June 14, 2013

Great New English Halacha Releases

In the past few months Israel Book Shop has come out with a very impressive selection of English Halacha seforim. A few of these new seforim include:

  • Ginzei HaKodesh by Rabbi Yechezkel Feinhandler on the laws of treatment of religious articles 
  • Inside Stam by Reuvain Mendlowitz, which contains questions for the consumer when purchasing a Torah, mezuzos, and tefillin
  • The Laws of an Eruv by Rabbi Shlomo Francis and Rabbi Yonason Glenner which is a detailed sefer on Hilchos Eruvin, complete with diagrams (the release conicided well with Daf Yomi) 
Another new release that caught my attention in particular is Dvar Yom by Rabbi Dovid Braunfeld. This sefer is quite remarkable in it's depth and detail. It is an explanation of all the zmanim on the Luach with pages of colored charts and diagrams of astronomical phenomena. The author explains in the introduction "An innovation of this sefer is that before explaining when Tzais HaKochavim and Alos are, it explains what they are. Just as one who knows the anatomy of a cow has a completelty different understanding of Maseches Chullin than one who has never seen a cow, so too when one understands the astronomical facts of Tzais and Alos, he will have a completely different understanding of the intent of the Gemara and the Poskim." There are many chapters in this sefer that are incredibly complex and scientific and, as an aid to the reader, the author clarifies at the beginning of the sefer which chapters are good for a basic understanding of the Luach and which chapters are for more advanced learning. 

All of these new releases can be viewed at the Israel Book Shop website

June 06, 2013

From Sarah to Sarah: Back in Print

Does it ever happen to you that you haven't thought about a certain person for a while and then on the day you think about them their name starts to pop up everywhere? Recently I received an e-mail from a woman who was looking for a copy of Rebbetzin Sara Feldbrand's book "From Sarah to Sarah." I hadn't been aware that it was out of print and this woman was looking to borrow a copy. I own the book but haven't read it in several years. Now, only a few weeks after receiving that e-mail I saw that Israel Book Shop is releasing a new, expanded version of this fantastic book. The original book included short biographical details about tens of women throughout Jewish history and I am assuming that the expanded edition includes new women. The title of the book is a reference to two particular women, Sarah Imeinu and Sarah Schenirer, but it includes so much more about women both known and unknown spanning all times and places in Jewish history. With the majority of Jewish biographies focusing on our great Rabbinic leaders, this comprehensive book on great Jewish women is a welcome addition to any Jewish library.

You can click on the picture above to see the names of some of the women included in this book. 

Artscroll and Feldheim 20% Off Sale

Artscroll and Feldheim are both having a 20% off sale. Now's a great time to stock up on books before Summer vacation begins. If you want to save a bit more money buy the books in a book store instead of online. It depends on where you live, but in the New York area books often have a cheaper list price than the price posted online, and the stores still honor the 20% off sale. 

April 30, 2012

New book on Rebbetzin Kanievsky

A new English biography of Rebbetzin Kanievsky, titled "Rebbetzin Kanievsky: A Legendary Mother to All" is set to be released a few days before Shavuos. Artscroll has posted the release date as May 21st. I have heard (and seen) that quite a few books have been published already in Hebrew about the great Rebbetzin but I think that this is the first full length book to be published in English. It's really incredible how fast publishers are able to put out biographies nowadays. Two have already been released about the Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel and I'm sure there will be more as time goes on. There really has not been a woman who has had as much of a following and impact as Rebbetzin Kanievsky for most of our history and I am eagerly anticipating reading this new book.

April 25, 2012

Review: Out of the Depths

Since I began to live in New York some four years ago I've come to understand that the subway is one place where you can exhibit all sorts of odd behavior and nobody will really pay any attention. This recently worked to my benefit and I'll explain how.

