Holtz, “Rabbi Akiva”

In March, Yale University Press will release Rabbi Akiva: Sage of the Talmud by Barry W. Holtz (Jewish Theological Seminary of America). The publisher’s description follows:

rabbi-akivaA compelling and lucid account of the life and teachings of a founder of rabbinic Judaism and one of the most beloved heroes of Jewish history

Born in the Land of Israel around the year 50 C.E., Rabbi Akiva was the greatest rabbi of his time and one of the most important influences on Judaism as we know it today. Traditional sources tell how he was raised in poverty and unschooled in religious tradition but began to learn the Torah as an adult. In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., he helped shape a new direction for Judaism through his brilliance and his character. Mystic, legalist, theologian, and interpreter, he disputed with his colleagues in dramatic fashion yet was admired and beloved by his peers. Executed by Roman authorities for his insistence on teaching Torah in public, he became the exemplar of Jewish martyrdom.

Drawing on the latest historical and literary scholarship, this book goes beyond older biographies, untangling a complex assortment of ancient sources to present a clear and nuanced portrait of Talmudic hero Rabbi Akiva.

Novak, “Jewish Justice”

In March, Baylor University Press will release “Jewish Justice: The Contested Limits of Nature, Law, and Covenant,” by David Novak (University of Toronto).  The publisher’s description follows:

In Jewish Justice David Novak explores the continuing role of Judaism for crafting ethics, politics, and theology. Drawing on sources as diverse as the Bible, the screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-1-00-19-amTalmud, and ancient, medieval, and modern philosophy, Novak asserts Judaism’s integral place in communal discourse of the public square.

According to Novak, biblical revelation has universal implications—that it is ultimately God’s law to humanity because humans made in God’s image are capable of making intelligent moral choices. The universality of this claim, however, stands in tension with the particularities of Jewish monotheism (one God, one people, one law). Novak’s challenge is for Judaism to capitalize on the way God’s law transcends particularity without destroying difference. Thus it is as Jews that Jews are called to join communities across the faithful denominations, as well as secular ones, to engage in debates about the common good.

Jewish Justice follows a logical progression from grounded ethical quandaries to larger philosophical debates. Novak begins by considering the practical issues of capital punishment, mutilation and torture, corporate crime, the landed status of communities and nations, civil marriage, and religious marriage. He next moves to a consideration of theoretical concerns: God’s universal justice, the universal aim of particular Jewish ethics, human rights and the image of God, the relation of post-Enlightenment social contract theory to the recently enfranchised Jewish community, and the voices of Jewish citizens in secular politics and the public sphere. Novak also explores the intersection of universality and particularity by examining the practice of interfaith dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Shternshis, “When Sonia Met Boris”

In February, Oxford University Press will release When Sonia Met Boris: An Oral History of Jewish Life under Stalin by Anna Shternshis (University of Toronto). The publisher’s description follows:

when-sonia-met-borisSoviet Jews lived through a record number of traumatic events: the Great Terror, World War II, the Holocaust, the Famine of 1947, the Doctors’ Plot, the antisemitic policies of the postwar period, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. But like millions of other Soviet citizens, they married, raised children, and built careers, pursuing life as best as they could in a profoundly hostile environment. One of the first scholars to record and analyze oral testimonies of Soviet Jews, Anna Shternshis unearths their everyday life and the difficult choices that they were forced to make as a repressed minority living in a totalitarian regime.

Drawing on nearly 500 interviews with Soviet citizens who were adults by the 1940s, When Sonia Met Boris describes both indirect Soviet control mechanisms?such as housing policies and unwritten quotas in educational institutions?and personal strategies to overcome, ignore, or even take advantage of those limitations. The interviews reveal how ethnicity was rapidly transformed into a negative characteristic, almost a disability, for Soviet Jewry in the postwar period. Ultimately, Shternshis shows, after decades living in a repressive, nominally atheistic state, these Jews did manage to retain a complex sense of Jewish identity, but one that fully disassociates Jewishness from Judaism and instead associates it with secular society, prioritizing chess over Talmud, classical music over Hasidic tunes. Gracefully weaving together poignant stories, intimate reflections, and witty anecdotes, When Sonia Met Boris traces the unusual contours of contemporary Russian Jewish identity back to its roots.

