Recently, the Huffington Post ran an article on the 18 texts every Jew should read. While it was a fascinating article and filled with wonderful texts, it had a few flaws that should not be overlooked. Most of the authors were men. Almost all of the books are religious in nature. Few of the books mention what it is like to be a Jew of a different flavor – African American, atheist, or LGBT, for example. So… here it is, a reading list for the rest of us.
Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism – Danya Ruttenberg and Susannah Heschel
The 20 authors who wrote for Yentl’s Revenge bring an enormous range of voices to the table. The book covers a wide array of topics (such as Jewish identity, witchcraft, transgender issues, and finding a good Jewish boy) with passion, warmth, and deep insight. Curl up with this book and explore Jewish punk, Jewish body image, circumcision, faith… there is an essay in here for any occasion or interest. Whether you agree with the authors or not, this book will make you think … which should be the point of feminism, after all.
Everything Is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism – Jay Michaelson
Mainstream, traditional views of God often posit a separation between Divinity and man. God is a separate entity, far apart from the world as we know it. Michaelson’s book follows in the footsteps of Kabbalists and Hasidim in challenging this view. Instead, Michaelson’s book shows us a God who is present in all of us. Indeed, everything and everyone is a manifestation of the Divine. Pulling on sources from Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and a host of other traditions, Everything is God not only explores nondual Judaism but shows how it is lived in practice.
Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible – Gregg Drinkwater, Joshua Lesser, David Shneer and Judith Plaskow
Every year we read the first 5 books. It’s a cycle that is near and dear to the hearts of a lot of Jews. One of the points of this reading is to see the passages in new and different ways. Torah Queeries will help you to do just that. Though the commentaries found in its pages are written from a decidedly LGBTQ bent, this book is one that everyone should own. It will open up the Torah readings for every reader, no matter who that reader might be.
Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community – Noach Dzmura
There’s really not enough good I can say about this book. Dzmura has brought together voices from across the Jewish spectrum to shed light on the realities of being a gender-nonconforming Jew. This book can, and should, change the face of Judaism – it is not only a treat for gender-nonconforming Jews who are searching for voices that mirror their own, but also an excellent resource for all Jews who are struggling to be open, supportive, and understanding in a deep and honest way. This bok is a joy.
New Jewish Feminism: Probing the Past, Forging the Future – Elyse Goldstein and Anita Diamant
While not quite (at least on the surface) as radical as Yentl’s Revenge, New Jewish Feminism is a fascinating exploration of what it means to be a Jewish woman today, how Jewish issues have been affected by feminism and Jewish women, and what the next steps are for Jewish women as feminist Judaism moves forward.
The Color of Water – James McBride
I know – it’s not strictly a Jewish book. I still believe it belongs on the list. McBride’s mother, a Polish Orthodox Jew (and convert to Christianity) is the focus of this moving tribute, which looks at issues of mixed-race marriage and religion through very personal lenses. This is a book filled with love and care for McBride’s mother, while still pushing people to think about issues of race, religion, and identity as they all converge in one messy mixed space.
Azoulay, the child of a Jewish mother and a Jamaican father, takes on issues of identity and personhood in this book which explores her own experiences as a child. This book blends not only historical and theoretical perspectives on issues of identity, but also carries the reader through the deeply personal issues about ientity that the author had to negotiate as an interracial child. Don’t be fooled though – this is no light memoir. Azoulay’s book is deeply embedded in philosophy and politics as she explores both Black and Jewish experiences in America.
Jews without Judaism: Conversations with an Unconventional Rabbi – Daniel Friedman
Friedman begins this book with the contention that “it may fairly be said that religion plays virtually no part in the lives of most American Jews”. This book, written by a longtime rabbi, then begins to explore this idea, through as series of fictional conversations (many of them made up from pieces of real conversations). Friedman explores what Judaism is without God, how to deal with morality without God, and what constitutes Jewish identity. This is an important book that deals with important issues – for both religious and non-religious Jews alike.
Seid explores, in God-Optional Judaism, ways in which non-theistic Jews can connect with their culture, heritage, liturgies, and music in authentic but non-theistic ways. She is creative and passionate about he ways in which she interacts with Jewish prayer and ritual, providing suggestions for holiday celebrations, and revealing with care the ways in which Judaism embraces diversity in all forms of celebration. The book is filled with practical suggestions and resources, making it a valuable addition to the libraries of both secular and religious Jews.
