Virtual Talmud

I have always steered away from best book lists. How does one define “best” for a book? Most riveting story line? Most lyrical? Most moving? The book that made me think the most? That made me the angriest? A book that breaks new ground in one of my favorite subjects? That contributes to my understanding of our complex larger or inner world? That I just loved reading?

Ultimately, I believe there is no objective criteria to determining best books so here is my own eclectic list of six books I found important and meaningful in 2006. The books appear in no particular order, except for the first:

“The Contemporary Torah, A Gender-Sensitive Adaptation of the JPS Translation,” edited by David E.S. Stein. One must always begin with Torah so here it is. What a pleasure to read the creation story and finally see that God created humankind, which, at least according to the great biblical scholar Harry Orlinsky, is the most accurate translation anyway. That sentence and others warmed the cockles of my heart and earned this volume a place on my crowded bookcase. This easy to read translation is a great place to start one’s daily or weekly reading of the biblical text.

“MitzvahChic: How to Host a Meaningful, Fun, Drop-Dead Gorgeous Bar or Bat Mitzvah,” by Gail Anthony Greenberg. A congregant turned me on to this wonderful book full of concrete recommendations for making a Bar or Bat Mitzvah party not only fun but meaningful. There is a section of recommendations for every weekly Torah reading parsha and Jewish holiday that makes it easy to put the mitzvah and meaning back into the celebration.

“Night,” by Elie Wiesel. This classic made it back to the best seller lists when Oprah included it in her Book Club. Wiesel’s moving story provides a poignant call to action in the face of a world in which rising anti-Semitism, a genocidal Iranian president, and the ongoing slaughter in the Sudan continues unabated.

“Sarah Laughed, Lessons from the Wisdom and Stories of Biblical Women,” and “Inventing Jewish Ritual, New American Traditions,” by Vanessa Ochs. OK, these are really two books, but I’m counting them as one. Whatever Ochs writes is worth reading. Her lyrical voice and observant eye offer a rare bridge between scholarship and inspiration.

“Changing Places, A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age,” by Judy Kraemer. Although not a new book, I read it this year for the first time when a congregant recommended it. Anyone whose parents are aging should read this moving, insightful and beautifully written book.

“The Unfolding Tradition, Jewish Law After Sinai,” by Elliot Dorff. Anyone interested in religion and change will find this volume essential reading. This seminal volume is all the more critical for those of us who seek to negotiate at one and the same time embracing tradition and change as an expression of our love of God, Torah and the Jewish people.

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