Saturday, June 03, 2023

The term “People of the Book,” which sounds much better in Hebrew, Am HaSefer, is indeed apt. Walk into any Jewish bookstore, and new titles are arriving daily.

The year 5782 is coming to a close, and the year was blessed with many excellent books. To wit, this is my list of the top six books of the year, all of which were previously reviewed in this fine publication.

Book of the Year: What makes for a great book? The combination of a fascinating and engaging topic and a knowledgeable author who knows how to engage the reader. Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman, MD, is that type of author, and his “The Anatomy of Jewish Law” (Maggid Books. 2022. English. Hardcover. 596 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1592645794) is that type of book.

Reichman is a talmid chacham, world-class physician, and a gifted writer. This tour de force provides the reader with a deep understanding of the Talmudic sources and the history of medicine.

A fantastic book; the reader will be a lot smarter after reading it. ”The Anatomy of Jewish Law” is my selection for the best book of 5782.

Runners-up (in no particular order):

  • I do not think I have ever read a book that was so inspiring as it was disheartening as ”Studies in Halakha and Rabbinic History” by Rabbi Eitam Henkin (Maggid Books. 2022. English. Hardcover. 456 pages. ISBN: 9781592645817). This is an inspiring book because it is astounding that someone so young could write brilliant essays like this. Murdered by terrorists at age 31, Rabbi Henkin was a unique and remarkable scholar. This book is a fitting tribute.
  • Today, returnees, both those who were never religious and those returning from a spiritual lapse, are welcomed with open arms, kugel, and cholent—no questions asked. However, as Rabbi Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel brilliantly writes in “Brothers From Afar: Rabbinic Approaches to Apostasy and Reversion in Medieval Europe” (Wayne State University Press. 2020. Paperback. 260 pages. ISBN-13:978-0814348246), that loving approach to returnees was not always the case. In this fascinating work, he details the approach the Tosafists (12th-15th century rabbis of France and Germany) utilized to deal with Jews who apostatized to Christianity and wanted to return to the Jewish community.
  • I thought of the idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover” after I started reading “Bridging Traditions: Demystifying Differences Between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews” (O-U Press. 2022. English. Hardcover. 544 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1592645749) by Rabbi Haim Jachter. I thought that aside from kitniyot during Passover and starting Selichot much earlier, Sephardic and Ashkenazic practices were not really that different. I was expecting this to be a dry analysis of different customs. But what I ended up reading was a brilliant mosaic of the vibrancy and dynamic nature of halacha.
  • If you are looking for a segula for wisdom, “Rationalism vs. Mysticism: Schisms in Traditional Judaism” (Gefen Books. 2021. English. Hardcover. 576 pages. ISBN-13: 978-9657023624) by Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin is not your book. The author, in his engaging style, deals with the rationalism vs. mysticism debate. An engaging writer, this is an enchanting work.
  • Due to editorial decisions, autobiographies from the big Orthodox publishing houses tend to be antiseptic. Those from non-Orthodox publishers can be histrionic and overly condemning. In “Unmatched: An Orthodox Jewish woman’s mystifying journey to find marriage and meaning” (Sifria Publishing. 2022. English. Paperback. 226 pages. ISBN-13: 979-8218010324), Sarah Lavane manages to stay on the tightrope of writing a raw and honest work that inspires, as opposed to an angry condemnation that angers. This is a rare memoir that took much courage to write, and was done honestly and maturely.

Ben Rothke lives in New Jersey and works in the information security field. He reviews books on religion, technology and science. @benrothke

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