In Every Tongue: The Racial and Ethnic Diversity of the Jewish People – Diane Tobin, Gary A. Tobin and Scott Rubin
I have to admit that I haven’t read this one yet. It’s next on my reading list, and so I am taking the description straight from Amazon.com. Check it out. It looks fascinating.
“Jews have always resembled the peoples among whom they live, whether in Africa, Asia, or Europe. Why should American Jews be an exception? In a land where racial and ethnic boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred, the American Jewish community is also shifting. In Every Tongue is both a groundbreaking look at the changing faces of the Jewish people and an examination of the timelessness of those changes. Ranging from distinct communities of African American Jews and adopted children of color in white Jewish families to the growing number of religious seekers of all races who hope to find a home in Judaism, In Every Tongue explores the origins, traditions, challenges, and joys of diverse Jews in America. This book explodes the myth of a single authentic Judaism and shines a bright light on the thousands of ethnically and racially diverse Jews in the United States who live full and rich Jewish lives. It is impossible to read In Every Tongue without coming away with a deeper respect for and a broader understanding of the Jewish people today. In a time when Jewish community leaders decry the shrinking of the Jewish population, In Every Tongue imagines a vibrant and daring future for the Jewish people: becoming who they have always been.”
Anita Diamant, married to a convert herself, writes in this book a guide for anyone who knows anyone thinking of conversion to Judaism. From choosing a Hebrew name to finding a rabbi, from celebrating the holidays to visiting the mikvah – Choosing a Jewish Life walks converts and their families through all of the issues that they will address during the process. While fundamentally a handbook, Diamant has managed to fill this book with spirituality, faith, humor, and an ability to anticipate the questions that readers might have.
Queer Theory and the Jewish Question – Daniel Boyarin, Daniel Itzkovitz and Ann Pellegrin
Oh, I love love love this book, which explores the relationships between Jewishness and queerness, between anti-semitism and homophobia, and between queer theory and Jewish identity theory. Certainly one of the more weighty books on this list, it is worth the read as the essays interact with such theorists ad Daniel Boyarin, Judith Butler, and Eve Sedgwick.
Not enough can be said to urge you to read this book. Alpert, one of the first women to be ordained as a rabbi, has created a space for lesbians to feel welcome and accepted in Jewish life and tradition. A blend of personal reflection and scholarly insight gives this book accessability and authority, and makes it an invaluable resource for anyone interested in lesbian issues, queer theory, or Jewish life.
I will admit it readily. I have no idea who Kim Kardashian is. I have no idea to whom she is married. I don’t really care that I don’t know.
Maybe she made a silly marriage. Maybe everyone around them knew that it wasn’t going to last. But I find it hard to believe that Kim or her future ex went into marriage intending to get divorced. This is a couple in pain. Divorce – no matter how short the marriage – is painful.
But this picture has been floating around the web, and it really bothers me.
I’m sure she’s famous. I’m sure that she has done things that are easy to make fun of. But really? Using her divorce to make a point about the gay marriage issue? It’s ugly. It’s unkind. It’s disappointing.
I thought the gay marriage fight was supposed to be about the right to love and commit to whomever we chose. It’s about the right to make our own choices – whether they are good and wise choices or not.
If this is the way that the gay marriage debate is going to go, then I’m not sure I’m interested in being a part of it.
I’m sure that Kim will never read my blog, but I will say anyway what we should all be thinking: I”m sorry. I’m sorry if your heart is breaking. I’m sorry your dreams of forever didn’t come true this time. I hope that you will heal and find love again and choose wisely. Breaking up is hard, and you deserve better than being made fun of.
CT Scan: $4,300
Emergency Room visit: $1,200
These are just estimates. And they don’t cover the IV fluids, the two injections of morphine, the anti-nausea medicine, or the urine testing. They don’t include the five to seven minutes that the doctor was in the room poking to see if he could feel something wrong. Let’s add those in as another estimated $4,000. That puts the total for a four hour visit to the ER at $10,300. Bills like that can take years, and often decades to pay off—it’s not particularly surprising that over 60% of U.S. bankruptcies are prompted by medical debt.