Rosenblum, “The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World”

This month, Cambridge University Press will release “The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World,” by Jordan Rosenblum (University of Wisconsin).  The publisher’s description follows:

In The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World Jordan D. Rosenblum explores how cultures critique and defend their religious food practices. In particular he focuses on 9781107090347how ancient Jews defended the kosher laws, or kashrut, and how ancient Greeks, Romans, and early Christians critiqued these practices. As the kosher laws are first encountered in the Hebrew Bible, this study is rooted in ancient biblical interpretation. It explores how commentators in antiquity understood, applied, altered, innovated upon, and contemporized biblical dietary regulations. He shows that these differing interpretations do not exist within a vacuum; rather, they are informed by a variety of motives, including theological, moral, political, social, and financial considerations. In analyzing these ancient conversations about culture and cuisine, he dissects three rhetorical strategies deployed when justifying various interpretations of ancient Jewish dietary regulations: reason, revelation, and allegory. Finally, Rosenblum reflects upon wider, contemporary debates about food ethics.

Levy, “The Genius of Judaism”

Next month, Penguin Random House will release a new book by philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, The Genius of Judaism. The book discusses contemporary anti-Semitism and argues that Western democratic ideals have Jewish roots. Here’s the publisher’s description:

9780812992724For more than four decades, Bernard-Henri Lévy has been a singular figure on the world stage—one of the great moral voices of our time. Now Europe’s foremost philosopher and activist confronts his spiritual roots and the religion that has always inspired and shaped him—but that he has never fully reckoned with.

The Genius of Judaism is a breathtaking new vision and understanding of what it means to be a Jew, a vision quite different from the one we’re used to. It is rooted in the Talmudic traditions of argument and conflict, rather than biblical commandments, borne out in struggle and study, not in blind observance. At the very heart of the matter is an obligation to the other, to the dispossessed, and to the forgotten, an obligation that, as Lévy vividly recounts, he has sought to embody over decades of championing “lost causes,” from Bosnia to Africa’s forgotten wars, from Libya to the Kurdish Peshmerga’s desperate fight against the Islamic State, a battle raging as we speak. Lévy offers a fresh, surprising critique of a new and stealthy form of anti-Semitism on the rise as well as a provocative defense of Israel from the left. He reveals the overlooked Jewish roots of Western democratic ideals and confronts the current Islamist threat while intellectually dismantling it. Jews are not a “chosen people,” Lévy explains, but a “treasure” whose spirit must continue to inform moral thinking and courage today.

Lévy’s most passionate book, and in many ways his most personal, The Genius of Judaism is a great, profound, and hypnotic intellectual reckoning—indeed a call to arms—by one of the keenest and most insightful writers in the world.

 

Todd, “Sinai and the Saints”

Coming soon from InterVarsity Press, Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community, by James M. Todd III (College of the Ozarks). The publisher’s description follows:

9780830851621What should Christians do with all the laws in the Old Testament?

The Old Testament tells the story of the beginnings of God’s salvation history, and it is part of the authoritative canon of Scripture affirmed by the church. But what role should the laws of the old covenant play in the lives of those living under the new covenant?

Can Christians embrace the commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” but ignore the laws regarding clean and unclean food? Some have suggested that Christians remain under the moral laws of the old covenant, while others have argued that some of the Old Testament laws—for example, the Ten Commandments—still apply to Christians.

James Todd makes a bold claim by contending that as followers of Jesus Christ who stand under a new covenant, Christians are no longer subject to any of the Old Testament laws. Focusing on the laws of the Pentateuch, he then addresses the proper role and benefits of the Old Testament laws in the Christian life. With wit and insight, Todd helps Christians to understand how the laws given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai should be read by those called to live as saints.

“The Jew as Legitimation” (Wertheim, ed.)

Next month, Palgrave Macmillan will release The Jew as Legitimation: Jewish-Gentile Relations Beyond Antisemitism and Philosemitism edited by David J. Wertheim (Director of the Menasseh ben Israel Institute for Jewish Cultural and Social studies, Amsterdam). The publisher’s description follows:

Palgrave.jpgThis book traces the historical phenomenon of “the Jew as Legitimation.” Contributors discuss how Jews have been used, through time, to validate non-Jewish beliefs. The volume dissects the dilemmas and challenges this pattern has presented to Jews. Throughout history, Jews and Judaism have served to legitimize the beliefs of Gentiles. Jews functioned as Augustine’s witnesses to the truth of Christianity, as Christian Kabbalist’s source for Protestant truths, as an argument for the enlightened claim for tolerance, as the focus of modern Christian Zionist reverence, and as a weapon of contemporary right wing populism against fears of Islamization.

