Exploring Jewish Tradition
, by Rabbi Abraham B. Witty and Rachel J. Witty, is not a particularly original project. There are already dozens of general and specialized guidebooks covering the territory that the Wittys explore here. What sets this one apart, however, is its emphasis on the language
of Judaism--the vocabulary and idioms of Jewish traditions. Each of 10 chapters (covering Torah, synagogue ritual, prayer, the Jewish calendar, the Sabbath, the High Holidays, the Pilgrimage Festivals, the minor festivals, the Jewish life cycle, and "special words and phrases used in the day-to-day Jewish experience") is strictly organized into numbered sections exploring the meaning of various terms, with frequent and often lengthy allusions to the Torah, the Talmud, and other central Jewish texts. Each chapter ends with a cross-referenced listing of new words that have appeared in the chapter; and the back of the book provides a complete vocabulary and subject index. With these features, Exploring Jewish Tradition
is structured as an exploration of the meaning of Jewish language. It's an ingenious and apt device for introducing the major elements of modern Judaism. For readers who seek a more historical, theological, or philosophical orientation to Jewish tradition, this may not be the best choice. But for those whose understanding is best structured by the meanings of words, it's a perfect fit. --Michael Joseph Gross
From Publishers Weekly
Not every Jew knows how to "be Jewish," but the Wittys, a rabbi-writer team, intend to remedy that lack. In this comprehensive primer of Jewish precepts and practices, they leave no custom unexplained, no term undefined. Their eye for detail enriches this easy-to-read reference to the complexities of traditional Jewish observance, with chapters on Torah; the synagogue and its artifacts; prayer and Jewish liturgy; the Jewish calendar; the Sabbath; the holidays; the life cycle; and special words and phrases used in everyday Jewish life. In addition to instructions for occasions and situations common to Jewish life, they include information not readily available in other guides, from the 40 categories of work prohibited on the Sabbath to a 10-year calendar for the first days of all the holidays. Hebrew words and phrases are written in transliteration and listed alphabetically at the end of each chapter. Boxed quotes easily identify material from biblical, rabbinic and liturgical sources (but often there are so many that they interrupt the flow of the narrative). The authors' focus on the practicalities of observance sometimes leaves the answers to deeper questions distilled into brief phrases: What is the purpose of a Jew's life? "To get closer to God and... to attain spiritual perfection." Nevertheless, this reference has great value to those who want to introduce Jewish traditions into their homes or would like to learn more about Judaism.
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