Some Fine Books

In the last six months or so I have read several books on Jewish topics which have been excellent- some of the best I've ever read. I want to briefly describe them here to encourage others who haven't read them to take a look.

1) The Philosophy of The Hebrew Scriptures by Yoram Hazony

Amazing. This book transformed my ideas of the essential vision of the Chumash. Among Hazony's fascinating excursions are a look at the “shepherd ethics” of Ancient Israel; a study of the phenomenology of the word “davar” (thing, word, idea); and an exploration of what God really wants from Israel- and its not unthinking obedience. Also interesting is Hazony's contribution to the theology of “vulnerability”- the growing number of Jewish and Christian theologians arguing for a vulnerable, personal, and evolving God (Schroeder, Levenson, Heschel, Brueggeman all develop this idea to come extent).


2) Created Equal by Joshua Berman

Masterful exploration of the laws of the Chumash in their context. This book brought my admiration for Tanakh to a new level. Clearly and compellingly sets out the revolutionary nature of early Israeli law.


3) The Bible Now by Richard Elliot Friedman

Fabulous discussion of the “pshat” (literal) level of the Chumash and what it does or doesn't say about homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, women and ecology. Truly excellent, and should be read by all lovers of Torah and, I would add, all the descendants of Abraham.


4) The Jewish Gospels by Daniel Boyarin

Think Judaism and Christianity are as far apart as the moon and the sun? Think again, they are as interconnected as the moon and the sun. Did you know some pre-Christian Jews were awaiting a semi-divine Messiah whose career would include suffering for their sins? Did you know Jesus kept kosher, wore Tzitzit, and told his Jewish followers to listen to the Rabbis? Or that Christians attended synagogue services for centuries after Jesus's death, and many Jews were followers of Jesus without leaving Judaism? This book tells the story of what it was like before the “great divorce” of the 4th-5th century CE when the Church Fathers and the Rabbis drew firm lines demanding you be either Christian or Jewish.


5) An Unsettling God by Walter Brueggeman

A good book on the character of God as revealed in the Tanakh, and the relationship between God, Israel, Nature and Humanity. Thought provoking work from a Christian theologian.


6) Not In Heaven by Eliezer Berkovitz.


This is a masterpiece. It explains the character of traditional Jewish law (not the modernist fundamentalist version). Beautiful, provocative, and inspiring.


7) God According To God by Gerald Schroeder


Thought provoking and engagingly written exploration of what the Tanakh says about the character of God. Along the way some other interesting cosmological and theological excursions, and some great science writing about Creation.

If you haven’t seen this……”Women in Breslov Chasidus”

An Earth Prayer from Neohasid

This prayer is partially based on an old Kabbalistic seder for Tu B’shvat. It has been written by the folks at Neohasid and can be downloaded in a Hebrew-English version at the link at the bottom for personal use. Really all new siddurs should contain something like this, no?

A Prayer for the Earth

This prayer is focused on global climate disruption (aka “global warming”), healing the skies, and the original blessing of creation. It is partly based on P’ri Eitz Hadar (the first published Tu Bish’vat seder), and on the Sefardi liturgy for Sukkot. It can be used after the Torah service every Shabbat, after the prayer for the government or Israel. It could also be used many other times, e.g. after the counting of the omer or on Lag B’Omer. The liturgy is closely based upon the sun-blessing liturgy we used April 8th 2009. The PDF includes Hebrew with vowels, two copies per page. Notes follow the English text below.

Elohei Haruchot, God of all spirit, all directions, all winds
You have placed in our hands power
unlike any since the world began
to overturn the orders of creation.

Please God, give us wisdom and skillful hands to heal
the Skies and the Earth from our sins;
Y’kum purkan lish’maya ‘May salvation arise for the heavens’.
that the blessings of the sun flow over us
for life and not for death, for blessing and not for curse,
as it says, ‘I will open for you the expanses of the Heavens
and will empty out for you a blessing beyond what is enough
and Earth’s fruit will not be destroyed because of you.’

God full of compassion, remember Your covenant with all life,
the covenant of the waters of Noah.
Spread a Sukkah of compassion and peace
over us, over all Life’s species;
Surround all our relations, with Shekhinah’s radiance;
Water them with Your river of delights in all of their habitats.
Then ‘the bow will appear in the cloud’,
joyful and beautified with its colors,
and the Tree of Life will return to its original strength,
so that we and our descendants may merit to live
many days on Earth, like days of the Skies over the Land.
Blessed be the Life of the worlds!

~~~~~ Text notes for the curious:~~~~~

See the longer version of this liturgy for more notes and interpretations.

Elohei Haruchot” – Numbers 27:16 “skillful hands” – Psalms 78:72

Y’kum purkan lish’maya” – the traditional blessing for the congregation begins “y’kum purkan min shamaya“, may salvation arise from the Heavens.

“I will open for you expanses…” – Malakhi 3:10-11; “expanses”, arubot, is used to describe the release of the flood waters in the Noah story; in Malakhi it’s meaning is reversed from destruction to abundance.

“destroyed because of you” – usu. interpreted to mean “your produce will not be destroyed”, but new times reveal new meanings.

“covenant of the waters of Noah” – the covenant was not made with humans first, but rather with the land and with all the creatures, Genesis 9:9-12

“Spread a Sukkah over us” – a refrain found many places, but especially in the Sefardi liturgy for Ushpizin, where it is echoed several times.

“all our relations” – a Native American epithet meaning all species of life and all creatures, which as we know from Spirit and from science are truly our relations.

“Shekhinah’s radiance” – what the righteous enjoy in the coming world, but also in the Sefardi Ushpizin something we pray for in the here and now.

“Water them with Your river of delights” – Psalms 36:8

“the bow will appear in the cloud” – v’nir’atah hkeshet be’anan, from Genesis 9:14, quoted by P’ri Eitz Hadar as a sign of the restoration of original blessing. (Note however that for much of Kabbalah, the rainbow has the opposite meaning, that God needed to be reminded, k’v’yakhol, not to destroy the Earth.) The grammatical form is past tense with the Biblical vav hahipukh, which makes it future tense.

“joyful and beautified” — also from P’ri Eitz Hadar, its referent in the original context is ambiguous, syntactically fitting with the rainbow but grammatically (by gender) with “the whole”. Either way, it’s a good thing.

“Tree of Life” – in Kabbalah, the sefirot; in ecology and evolution, the process of unfolding and becoming which makes all living things our relations, a process whose diversity is overwhelming and wondrous.

“will return to its original strength” – a quote from P’ri Eitz Hadar, which reads “hakol the Whole will return to its original strength”. Tree of Life is another epithet for all the Sefirot, which “hakol” also stands for. This is one of the most deeply ecological sentiments I have ever encountered in any pre-modern text (i.e., before ecology was even a concept).

“like days of the Skies over the Land” — Deuteronomy 11:21, a more concrete translation of “like the days of the Heavens over the Earth”.