Cel­e­brat­ing the Jew­ish Year: Win­ter Hol­i­days — Hanukkah, Tu B’She­vat, Purim

Paul Stein­berg; Janet Green­stein Pot­ter, ed.
  • Review
By – February 24, 2012

One way I try to cel­e­brate Judaism’s annu­al hol­i­days is by try­ing to learn some­thing new about them every year. That’s why I’m grate­ful for books like this one, which looks at hol­i­days from a wide vari­ety of per­spec­tives. This vol­ume is part of a series that delves into groups of hol­i­days accord­ing to their sea­son. This approach enables the author to explore con­nec­tions between hol­i­days. For exam­ple, Hanukkah, Tu B’shevat, and Purim are not bib­li­cal, but his­tor­i­cal in nature. All are linked to the Torah only periph­er­al­ly. Yet, each is infused with its own spir­i­tu­al nature, and the sig­nif­i­cance of each has increased over time. 

The book opens with a brief but fas­ci­nat­ing explo­ration of time, and the Jew­ish con­cept of time. It then presents a sec­tion on each hol­i­day, includ­ing a fair­ly in-depth look at the holiday’s ori­gins, ide­ol­o­gy, and cus­toms, par­tic­u­lar­ly those asso­ci­at­ed with home obser­vance. For exam­ple, you can find out every­thing you need to know about run­ning a Tu B’shevat seder. 

The hol­i­day sec­tions also pro­vide rel­e­vant pas­sages from Jew­ish texts, such as the Baby­lon­ian Tal­mud, the Zohar, and the Sefer Ha-Hinukh, a medieval com­pi­la­tion of the Torah’s 613 com­mand­ments. Read­ings from great thinkers — Mai­monides, Rashi, Marge Pier­cy, Mar­tin Buber, Arthur Green, and oth­ers — are includ­ed. Final­ly, each sec­tion pro­vides inter­pre­ta­tions of rel­e­vant sacred texts: the lit­er­al mean­ing, the his­tor­i­cal mean­ing, and con­tem­po­rary analy­sis and appli­ca­tion. Infor­ma­tion about the texts and writ­ers quot­ed appears in the book’s final sec­tion, Guid­ance Along the Way.” There are also end­notes and a glossary. 

Rab­bi Paul Stein­berg, direc­tor of Jew­ish stud­ies and Hebrew at the Levine Acad­e­my in Dal­las, has pro­duced a nice­ly inter­wo­ven guide­book that could help read­ers not only deep­en their under­stand­ing of the win­ter hol­i­days, but also make their obser­vance more per­son­al and meaningful.

Robin K. Levin­son is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of a dozen books, includ­ing the Gali Girls series of Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal fic­tion for chil­dren. She cur­rent­ly works as an assess­ment spe­cial­ist for a glob­al edu­ca­tion­al test­ing orga­ni­za­tion. She lives in Hamil­ton, NJ.

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