Rabbi Larry Tabick
University of Nebraska, £18.99
Long before Kabbalah became a celebrity pastime, London rabbi Larry Tabick was running classes in Jewish mysticism. His new book draws on years of experience of translating esoteric ideas into practical spiritual teachings.
While we may think of Torah in terms of story or law, for the mystics the words possessed an inner depth beyond the literal text; meditating on the hidden meaning itself was a vehicle to self-improvement.
The book is arranged as a companion to the weekly Torah reading. He presents a selection of verses from each parashah, along with a passage of interpretation from one of the medieval kabbalists or Chasidic masters, such as Mordechai of Izbica or Yaakov Yosef of Polonnye, adding explanatory notes and his own, short commentary. The original Hebrew is printed at the back.
Chasidism taught that the presence of God was discernible anywhere, even in the most unlikely places. For Rabbi Tabick, we all possess a latent spirituality which can be tapped in the right frame of mind. While he faithfully conveys the sentiments of the original, his liberalism is apparent in some of his own glosses, such as the comment on an explanation of why Moses did not sacrifice sheep in Egypt - so as not to offend local religious sensitivities - that "it is our duty to respect the faith of others."
The Chasidic pioneers, ever concerned to prevent religion sliding into dull routine, refreshed Torah with their creative readings. As this book amply demonstrates, Jewish spirituality remains rooted in the text.