July 24, 2009

Feldheim Sale

Feldheim presents it's first ever sale on Hebrew Sefarim with prices discounted 15-25 % off. The sale ends August 3rd.

July 23, 2009

Rav Elyashiv, Obama, and French Fries:

So, I was flipping through the Yated Ne'eman today when I came across the makings of an interesting psak from HaGaon Rav Elyashiv:

"Last week, a yungerman came to Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv to ask him if French fries are a food that would be classified as being prohibited if cooked by a non-Jew. According to a report in Bakehilllah, Rav Elyashiv turned to the petitioner and asked, "Does Obama eat French fries?"
The questioner was astounded by the answer and it took him time to register that Rav Elyashiv was referring to the halacha that states that if something is served on a king's table- if it is oleh al shulchan melachim- it falls under the prohibition of bishul akum. Rav Elyashiv was effectively saying that in regard to this matter, President Obama is considered like a king, and if he eats French Fries, they would be considered oleh al shulchan melachim and subject to the laws of bishul akum."

I don't know about you, but I smiled after reading this. I like the idea of the posek hador referencing Obama in a shaila. On a related note, do you think the Queen of England has ever eaten French fries?

July 22, 2009

On the Struggle to Free the Bochurim

I was very happy to see today the article on VosIzNeis stating that the Japanese Justice Minister has signed the transfer order for the youngest of the yeshiva boys imprisoned in Japan, the only one to be tried and sentenced to date, to serve the rest of his time in Israeli prison. This is a huge victory in the struggle to get these boys into a less harsh prison deal and G-d willing the other two bochurim will also be allowed to be extradited to Israel.

As someone who has been following this story since the very beginning I have seen and heard many of the negative and positive arguments that have arisen from the stories unusual circumstance. Just open up any one of the reports regarding this story from the past year and you will see the gamut of all possible opinions one could concieve of. In that regard, I believe that the Mishpacha cover story from 6/24, which was a detailed interview with the three askanim who have been most involved with the case, as well as any other interview with these Rabbonim, should be required reading for anybody wishing to express an opinion about what is going on in Japan. Every event in our lives contains a lesson for us to learn, and there have been many lessons that we as a people have learned from the details that have emerged from this story, including the importance of not taking any packages containing contents we are not familiar with. We must also learn though not to make quick assumptions about others being guilty, or rather to hope that innocence will eventually be proven.

Most people can not conceive of a society where boys do not even know the word "drugs," as indicated by their initial examinations with a Hebrew translator. Japanese attorneys had to be brought to see Bnei Brak because they themselves couldn't believe such an insular society existed. Furthermore, all three boys were proven innocent of intentional illegal activity through the use of lie-detectors, and while a lie-detector is only 92% accurate, having three identical results usually indicates a common innocence. Their actions leading up to and following the events and are also indicators of innocent activity. I don't deny that there was an unprecedented amount of naivety that went into the suspicious operation of transporting those drugs into Japan, but is that the fault of the boys or the society that they live in, which did not give them a sufficient education about exploitation and drug trafficking? If the goal of punishments is to serve as a lesson to oneself and others, then the lesson in this case should be to increase the knowledge within the Charedi community, as well as for ourselves, about these issues, and not that three boys should sit in one of the toughest prisons in the world. I keep reading comments by people who have handed down harsher sentences on these boys than the courts themselves! Some people say that these boys should just rot or that we have no responsibility for them, challilah! How far from the truth. Kol Yisroel Areivim Ze Lazeh! We have an achrayus for one another and we don't abandon any Jew, whether he is incarcerated or a free man.

To conclude, we all know that the dominant trait of the Jewish people is that we are rachmanim bnei rachmanim, merciful people. There is a good quote from a story in this past weeks Mishpacha, which told the fascinating tale about Yaakov Nakashh who was born a Jew, raised in a monastery during and after the Holocaust, almost becoming a Priest, and than returned to his Jewish roots and moved to Israel. In describing life in the monastery, Yaakov says that "he was put in a room together with three cardinals from the Vatican. As the cardinals chatted to pass the time, much of the conversation involved uncomplimentary remarks about other religions. 'I insisted that it was not nice to say such things about other people, to which one of the cardinals immediately retorted, 'If you're defending other religions, you must be a Jew.'" Even the non-Jews known that we are a merciful nation! We are a nation whose essence is to be kind and compassionate towards others. It is one of Hashem's middos and therefore it must be a middah that we constantly strive for. No matter how you have come to view this issue, it remains a distressing story about diligent Yeshiva boys who are far from home, in a world unlike the one they had prior to then seldom left, and enduring conditions that are hard for any human to endure. Try to think with the benefit of the doubt and remember that how we judge others is how we too will be judged by the beis din shel ma'alah.

