February 26, 2024
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February 26, 2024
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Making Room: Thoughts on My Bookcase-Clearing Project

Aviva Zornberg will still sit next to Nechama Leibowitz, z’l. “The Rav’s” Chumash will remain next to Rabbi Menachem Kasher’s Torah Shelemah, but those may be outliers. So much has changed.

After 37 years, I purged my bookcases. Finally. Here’s why: My bookcases are not elastic. And the purchasing of a new book, a new sefer, was becoming a giant game of Jenga.

I took a hard look at my bookcases. I asked myself: “Have you reached for _____ in the past 15 years? Do you think you will?” If the answers were “no,” then into a large box it went. Before long I had over 100 Jewish books and seforim in eight large boxes. I was crushed.

Who knew my past “Jewish life” was so heavy? In cardboard before me were stages I swung through over decades. As the son of a Conservative cantor, I had dozens of books by Abraham Joshua Heschel, Louis Ginzberg and Harold Kushner. “The Way We Encounter God in Judaism,” by my teacher Rabbi Neil Gillman, z’l, transformed my faith for years.

There was a swing to a different direction, too. In another box was “The Halachos of Brochos” and another sefer on everything one would want to learn about the laws of muktzah… and I mean everything. There was Rabbi Frand on the parsha, and the Ritvah on Masechet Makkot. A corner of one box was filled with Rabbi Norman Lamm’s work, but I will confess to pulling back out “The Royal Reach,” with which I am not ready to part. Ever read that intro?

I did say goodbye to the biography of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, but not his chumashim. I told myself: “Why hold hostage a work I didn’t plan to revisit that someone else might enjoy?”

In a way, I thought, it was like giving each author a new life. So instead of trying to sell them, I planned to give my books away. I only wondered if there would be interest?

They came in droves. All it took was a Facebook post to “Frum Highland Park/Edison” on a Sunday morning. “Free Jewish Book / Seforim Give-Away on my front porch. One day only.” Well, as it worked out, I didn’t even need the whole day.

Behind many books were stories of acquisition. I shared some with my sudden customers. This one was a thank-you gift for a woodworking project I made for someone, and that one was when I wanted to know every law about meat and dairy. This one was when I was fascinated by responsa literature, and who knew Reform Judaism published volumes of such in the 1950s?

The quickest to go were Passover Haggadot. For a long time I had the custom to buy a new Haggadah each year. The custom coincided with what seemed like universal interest to publish commentary on Haggadot. Today, it’s all about podcasts. I anticipate purchasing the Podcast Haggadah in the near future.

In fact, I anticipate purchasing more Jewish books and seforim. As I now look at my bookcase, with its empty spaces calling out, I am reminded of one sentence in Kohelet (3:6), that there is a time to seek and acquire, and a time to let go. Easier said, as I am left a bit sad to see so many hours of my life leave. However, if others reach for my old volumes and enrich their lives in the process … there will be comfort, too.


Jeffrey Korbman is a proud staff member of the Orthodox Union and an accomplished woodworker who specializes in Judaica and bookcases.

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