Festivals of Faith: Reflections on the Jewish Holidays
A goldmine of festival ideas
Edited by David Shatz, OU Press, $45
This is an edited collection of sermons delivered over a 50-year period by Rabbi Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University and a well-known voice of modern Orthodoxy. It consists of some 55 essays on the festival cycle from Rosh Hashanah to Tishah b'Av, as well as a number of thoughtful pieces on Yom Ha'atzmaut.
They reflect Rabbi Lamm's eloquence and erudition, blending a huge array of Torah sources with contemporary cultural and political references. While in some cases quite chatty, they are also highly-structured homiletical masterpieces, packed with pithy and challenging observations.
I was struck by his ability to extract powerful lessons from phenomena that are often overlooked. His piece on the prohibition of wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur illustrates this: he attributes it to the affirmation of all life on the holiest of days and the realisation that "we must not trample the sensitivities of others underfoot".
Other examples include fascinating essays on the difference between "haste" and "hurry" - rushing towards life or away from it (Pesach); the limits of practicality and the seminal role of unsophisticated visionaries in bringing Jewish history to fruition (Yom Yerushalayim); Jewish identity and the centrality of Torah literacy (Shavuot).
For the pulpit rabbi, the collection is a terrific goldmine of ideas; for the layperson, a sophisticated companion for every festival. Highly recommended, if rather expensive.
Harvey Belovski is rabbi of Golders Green United Synagogue