A few months ago I purchased Rabbi Israel Meir Lau's biography, "Out of the Depths." Translated from it's original Hebrew I would venture to say that this book is a good seller in bookstores and online (any retailers want to confirm or deny that claim?). One reason is probably because Rabbi Lau, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, is a dynamic and much beloved Jewish leader. I had the privilege to hear him speak last year in Queens and his drashos were incredibly powerful and moving. While reading his book it becomes clear how many lives he has touched and benefited. The second reason that his book is probably popular is that Rabbi Lau's story is a phenomenal tale of survival and triumph amidst destruction and despair. As a small child he lost his mother, father, and brother to the Nazis and was taken with his other brother to Buchenwald. It's remarkable to read about how such a small child survived such a horrible tragedy, and not only survived but thrived and grew to become a leader in our generation. Since this books centers on such an emotional story, it's extremely difficult to read this book without crying. I was warned not to read this book on Shabbos but I thought that only applied to the beginning of the book, which is all about the Holocaust. However, even the later parts of the book are emotionally stirring, including Rabbi Lau's descriptions of his work with terrorist victims and his return to his hometown in Eastern Europe.

So back to the subway. As I read this book during my daily commute I found myself often tearing up and crying. In any other situation I probably would have felt awkward but on the subway there are so many stranger things than crying people and so I didn't get any looks. This book is really just so good at bringing out the reader's emotion. I don't want to give the wrong impression that this book is only going to make you cry. Reading about how Rabbi Lau grows through his yeshiva years, marrying, and building a family, there are many happy moments that will make you smile. Of course, if you're like me and you cry when you get very happy I guess you'll end up crying even for the happy parts, but the point is that the happy stories are there.

"Out of the Depths" is filled with many stories that demonstrate to the reader the incredible Divine Providence that accompanies Rabbi Lau throughout his life. One such story that I found to be remarkable (although there are even better ones) is the following:

When I was elected chief rabbi of Israel, the members of the election committee gathered in Jerusalem at Heichal Shlomo (the former seat of the chief rabbinate) to honor me on the occasion of my election with congratulations. Among them was Lippel, who then served as acting director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After many comments of praise and congratulations, right before people got up from their seats to leave, Lippel asked permission to say a few words:
           Friends, after we have toasted le-chaim with His Honor, the chief rabbi, I must tell you a personal story. This is a story I never told any of you before, so as not to sway your decision. When I was the secretary and close associate of Chief Rabbi Herzog, there was a young man who came to the house every morning at six o'clock, at the rabbi's request, to ensure that Rabbi Herzog would have a minyan. Rabbi Herzog loved him dearly. One day, when this youth left for the yeshiva after the prayer service, the rabbi said to me, "Israel, you see that boy? His name is also Israel." "Certainly," I answered, "that's Israel Lau. I know him well, he comes here every day." "A day will come," Rabbi Herzog continued, "when he will sit on this grand chair of the chief rabbinate. Make note of this."

If you've heard Rabbi Lau's story before I'm sure you understand why this book is a worthwhile read. If you aren't familiar with Rabbi Lau I'm letting you know that you should go out and buy or borrow this book. It is both interesting and inspiring. Some of the most fascinating parts of the book involve Rabbi Lau's time as Chief Rabbi. He takes you along with him as he meets such diverse figures as Pope John Paul II, Fidel Castro, and King Hussein of Jordon.The vivid details and captivating stories will keep you reading until you finish, even if that means you read it on your way home from work with tears streaming down your face. After you read it leave a comment about your impressions. I'm curious to hear what you think!

December 18, 2010

And the next YU seforim sale will begin on . .

Yeshiva University has just released the dates for the next SOY Seforim Sale, one of the best Jewish book and music sales in America. The sale will take place beginning February 6th through the 27th. It's pretty much a really large room filled with books and seforim from all genres as well as music and DVD's, all at discounted prices. I'm really looking forward!!

