Top positive review
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Wisdom for all of us...
on July 10, 2003
Like many of my most valued books, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's `Jewish Wisdom' arrived by accident, not through deliberate choice, but rather as a result of my having missed the reply deadline for one of my book clubs.
The full title of the book gives a greater sense of the scope of this 650+ page book: `Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers'. This statement in the subtitle comes very close to an encapsulation of the Jewish faith for me -- it is an ethical way of life; it is a spiritual way of life; it is a way of life with high regard for history; it is a way of life with high regard to teaching and learning; it is a way of life that has accomplished great works and produced great thinkers. All of these things benefit the whole of humankind. `Two thousand years ago, when a non-Jew asked Hillel, the leading rabbi of his age, to define Judaism's essence, the sage could have responded with a long oration on Jewish thought and law, and an insistence that it would be blasphemous to reduce so profound a system to a brief essence. Indeed, his contemporary, Shammai, furiously drove away the questioner with a builder's rod. Hillel, however, responded to the man's challenge: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour: this is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary; now go and study" -- a model statement that has defined Judaism's essence ever since. As Hillel knew, the right words at the right time can inspire people for generations.'
Rabbi Telushkin has written or edited literally hundreds of books, and many of them consist of collections of writings or quotations. One of the things that sets this apart from other books of quotations and writings, both Jewish and non-Jewish, is the running commentary that speaks to the importance in the ongoing development of Jewish life and faith of the writings presented here. Indeed, some quotations appear more than once, because they have a relevance to more than one topic.
Rabbi Telushkin concludes with a fifteen-page bibliography, which reads as a 'best of' list of Jewish literature (and is a frequently-addressed reference source for me when looking up Jewish information of almost any field). At the front of this bibliography, he starts by listing the top-ten collections of Jewish quotes and texts -- what other book of quotations references even one, much less ten, other such collections?
A truly inspiring book, a wonderful reference, a thoughtful and insightful collection -- this book will not gather dust on the shelf. For those who are not Jewish, this book contains the key to following Hillel's instruction to 'go and study'. For those who are Jewish, this will serve as a solid addition to the library of essential facts and useful opinions and impressions from culture and history.