The ProsenPeople

RA and Jewish Lights Publishing Form Joint Publishing Imprint

Tuesday, March 05, 2013 | Permalink
Posted by Jackie Anzaroot

It was announced last week that two major players in the Jewish book world, Jewish Lights Publishing and the Rabbinical Assembly, will be collaborating on a new joint imprint that will publish books pertaining to the theology and philosophy of Conservative Judaism.

In the spirit of the Jewish Lights Publishing’s overall mission, the new imprint will publish books of Jewish wisdom and philosophy rather than traditional Judaica and will be geared toward readership on a universal level. In a statement from Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, she informed readers that the books will be appropriate for “people of faith” and will give them the guidance to follow their own spiritual path using wisdom provided by Conservative Judaism.

Jewish Lights Publishing is a major publisher of Jewish-themed books targeted towards an interfaith readership and offers a substantial backlist devoted solely to interfaith resources. They are also the publisher of LifeLights, their imprint for informational booklets offering advice inspired by Jewish philosophy for difficult, everyday situations. They have also published a popular collection of essays titled I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl that discusses what it means to be Jewish from the perspective of fairly prominent Jewish thinkers, personalities and authors.

Their new joint imprint with the Rabbinical Assembly will publish its first book, God of Becoming and Relationship: The Dynamic Nature of Process Theology  by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, this fall. The book will focus on a continuation of Rabbi Artson’s exploration of Process theology, a religious and philosophical standpoint that rejects the notion of an almighty, punitive God in favor of transformative, beneficent God that serves as our source of inspiration and divinity.

A partnership between these two prominent organizations will clearly be beneficial for both sides, with the Rabbinical Assembly as a powerful source of Jewish thought, scholarship and philosophy and Jewish Lights Publishing as an experienced and well-known publisher. Their collaboration will likely help to enhance the level of readership for books on the matters of Jewish thought and will lead to many important and insightful works in the realm of Conservative Judaism.

Jackie Anzaroot is a graduate of Brooklyn College with degrees in English and Linguistics. She has held internships at Simon & Schuster and is currently interning at the Jewish Book Council.

A Departure From the Traditional: The Bronfman Haggadah

Monday, March 04, 2013 | Permalink

Jan Aronson is the illustrator of the The Bronfman Haggadah published by Rizzoli. Born in New Orleans, New York-based artist Jan Aronson has had more than seventy solo and group exhibitions. Read more about Jan here. She will be blogging here for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning all week.

When I set out to create the illustrations for The Bronfman Haggadah, I knew I wanted it to be historically accurate. But I also wanted it to be imaginative, surprising, and distinct from all other Haggadot. Of course I knew there were many iconic ideas that needed to be expressed, but I didn't want to make them so rote.

As an artist I was drawn to the symbolism in the Exodus story. Ultimately, my embrace of the Haggadah as metaphor is what allowed and contributed to the co-mingling of both historical accuracy and the flights of my imagination throughout the project.

Moses’s basket, an emblematic part of the Passover story, is a perfect example of the challenges I faced in terms of departing from the traditional, whilst still remaining loyal to the narrative, and of course, history.

The discovery of the basket in the Nile by the princess, where you see the princess looking down at it, is a scene depicted in endless Haggadot, and I knew I didn’t want to create that kind of an illustration. Instead, I was drawn in by the vastness of the Nile. So many people don’t realize just how enormous it is at some parts. I thought the most interesting way to work with this scene was to focus on the juxtaposition of this tiny little basket against this huge river.

In keeping with my dedication to historical accuracy, the majority of my illustrations are made up of patterns. When I started the Haggadah, and I began thinking about what imagery I would use, my first impulse was to go back to the source—what kind of imagery would the Jews have been exposed to at the time? I realized that it would’ve been mostly Egyptian art and artifacts, plus the influence of Greek and Roman cultures. I am also drawn to African textile patterns and used these in many of the paintings. Geometric patterns are widespread in all traditions, and they complemented my vision for a distinct Haggadah.

My overall goal was to create a Haggadah that was constantly surprising. I wanted the reader to feel that each page was different from the next, hopefully inspiring a sense of discovery and wonder but mostly to make our seder experience interesting.

