Should You Be Reading These Books?
Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem: The Biography was the Jewish Book Council's book of the year, and deservedly so.
Montefiore writes better than all but a very small handful of published authors. He makes history sing and reading his work is an immense pleasure you should not miss.
And now you can buy Jerusalem: The Biography at an affordable price, because the book just came out in paperback last month. Buy it. You'll love it, and so will anyone you give it to for Hanukkah. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.
The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person by Rabbi Harold Kushner.
Kushner has shifted his views on the issue of good, evil and the role of God since his first bestseller published 31 years ago, When Bad Things Happen To Good People. He now believes that God created the world in such a way that necessitates humankind having free will, and that free will means that humans can do very evil things to other humans, but won't intervene to stop it.
Kushner's newer understanding of God is much closer to the Orthodox understanding of God than his previous view that God created the world and then ceased having day-to-day involvement in it.
I find both views to be intellectually weak but the second to be emotionally comforting, because it doesn't have to rule out (admittedly rare) Divine intervention, and it allows God to see, hear and even feel our pain. Under this view, we may suffer but we never really suffer alone.
All that said, Kushner has done a wonderful job telling Job's story in way that modern people can identify with and appreciate. It's well worth reading. Two thumbs up.
The Next Generation of Modern Orthodoxy (The Orthodox Forum) edited by Rabbi Shmuel Hain.
There's not much I can say about the latest volume in the Orthodox Forum's series. I should like it, but I don't. I found it mind-numbing rather than edifying.
I think part of this comes from my increasing distaste of what Modern Orthodoxy has become.
But I think most of it comes from the fact that this newer generation of young Modern Orthodox leaders are for the most part not the educators, theologians and advocates that previous generations were. Most of these younger leaders see the trees but not the forest, and are overly tied to words on a page that cry out for kulot (leniencies) previous generations would have sought out and used, but these new leaders don't hear that cry, just as they do not see the pain and the destruction their blindness causes.
Perhaps no book containing supposedly scholarly essays about this next generation of Modern Orthodox leadership could have been any better. I don't know.
But I do know that I couldn't stand it, that I couldn't get through it, and that every time I picked it up and began to read I realized how spiritually and theologically gutted Modern Orthodoxy has become in the years since the passing of its leader, Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveichik. But perhaps if you read it you'll feel differently. One thumb firmly down, the other thumb wavering.