High Holiday Reading

Jewish Book World reviewer Eric Ackland examines three new books from Jewish Lights that tackle different aspects of the High Holidays experience (this review will appear in the winter issue of Jewish Book World). Continue reading here.

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3 responses to “High Holiday Reading

  1. It is now Erev Chag and I have not read this specific book (although it sounds very interesting, so I may well do so), so I may be uncharacteristically brief. A coupl of issues were brought up that I feel very strongly about.

    1) Jewish unity. This issue first and foremost and above all. I, myself, stand at a crossroads where I can look in two directions, appreciating both. I was raised in a non-observant household, but sent to a modern orthodox day school which rendered me the “religious fantic” of my extended family. As a Jewish educator, I have taught in orthodox, conservative, reform and community based schools. At one time I taught in an orthodox day school and reform Sunday school at one and the same time. I can see the beauty in all streams of Judaism, but often find it difficult to transmit that to people who stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. I’d be most interested in seeing a book in which the contributors came from all streams of Judaism from ultra-orthodox to classical reform. If we could have a respctful discussion about anything across sectarian lines, that would truly be a blessing.
    I have actually written two books (still seeking a publisher), one for children and one full length adult novel in which Jewish unity is a theme woven into the stories.
    The description of liberal Jews taking offense at the “Un’taneh Tokef” is one of those issues that sadden me. We must not allow political correctness to overwhelm the beauty or even the horror of the reality of Jewish experience over many centuries. The message of that prayer goes beyond the content thereof. If one knows the history behind it, it teaches us about the awful sacrifice made by its composer, Rabbi Amnon of Mainz; it teaches us to be loyal to our religion and to be proud of who we are as Jews. Which brings me to the second issue:

    2) Translation of text. I am a teacher. I teach Jewish children about Judaism. Currently I do b’nai mitzvah training in a reform temple. Until very recently, most translations I’ve seen of text, be it Tanach or prayer, has been in 16th century English. This crossed all sectarian lines from orthodox to reform. The only reason I could ever see for this trend was because the King James Bible, having been written in the 16th century, was (naturally) written in 16th century English. To be polite, I’ll just say that this aggravated me. Why were we, as Jews, focusing in on a Christian translation of Scripture? Recently this has thankfully changed.
    Now we’ve got some semi-translations within orthodox circles, meaning translations which leave several words in the original Hebrew, evidently based on the inarguable fact that in many instances translation equals interpretation, and the assumption that we mere mortals dare not attempt to venture any opinions regarding the meaning of those words. I’ve even seen this in some more liberal translations, but in those, it’s more likely a product of attempted political correctness. One doesn’t want to refer to the Creator as “L-rd,” because that implies masculinity, so you get “translations” that render the Shem Hameforash as “Adonai” in English letters. To me, as a Jewish educator, that indicates that the translator doesn’t really understand Hebrew, because “Adonai” is fully as gender specific as the word “lord.” It also indicates that the translators believe that we, as Jews, have some form of arrested religious development in that we believe G-d has a gender. The way I put this to the fifth grade students whom I taught for many years was that we don’t believe that G-d is some kindly old man sitting up on a cumulus nimbus cloud somewhere. Assuming gender for G-d is like asking what color eyes He has or what kind of nose. In my humble estimation, we ought to outgrow such notions sometime in the first grade. Pronouns such as “He” and words such as “L-rd” are grammatical conveniences because we don’t want to relegate our Creator to the level of an inanimate object by using “it,” and in Hebrew it’s not even possible to do so.

    Well, I certainly wasn’t brief and I probably came across as a kvetch, so for that I apologize. Truly, I am much more focused on the beauty in all forms of Judaism, but I do tend to get up on a soap box when I see trends that divide us. I’ll end by wishing everyone a שנה טובה ומתוקה.

  2. Pingback: Jewish Book Carnival | JPS

  3. Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing it on the September 2010 Jewish Book Carnival, and thanks for your hosting of the next carnival!

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