Three Books with New Takes on the Torah
The deeper you get into it, the more the Torah continues to inspire and educate. “Turn it, turn it, for everything is in it,” say the rabbis. So, for more than 2,300 years, sensitive and inspired teachers have found within it a wealth of spiritual wisdom. These three books—different in tone but similar in unabashedly presenting new insights that are badly needed in the twenty-first century—draw on that wisdom. All are constructed as commentaries on the weekly Torah portion (parshat hashavua). Avraham Burg is the beautiful soul who became a leader of Peace Now, then a member of the Knesset, then the chair of the World Zionist Organization, then the chair of the Knesset. His engagement with Torah reflects the purity of heart that led him to resign from the Labor Party, to tell Haaretz that “to define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end,” and to write The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise From Its Ashes (2008). Every page of this commentary reflects Burg’s Jewish learning (his father was leader of the Orthodox party Mafdal), brilliance, and spiritual sensitivity. We hope it will become one of the foundational books for a renewal of Judaism in Israel.
Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, is a much more conventional thinker, yet quite brilliant in his restrained, refined way. This weekly reading of the Jewish Bible often grapples with philosophically difficult questions but might not satisfy those who wish to break through to the spiritual wealth of Torah. Nor does he have the ethical courage to apply Torah’s radical messages to the reality of advanced capitalist society or to Israel. Yet there is much to be learned from Sacks, and this book should be in everyone’s library.
Naftali Rothenberg has taken a different approach in seeking to highlight “the weekly Torah portion as inspiration for thought and creativity.” Rothenberg, who is chair of Jewish Culture and Identity at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, has assigned each week’s parsha to a different contemporary commentator from a wide swath of interests, both religious and secular. Rothenberg then asked them to approach the weekly reading by commenting on some figure in Jewish thought from the past two thousand years whose teachings provide an avenue to comment on themes in the parsha. The result is an extraordinarily rich and vibrant book, uneven at times as most collections tend to be, yet filled with some of Israel’s most provocative thinkers such as: Einat Ramon on Judith Plaskow; Avinoam Rosenak on Abraham Issac Kook and Yeshayahu Leibowitz; Yair Tzaban on Ber Borochov; Shmuel Wygoda on Emmanuel Levinas; Hamutal Bar-Yosef on A.B. Yehoshua; and Rachel Elior on Dalia Rabikovitz. And these are only a sample of the many exciting thinkers who give us new takes on Torah through the figures they explore. Kol ha Kavod—honor to them.
(To return to the Summer 2012 Table of Contents, click here.)