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.