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The New Encyclopedia of Judaism
NYU Press

In 1989, The Encyclopedia of Judaism set a high standard for Jewish reference works and was selected as an Outstanding Reference Book by the American Library Association. But in The New Encyclopedia of Judaism, a good work has been made even better; the original thousand entries have been updated and 250 new ones added. As with the first edition, the one-volume resource has hundreds of illustrations, contributions from scholars from all major branches of Judaism and a strong annotated bibliography.

Jewish Holidays All Year Round
By Ilene Cooper, illus. by Elivia Savadier
Abrams

Written by Booklist's children's book editor, abundantly illustrated with Savadier's ("The Uninvited Guest and Other Jewish Holiday Tales") playful watercolors as well as color photographs of art and artifacts from New York City's Jewish Museum, this book strikes a tone both child-friendly and respectful. As the author thoughtfully explores the history and significance of the holidays and festivals of the Jewish year, she succinctly links these to traditions and rituals. For example, after explaining Sukkot and identifying it as an inspiration for the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving, she writes, "Today, each sukkah fragile... open to the sky and the rain reminds us that we eternally owe our thanks to God. The sukkah symbolizes our need for God's shelter." Instructions for holiday activities (crafts, recipes, etc.) are also included. Almost every page features at least one illustration, from a view of an 18th-century Galician Torah crown to a contemporary photo of a Harlem congregation blowing long, twisty shofars to a 1910 Rosh Hashanah "card" carved on a walrus tusk in Nome, Alaska. Savadier's vignettes, mostly of busy, happy people, underscore the liveliness of Jewish faith.

Holocaust

A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair
By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Knopf

Harvard scholar Goldhagen, author of the bestselling and controversial "Hitler's Willing Executioners," turns to a question left unanswered in his earlier work: to what extent are Catholics and the Catholic Church morally culpable for the Holocaust? As in his earlier book, Goldhagen pulls no punches. In the second paragraph he writes, "Christianity is a religion that consecrated... a megatherian hatred of one group of people: the Jews." The story of this hatred, which Goldhagen views as a betrayal of Christianity's own moral principles, has been told many times and, most recently, in the works of Susan Zuccotti and Michael Phayer. In contrast to these accounts, Goldhagen offers not an objective history of the Church's role in the Holocaust but, as the title promises, a moral examination.

Goldhagen makes no apology for engaging in a sustained ethical inquiry and rendering judgment. (In fact, much of the book is either a direct or indirect defense of his much-criticized first work.) Goldhagen demands material, political and moral restitution but ends questioning whether the Catholic Church can "muster the will" to undertake these actions. There is little new information here; a definitive history of this dark chapter must await the opening of the Vatican archives. Readers should not skip the extensive and detailed endnotes, which contain a wealth of fascinating material.

Kabbalah

The Secret: Unlocking the Source of Joy and Fulfillment
By Michael Berg
Kabbalah Publishing

Popular kabbalist and author of "The Way," Berg is back with another spiritual how-to, a guidebook for applying the principles of Jewish mysticism to everyday life. The book opens with a powerful tale: Josef and Rebecca, a poor couple, sell their only cow to provide a feast for a famous rabbi, and they are eventually rewarded with unfathomable riches. The cow, says Berg, symbolizes the unfulfilled life many people are willing to accept, and the riches symbolize the joy we can find if we shape our lives around the titular "Secret." What is this secret? It is a saying that Berg's teacher, the late Rav Ashlag, learned from his own teacher, years ago in Jerusalem: "The only way to achieve true joy and fulfillment is by becoming a being of sharing." That idea is hardly innovative, of course, but Berg's meditations on the life of generosity are stirring, and the kabbalistic and midrashic tales he employs movingly illustrate the fruits of sharing. The book is a bit skimpy, though, and padded with self-help standards. There's a list of six tips to aid those trying to live out The Secret, including the unabashed suggestion to "Read this book often" and, since The Secret is about sharing, share the book with others. Most readers will breeze through the text in an hour. One wishes that Berg had followed his own advice and shared even more with his audience.

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