I need a good book on Judaism. My wife is Jewish and I recently found out that I am, too! We want to raise our kids Jewish. I have read extensively on the subjects of philosophy, religion and psychology. I need something with some real meat, not a yawn intro book.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The first place to start, of course, is with the all-time bestseller, the Bible. It is not a yawn! I recommend the "Stone Chumash" (artscroll.com), because it will give you a proper Jewish translation plus extensive commentary.
Jewish life is based largely around the calendar year. "The Book of Our Heritage" by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (feldheim.com) is a classic work, featuring a lively and scholarly explanation of all the laws and customs of the Jewish holidays.
An understanding of history is also integral. Rabbi Ken Spiro has written an excellent book filled with facts and anecdotes – "Crash Course in Jewish History" explores the 4,000 years of Jewish existence from Abraham to Zionism, while answering the great questions: Why have the Jewish people been so unique, so impactful, yet so hated and so relentlessly persecuted?
Finally, I suggest you start in earnest by attending a Discovery seminar. It provides an excellent overview of Jewish history, philosophy, and literature. The seminar is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world. For a current schedule, visit www.aish.com/dis/
May the Almighty guide you and your family on the path to Jewish fulfillment.
Several weeks ago, I was present at synagogue for a Bris celebrated on Shabbat. Truth to tell, I'd never attended a Bris. The rabbi explained that the baby would start crying because "his diaper is being taken off and it's cold in the sanctuary." But the howling screams from this tiny child were heart-rending. Yes, the wee one went to sleep fairly quickly afterward, and the ordeal was surely forgotten by him. Though I'll never forget it!
So my question is: Wouldn’t it be better to have used some sort of anesthetic?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Having performed the circumcision on three of my sons, I can tell you that the skin itself is very soft, and most of the pain actually comes from the metal guide that is placed there prior to the cut.
As for your question, Jewish law does permit the use of anesthetic before a circumcision. The reason why it is usually not used is because the anesthesia is considered unhealthy for the child.
However, if the parents or Mohel prefer, then anesthetic is permitted. Of course, it is important to confirm with a doctor that this particular anesthetic poses no danger to the baby. (source: "Igrot Moshe" Y.D. 4:40)
I have heard many arguments for a multiple authorship/editing of the Torah. Is there any reason to doubt the seemingly convincing conclusions of the secular university Bible scholars? Are there contemporary Biblical scholars of note who dissent from the "unanimous" view of their peers that the Torah text is from man?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
A complete discussion of Bible Criticism is beyond the scope of one email, but I can try to cover a few of the basic points.
One claim that the Bible Critics use for "multiple authorship" is the fact that the Torah uses different words to refer to God.
Of course this is true, because a human being can never fathom the totality of God. We can only describe "aspects" of His existence. For example, two primary terms the Torah uses for God are "YHVH" (the Four-Letter Name) and Elohim. YHVH represents the attribute of mercy (see Exodus 34:6), and Elohim is the attribute of judgment (see Exodus 22:8). Assigning different names to those various aspects is a key to deeper understanding of who God is. It's like describing “light” by the various colors visible through a prism.
Another point raised by the Bible critics is the subtle stylistic differences of the Torah text. For instance, if you carefully analyze Shakespeare (or any other human writer), you will see that the writer prefers certain sounds and phrasing structures. For example (and I am making up this example), lets say that Shakespeare will frequently end a word with an "sh" sound, and then follow it immediately with a word beginning with the letter "b." Most likely the author does this subconsciously. If a "new manuscript" of Shakespeare were discovered, the experts would run it through a computer, and if this same "sh" and "b" pattern was completely non-apparent, then the manuscript is likely a fake.
So too, Bible critics have applied this methodology to the Torah and found that it is not consistent. This criticism, however, is seriously flawed, because it applies a "human" phenomenon to God! In other words, the Bible critics start with their own premise – that the Bible was written by man – and then apply those human standards to it. But if the Bible was written by God, then obviously God has a consciousness far beyond those human constraints.
This idea has been corroborated by many researchers, for example Chaim Shore, a non-religious engineer at the Univ. of Tel Aviv, whose computer documentation on the Book of Genesis revealed a single author.
As a third example of multiple authorship, Bible critics will cite the two different creation stories which appear in the first chapters of Genesis. Yet that fails to consider the deep theological reasons for two different creation stories: It describes the complexity of human beings, who operate in multiple dimensions, and then merge those perspectives to create a holistic life approach. This spiritual phenomenon is detailed in many rabbinic writings, including Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik's "Lonely Man of Faith," which is available in English.