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Friday, August 23, 2019

There are a number of books I have been meaning to review for a while, but they seem to get put at the bottom of the stack. So briefly noted, here are some interesting titles:

“Teach Them Diligently: The Personal Story of a Community Rabbi,” (Maggid Book – 2014) This is the autobiography of the legendary Rabbi Berel Wein. Born in 1934, Rabbi Wein lived during transitory times, and his life story encompasses a wide assortment of life events. Be it law school and the legal profession, business, executive vice-president of Orthodox Union, noted speaker and historian, rosh yeshiva and much more.

Not only is Rabbi Wein a masterful storyteller, he’s a brilliant writer. In this honest and fascinating memoir, Wein writes of his fascinating life, challenges and struggles, and the history of Orthodoxy in post-war America.

Wein’s life is a mesmerizing one and this book is an equally interesting read. At but 150 pages, this is a book that I really wish went on for another few hundred pages.

“Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism,” by Sarah Bunin Benor (Rutgers University Press 2012) – in this fascinating sociological analysis, the author analyzes how baalei teshuva use the language of orthodoxy. There is a strong connection between language, identity and social interaction, and Benor details how many how baalei teshuva are able to make the transition into observance, but often struggle with the language and cultural barriers.

Benor does a superb job of enhancing our understanding of the complex process of cultural change and language socialization that individuals go through as they become observant.

“The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz (Gefen 2018) – It’s known to most readers that Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok Kook was one of the greatest thinkers of the past 200 years.

His writing style is difficult to understand in many ways. Be it his use of the Hebrew language, writing in a stream of consciousness, mystical topics and more, reading Rav Kook is not easy. That in addition to his writing on topics of a global and cosmic nature makes reading him a challenge for most people, this reviewer included.

Schwartz does a good job of condensing some of Rav Kook’s most important ideas and presenting them in a way that they can be understood.

“The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values: Between Man and Man,” by Nachum Amsel (Urim Publications 2018) – This is volume three of Amsel’s encyclopedia series. Here, he covers a wide range of topics on the interpersonal level including subjects from business ethics, modesty with dress, self-defense, to peer pressure, physical beauty and ugliness; privacy vs. community, and much more.

At about 5-10 pages per topic, Amsel does an excellent job of surveying the topic. He provides copious sources for those that want to do a deeper dive in the topic.This is a most worthwhile references.

By Ben Rothke


Ben Rothke lives in New Jersey and works in the information security field. He reviews books on religion, technology and science. @benrothke