Visit Jan Aronson's official website here.

Whose Story Is It?

Monday, March 04, 2013 | Permalink
Nancy Richler's previous novel, Your Mouth is Lovely, won the 2003 Canadian Jewish Book Award for fiction. Her newest novel, The Imposter Bride, is now available. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.
 

The first step for me in writing fiction is deciding which of my characters is telling the story. I might sense an entire novel taking form inside of me but if I start writing from the wrong point of view I cannot find the story I want to tell. My most recent novel, The Imposter Bride, is a case in point. The first scene of the novel seemed to write itself. It describes a young woman named Lily arriving in Montreal immediately following the Second World War, having taken someone else’s identity to cross borders and gain entry to a new life in a new country. The first drafts of the early chapters told the story from Lily’s point of view but each time I tried to move beyond that first scene I hit a wall. A first person account of a Holocaust survivor’s life during and after the war simply did not feel like it was mine to tell, nor did it feel like I was gaining entry into the heart of the novel I felt within me. I kept writing and rewriting from Lily’s perspective for longer than I care to admit, aware that it wasn’t working but not pinpointing that the problem was one of perspective and point of view. Finally, one morning another voice came into my head. It was the voice of a six-year-old girl, the daughter of Lily, living in Montreal in the 1950’s. As I began to follow that voice the story opened to me. The details and story lines that had eluded me for so long poured out. It became a story of the intergenerational effects of trauma within a family and within the community in which I was raised.

Find out more about Nancy here.

Women's History Month

Friday, March 01, 2013 | Permalink

March is Women's History Month. Celebrate with a few of the important Jewish women who have truly made a difference. Find the complete list here.




 

Why it Matters that Marshall was Never Nominated for the Supreme Court

Friday, March 01, 2013 | Permalink
Earlier this week, M. M. Silver wrote about the riches in Louis Marshall's archive and explored why it took so long for someone to write a full-length biography of this important figure in American Jewish history. He has been blogging here this week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.
 

The main challenge I faced when preparing a biography of Louis Marshall stemmed from the gap between the perceptual confidence that characterizes American Jewish life in the 21st century and the tensions and insecurities of Jewish life in the United States during the first decades of the 20th century. The trick, I believed, was to create an intelligible dialogue between these differing modes of thought and feeling. To recreate historical events uncritically, exactly as Marshall and his peers saw them, would draw contemporary readers into a morass of inhibition about being "too Jewish" that is foreign to them, whereas to overlook realities and attitudes that were indisputably part of Marshall's American Jewish milieu would be condescending and, worse, injurious to empirical rules of historical scholarship.

American Jewish history is happily devoid of the angst that characterizes Jewish life on other continents and in other contexts. It is perfectly reasonable for contemporary readers to assess critically the self-defense labors of previous generations of American Jews, and conclude, in some instances, that past Jewish leaderships were overly defensive and inhibited, even in ways that could be paranoiac or self-defeating.

Yet this critical license to look at the past heroes of American Jewish life as high-strung, occasionally histrionic, figures can be taken much too far; and to my mind, at least, much of the finest recently published scholarship on American Jewish life in periods and context applicable to Marshall's life, such as the Roaring Twenties, is flawed to some extent by researchers' anachronistic projection of Jewish life in America in the late 20th century or early 21st century onto the American Jewish past. Scholars who focus on how Jews came to feel "at home" in America in a period like the 1920s tend to under-emphasize the extent to which anti-Semitism was a constant presence in the minds and real life circumstances of both well-established Jews, and struggling immigrant Jews.

Writing draft chapters of the biography, I recalled how the great English historian E.P. Thompson, whom I idolized in my college years, warned about how the "enormous condescension of posterity" can lead historians toward breathtakingly incorrect conclusions about the life choices reached by the heroes of the past. Along these lines, I ruminated about how anachronistic soft-pedaling of anti-Semitism as a real force to be reckoned with on the landscape of early 20th century America could produce blind spots in a biographer's evaluation of Marshall's life course.

