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Contending with Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th Hardcover – August 30, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 282 pages
  • Publisher: K'hal Publishing; First edition (August 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1602040184
  • ISBN-13: 978-1602040182
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #850,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This book is really two books: a discussion of halachic issues related to the 9/11 disaster, and a more theoretical set of essays relating to a wider variety of tragedies.

This first half of the book focuses on rabbis' attempts to decide when marriages of 9/11 victims were dissolved due to death. Under halacha (Jewish law), if it is unclear whether a spouse is died, the surviving spouse's marriage may be bigamous- so rabbis have an important role in deciding when there is no hope of survival. If rabbis are too lenient and a spouse declared dead turns out to be alive, all sorts of emotional complications might ensue- especially if the surviving spouse is remarried. As a result, rabbis are reluctant to rubber-stamp claims that a spouse has died.

This issue was difficult in the 9/11 context because the victims' bodies were often never found. Nevertheless, rabbis generally held that people trapped in the World Trade Center were in fact dead, thus freeing the spouses to move on with their lives. This book contains some of the major rabbinic papers on the subject. These papers were very detailed, though I think the book could have been made more accessible with a glossary so that readers could understand the halachic terminology more easily.

In the second half of the book, the most interesting essay is David Shatz's discussion of theodicy and religious fanaticism. He suggests that fanaticism often arises from the view that religion is irrelevant to common-sense morality. Shatz responds to this view by endorsing what he calls a "dialectical" approach- the idea that moral values are part of religion and that religion can involve a balancing of these moral values against other considerations (such as submission to scripture or tradition).
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