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Taking Hold of Torah: Jewish Commitment and Community in America (The Helen and Martin Schwartz Lectures in Jewish Studies) Paperback – January 22, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Arnold Eisen is like Michael Lerner with an intellectual twist. Both men seek to help American Jews figure out how to live authentically as Jews without dropping out of mainstream culture. But where Lerner froths poetic with his "politics of meaning," Eisen gives specifics about how Torah can help contemporary Jews learn to live. Taking Hold of Torah comprises five brilliant meditations that follow the structure of the Torah, considering questions about how Jews can relate to their families, synagogues, neighbors, and nation. "No Jewish community has ever existed except on the basis of a live, engaged relation to the Torah," Eisen writes. His tough, forgiving, dense, delightful essays are a good starting place for those seeking such engagement. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"...a personal story of a modern Jew trying to make sense of Judaism in a time when Jews can choose whether and how to be Jewish. . . ".

-- The Jewish Advocate

."..a personal story of a modern Jew trying to make sense of Judaism in a time when Jews can choose whether and how to be Jewish. . . ."

-- The Jewish Advocate

"."..a personal story of a modern Jew trying to make sense of Judaism in a time when Jews can choose whether and how to be Jewish. . . "."

-- The Jewish Advocate

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Product Details

  • Series: The Helen and Martin Schwartz Lectures in Jewish Studies
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (January 22, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253213819
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253213815
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,705,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on July 19, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book contains a variety of observations about the five books of the Torah; some moved me, others did not. Some things I liked:

*An explanation of how science challenges religion. Prof. Eisen does not claim that there is a conflict between Torah and science (and there is ample authority for the contrary proposition, even among Orthodox commentators). However, science does make religion less relevant to our daily lives; before modern science, religion was more obviously necessary than today as an explanation of natural events.

*A wonderful quote from Franz Rosenzweig endorsing "a laborious and aimless detour through knowable Judaism." [I think I like it because it describes my own journey- a book here, a book there.]

*An explanation of Divine mercy and justice: "the meaning of a life often cannot be discerned within its own span alone. It can be read only in the lives of children or grandchildren." On the other hand, "God's mercy means ... that God loves life and will act to further it." On balance, life exceeds death.

*The usefulness of sacrifice-filled Leviticus: that it emphasizes the importance of daily routine, and more broadly that ritual "has one supreme advantage over life: we can get it right ... The ritual gives us a taste of rightness that is meant to inspire us to try to attain it outside the bounds of art as well." [On the other hand, Jewish ritual is sufficiently complex that even ritual perfection is pretty difficult!]

I wasn't so wild about Eisen's discussion of Numbers; it is full of 1960s jargon about "relevance" and about how unspecified young people will like Judaism more if it is packed with "relevant" argument about politics. This formula doesn't seem to have worked out too well for Christianity. Thus, it seems more plausible to me that people who crave political argument can satisfy that appetite without a side dish of Torah.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book put into words many things that I have thought, but not been able to verbalize. It does a great job of laying out the problems facing the American Jewish Community, but expresses belief that they can be addressed.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Arnie wrote this book about ten years before he was selected to become the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative Judaism). As such, it is unlikely IMHO that he wrote the book expecting it to lead to his new position (that is, it is not a book a politician might write when they're about to seek election). Arnie has a vision for Judaism in America (among other things) and relates it to the five books of Moses. I found this book to be educational and interesting and has given me (I think) some sense of where Arnie is "coming from" and where is might go in his relatively new position. From the little I know, it does appear that Arnie has made (at least some) decisions that are consistent with the vision of the book. This book might prove especially interesting to those who are interested in Conservative Judaism as it probably gives insights into the thinking of the leader of a very influential institution in the movement. In full disclosure I must mention that Arnie and I attend the same synagogue but do not know each other personally.
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