This volume challenges understandings of Jewish-Gentile relations, offering a counter-perspective to discourses of antisemitism and philosemitism

“‘Pouring Jewish Water into Fascist Wine'” (Maryks, ed., trans.)

In January, Brill Publishers will release “Pouring Jewish Water into Fascist Wine”. Volume II: Untold Stories of (Catholic) Jews from the Archive of Mussolini’s Jesuit Pietro Tacchi Venturi edited and translated by Robert Aleksander Maryks (Boston College). The publisher’s description follows:

Brill_logoThe aim of the second part of the project on the impact of the racial laws under the Mussolini regime is to offer the reader a critical edition and an English translation of 139 letters that were exchanged between the victims of those laws (and their relatives and friends) and the Jesuit Pietro Tacchi Venturi (1861–1956) who interceded with the Fascist government in order to circumvent or alleviate various provisions of the 1938 anti-Jewish legislation.

Tobias, “Jewish Conscience of the Church”

In January, Palgrave Macmillan will release Jewish Conscience of the Church: Jules Isaac and the Second Vatican Council by Norman C. Tobias (Queen’s College, Ontario). The publisher’s description follows:

jewish-conscienceThis book presents the backstory of how the Catholic Church came to clarify and embrace the role of Israel in salvation history, at the behest of an unlikely personality: Jules Isaac. This embrace put to an end the tradition, more than fifteen centuries old, of anti-Jewish rhetoric that had served as taproot to racial varieties of anti-Semitism.  Prior to Isaac’s thought and activism, this contemptuous tradition had never been denounced in so compelling a manner that the Church was forced to address it. It is a story of loss and triumph, and ultimately, unlikely partnership.

Isaac was a French Jewish historian, author of secondary-level history manuals (le Malet-Isaac) in the interwar years, and Inspector General of Public Education for France. Emerging from World War II bereft of wife, daughter, and son-in-law, Isaac devoted the remainder of his years to a crusade for scriptural truth and rectification of Christian teaching regarding Jews and Judaism. The centerpiece of his thought is Jésus et Israël, published in France in 1948. Isaac’s crusade culminated in an unpublicized audience with Pope John XXIII, an audience that moved the pope to make a last-minute addition to the Second Vatican Council agenda that set in motion a train of events leading to a revolution in Catholic teaching about Jews.

“Entangled Histories” (Baumgarten et. al., eds.)

In December, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release Entangled Histories:
Knowledge, Authority, and Jewish Culture in the Thirteenth Century edited by Elisheva Baumgarten (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Ruth Mazo Karras (University of Minnesota), and Katelyn Mesler (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität). The publisher’s description follows:

penn-press-logo.jpgFrom Halakhic innovation to blood libels, from the establishment of new mendicant orders to the institutionalization of Islamicate bureaucracy, and from the development of the inquisitorial process to the rise of yeshivas, universities, and madrasas, the long thirteenth century saw a profusion of political, cultural, and intellectual changes in Europe and the Mediterranean basin. These were informed by, and in turn informed, the religious communities from which they arose. In city streets and government buildings, Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived, worked, and disputed with one another, sharing and shaping their respective cultures in the process. The interaction born of these relationships between minority and majority cultures, from love and friendship to hostility and violence, can be described as a complex and irreducible “entanglement.” The contributors to Entangled Histories: Knowledge, Authority, and Jewish Culture in the Thirteenth Century argue that this admixture of persecution and cooperation was at the foundation of Jewish experience in the Middle Ages.

The thirteen essays are organized into three major sections, focusing in turn on the exchanges among intellectual communities, on the interactions between secular and religious authorities, and on the transmission of texts and ideas across geographical, linguistic, and cultural boundaries. Rather than trying to resolve the complexities of entanglement, contributors seek to outline their contours and explain how they endured. In the process, they examine relationships not only among Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities but also between communities within Judaism—those living under Christian rule and those living under Muslim rule, and between the Jews of southern and northern Europe. The resulting volume develops a multifaceted account of Jewish life in Europe and the Mediterranean basin at a time when economic, cultural, and intellectual exchange coincided with heightened interfaith animosity.

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