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on October 2, 2014
Every religion and culture has its traditions. They are followed by habit and their original reasons fade to the mists of time.

Latter day groups in modern countries are often themselves perplexed when outsiders or their own growing children ask, "Why?"

For Gentiles in USA and Canada and Europe, this book will shed light on the concept of the sabbath, why male Jews wear the yamulke, why orthodox jewish men grow their side locks, why jewish women covered their hair or wore wigs after marriage, what a bar mitzvah and/or a bat mitzvah is, what the holy days and how they are celebrated, etc.

We who live in the BAy Area know and work and interact with Jews. Most are secular or have taken up Eastern and mystical religious practices, ESP Buddhism.

I would say that the big question for Jews of the USA is simply, "why not?" Drink, take drugs, be promiscuous, marry a gentile, work in the sabbath, wear ine's hair as one pleases, eat what one wants, etc etc...

There appears to be no reason except ones own conscience. If that guilt has not been inculcated, then why bother even knowing the "why" of a tradition seen as superfluous or counterproductive or just plain medieval?

I would wager that more Gentiles than Jews read this book. Jews have often asked me about catholic traditions and the reasons behind them. Their interest is greater than many of those Catholics and ex-Catholics I have ever known.

If we can get to the WHY of such religious as radical Islam, I feel it will still not stop some followers from abusing the "traditions".

Discussion and knowledge as such books provide are great. But in the end, it wasn't the religion that gave permission for women to wear their hair without covering it. It was the women themselves who made the change and did not worry about the WHY so much as HOW to live.

Is men's hair seductive to some women? Of course. Well then, cover it. there you have it. A WHY produced for anything.
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on November 19, 2008
I returned this item. I was looking for something that had a little humor and was 'light' reading - eventhough it would have alot of information. This book was like a technical and complex college textbook... not at all what I had hoped.
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Rabbi Alfred J. Kolatch (born 1916; of the Conservative tradition) wrote in the "General Introduction" to this 1985 book, "The enthusiastic response that greeted the publication of The Jewish Book of Why was somewhat unexpected and most encouraging. That volume answered some 500 questions, but it also provoked many new ones, and these questions are treated here."

Here are some quotations from the book:

