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Lookstein Announcements - Bookjed Digest 177

Lookstein Announcements are a service of the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, Bar-Ilan University  NETWORK*LEARN*GROW

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In this Newsletter:

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* 1. Book review:

Song of Riddles: Deciphering the Song of Songs 
By Geula Twersky
Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2018, 224 pp.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Saks

* 2. Online book reviews:

The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary by Robert Alter
Reviewed by Gary A. Rendsburg

Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism by Joshua A. Berman
Reviewed by Ethan Schwartz

* 3. Author interviews:
Daniel Rynhold interviews Dr. Jeffrey Rubenstein about his new book The Land of Truth: Talmud Tales, Timeless Teachings

Eitan Fishbane discusses The Art of Mystical Narrative: A Poetics of the Zohar with a panel of scholars

* 4. Online publication: Gleanings - Focus on Diversity in Jewish Education
* 5. Book announcements:

God versus Gods: Judaism in the Age of Idolatry (Mosaica Press, 2018)
By Reuven Chaim Klein

Finding the Right School in the Era of BDS and Intersectionality 
By Jerome Ostrov

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With the new Gregorian year upon us, there are “best books” lists appearing in many places. Here is one that I particularly enjoyed -

The Best Books of 2018, Chosen by Mosaic Authors
Letters, antidotes, eternal lives, outcasts, secret worlds, pogroms, and more.

