2016-06-30


General

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.

Kabbalah Month by Month: A Year of Spiritual Practice and Personal Transformation
By Mindy Ribner
Jossey-Bass

It was inevitable that amid the explosion of Kabbalah-related books in the last five years, some would be done devotional-style, aimed to bring the puzzles of Judaism's most mystical text to readers in digestible, bite-sized daily doses. But in "Kabbalah Month by Month: A Year of Spiritual Practice and Personal Transformation," Mindy Ribner gives readers a fairly thoughtful and perceptive interpretation. What sets this book apart from most others that explore Kabbalah for the hoi polloi is that it is firmly and stubbornly rooted in Jewish tradition. Some may not agree with Ribner's explanations of some Jewish traditions, or her investigations of astrology, but they will appreciate the fact that she has not sought to divorce Kabbalah from its religious roots. The book is beautifully designed in a square paperback format.

Money

Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money
By Daniel Lapin
Wiley

Combining pop psychology, snippets of Jewish lore, homespun homilies and quotations from a daunting variety of sources, Lapin offers a manual on how to make money by succeeding in business. Lapin, a super-conservative Orthodox rabbi and talk show host, insists that everyone is in business "unless you are a Supreme Court judge [sic] or a tenured university professor." (Excluding professors fits with Lapin's devaluation of them, since he believes that higher education doesn't prepare for "real life.") The material is organized into 10 chapters of advice, beginning with the notion that "business is moral, noble and worthy," and ending with the admonition not to retire. Throughout, Lapin urges behavior that will produce more business and, thus, more money. For example, he unabashedly recommends attending synagogue or church services in order to make business contacts. Similarly, he encourages giving charity to an organization that has members who "are in the best position to advance your business objectives." Lapin justifies these dubious actions by interpreting the fifth commandment ("Honor thy father and thy mother") as a mandate to form relationships for business purposes. His struggle to ground his financial advice in Jewish tradition is abandoned as he expounds an anti-environmentalist stance. He digresses still further from both Judaism and wealth-building when he gives tips for public speaking based on what his father taught him (talking without a manuscript or notes and not grasping the rostrum). Lapin's book may appeal to patient readers who share his conservative political and economic views.

Children

The Littlest Candlesticks
By Sylvia Rouss
Pitspopany

On the heels of The Littlest Pair's winning the 2002 National Jewish Book Award in the picture-book category comes "The Littlest Candlesticks," another title in the Littlest series by Sylvia Rouss, illustrated by Holly Hannon. Couplets describe a girl's wish for her own Sabbath candlesticks, like her mother and her older sisters ("'Abby, just wait 'til you're a little older./ You'll have candlesticks,' her mother gently told her"). Abby's patience pays off the next week in preschool (her class is girls only, with all of them in modest dresses), when each girl receives a pair of "see-through glass" candlesticks to paint. Hannon compensates for uneven draftsmanship with radiantly colored compositions that almost shine with Abby's family's warmth.

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