July 21, 2009

The Week in Books

Recent Releases:

-Double Impact: 348 Stories from Impact! and Major Impact!, by R' Dovid Kaplan
-Living With G-d in the 21st Century: Judaism's Approach to Bettering Mankind's Destiny, by R' Yosef Gabay
-The Practical Guide to Bitachon, by R' Shaul Wagschal
-Straightalk: The Next Step, by Yossi
-Religious Compulsions and Fears: A Guide to Treatment, by Avigdor Bonchek
-The Hidden Hand: The Holocaust, by Yaakov Astor

Upcoming Releases:

-Positive Word Power: Building a Better World with the Words You Speak

New Book by Yaakov Astor

"The Hidden Hand - The Holocaust" has just been released by Yaakov Astor and the folks at Judaica Press. I read the first book in this series, titled "The Hidden Hand" around two years ago and it makes for an interesting read, especially by any history buffs out there. In the first book, Astor takes a look at well known historical incidents, including the fall of the Berlin wall or the West's victory in WWII and shows how the final outcome, which could have come down to something as simple as Hitler y'msh oversleeping one morning, was the hand of Hashem guiding history step by step. I am guessing that this book will be written in a similar vein, and with the Holocaust as the main topic it should make for a very moving and inspiring lesson in Emunah.

July 13, 2009

Browsing the Bookshelf

What first draws you to pick up a book that you see laying around in the bookstore? Is it the author? The cover? The publisher? Of course content should always be first, and I don't buy something purely based on external factors but the externals can play a role in choosing a book or at least they get you to first pick up a book when you're browsing the bookshelf. For me it comes down to a couple of factors:

Okay, so publishers. I know that for me if a book is not published by certain companies (namely the big name frum book publishers i.e. Artscroll, Feldheim, Judaica Press, etc.) that I have become comfortable with then I tend to avoid reading the book. These companies have made a name for themselves for publishing books that express ideas and values that I am comfortable with so I often narrow down my book choices to those names. Some people might say that this makes me "close minded" or that I'm limiting myself from a large selection of Jewish books out there but these publishers alone have put out thousands of books and I could go well through most of my life subsiding from their books alone so I don't feel like I'm limiting myself. Like authors (see below) people read books by publishers that have made positive names for themselves just like people buy products from companies that are known for creating good products. Marketing 101.

From my years at glancing at the many books that grace the bookstore shelves, it seems that Judaica Press and Israel Book Shop tend to put out the best covers for books, and they usually draw me right in to at least picking it up a flipping through it. Covers give off an impression (whether true or not) of quality and I find myself picking up a lot more books from those publishers in contrast to others. I would say that Feldheim comes in at number three and then comes Artscroll. The Artscroll covers just don't seem to catch the eye as much as some other books do but there are always exceptions to the rule. One example is Miracle Ride, which was a great cover that just jumped out at you.

Authors of course are a huge factor as well. When looking at the secular book world you will notice that certain well known authors just have to put out a book and it is grabbed right off the shelves. At this point, J.K. Rowling could write anything she wants and it will become a number one bestseller. But for authors to get to that point they usually need to prove their capabilities as writers and therefore most people come to the assumption that anything they write will be a quality item and worth the read. The same goes for some of the popular authors in the Jewish world. If Chaim Walder puts out another People Speak I know that I will buy it because the first three have been great hits. For some people anything that says Twerski on it is a must have for their home libraries. Therefore if a new book comes out and it is by one of these authors I will gravitate towards buying it more than certain other books. Most of the time I will first look it over a good two or three times before shelling out the twenty plus bucks for it but the simple fact alone that the book has a particular author's name stamped on the cover gets me one step closer to considering making the purchase.

