As a scholar, philosopher, and rabbinic role-model, Eugene Borowitz made contributions to Jewish thought that spanned six decades. His influence will continue to be felt for generations to come, by rabbis, scholars and laypersons, regardless of denominational affiliation. This relatively small tome — only 194 pages of text, though a tome when weighed in light of the depth and breadth of its scholarship — is remarkable on many levels. As a layperson, I delighted as Borowitz seeks to define, analyze and conceptualize the nature, structure and development of the Aggadah, the vast and diverse array of what has been termed the Non-Halachic Discourse (NHD) of the Talmud. It resides, to varying degrees, in the tractates of the Talmud as the “other” part of our rabbinic literature, apparently free of the strictures, organization and structure of the Halacha, which characterizes the practical observance of Judaism as a religion, particularly — although not exclusively— for those who are Orthodox and/or in other ways see themselves as halachically- bound. The denouement, Borowitz’ suggestions of three approaches to “Reconstruing the Aggadah Problem,” contained in the last 11 pages of the book, offers wisdom and insight into not only the nature of the Aggadah/NHD, but also insights into the development of the religio-philosophical literature of a people and a culture. Finally, he focuses his perceptive lens on the thinking, belief and faith-culture of the Rabbinic world of the Talmudic period and the possible implications that may have for us in the 21st century. Biblio., indices, notes.
William Liss-Levinson is vice president, chief strategy & operations officer of Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., a consumer health research, information, and publishing company. He holds a Ph.D. in education and is a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Book Council.