Archive for March 2009
Susanne Batzdorff reviewed a new book for the AJL newsletter and donated it to the library:
Elliott, Elissa. Eve, a Novel of the First Woman. New York , Delacorte Press, 2009. 421p. $ 24.00 (ISBN-978-0-385-34144-8).
A fictional account of the biblical first family, seen from the perspective of the women, Eve and her daughters. Eve wrestles with the reasons for their expulsion from Eden and longs to return to it, until she finally gains an understanding of how she can live in the present and make her peace with it and still maintain a loving relationship with Elohim. The dynamics in Adam and Eve’s are vividly imagined, and there is a good deal of sibling rivalry, conflict between monotheism and idolatry, love, hate, family affection and jealousy, sex and violence in the mix. In her afterward, Elliott gives evidence of an impressive amount of biblical study and research of ancient cultures, particularly Sumerian, in preparation for writing her book. Though the tone is somewhat didactic at times and the characters black and white, this is a readable, even suspenseful novel. Recommended for adult fiction collections.
A six minute excerpt from Maggie Anton’s lecture at our shul October 29, 2008
Lehrhaus Judaica and Berkeley Hillel are proud to display the vivid photographic record of one Jewish woman’s heroic struggle against the Nazis. An acclaimed exhibit, produced by the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, with the support of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, will grace our home in the Reutlinger Center, 2736 Brancroft Way, Berkeley from February 25 – March 25, 2009.
From the movie “For your Consideration,” which we have on DVD for you to borrow.
You may not be aware of this, but today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. In former Communist countries it was a day officially dedicated to celebrate women. I still remember how to say the name of the holiday in Russian. The event was established in 1911 by Clara Zetkin, who married a Russian Jew.
Commemorating this holiday I would like to recommend a splendid title, “Four centuries of Jewish women’s spirituality” edited by Ellen Umansky and Dianne Ashton.
Gathered in this volume are writings by North American, European, and Israeli Jewish women of different ages, sexual orientations, and educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. The voices of women from all four modern Jewry’s major religious movements – Orthodoxy, Conservativism, Reform and Reconstructionism – are represented here as well as those of women who identify their spirituality as Jewish, but are not part of a particular movement.
Divided into chronological sections, each with a historical introduction, the book mirrors the experience of Jewish women in society as well as their spiritual lives. Early sections include such personal documents as a woman’s letter to her husband, written in 1619 from the Prague ghetto, and a mother’s farewell letter to her son on the occasion of his emigration to America n 1880. Among the nineteenth-century selections are writings by prominent Jewish women such as Emma Lazarus and Rebecca Gratz, as well as lectures, minutes, and addresses that reflect the proliferation of local Jewish women’s organizations in the late 1800′s Zionism, educational reform, and women’s suffrage are among the social and political issues touched on their writings.
Invitation to the 2009 Susy Raful essay contest for Jewish high school students in Sonoma County, CA
Essay contest details at: http://bit.ly/essaycontest09
Written and read by Kyla Wegman
Produced by Bob Raful
Shot and edited by Gabor Por
Arthur Koestler passed away 26 years ago today. He is most famous for his “Darkness at noon“, a novel giving an inside view of Stalin’s purges of the 1930′s USSR. Koestler was Jewish, lived in a kibbutz in the 1920′s, but had an antagonistic relationship to his Judaism. In a Jewish context Koestler is mostly known more for “The thirteenth tribe; the Khazar empire and its heritage.” In it he advocated the idea that contemporary European Jewry are descendents of the Khazars. According to his theory the Khazars, people form the Caucasian region converted to Judaism en masse in the 8th century. More recent scholarship disputed his theory. Nevertheless we have the book and it is a very interesting read even if proven unfounded later.
Wednesday our book discussion group will talk about the first volume of Maggie Anton‘s Rashi’s daughters trilogy: Joheved. I am happy to report that Ms. Anton will join us via telephone. Our meeting starts at 10 o’clock and she will call in at 10:30 so we’d have some time to gather our thoughts and prepare our comments and questions.
