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THESE WORDS

POETIC MIDRASH ON THE LANGUAGE OF TORAH

Thoughtful reflections on the meanings of the Torah.

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Solovy, an American Israeli liturgist and poet, offers a collection of poetic midrashim.

Whatever may bring a reader to this compendium of reflections on the Torah, the overwhelming sense they will depart with is that of a deep care for words and their textures. As the author writes in the introduction, “we are a people of stories. We tell them. Then we tell stories about them. Then we tell stories about the stories of the stories. We call that midrash.” The cyclical return to language and its multiple meanings is at the core of midrash, making poetry a particularly apt vehicle for its scriptural interpretations and reinterpretations. In this collection, 70 Hebrew words of Torah are grouped into 10 sections, with categories ranging from “God” and “Mitzvot” to “Journeys” and “Love.” The entry for each word includes a prose reflection, or d’var Torah, followed by a short poem; chapter introductions offer connections between the chosen terms. These prose exegeses are concise and accessible, prompting scholarly inquiry into the origins of words and rabbinic arguments about their meanings while also offering context for those unfamiliar with the terms and their significance. The poems themselves are simple, often reading as prose sentences broken into shorter lines. Their spare rhythms can be soothing, if repetitive at times—further explorations into formal and syntactical variation (or even experiments with greater abstraction) would offer welcome nuance. Still, each of the poems is compellingly sincere. Reflecting on T’ruah (“Loud Blast”) the author writes, “Holiness has a sound. / Part swoosh of blood in the veins, / Part hum from the edge of the universe, / Part stillness, part vibration, / …A sound that can only be heard / With the heart.” Whether reflecting on Afar (“Dust”) or Tzedek (“Justice”), these are indeed offerings from the heart.

Thoughtful reflections on the meanings of the Torah.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2023

ISBN: 9780881236156

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Central Conference of American Rabbis Press

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2023

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READING GENESIS

In this highly learned yet accessible book, Robinson offers believers fresh insight into a well-studied text.

A deeply thoughtful exploration of the first book of the Bible.

In this illuminating work of biblical analysis, Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Robinson, whose Gilead series contains a variety of Christian themes, takes readers on a dedicated layperson’s journey through the Book of Genesis. The author meanders delightfully through the text, ruminating on one tale after another while searching for themes and mining for universal truths. Robinson approaches Genesis with a reverence and level of faith uncommon to modern mainstream writers, yet she’s also equipped with the appropriate tools for cogent criticism. Throughout this luminous exegesis, which will appeal to all practicing Christians, the author discusses overarching themes in Genesis. First is the benevolence of God. Robinson points out that “to say that God is the good creator of a good creation” sets the God of Genesis in opposition to the gods of other ancient creation stories, who range from indifferent to evil. This goodness carries through the entirety of Genesis, demonstrated through grace. “Grace tempers judgment,” writes the author, noting that despite well-deserved instances of wrath or punishment, God relents time after time. Another overarching theme is the interplay between God’s providence and humanity’s independence. Across the Book of Genesis, otherwise ordinary people make decisions that will affect the future in significant ways, yet events are consistently steered by God’s omnipotence. For instance, Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, and that action has reverberated throughout the history of all Jewish people. Robinson indirectly asks readers to consider where the line is between the actions of God and the actions of creation. “He chose to let us be,” she concludes, “to let time yield what it will—within the vast latitude granted by providence.”

In this highly learned yet accessible book, Robinson offers believers fresh insight into a well-studied text.

Pub Date: March 12, 2024

ISBN: 9780374299408

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2023

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THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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