So next time you are in the bookstore ask yourself (or your subconscious) what factors play a part in your book buying experience?

July 10, 2009

Download a free acapella song from Shua Kessin

Mostlymusic.com is now offering a free download featuring up-and-coming singer Shua Kessin. The song is acappela, making it a welcome addition during these three music-free weeks as well as for the rest of the year. It is titled Nishmas, after the Shabbos Shacharis tefillah, and has a beautiful, haunting, melody to it. The song is from Shua's upcoming (instrumental) album which is titled "Lo Lihityaish." My thoughts after listening to the wonderful vocals displayed on this single is that I am eagerly awaiting to see what other gems Shua has to offer when his debut album hits the shelves iy'h this coming Elul.

Check it out at:

July 08, 2009

Review: "Don’t Yell Challah in a Crowded Matzah Bakery!"

It may not be the Pesach season and this book may not be the most recent but "Don't Yell Challah in a Crowded Matzah Bakery" is a pioneer in a new trend of frum comedy literature, and as a comedy lover it is therefore up there with some of my favorite books. Judaism has always been at the forefront of religious humor and plenty of joke books have been released with a Jewish humor theme. Yet this book is the first I have found, and certainly the first in a while, that is an original frum comedy book. It is dubbed as "The Book of Kosher L'Pesach Humor & Stress Relief" and on many levels it delivers what it promises.

For those of you who are not familiar with the author, Mordechai Schmutter (it's never been clear whether that is his real name or just a pseudonym) is the featured weekly humor columnist in the Hamodia Magazine section. To be honest, his columns vary in laugh out loud humor from week to week. Sometimes I have found that for a couple of weeks columns barely get a chuckle out of me but then there are certain columns that I could not get through without laughing hysterically. The same goes for his book. The beauty of Don't Yell Challah is that it does what comedy is supposed to do, namely taking situations we can all relate to and showing the humor that resides in them. Popular humor topics in this book include the Pesach cleaning process (probably didn't know that could be funny, did ya?), the many different minhagim that exist about what qualifies as "kosher for Pesach", as well as a funny look into the Pesach story. Pharoah definitely comes out funnier in this book than his cameo in the Torah (that's not heresy, is it?). Schmutter does a great job at putting a smile on your face as you read humor bits, such as this one that pretty much sums up Pesach chumrahs in a sentence: "We are also very careful to erect safeguards around anything that may be related to anything that came into contact with anything that can be mistaken for anything within walking distance of chometz, because eating chometz on Pesach is a crime punishable by death, which will come at the hand of Hashem, because it is very difficult to explain to the non-Jewish media why you're stoning your neighbor for eating a bowl of noodles." Bada Boom!

Now, about this books target audience. I can imagine that this book goes over very well in the more yeshivish communities where access to secular stand-up comedy and humor is on a more limited level. This can be a good thing because I have found that in my pursuit for funny jokes a lot of what the secular world has to offer is filled with profanities and inappropriate image use. All in all, is this on the same level at some of the better secular stand-up out there? Not really. Those in the more modern sector who are used to a more sophisticated humor may not find this as satisfying but it does come through with some great laughing moments. While it reaches its peak of enjoyment around the holiday season (Pesach time) when you are actually experiencing on some level the humor, it is a good casual year-round book, great for a commute (not when you're the driver!), pre-bedtime read, or just for a time when you need a pick me up. If you enjoy laughing and seeing the humor in our beautiful Torah ways then I encourage you to check this book out.

(Note: You may also enjoy what is, according to my count, the second recent comedy book, "Adventures in the Produce Aisle" by Mishpacha columnist Perel Grossman. In addition, Schmutter has announced that he is planning a new book release around Chanukah time so keep your eyes out for that one as well.)