I wrote a blog entry last October introducing the Secret Scholar volume of the series. Last May, when we got the the second volume, on Miriam, I wrote about that too. Now, that we will talk about it in two days it is time to establish the first item of the series, the one on Rashi’s oldest daughter Joheved. Here is the official description from the book’s website:
In 1068, the scholar Salomon ben Isaac, today known as “Rashi,” returns home to Troyes, France to take over the family winemaking business and embark on a path that will indelibly influence the Jewish world—writing the first Talmud commentary, and secretly teaching these intricate discussions of Jewish law to his daughters.
Joheved, the eldest of his three girls, finds her mind and spirit awakened by religious study, but knowing the risk, she must keep her passion for learning and prayer hidden. When she becomes betrothed to Meir ben Samuel, she is forced to choose between marital happiness and being true to her love of the Talmud.
Join us Wednesday 10 AM to talk about this exciting historical fiction.
Last week I had put out lots of books onto our “new” shelf. One of them was A. J. Jacobs‘ bestseller “The year of living biblically: one man’s humble quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible.” Jacobs is an “immersive” journalist writing for Esquire magazine. He was previously known for his “The Know-it-all” book, in which he documented the process of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from beginning to end. The book is serious and humorous at the same time; I recommend it for fun and learning.
Jacobs describes his latest book on his website with these words:
The Year of Living Biblically is about my quest to live the ultimate biblical life. To follow every single rule in the Bible – as literally as possible. …
Why? Well, I grew up in a very secular home (I’m officially Jewish but I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant). I’d always assumed religion would just wither away and we’d live in a neo-Enlightenment world. I was, of course, spectacularly wrong. So was I missing something essential to being a human? Or was half the world deluded?
I decided to dive in headfirst. To try to experience the Bible myself and find out what’s good in it, and what’s maybe not so relevant to the 21st century.
The resulting year was fascinating, entertaining and informative. It was equal parts irreverent and reverent. It was filled with surprising insights almost every day. (I know it’s not biblical to boast, so apologies for that).
The booktrailer video below shows him wandering on the streets and parks of New York towards the end of his year. I also recommend this video, where he gives 17 minute lecture about the experience.
Often in my daily rhythm of film, fiction and childrens’ book recommendations I can forget for a moment that our library is also an excellent research facility. For example, we have four scholarly commentaries on the book of Esther and at least a dozen different translations. This is more than Sonoma State and SRJC have combined!
Last year around Purim I mentioned on the library’s blog the popular anthology we have on the topic, our song collections and picture books. (If you are interested in these you can search the blog for “Purim” and you’ll find the post.) This year I would like to encourage fledgling and seasoned scholars alike to check out our commentaries on the scroll upon which the festival is built.
First, I would like to recommend Carey A. Moore‘s commentary, published in the prestigious Anchor Bible series in 1971. The 70-page introduction would satisfy the curiosity of any historian about issues such as the book’s “lack of religious elements, its absence at Qumran, its questionable historicity.”
Frederic Bush‘s commentaries on the books of Ruth and Esther were published in a single volume of the World Biblical Commentary series in 1996. Bush used his expertise in Near Eastern studies and analyzed the literary structure of the book to figure out the answer to the question, “Is it possible that a proto version of Esther was amended in the Massoretic Text to make a solid case for the popular feast of Purim?”
Getting closer to our own tradition (after all, the Anchor Bible is an interfaith effort, while the World Biblical Commentary has a Christian orientation,) the ArtScroll Tanach series volume on the Book of Esther deserves your attention. The 24-page introduction titled, “The Period and the Miracle” was written by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, while the book was translated and compiled by Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz. The extensive running commentary pulled from many rabbinical sources makes this edition invaluable. Also, these sources are listed and explained at the end, in the bibliography.
Finally, for the advanced scholar amongst you we have a precious copy of “The First Targum to Esther: According to the Ms. Paris Hebrew 110 of the Bibliotheque Nationale“, translated and annotated by Bernard Grossfeld. (Targum refers to translation of the Tanach to Aramaic, the spoken language of the Jews in the post-exilic period.) It is a truly academic volume, recommended only to the most dedicated. But if you manage to follow the book’s reasoning you will be awarded with a deeper understanding of how historical manuscripts relate to each other and how they are used to decipher history.
I am hoping that this short overview of intellectual texts awaken in you the thirst for learning that we, I am proud to say, have the resources to satisfy.