- Hardcover: 282 pages
- Publisher: K'hal Publishing; First edition (August 30, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1602040184
- ISBN-13: 978-1602040182
- Package Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,524,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Contending with Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th Hardcover – August 30, 2011
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The tragic events of September 11th, 2001 shook the world, permanently changing the lives of millions of people. Jews are sadly familiar with vicious terrorist attacks yet we continue to be moved by the horror of modern warfare. Over the past decade, in the wake of 9/11, the Jewish community has looked to its tradition for guidance on how to react to these horrific attacks, both intellectually and in practice. Contending with Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th has two parts which reflect these two aspects of the Jewish tradition. The first section is about Jewish law, and it responds to a particular tragedy in a particular area of family law - the problem of the many individuals who went missing in light of this tragedy. This part of the book focuses on technical matters of Halakhah that are both timeless and timely - timeless in the principles that they articulate and timely in the application of those principles to the world in which we actually live. Each of the essays in this section provides us with an accumulated picture of how the Beth Din of America addressed the many cases that came to it involving people who went missing on that day. The second half of Contending with Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th addresses matters of Jewish ethics and theology. In short, how should we, as a community and as individuals, respond to the presence of evil or the occurrence of tragic events? Fittingly, Contending with Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th concludes with a memorial prayer commemorating the victims of 9/11 and a prayer for the full recovery and heroic recognition of the first responders and emergency workers who bravely entered the burning towers of the World Trade Center. The final prayer is for the safety of the United States Armed Forces around the world.
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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). Shatz then shows how Jewish tradition at least sometimes supports this view: for example, Jewish prayer often endorses gratitude to God- but if goodness is irrelevant to Judaism, why is gratitude or praise of God even a relevant concept? The entire concept of gratitude for abundance implies that abundance is better than scarcity. But if human moral judgments are useless, then why should we assume that eating is better than starvation, and why should we thank God for the former but not the latter?