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THE SOCIAL JUSTICE TORAH COMMENTARY

An authoritative Jewish commentary on contemporary issues.

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Dozens of leading rabbis highlight the Torah’s answers to today’s pressing social justice issues.

In an introduction, editor Block writes that every rabbi, including himself, has heard the complaint from someone in their synagogue that “We want to hear Torah, not politics, from the bimah.” Yet, as Block and his expert contributors demonstrate in this volume, Jewish prophets and teachers have long “understood the essence of the Torah as a call to action” against injustice. If one deeply studies the meaning and intent of ancient Jewish festivals, rituals, and stories, contributor Andrea L. Weiss notes, “The prophetic message is simple: What matters most is justice.” In more than 50 essays by members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, some of the nation’s leading Jewish teachers, scholars, and thinkers offer erudite perspectives on how the Torah informs current social debates. Drawing on material from Genesis to Deuteronomy, each essay connects a specific biblical passage to a pressing issue in contemporary life. Contributor David Spinrad, for instance, connects the digging of Isaac’s third well to systemic racism, and Andrea C. London ties the commandment “You Shall Not Murder” to gun control. Other essays tackle LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights, climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, criminal justice inequities, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although most essays are centered on specific injustices, others use passages from the Torah to promote essential citizenship and community values on such subjects as trauma-informed care and voting rights. Collectively, this volume is a well-researched, welcome addition to Torah commentaries. Scholars will find detailed, sophisticated analyses, and general readers, assisted by the book’s approachable writing style and helpful glossary, will find pragmatic ways to pursue social justice action in their own lives. It might have been more useful to organize the essays thematically rather than by their chronological relation to the books of the Torah. Nevertheless, it has the potential to be a volume that both rabbis and laity will turn to for decades to come.

An authoritative Jewish commentary on contemporary issues.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-88123-383-4

Page Count: 404

Publisher: Central Conference of American Rabbis Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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