Perhaps I also shouldn’t be surprised that so many people choose to live with pain rather than go to the doctor. As the healthcare debate rages on, I have to wonder: How did Americans come to value being out of debt more than our own health? How did we come to live in a society where people must routinely choose between living in financial ruin or crippling pain?
Judaism teaches us that the preservation and nurturing of human life is among the highest moral obligations a person has. This is inscribed as the principle of Pikuach Nefesh (saving of human life), which overrides virtually all other religious considerations. Indeed, we are commanded to break Shabbat if it is necessary to heal the sick or otherwise protect life.
I doubt that there are many of us who would ignore this principle if someone else was involved. If we were to see a child in danger, we would certainly break Shabbat to save her. And our culture accords high status to police officers, firefighters, and other professionals who put themselves at risk in order to save the lives of others. Why then, are we so reluctant to save our own lives? Why are our own lives worth risking in order to avoid the crushing debt of medical bills? I don’t know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that I am deeply ashamed. I am ashamed to live in a society where people are more concerned about medical bankruptcy than about their most basic healthcare needs. I am ashamed to live in the only industrialized society that does not provide basic healthcare for all its citizens—a society in which there is such a thing as medical bankruptcy.
We are commanded to care for each other. Again and again, the Torah teaches us that we must feed the hungry, dress the poor, and care for widows and children. How can we pretend to be living into the will of God when we are fighting over who should pay for healthcare while people suffer in order to avoid the burden of medical bills?
I ask these questions because this was the situation I found myself in early Monday morning. I work more than full-time. I pay my taxes. And I am also one of the 50 million Americans who are uninsured (90 million if you count those with inadequate insurance). So, when I woke up in excruciating pain, I tried to wait it out. When my throat got sore from screaming, I was faced with a choice: ruin my finances by going to the hospital, or stay home and hope that I did not become one of the nearly 100,000 people that die each year from lack of medical care (more than from AIDS and breast cancer combined) in the U.S. Over the last few days, I have experienced the worst physical pain of my life, but that pain is nothing compared with the knowledge that so many others in my situation view lying in bed and “toughing it out” as their best option.
God calls us to be partners in the creation of a just and compassionate world.God calls us to care for the widow, the needy, the bereaved, and the poor. God calls us to care for ourselves, as we are each a piece of the Divine image in the world. How can we even begin to live out this calling, when we cannot value of the health of our neighbor? How can we value the Divine image of God when we cannot even value our own health?
This week Jews all over the world celebrated Simchat Torah, the ending of one reading cycle and the beginning of another. This celebration honors the finishing of one cycle of Torah readings (as we end the last chapters of Deuteronomy) and the beginning of another (as we immediately pick up with a reading of Genesis). It is a time of joy and celebration. We honor the words of Torah and celebrate that we are continually involved in the work of understanding the words of God. Simchat Torah is a time of renewal – a time to recognize the cycles that have come before us, and look forward to the cycles ahead.
For many of us, recognizing and honoring the cycles in our lives is difficult. We cling to the cycles we have been in, unwilling or unable to break out of them. We embrace the patterns of self-destruction we have always live with; we think we cannot break out of our habits. Rarely, if ever, do we look at what the value of these cycles are. Simchat Torah is a chance for us all to do just that.
There is nothing inherently joyful in reading the same thing over and over again. Year in and year out we read Genesis to Deuteronomy. It would be easy to get bored, to take for granted what we are doing, to simply not read (after all we’ve read it all before). Instead, we look forward to new readings, to new understandings, to hearing the words of God in new and different ways through out the year. We listen to the cycles that have come before us. What did we learn last year reading Genesis? What were we shocked by when we read the commentaries two cycles ago.
I wonder if we would be healthier if we treated our whole lives like this. What are the things we have learned in the past year? What are the cycles we recognize in our lives and how can they shed light on where we are now? The cycles of our lives – whether they are healthy or not – are tools that teach us. Examined, we can learn why we self-destruct, why we have nightmares at certain times of the year, or why we consistently eat unhealthily.
Just like there is great value in rereading the words of God each year in an attempt to find new understandings, there is great value in rereading the cycles of our lives. Jewish or not, let Simchat Torah remind you of this value, and encourage you. Renewal is aways possible – sometimes it just takes reading in a different way.