"The Christian charge that the Jews crucified Jesus can be refuted on a number of counts: 1. By the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the Sanhedrin ... had lost all authority to pass sentence in capital cases. The authority was held completely by the Romans... the Sanhedrin would not have heard a case on a holiday and certainly not on a Sabbath... While crucifixion was a method of capital punishment widely used by the Romans, there is no evidence of it ever having been used by Jews." (Pg. 67-68)
"Judaism rejects the idea that the laws of nature can be contravened... 'Miracle workers' who have appeared on the scene from time to time have never been accepted by mainstream Judaism." (Pg. 70)
"Maimonides summarized what Jews looked forward to in the Messianic Age: 'There will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or strife; prosperity will be universal; and the world's chief occupation will be to know the Lord.' Since these conditions did not come to pass, the idea of Jesus as the Messiah never took root among Jews, and the followers of Jesus therefore turned to the pagan community in search of converts." (Pg. 71)
"The first century C.E. historian Josephus, in Against Apion (2:24) notes, 'Woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to man. Let her accordingly be submissive, not for humiliation, but that she may be directed; for authority has been given by God to man." (Pg. 289)
"In the Orthodox synagogue, men and women are seated in separate sections in order not to subject men to sexual distraction or temptation." (Pg. 295)
"Although an impure woman may not have contact with her husband during the period of her impurity... (this) does not prohibit the woman from holding, touching, or kissing a Tora or a mezuza... So high is the Tora on the ladder of spirituality that nothing can affect its holiness." (Pg. 309)
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on September 7, 1999
A well written and easily searchable reference source of the "whys" of Judaism. Explains traditions connected with holidays and major life events (weddings, births, funerals) clearly and concisely. The book has a serious tone, and the reader can expect a serious treatment of the subjects covered.
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on March 25, 2000
This is a wonderful book to own or give as a gift. It contains a thoughtful array of Jewish traditions, some significant and some trivial, but all heart-warming and colorful. It's an easy book to read from cover to cover, but it is written in a way that encourages the reader to flip it open to any page and enjoy for a few minutes. An ideal book for elderly relatives who may not have the interest in reading for long periods. Learn why Jewish holidays are celebrated differently when in Israel. Understand the differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic practices. Learn about Jewish customs in Africa, the Orient, Western and Eastern Europe, Germany, Turkey, Kurdish regions, the US, Israel, and other Middle Eastern countries. Incredibly well researched and a pleasure to explore.
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on August 13, 2001
Best, I think, for children, Jews by Choice, and non-Jews with questions. It is written on a very basic level. Wonderful reference source for when those occasional "trivia question" moments come up, and you simply "have to know."
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on July 26, 2000
Rabbi Alfred J. Kolatch, author of The Second Jewish Book of Why, has such a winning way with the written word that he has managed to turn out one appealing book after another 34 times! The Second Jewish Book of Why is his 26th, and five years after its publication, still available. My college student nephew recommended Kolatch's `books of why,' and I picked The Second because the questions and answers in The First were more familiar. The Rabbi's second book left me feeling as if I had had a very good appetizer, satisfying enough, but ready for more, much more.
While many answers struck me as complete, others did not. I was glad to learn why the philosopher Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated: because he "argued that God and Nature are one..." which, the Rabbi asserts, "ruled out belief ... in God's transcendence...[and] any interplay between God and man." I would have liked to learn how the Rabbi managed to conclude that "Spinoza was not terribly upset" in 1656, when his Sephardic community excommunicated him. Also, I would like to order Rabbi K's 6th book (now out of print), "Who's who in the Talmud." It followed his first Jewish Book of Why, published in 1981.
Fortunately, the indexing is excellent, as many fascinating tidbits are hidden. For example, I was thrilled to learn the origin of "Sephardim," the root of which is the Hebrew name for Spain, and Ashkenaz "being the Hebrew name for Germany." But this is buried in his answer to the question, Why is the term "Oriental Jew" sometimes confused with "Sephardic Jew"? The index in The Second Jewish Book of Why also includes its predecessor, which as of this writing, occupies the 8,370th place in popularity of purchases at Amazon.
A grab-bag of some of the delights of this volume would have to include mention of the many Purims enumerated in the Rabbi's answer to his question, "Why do some Jews fast on days other than those in the Jewish calendar?" In his response, we learn that it is customary to fast before Purim, and that there are communal fasts before all (!) Purims. Then he lists five additional Purims, the most recent being "the Purim of Casablanca (called Purim Hitler), established in 1943 ...on the occasion of Jews having been saved from Nazi occupation."
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HALL OF FAMEon September 27, 2005
The book provides basic answers to the thousands of questions on Jewish relgious matters.
Its explanations are most often clear and insightful.
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on October 26, 2016
This is a very, very good set of books that explain a lot about Jewish practices and beliefs beyond just reading scripture. My marriage is mixed: I am a Christian and my wife is Jewish. I read these books in a short time and found myself explaining some of the traditions to my wife!. Rabbi Kolatch explains the roots of the tradition (Torah, Tanakh, or Talmud). He is an Orthodox Rabbi, and the text does lean that way. Given that, he does go over how Conservative and Reformed Judaism differ without casting aspersions on their differences. Highly recommended for persons of the Jewish faith, or other Abrahamic religions trying to understand Jewish traditions.
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on August 19, 2008
Kolatch follows up on his nicely readable BOOK OF JEWISH WHY with this second edition on Jewish practices, laws and traditions. Readers also learn about several controversial subjects such as abortion, homosexuality, and why having a Jewish mother (but not father) determines whether or not one is considered a Jew. Kolatch uses the same question-and-answer format that makes this book so informative and easy to read. This book is nearly as good as its predecessor, which also made great reading for both Jews and non-Jews. Perhaps we could use similar books on Catholics, Baptists, Buddhists, and other religious traditions.
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