To mark the close of 2018, we asked a handful of our writers to name the best two or three books they read this year, and briefly to explain their choices. Their answers appear below in alphabetical order. (Unless otherwise noted, all books were published in 2018.)
https://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/2018/12/the-best-books-of-2018-chosen-by-mosaic-authors/

~~~

Do we pay attention to the books that celebrities read? An offhand recommendation of an anti-Semitic book that appeared in the New York Times has been widely discussed - 

https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/277273/the-new-york-times-just-published-an-unqualified-recommendation-for-an-insanely-anti-semitic-book?

https://slate.com/culture/2018/12/alice-walker-and-david-icke-the-new-york-times-by-the-book-feature-controversy.html

Enjoy!

Shalom
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1. Book review:

Song of Riddles: Deciphering the Song of Songs 
By Geula Twersky
Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2018, 224 pp.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Saks


There can be little doubt that despite its canonized status and centrality in Jewish ritual and liturgy, Shir haShirim (the biblical Song of Songs) maintains an ambiguous role in Jewish life. Hazal’s own ambivalent attitude to the book is reflected in the debate whether or not to incorporate it into Holy Scripture in the first place. Only through the endorsement of no less a figure than Rabbi Akiva was it so included. Even then, after a lengthy controversy, Akiva’s opinion prevailed only because of its ascribed authorship to King Solomon and because – in the rabbinic mind – the allegorical reading subverts and supersedes the simple reading (pshat) in which the book celebrates romantic and sexual love.

In this regard the Song of Songs is a unique book. On the surface level it shows little or no interest in God, the Jewish people, or the covenant between them. Only through the allegorical reading does the Song become a treatment of the love and relationship between Hashem and His nation. But the question remains: If, in the rabbinic reading, the “hidden” meaning is the true meaning, why compose the Song in this enigmatic way in the first place? This “riddle” stands at the center of the Geula Twersky’s new book, an attempt at “deciphering the Song of Songs” (according to its subtitle). 

Twersky drawing widely on academic Biblical and Near Eastern scholarship, including contemporary non-Jewish writers when they aid in our understanding, as well as on the classical rabbinic commentary, tells us that “the quest for the holy grail of meaning is rooted in the conviction that obscure texts desire that their covert message be revealed, and that in the interest of being discovered, they leave behind a string of clues, so that a tenacious reader might follow the trail of hints leading to the inner chamber of meaning” (xiv).

Since within the midrashic reading the relationship between God and the Jewish people is “actualized” within the Beit HaMikdash, and specifically in the Holy of Holies, Twersky locates the key to unlocking the covert message between the wings of the keruvim atop the Holy Ark. “Song of Riddles” is largely a type of intertextual reading of Shir HaShirim against the backdrop of the dozen or so references to the keruvim throughout Tanakh. In her reading, God’s enduring and reciprocated love for the Jewish people is the metaphorical mechanism which elevates Israel to the exalted level of the angelic cherubs. 

Some of Twersky’s readings are more compelling (see, e.g., chapter 3 which surveys all varieties of riddle forms in the Bible), some less so. Twersky is nothing if not a teacher whose passion is excelled only by her integrity (I can attest to this personally: full disclosure, we have been friends since high school over 30 years ago). Because of this the second half of the book is dedicated to “Anomalies and Conundrums” which allows no inconvenient detail to be swept under the rug. Whether she satisfactorily answers each challenge is less important than the model she presents for how to read Shir HaShirim and think through knotty textual riddles. I admit, I began the book as a skeptic to her thesis, and ended largely convinced. You’ll have to stick it out to the end to fully grasp how she unravels the Song’s riddle on the wings of the keruvim, but with the allusions unwrapped and anomalies accounted for, she can confidently conclude: “Israel’s portrayal as keruvim in the Song has ramifications for appreciating man’s immense spiritual potential. The keruvim protect the Holy Ark, representing Israel’s ardent commitment to faithfully guard the covenant. Israel’s passion for and devotion to God’s law is reciprocated in the conclusion of the Song with God’s unreserved pledge of eternal devotion to His people... The Song of Songs makes God’s love real and accessible to man as it places him in a position to reciprocate that love, but supplying him with the wings with which to fly” (pp. 190-91).

It is my impression that Shir HaShirim occupies scant place in Day School curricula. Reading “Song of Riddles” will still prove profitable to educators if only for its model of observing a master teacher encounter the biblical text and try to lead her students (and readers) through to original insights and compelling reading. (Take note of her effective use of charts throughout the book to lay out her thesis.)

The relationship between mashal (Song) and nimshal (keruvim) is ultimately deepened both the understanding content as well as the form of the Song’s biblical poetry. Twersky tells us: “The intimate, secretive role that the keruvim played in Israel’s temple and theology precluded any over-exposure or public presentation of them... Just as the keruvim were kept hidden from view in the tabernacle and the Temple, the Song saw fit to hide the keruvim and to keep all references to them shrouded in the poetic language of riddles” (p 21). Geula Twersky has done a service to students of Tanakh by giving us a peek behind the “parochet” veil that shrouds an intimate reading of the Shir HaShirim.

Song of Riddles is available from https://www.amazon.com/Song-Riddles-Deciphering-Songs/dp/9652299081



2. Online book reviews:

The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary by Robert Alter
Reviewed by Gary A. Rendsburg

Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism by Joshua A. Berman
Reviewed by Ethan Schwartz


The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary by Robert Alter
Reviewed by Gary A. Rendsburg

https://www.momentmag.com/book-review-the-hebrew-bible-a-translation-with-commentary-3-vols-by-robert-alter/

<<
In the 1970s, the focus shifted—in large part because of Alter, professor (now emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley since 1967. He published a short (eight pages) but path-breaking essay in the December 1975 issue of Commentary, “A Literary Approach to the Bible,” with special attention to the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. In 1981, this and other essays formed the basis of Alter’s programmatic monograph, The Art of Biblical Narrative, followed by The Art of Biblical Poetry in 1985. Through his fine explication de texte, Alter paved the way for readers of the Bible, the present writer included, to read and understand the inner workings of biblical language. (Alter’s work deeply influenced my own teaching and research by bridging the gap between a B.A. in English literature and mostly philological graduate work in biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies.)

Alter’s brilliant analyses of biblical literature raised a key issue, however. All of us who have endeavored to convey the literary essence of the Bible to our students know well the challenge of explaining the text via a standard English translation, such as the widely used Jewish Publication Society volume The Tanakh (1985). Explicating the Hebrew text requires a translation that adheres closely to the original, whereas most English translations, including The Tanakh, take precisely the opposite route, sacrificing the very essence of the source language (ancient Hebrew) to allow the translation to read smoothly in the target language (modern English).
>>

~~~

Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism by Joshua A. Berman
Reviewed by Ethan Schwartz


http://www.ancientjewreview.com/articles/2018/11/29/book-note-inconsistency-in-the-torah 

Joshua A. Berman. Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism. Oxford University Press. New York, 2017.