A revealing case in point is the story of why Louis Marshall never won a Supreme Court appointment. In view of Marshall's stellar accomplishments as an attorney, which were lauded by legal luminaries such as Benjamin Cardozo, and the fact that Marshall himself lobbied in at least two instances for an appointment and had powerful allies such as Jacob Schiff on his side, scholars have long pondered about the non-attainment of this goal. Misinterpreting a cryptic remark attributed to William Howard Taft, the President who did not appoint him to the Supreme Court bench, generations of scholars concluded that the story's gist has to do with political partisanship (the Republican Taft's remark about Marshall's non-appointment referred to the latter's law partner, Samuel Untermyer, an outspoken Democrat), or other relatively innocuous topics.

Though I stumbled onto the answer to the riddle of the non-appointment early in my research, I originally planned to relegate the subject to an extended footnote, largely because of the discomfit inherent in correcting my teachers' teachers in the role of an impish smart aleck. Everything that had ever been written on this topic was dead wrong, but ultimately the point is moot because Taft nominated the eminently qualified Charles Evans Hughes, and any conclusion as to whether he "almost" or "might have" tapped Marshall for the job would be predicated speculatively on the President's state of mind.

As chapter fragments began (much to my surprise) to consolidate as the draft of a full biography, it became obvious that the subject could not be kicked downstairs into a footnote. In spring 1910 Marshall badly wanted to became a Supreme Court Justice, and the disappoint which this frustrated ambition engendered clearly had biographical consequences that couldn't be ignored.

Moreover, to remove from the tale of Marshall's life the character responsible for making his Supreme Court bid a non-starter, Hearst newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane, probably the most influential journalist of the era, would have excised from the biography one of its most compelling and dramatically poignant ironies. As it turns out, the same person responsible for the most crushing disappointment in Marshall's professional career, was later a decisive collaborator in the most inspiring accomplishment of Marshall's work as a Jewish advocate (Henry Ford conditioned the release of his apology to the Jews on Brisbane's involvement, and Brisbane cooperated fully with Marshall in this triumphant moment).

The issue, I realized, had been incorrectly formulated, largely because of anachronistic wishful thinking about American sociopolitical realities a century ago. The way the question has to be posed is not "why did Marshall lose his Supreme Court bid," but rather "why was such a nomination a non-starter"? Were we to ignore how saturated by Jew hatred Marshall's circumstances became once his desire for a place on the bench became public knowledge, we would be in danger of misunderstanding how he calibrated levels of assertiveness in subsequent Jewish defense efforts against Ford, the KKK and others anti-Semites. In fact, we might overlook the roots of his motivation as a Jewish leader in America were we not to see what he saw when he pursued his highest career ambition, and feel what he felt when he saw that desire derided savagely in mass media attacks that were rife with anti-Semitic innuendo about greedy corporate lawyers being unworthy of the highest bench in the land. Louis Marshall's law firm, wrote Arthur Brisbane in a syndicated column that opposed and ridiculed his bid for the Supreme Court, is founded on the "contention that the poor have no rights when their presence interferes with the delicate sensibilities of the rich." One need not fret about Marshall's quashed ambition, the Hearst papers exulted in upper case glee, because his firm "WILL PROBABLY HAVE PLENTY OF IMPORTANT LUCRATIVE WORK ON ITS HANDS FOR MANY YEARS TO COME!"

So, what did Louis Marshall see when he threw his hat in the ring for the Supreme Court bench? What was President Taft really talking about when he asked Jacob Schiff sarcastically "would you name Sam Untermyer's partner to the Supreme Court?" Well that's a story about resort cottages, tuberculosis treatment, Macy's department store, Lakewood New Jersey and many things I never imagined needing to write about when I began this biography project, and ended up detailing to avoid a free fall into the abyss of enormous condescension evoked by E.P. Thompson's stricture.

Join M. M. Silver for the Louis Marshall and the Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America: A Biography book launch on March 12th at Congregation Emanu-El in NYC. More information about this event can be found here

Book Cover of the Week: What We Talk About When We Talk About...

Friday, March 01, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The paperback edition of Nathan Englander's What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories will be published on March 5th by Knopf:

View past "Book Cover of the Week" posts here.

