while documenting John Fremont's exploration of the Rocky Mountains. Read about Marcel Marceau using his pantomine skills to help Jewish children escape German-occupied France and how an Irish Jew smuggled guns for the IRA. Did you know that heads of government from nine countries have had Jewish ties? Also, did you know that "Two Gun Morris Cohen was the only foreigner to become a member of the Kuomintang, China's ruling party? Find out how boxer Daniel Mendoza brought acceptance to the Jews in England. How Jewish gangsters broke up Nazi rallies, and which Jewish mother was buried at President Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello.

Profiles include: Bernard Baruch, Gretel Bergmann, Emile Berliner, Sarah Bernhardt, Robert Briscoe, Leonard Bernstein, Solomon Carvalho, Marc Chagall, Ernst Chain, Andre Citroen, "Two Gun" Morris Cohen, Alfred Dreyfus, Benjamin Disraeli, Tilly Edinger, Albert Einstein, Anne Frank, Varian Fry, Arthur Goldberg, Hank Greenberg, Meyer Guggenheim, Jascha Heifetz, Ben Helfgott, Theodor Herzl, Harry Houdini, Al Jolson, General Frederick Knefler, Ann Landers, Emma Lazarus, Commodore Uriah Levy, Aaron Lopez, Golda Meir, Marcel Marceau, Lise Meitner, Felix Mendelssohn, Daniel Mendoza, William Paley, Molly Picon, Judith Resnik, Admiral Hyman Rickover, Edward G Robinson, Mayer Rothschild, Edmund Rumpler, Haym Salomon, Solomon Schechter, Rose Schneiderman, Manya Shochat, Lina Stern, Levi Strauss, Henrietta Szold, Luis de Torres, John von Neumann, Paul von Reuter, Chaim Weizmann, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise

We believe that through these easy-to-read biographies, the reader will gain an appreciation of Jewish history and culture and will help alter any religious stereotypes.

The Jewish Connection by Phyllis Appel can be purchased for $4.95 through:


Haggadot and Shabbat Books from Noam Zion, Jerusalem

To view the Haggadah and many more resources, see

1. A Night to Remember: Haggadah of Contemporary Voices
Mishael Zion (director of Bronfman Youth Seminar to Israel)
One for $19. Two or more for $13.95. Ten or more for $11.95

- Contemporary stories, art, thought, activities, illustrations from political caricaturist, the best of American Jewish and Israeli culture (Amos Oz, Leonard Cohen, Yehuda Amichai, Cynthia Ozick, Dr. Seuss, Martin Luther King, etc)
- Full traditional text, but wholly new additions not found in A Different Night (156 pages)

2. A Different Night (classic – white cover with purple illustration)
One for $17.95. Two or more $12.95. Ten or more $10.95.

- Full traditional text and rich explanations, stories, activities, historical background (180 pages)

3. A Different Night (red-maroon cover)
One for $11. Five or more for $6.95.
Abbreviated version of the classic edition, but still contains full traditional text and rich explanations, stories, activities, art of four children (only 92 pages)

4. Leader's Guide for A Different Night or A Night to Remember
- $7.95 (96 pages)

5. Shabbat at Home: A Day Apart
One for $16.95
- Shabbat blessings at table from Candlelighting to Havdalah with stories, blessings, activities, poems, explanations, art, songs (168 pages)

Contact Noam Zion [log in to unmask] for substantive questions and for supplemental stories and ideas not contained in the haggadah.

A sample excerpt:
Maxwell House Hagaddah: Good to the Last Page by Joan Alpert
In 1923, when Maxwell House Coffee signed on with the Joseph Jacobs Advertising agency in New York, it was already a legend. Theodore Roosevelt supposedly drank a cup in 1907 at the Nashville hotel for which it was named, proclaiming it “good to the last drop.” Fortune smiled even more on the brand when Jacobs conceived a plan to entice American Jews to serve the coffee at their Seders. First, he lined up a prominent rabbi to assure Jews that coffee beans were not forbidden legumes but fruit. Then he convinced his client to underwrite America’s first mass-marketed Haggadah. When it appeared in 1934, free with the purchase of a can of coffee, the Maxwell House Haggadah swiftly revolutionized how American Jews celebrated Passover.

Until the coffee company moved into publishing, Haggadahs were fluid in text and format. “Local custom ruled liturgy,” says Rabbi Burton L. Visotsky, a Jewish Theological Seminary professor. “Maxwell House did more to codify Jewish liturgy than any force in history.”

The new Haggadah was widely accepted, in part due to the quality of its Hebrew, says Rabbi Robert Harris, an associate professor at the Seminary. The Hebrew is based on the work of Wolf Heidenheim, famous Hebrew liturgical scholar and author of an acclaimed 1800 Hebrew-German prayerbook.

The Haggadah’s English translation was also a draw because second and third-generation American Jews were losing their ability to read Hebrew, says Rabbi Carole Balin, Jewish history professor at Hebrew Union College. The Haggadah’s format, with parallel columns of Hebrew and English, made it easy to follow. Carole Balin points out another reason for its longevity: It’s innocuous without “controversial commentaries,” she says.

American consumers also liked the Maxwell House Haggadah because it was readily available at groceries, lightweight and small enough for a child to hold and simple to store. But its popularity was not exclusive to the American market: Copies made their way to secular Israeli kibbutzim and far-flung military bases and were smuggled during the 1970s to Soviet refuseniks, who cherished them, sometimes as their only Jewish possession.

Kraft, the most recent in a line of conglomerates to own Maxwell House, continues to publish the Haggadah. Little, other than the graphics, has changed over the decades. In the 1960s, the English translation was modernized and a Hebrew transliteration added. In the 1990s, the words “Next Year in Jerusalem” were moved from before the fourth cup of wine to the end of the Haggadah.

Today more than 4,000 different Haggadahs are in print and many more are self-published. Still, one million copies of the Maxwell House version were printed in 2009 for distribution to chains such as Shop Rite in New York, Albertsons on the west coast and Publix in south Florida, according to Elie Rosenfeld, chief operating officer of Joseph Jacobs. Approximately 50 million copies have been printed over the past 75 years, he adds.

“It seems a bit odd today that a religious text bears the name of a commercial concern,” says Jenna Weissman Joselit, author of The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950, but back in the ’30s, it was exciting that a “big corporate entity, not one owned by a Jewish family, literally put its name to a Haggadah.” It affirmed the “possibility of being Jewish in America.”

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