An authoritative Jewish commentary on contemporary issues.

THE SOCIAL JUSTICE TORAH COMMENTARY

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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Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

SO HELP ME GOD

The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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