<<
As a student of biblical studies, I vividly recall first encountering source criticism. I watched in amazement as texts from the Torah were elegantly unzipped into strands that suddenly seemed more coherent than the canonical forms I had known since childhood. Feeling that this approach was somehow “right,” my view of these texts was irrevocably altered. It was similar, I imagined, to how students of mathematics feel upon first proving a particularly graceful theorem, or students of chemistry when they first model an exquisitely structured molecule. Or—to use language a little closer to home—it was like a revelation.

Nothing about this description would surprise Joshua A. Berman. In his new study, Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism, he identifies enchanting elegance, analogies to the natural sciences, and a revelatory aura as byproducts of the epistemology that has undergirded pentateuchal source criticism since the nineteenth century. He wonders whether source critics have “mistak[en] beauty for truth” (p. 271). He shows that one goal of German historicism, in which source criticism is rooted, was to confer to the study of history “all the status and prestige of the natural sciences” (p. 211). And he accuses source critics of presenting their models with a degree of confidence more readily associated with religious dogma than scholarly theory (pp. 240–248). 
>>


3. Author interviews:
Daniel Rynhold interviews Dr. Jeffrey Rubenstein about his new book The Land of Truth: Talmud Tales, Timeless Teachings

Eitan Fishbane discusses The Art of Mystical Narrative: A Poetics of the Zohar with a panel of scholars


https://www.facebook.com/YeshivaUniversity/videos/494678217722652/ 

How do Talmudic stories and the way they teach values speak to the modern era? Check out this fascinating discussion between YU’s Dr. Daniel Rynhold and NYU’s Dr. Jeffrey Rubenstein about Rubenstein's new book The Land of Truth: Talmud Tales, Timeless Teachings.

~~~

Eitan Fishbane discusses The Art of Mystical Narrative: A Poetics of the Zohar with a panel of scholars


http://www.jtsa.edu/the-art-of-mystical-narrative-a-zohar-symposium 

In The Art of Mystical Narrative: A Poetics of the Zohar (Oxford University Press, 2018), Dr. Eitan Fishbane reveals the Zohar as an extraordinary narrative—the tale of a wandering kabbalist sage seeking wisdom in ancient Galilee—a fiction invented by 13th-century Jewish mystics in Spain. Calling it “one of the greatest works of world religious literature,” Dr. Fishbane explores the Zohar’s storytelling through the various lenses of literary criticism, clarifying its deep integration with mystical theology.

This event features a discussion of the narrative and poetic features of the Zohar in the context of comparative literature and spirituality, marking the publication of Dr. Fishbane’s new book, with:
•	Dr. Lawrence Fine, Irene Kaplan Leiwant Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies, Mount Holyoke College
•	Dr. Sharon Koren, Associate Professor of Medieval Jewish Culture at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York
•	Dr. David Roskies, Sol and Evelyn Henkind Chair in Yiddish Literature and Culture, JTS, and co-founder of Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History
•	Moderated by Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, JTS

The panel is followed by remarks from Dr. Fishbane and an audience Q&A.


4. Online publication: Gleanings - Focus on Diversity in Jewish Education

http://www.jtsa.edu/gleanings-jewish-education-publication

5. Book announcements:

God versus Gods: Judaism in the Age of Idolatry (Mosaica Press, 2018)
By Reuven Chaim Klein

Finding the Right School in the Era of BDS and Intersectionality 
By Jerome Ostrov


God versus Gods: Judaism in the Age of Idolatry (Mosaica Press, 2018)
By Reuven Chaim Klein

I am proud to announce the release of my newest book, God versus Gods: Judaism in the Age of Idolatry (Mosaica Press, 2018). Just to tell you a bit about the book: it details the development of avodah zarah, and the fight against it, from Adam HaRishon through the eradication of the yetzer hara for avodah zarah in the beginning of bayis sheini. (Are you curious about what it actually means that the yetzer hara for avodah zarah was removed? There's a whole chapter about that....)  The book has two sections: The first section goes through Tanach, with a focus on all of the stories that involve avodah zarah. Did the Jews actually worship avodah zarah or not? There's the egel hazahav, and a lot of stuff going on intekufas hashoftim and tekufas hamelachim. The book is based on a huge breath of sources from our mesorah. From that vantage point, it looks out sees if the academic world has anything useful to add (archaeological findings, etc.) The book has haskamos from Rabbis Zev Leff, Aharon Lopiansky, Yitzchok Adlerstein, Zvi Ron, and Yitzchak Breitowitz.
 
The second section is an encyclopedia of all the different types of avodot zarot mentioned in Tanach. It is written in the spirit of theDictionary of Deities and Demons. Did you ever wonder what Baal, Asherah, or Molech actually were? This encyclopedia has close to 40 entries explaining what each avodah zarah was, how and by whom it was worshiped, different archaeological findings pertaining to it, etc. 

Kol Tuv,
Reuven Chaim Klein
Beitar Illit, Israel

Author of: God versus Gods: Judaism in the Age of Idolatry (NEW!) & Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew

