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WHY BE JEWISH? by Edgar M. Bronfman


A Testament

by Edgar M. Bronfman

Pub Date: March 22nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4555-6289-3
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

The late businessman and philanthropist answers his title’s question with a last testament of sorts.

In the ancient Jewish tradition of an ethical will that dispenses not tangibles but moral principles, Bronfman (The Bronfman Haggadah, 2013, etc.) completed his manuscript just weeks before his death. Describing himself as a secular Jew—not a believer in a singular anthropomorphic authority whose avocation is to check on individual mortals—he finds much that is wonderful in the teachings and traditions of Judaism. He celebrates the warmth of his family relationships, unlike those of his childhood, and he speaks of goodness, not geopolitics, of morality, not dissention. A “cultural Jew,” eschewing rigid ritual, Bronfman teases out meaning from age-old texts. He examines the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, rabbinic commentaries, exegesis from oral tradition, philosophical writing, and modern interpretations. The author revels in the particularly Jewish toleration of independent thinking and, if need be, argument with God. In this short book, especially relevant to a generation that knows little of its faith and finds little in it, there is a review of the holidays and holy days of the Jewish calendar. The author discusses the moral imperatives of charity, loving kindness, repair of the world, and repair of one’s own spiritual life. Bronfman’s text leans neither to the right nor the left of Jewish thought; it reflects the writer’s own studies. It is all just slightly self-congratulatory, though, as we learn of the good works of his Samuel Bronfman Foundation, his presidency of the World Jewish Congress, and other exemplary efforts. His easily accessible primer concludes on a lengthy, oddly mundane note, in which Moses is presented as providing specific lessons in the art of leadership.

One man’s personal call to laggard Jews to study, learn, and seek justice in a broken world. Readers of other persuasions may also profit from his insight into bits of Jewish thought and practice.