As you might imagine, all year long, I am in touch with scores of people who live and breathe books. The recent end of the secular year is a convenient time marker for looking back at the last 12 months (and trust me, we will likely do it again at the end of the Jewish year as well!)
Ask publishing professionals how books sell and gain in popularity, and a likely popular answer to your question will be “word of mouth” (or it should be). Readers talk about books, tell their friends, their students, and their fellow readers. I decided to check in with some people I respect to see what their “word of mouth” is on Jewish books for 2012. These are just a few of the people who often write about books and who I enjoy reading and communicating with. I asked them which books did they read in 2012 that they found enjoyable or meaningful. Choices were not limited to books published in 2012 and simply needed be “Jewish”. I must admit I am also thrilled that a few titles are titles by current or former clients.
Thanks to the busy people who responded to my request. You will note that every one of the respondents is “busy”. And yet….they read! This is an optimistic, good lesson for all of us.
Please feel free to add your choices in the comments section. I’d appreciate hearing what you have been reading and enjoying.
I have divided the responses received into two posts segments. The first follows below……
Executive Director of The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), writer of interesting articles and author of the recently published book The Men’s Section. I enjoy reading her writing. I find it hard to not read everything she writes even when I don’t agree because she addresses important issues so well. She seems to make sure every serious thought is considered. I know she is “just” a tad busy so I am excited to include Elana here.
“a very compelling work of Jewish scholarship that is both academic and spiritually engaging.”
“loved this book, about a haredi young woman in the early 20th century Jerusalem who is torn between art and religion, beautiful writing, captivating story about women learning to set their passions free, a story that still resonates today for a lot of women, not only religious women.”
“an acutely original analysis of Jewish life that opens up the idea that feminism is a vital concept essential to Judaism, especially feminism in Israel, and that this feminism has the ability to “liberate” Judaism and transform it into the compassion-filled expression of the divine spirit that it’s meant to be.”
“a sad, inspiring and profound journey to death by the inimitable and sorely missed Debbie Masel.”
Rabbi Eliyahu Fink
Rabbi Eliyahu Fink currently serves as the Rabbi at the Pacific Jewish Center. That’s the Shul on the beach in Venice California. He is the author of the blog, FinkorSwim.com. His blog is super interesting and the debate it creates may be even more interesting. His writing is always worth the investment of reading. He is a prolific online thinker and writer and busy currently studying for the bar, so I appreciate Rabbi Fink sharing his choices here.
“I only have three books that I recommend. Aleppo Codex (By, Matti Friedman) and Religion for Atheists (By, Alain De Botton) and Rabbi Lamm’s new Derahsot Ledorot.”
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a professor of Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School and the Founding Editor of renowned Cross-Currents.com which is one of the most worthwhile Jewish online efforts that exist. Their discussions consistently set off scores of debates and thoughtful responses around the Jewish world. His writing and commentary are respected and read by so many and it is exciting and an honor to host him here.
“Let’s start with Torah:
I could never count how many wonderful Torah texts I use in the course of a year. I can point to three newer acquisitions that either left a large impression, or were game-changers:
- Hamafteach, the index to Shas toiled at for many years by Daniel Retter (and recently translated into English), was the game-changer, making it much easier to retrieve information from the gemara.
- For years, I have had a weakness for the works of a contemporary talmid chacham, R. Yechiel Mechel Dzimitrovsky, and his breathtaking commentaries on difficult works that are the bread and butter of serious lomdus. I wouldn’t think of learning the Ketzos HaChoshen or the Nesivos HaMishpat without his editions. This year, I picked up a work he didn’t do solo, but in collaboration with a team of talmidei chachamim. This new edition of Urim V’Tumim (by R Yonoson Eybeschutz) made that important work accessible to me while I had often shied away from it in the past.
- My son-in-law sent me a sefer that blew me away for a solid month. Beis Shaar, by R Michoel Borenstein, gathered and elucidated the writings of the Ari and other mekubalim on the month of Tishrei. This is not easy material, but the author has a gift for taking apart difficult material (at least to those with some background in kabbalah-lite) step by step and making it comprehensible. It became a mainstay of my Tishrei presentations.
Now, lehavdil, for the non-Torah
- I read three works on the history of the modern State of Israel. Two were classics that I had never read cover to cover before: O, Jerusalem, and Six Days of War. The third, The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner is a new work, the fascinating recollections of a religiously observant advisor to five Israeli prime ministers. What all three have in common is that they left me with an even more profound sense of awe regarding the Divine Providence that created and maintains the State of Israel.
- For many years, Mitchell Bard’s Myths and Facts was the standard reference work for English speakers who were fighting the hasbara battles on their own. It was well organized, easy to use, and gave you the ammunition you needed to counter the fallacious arguments of the Dark Side. Bard recognized the need for an even simpler work that told the Israeli narrative from an unapologetically pro-Israel position without sacrificing accuracy. Israel Matters is written for young people, and it will quickly become the book that we hand out to friends to whom we wish to convey Israel’s story in short form. I believe that many adults will use it, at least those who will admit that they aren’t comfortable with their knowledge of the key figures and events in the past and present of Israel.
- I am in the process of reading Rebels in the Holy Land by Sam Finkel, the fascinating story of an early agricultural settlement composed entirely of observant farmers. Their battle to uphold shemitah in its fullest designation presaged battles to come for the soul of the new yishuv. The graphic arrangement is beautiful, and the rich variety of photos and illustrations increase the interest of the reader.
- It has been many years since the last time I read a novel. There just isn’t time for me to read fiction. I made an exception this year, and don’t regret it. I didn’t discover anything new in Hush by Judy Brown, but it packs an emotional wallop that makes it easy to justify the occasional inaccuracy. When so many of our communities are still dragging their feet rather than implementing strong measures to prevent abuse, this book strengthens a reader’s resolve to rid ourselves of a deadly plague.”