Against what most Jews today take to be central to their faith, this jeremiad is unlikely to succeed.

TO HEAL THE WORLD?

HOW THE JEWISH LEFT CORRUPTS JUDAISM AND ENDANGERS ISRAEL

A knowledgeable Hebraic critic considers a concept honored by the vast majority of his co-religionists and finds it all wrong.

The tenet that it is a duty to fix our imperfect world, known in Hebrew as tikkun olam (to repair or heal the world), is a relatively new concept, less than a couple of centuries old. To Neumann, a former editor at Jewish Ideas Daily, it is equivalent to the effort to achieve social justice, and that equals politics, liberal politics in particular. Making that jump, he preaches forcefully from his religion’s right. The author shows that tikkun olam is scarcely referenced in the Five Books of Moses or by the prophets. The faithful will find little support in the Hebrew Bible for LGBT or voting rights; gun, tax, health care, or immigration reform; or care for the environment. That’s not what Judaism is about, insists the author. He concedes that it would be good if the world operated better, but ethical behavior is not a mandate unique to the Jewish faith. Adherents to that faith should attend to the unique obligations placed on them at Mount Sinai. What is the function of the Jewish community otherwise? It would be better, writes Neumann, for the Jewish faithful to practice their religiosity according to the ancient texts, rituals honored for millennia and devotion to Israel, the Promised Land. In his fundamentalist exegesis, the author argues that those radical proponents who feel obliged to fix the world actually weaken devotion to the true Jewish mandate. Among the many liberal thinkers and activists espousing false agendas are such worthy figures as Thomas Friedman, Ruth Messinger, Michael Lerner, Michael Strassfeld, and Michael Walzer. Neumann, finding tikkun olam a rarity in the Jewish canon, posits a false dichotomy in an either/or situation.

Against what most Jews today take to be central to their faith, this jeremiad is unlikely to succeed.

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-16087-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: All Points/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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