March 4, 2024
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The Five Best Books of 5783

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 5783 is coming to a close, and the year, like previous ones, was blessed with many excellent books. Below is my list of the top five books of the year, all of which were previously reviewed in this fine publication.

Book of the Year: “Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning” by Erica Brown. Maggid Books. 2023. English. Hardcover. 528 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1592646357.

My friend Meyer Mandel said that the definition of a good shiur is one that after it’s over, makes you want to go and open up a sefer. With some license, a really good sefer is one that makes you want to open up more sefarim.

In “Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning,” Dr. Eric Brown, director of the Sacks-Herenstein Center for Values and Leadership at Yeshiva University, does just that. Not only will this book inspire you to open up a world of sefarim, it will take you to the world of fine art; as she uses painting and sculptures as avenues for elucidating different ideas.

Ecclesiastes/Kohelet deals with some of the most perplexing questions in life. Brown takes these head-on and deals with them in a manner that is both intellectually honest and stimulating. A book of rare brilliance and insights, “Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning” is the best book of 5783.

 

Runners-Up

“Reclaiming Dignity, A Guide to Tzniut for Men and Women” by Bracha Poliakoff and Rabbi Anthony Manning. Mosaica Press. 2023. English. Hardcover. 680 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1957579467.

It’s disturbing that many ultra-Orthodox periodicals will print pictures of Osama bin Laden, Yasser Arafat and Vladimir Putin; but not Sarah Schenirer, Golda Meir or Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll. Yet that is the state of Orthodox media today.

In “Reclaiming Dignity, A Guide to Tzniut for Men and Women,” Bracha Poliakoff and Rabbi Anthony Manning have written a brilliant book showing why such an approach is wrong.

While their efforts will unlikely and sadly have no effect on overall right-wing Orthodox media, it’s still an incredibly valuable work for those who want to understand what real tzniut is.

“Ruth Blau: A Life of Paradox and Purpose (Perspectives on Israel Studies)” by Motti Inbari. Indiana University Press. 2023. English. Paperback. 278 pages. ISBN-13:
978-0253065964.

As biographies go, you are hard-pressed to find one as interesting as Ruth Blau: A Life of Paradox and Purpose. Here, Motti Inbari, professor of Jewish Studies at the University of North Carolina, gives the reader insight into an enigmatic and complex person.

Ruth Blau was one of the most interesting and simultaneously enigmatic and controversial people you can read about. And that is what makes this such an interesting read.

“ArchitecTorah: Architectural Ideas in Judaism and the Weekly Torah Portion” by Joshua Skarf. Urim Publications. 2023. English. Hardcover. 598 pages. ISBN-13: 978-9655243680.

Joshua Skarf is an architect who has a passion for integrating his profession into the world of Torah. He is able to extract architectural insights from every parsha.

In ArchitecTorah: Architectural Ideas in Judaism and the Weekly Torah Portion, he has over 170 highly original and insightful pieces that examine the Torah via architecture. You don’t have to be an architect to enjoy this most engaging work.

“101 Treasures from the National Library of Israel” by Raquel Ukeles, Hezi Amiur and Yoel Finkelman. Scala Arts Publishers Inc. 2023. English. Hardcover. 340 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1785514135.

If you have a decade free, then you could see most of the items in The National Library of Israel. For those that don’t have so much leisure time, 101 Treasures from the National Library of Israel gives the reader the best items there.

From Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Leshem showing Gershom Scholem’s concordance card file of Aramaic words in the Zohar, to Dr. Yoel Finkelman’s overview of Daniel Bomberg, arguably the greatest printer in Jewish history and more, this is a fascinating read of interest to both the mind and the eye.


Ben Rothke lives in New Jersey and works in the information security field. He reviews books on religion, technology, philosophy and science. Follow him on Twitter at @benrothke. His new book was just published: “The Definitive Guide to PCI DSS Version 4: Documentation, Compliance, and Management.”

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