July 07, 2009

The Week in Books

Recent Releases:

Touched By Their Tears: A Kinnos Companion, by Rabbi Yechiel Spero
Talelei Oros: Rosh Chodesh, by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin
Heroes of Spirit: 100 Rabbinic Tales of the Holocaust, by Rabbi Dovid Hoffman
It’s Only Money: An Abram’s Family Legacy, by M. Luxenburg
A Maggid (Preacher) of Righteousness: an English translation of R’ Yosef Karo’s sefer Maggid Meisharim
The Stars Will Guide You, by Miriam Walfish
Tales from Above and Beyond: 30 Inspiring Stories to Warm the Spirit, by Shaya Gottleib

Upcoming Releases:

Religious Compulsions and Fears: A Guide to Treatment, by Avigdor Bonchek
Praying with Fire Vol. 2, Pocket Sized Edition, by Rabbi Heshy Kleinman
Positive Word Power: Based on Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s classic The Power of Words
The Hidden Hand: The Holocaust

The First Review!! “Reb Shlomo: The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld”

Released around a year ago, "Reb Shlomo, The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld," by Rabbi Yisroel Besser, has grown to become one of my favorite books and, after speaking with others who have read it, a favorite for them as well. It is certainly one of the best frum biographies that are currently available. For those of you, who are not familiar with who Rabbi Freifeld was, all I will tell you is that he was the founder of the prominent yeshiva, Shor Yoshuv, and, being born in New York, was probably the first American Gadol to have been born-and-bred in this country. For more than that, go read the book!

Now, what makes this book so great? For starters, there is definitely something about the writing of Rabbi Besser that brings out a beautiful, vivid portrait, of the person being described. In his other works, including the book "Warmed by their Fire" (to be reviewed at a later time, iy'h!) and his Mishpacha magazine articles, his style remains consistent, often using powerful stories and strong adjectives to bring about a point. Furthermore, "Reb Shlomo" is not a biography that is written in a timeline setting, which is something that sets it apart from many others in the genre. It does start with a narrative about Rabbi Freifeld's early life but after the first 60 pages the chapters become categorized by lessons and middos that Rabbi Freifeld excelled in. That is the essence of this book; stories. This book is story after story of powerful and touching examples of the greatness that a human being can achieve, which brings us to the second aspect that makes this book great.

Often when learning about Gedolim we hear wonder stories about miracles they brought about or a phenomenal memory, etc. These stories are incredible and I certainly enjoy reading them. However, those are actions that are hard to emulate. "Reb Shlomo" reads like a mussar sefer. The hundreds of stories that Rabbi Besser collected from various talmidim and relatives of Rabbi Freifeld, show a man who excelled in simcha, sensitivity, wit, respect for others, and every other middah you can think of. He was constantly involved with the people around him, as a Rav and as an educator for hundreds of students. Certainly he was a Torah scholar of the highest caliber, and the book does not gloss over that! Yet the focus is on his gadlus is mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro, and the message that stays with you after you read this book is that Rabbi Freifeld is a golden example of a role model and someone that we should all strive to emulate.

This book is an easy read and is perfect even for someone who doesn't' have much time to devote during the day for books. Each story is small yet packs a big punch. What will G-d willing become a feature of the book reviews is including a small segment of the book to give you a taste of what to expect. Thus we present a story from "Reb Shlomo:"

Reb Shlomo was willing to do whatever it took to help a bachur grow, to feel good about himself, to become bigger.

Reb Shlomo entered the Yeshiva office one morning asking if anyone had seen the daily newspaper. R' Avrahom Halpern and R' Dovid Sitnick were sitting there, and watched as he looked for it anxiously. When he finally located it, he explained, "There's a bachur in Yeshiva who just came from Williamsburg. He can barely speak English and he certainly cannot read it."

"I see that it's breaking him; he wants to speak English so badly. I hope that if I can teach him English, then maybe, just maybe, I will be able to teach him Torah."

And with the newspaper under his arm, Rebbi headed out to teach a talmid English.

Reading "Reb Shlomo" was pure enjoyment for me and I encourage anyone who is looking for something new to read to give this book a chance. Happy reading!


Hey there and welcome to the Jewish Book World! This first post feels like I'm beginning the technological equivalent of writing in a clean new notepad, which is always fun, and I even save a few trees doing so. L'chaims all around!

Anyway, the tachlis of this blog is to provide you with up to date news of the Jewish book scene, as well as to share with you reviews of books both old and new and all other things book related. Additionally, since my other favorite hobby is Jewish music you can probably expect some of that to be thrown into the mixture of writing. Please feel free to send in your opinions of books you have recently read or books that you would like to see get some of the spot light. As the saying goes, "the more the merrier!"