~~~

Finding the Right School in the Era of BDS and Intersectionality Jerome Ostrov

At a time when the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel continues to gain traction on college campuses and is bolstered by intersectionality, the framework linking aggrieved groups in society, author Jerome Ostrov offers a fact-rich and practical resource for Jewish parents to assess these issues on a campus-by-campus basis as they help their children find a stimulating and sympathetic higher education environment. 

Published ahead of the start of this school year, with an updated edition currently in the works for the 2019-2020 academic year, Ostrov's Finding the Right School in the Era of BDS and Intersectionality is more relevant than ever amid episodes such as this semester's series of anti-Semitic incidents at the University of Michigan, where two instructors denied student requests for study abroad recommendation letters solely because their planned destination was Israel, and where another lecturer compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler. 

Intersectionality places people into groups in accordance with their grievances against perceived systems of power and requires them to first identify as a member of an "oppressed" group, and then to unite in solidarity. On today's campuses, pro-Palestinian activists from organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have utilized the intersectionality apparatus in their recruitment of minority or marginalized groups (African-Americans, women, LGBTQ individuals, etc.) to join the BDS campaign against a common "oppressor:" Israel and its proponents on campus. In many cases, liberal-minded Jewish students identify with the causes espoused by these demographic groups. However, when these groups join the anti-Israel cause, Jewish students who choose to support Israel risk being left out of campus-wide conversations on key social issues and, even worse, being shunned by alliances of students who otherwise largely share their goals and values. 

"With everything else that Jewish students have to think about when they decide on a college, this detailed guide ensures that remaining within their Jewish comfort zone will not be an issue," Ostrov says. 

In Finding the Right School, Ostrov, a retired attorney and the author of two recently published World War II novels which are both intended as a reminder of the anti-Semitic shadows of the past, lays out the changing campus environment with regards to Israel-reflecting his concern that under the guise of anti-Israel expression, those shadows of anti-Semitism are reemerging on today's campuses. Ostrov then profiles 136 colleges and universities that are the nation's most popular schools among Jewish students, focusing on the academic strength, setting, and appeal of the covered institutions. He divides the campuses into three categories: "large schools with significant undergraduate Jewish populations," "small schools with significant undergraduate Jewish populations," and "interesting schools with small undergraduate Jewish populations." 

Each profile coveys the school's history of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment, and includes key contextual elements such as the campus's level of BDS and SJP activity, a list of comparable schools, and how the institution was assessed in the Forward newspaper's Jewish college guide as well as The Algemeiner website's rankings of the best and worst colleges for Jewish students. 

Title: Finding the Right School in the Era of BDS and Intersectionality 
Author: Jerome Ostrov     ISBN:978-1721925872   454 Pages Price: $18.95



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