Judaism book reviews

A Beacon of Light

By Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild, June 6, 2014

When the Reverend D W Marks spoke at the consecration of the West London Synagogue in 1842, he hoped it would become "a beacon of light and a secure haven to the sons of Israel". Philippa Bernard meticulously traces its subsequent history within three buildings, with a wealth of detail from minute books and other documents.


Holy smokers - Chasidim and Tobacco

By Simon Rocker, May 4, 2014

One of the complaints made against the Chasidim by their opponents, the Mitnagdim, was that they smoked too much. The movement’s founder, the Baal Shem Tov, reputedly puffed on a lulke, a long pipe, to help his spiritual ruminations. Others made use of “incense of the nose” — snuff.


Life and times of Rav Kook

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 31, 2014

Yehudah Mirsky’s superb new biography of the great 20th-century Jewish philosopher and mystic is a huge achievement. He gives a gripping, panoramic narrative of the arc of Rav Kook’s life, from childhood in a small White Russian village to becoming the first Chief Rabbi of Mandate Palestine, against a vividly rendered backdrop of the tumultuous history of Kook’s times.


The book they couldn't suppress

By Rabbi Harvey Belovski, March 2, 2014

In this intriguing work, Harry Freedman, former chief executive of Masorti Judaism, offers a two-part approach to understanding the development and impact of the Talmud. The first considers the Talmud as a developing text, exploring its origins in the post-destruction Roman Empire.


Opening doors to women

By Simon Rocker, February 1, 2014

The role of women in the synagogue has become one of the most challenging issues facing the Orthodox rabbinate. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis may have ruled out the possibility of partnership minyans — where women read from the Torah and can lead some of the prayers — within his domain for the time being.


Keeping the religious peace

By Simon Rocker, December 27, 2013

There is a growing literature of religious trialogue — the encounter between the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But this book, conceived by Dr Aly El-Samman, an Egyptian Muslim who spent many years in France and is connected with the influential Islamic university in Cairo Al-Azhar, has a difference.


From Jonah's fish to Japanese figurines

By Simon Rocker, December 1, 2013

Rabbi Professor Jonathan Magonet was never one to blow his own trumpet. But this collection of more than 40 essays penned in his honour testify to the impact he has made on European Jewish life and scholarship, especially during his 20 years as principal of London’s Progressive rabbinic academy, Leo Baeck College.


A cry from medieval England

By Simon Rocker, October 6, 2013

Of English Jewry in the Middle Ages, few of us probably know much beyond the worst instances of persecution — the blood libels of Norwich and Lincoln, the York Massacre and eventually expulsion in 1290. Jewish culture of the time remains largely obscure. But now we have been given a rare glimpse into it with this first English translation of the poems of Meir ben Eliyahu of Norwich.


A model way to read the Torah

By Simon Rocker, August 4, 2013

For commentators on the Torah, the white spaces between the letters can be as significant as the letters themselves. What the text does not say has given rabbis down the ages the freedom to fill in the gaps in biblical stories, an invitation to creative reinterpretation which they have been only happy to take.


A torch carried from the past

By Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild, June 30, 2013

For three weeks Jonathan Wittenberg and his dog Mitzpah walked through Germany and Holland with a torch lit from the ner tamid of the Westend Synagogue in Frankfurt, the synagogue of his grandfather Georg Salzburger, in order to light the ner tamid in the new building of his own synagogue.