August 27, 2010

Two New Books to Check Out

Some of you may have noticed that there have been a lot of new book releases in the past few weeks, and you can expect a couple more as Yomtov starts appearing around the corner. One book that I was very excited for and that I have begun reading is Rabbi Yechiel Spero's new book from Artscroll, "A Touch of Purity." I only jumped onto the "Touched by a Story" bandwagon a year ago but I've already become an enthusiastic fan of the stories. Rabbi Spero's latest book is about Elul and Tishrei and all the messages associated with those times (i.e. Teshuva, davening, etc.) As someone who learns better through stories then pure mussar seforim I really appreciate Rabbi Spero's books, especially those that are about certain times of year or other themes, like his book on Tisha B'av which has given me something meaningful to relate to on that day the past two years, as well as his books of Tefillah. I haven't gotten all the way through "A Touch of Purity" yet since I want it to last me through Yom Kippur, but I have finished the section of Elul and if the rest of the book is as powerful as the first section I would recommend this as inspirational and timely reading for those of you looking for a good book/sefer on the Yomim Noraim. Each story is followed by a short d'var Torah that gives the story an extra boost to help make its point. I'll admit that sometimes I skip the d'var Torah and go straight to the next story, but everything written in this book is worth reading.

The second book that I've been reading, which I picked up yesterday, is a book from Feldheim on Jewish medical ethics titled "The Value of Human Life." It is based on a series of lectures that were delivered at the first ever Jewish medical ethics conference that took place two years ago in Switzerland. I actually took a class on Jewish medical ethics a year ago which drew me to this book but its relevance is for all of us as it is fascinating and pertinent to the times we live in. In todays world we are constantly hearing about issues like stem cell research, organ donations, prolonging the life of people who are brain dead, and many other health related issues. "The Value of Human Life" has articles written by some of the biggest names in Jewish medical ethics, including Rabbi J. David Bleich, Professor Avraham Steinberg and Professor Abraham S. Abraham. I think that understanding the issues discussed in this book will help us to be more educated on these relevant issues and will give us a Torah perspective to maintain when reading about them in the newspapers. This book is reader friendly and truly fascinating for anyone interested in reading it.

Wishing you all a K'siva V'chasimah Tovah!

June 28, 2010

Emmanuel: Perspectives Then and Now

It is hard to form a conclusive opinion on the current affairs surrounding the school in Emmanuel. The Slonimer Chassidim claim that this issue is not about Sephardi/Ashkenazi segregation, rather the separation made between classes in the school was simply meant as a way to distinguish those from a less religious background to those who are more religious. The Chassidim do not want their daughters to be negatively influenced by families who may do things like watching movies or going to mixed dances. A good proof for the veracity of this position is that Sephardi fathers also joined their Ashkenazi counterparts in going to jail this past week as part of the penalty for violating the court order to integrate the schools. If Sephardim are studying with Ashkenazim then the issue is not all about segregation. It seems that among our frum camp this previous opinion is held by the majority.

However, Rav Yaakov Yosef, son of Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav of the plaintiff, claims that there definitely was some amount misconduct from the Ashkenazim to the Sephardim and that the Ashkenazim have defamed the Sephardim, who he claims are good religious Jews, by claiming for the public media that they are non-religious Jews. Obviously, this issue is far from simple and it is constantly being portrayed with a certain amount of bias, proportional to the views of the author and paper the story is being published in. Thus it is hard to form a completely educated opinion.

Today, while I was reading "In Their Shadows," by Rav Shlomo Lorincz I came across the following story which has some semblance to the case before us today in Emmanuel. Obviously, if you hold like the Slonimer Chassidim and many other Gedolei Yisroel that there has been no mistreatment of Sephardim and that this issue is about
Kedushas HaTorah and Chinuch Habanim then the story below is not really relevant. However, if you hold by the other side then it surely is a relevant story, and either way it is a powerful lesson in a time when discrimination against Sephardim and others still exists. This is something that we can all learn from.

Rav Shach fully displayed his forcefulness in a letter he wrote to Rav Shraga Grossbard, director of Chinuch Atzmai, in 5741 (1981).
At that point, the admissions policy of some Chinuch Atzmai schools discriminated against Sephardic children, in favor of children of Ashkenazi descent.
In his letter to Rav Grossbard, Rav Shach explains at length that there is no halachic basis for such discrimination, and he concludes:
Therefore, I ask you to pass a message to the principals [of the schools] that there are no excuses or justifications- they must accept Sephardic children. I write this as a halachic ruling that they may not transgress" (In Their Shadow, p. 400 by Rav Shlomo Lorincz).