New Reviews

Friday, March 01, 2013 | Permalink
This week's reviews:



 

2013 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize

Thursday, February 28, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Congratulations to Shalom Auslander, who was just named the 2013 winner of the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize for his first novel Hope: A Tragedy

 “Shalom Auslander has done the unthinkable – he's smashed the biggest Jewish icon and made comedy from the ashes of our past,” says Rachel Lasserson, Editor of the Jewish Quarterly. 

 Read more about the prize here and find the complete shortlist below:



 

New Children's Reviews

Thursday, February 28, 2013 | Permalink
Find the full list of children's reviews found in the Spring 2013 issue of Jewish Book World here.



 

Transforming the Magical

Thursday, February 28, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Baruch and Judy Sterman wrote about their obsession with blue. They have been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

We were sitting in an upscale café in Northern Tel Aviv waiting to meet with Knesset member Yitzchak “Bougie” Herzog. As number two in the Israeli Labor party, he was in the middle of campaigning for the upcoming elections, and we were grateful to have a few minutes of his time. The purpose of our meeting was to present him with a copy of our book, The Rarest Blue, and to thank him for the information he had provided while we were preparing it. The dedication that we had inscribed in the book included our desire “to express our inestimable appreciation for the work of your namesake, your grandfather the great Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, whose contributions to the study of tekhelet were unparalleled.”

Tekhelet, the precious blue that, in accordance with the biblical commandment, colored one string of the tzitzit worn by Jews in ancient times, was the subject of our book and also the theme of Rabbi Herzog’s doctoral dissertation for the University of London almost a century ago. His thesis investigated all aspects of the topic in an attempt to determine why the technology of manufacturing the dye had disappeared from the world, when exactly it had been lost, and what was the mysterious source of the valuable dye. His doctorate was the beginning of a life-long passion whose ultimate goal – the restoration of the forgotten biblical commandment – would not be realized until after Rabbi Herzog’s death.

As our exploration into the Rabbi’s life and work progressed, our admiration for him grew. He was a unique sort of genius: a brilliant Talmudist, he also was thoroughly versed in diverse fields from history to law to chemistry, and was fluent in 12 languages. But Herzog was no scholar in a cloistered library. He was a man of action who felt a burning responsibility for his people. Chief Rabbi, first of Ireland (1919-1936), then of Palestine, and eventually of the State of Israel (a position he held until his death in 1959), his tenure was one that coincided with the most devastating horrors for the Jewish people as well as their greatest moments of triumph.

Rabbi Herzog’s scholarly work radically transformed the traditional Jewish perception of tekhelet. Before him, many if not most religious Jews believed that the hillazon, the sea animal that, according to the Talmud, produced the precious dye, was some kind of magical, mythical creature akin to the shamir – the legendary worm capable of boring through any material and used to hew the stone for the altar in the Temple, or the Leviathan on which it is said the righteous will feast in the World to Come. Tekhelet, most Jews thought, would be restored only when the third temple descended from Heaven, since both belonged to that miraculous realm. But Rabbi Herzog argued that tekhelet was a natural phenomenon and that the hillazon was a physical albeit elusive sea snail that could be rediscovered through intense scientific, historical, and archeological research. And that is exactly what happened. Because of Rabbi Herzog’s paradigm shift, today hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world wear the tekhelet that had been lost for 1,300 years.

The ability to innovate that Rabbi Herzog displayed in his doctorate became a hallmark characteristic of his work throughout his life. His most significant achievements had to do with the application of Jewish law in ingenious and often daring ways in order to achieve a harmony within the complex interplay of values confronting the modern, democratic, religious state of Israel – an entity that had never been conceived of before.

Rabbi Herzog stands as a role model for all, challenging us not only to study as much as we can, not only to take action to realize our dreams, but to stretch the very boundaries of our imagination and create completely novel ways of thinking, and to transform the magical into the practical.

Baruch and Judy Sterman's The Rarest Blue: The Remarkable Story of an Ancient Color Lost to History and Rediscovered is now available. Read more about the book here.