Torah Lights: Gen­e­sis Con­fronts Life, Love and Fam­i­ly, Vol. 1

Rab­bi Shlo­mo Riskin
  • Review
By – August 20, 2012

Con­tem­po­rary Torah com­men­taries in Eng­lish are ubiq­ui­tous. They are avail­able to reflect every Jew­ish denom­i­na­tion and to accom­mo­date every reli­gious or sec­u­lar sen­si­bil­i­ty. Rab­bi Shlo­mo Riskin, Chief Rab­bi (and archi­tect) of Efrat is a mas­ter teacher and preach­er. He speaks and writes with a mod­ern cadence that reflects very tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish val­ues. He applies clas­si­cal and mod­ern inter­pre­ta­tions to con­tem­po­rary issues affect­ing sen­tient Jews from all back­grounds. Torah Lights is real­ly a mis­trans­la­tion of the Hebrew title of this vol­ume. It should be Torah Light—Ohr Torah. Not only is Ohr Torah the name of his net­work of edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions and pro­grams, but Rab­bi Riskin tru­ly sheds Torah light on a wide range of topics. 

Most such books con­tain one essay on each par­sha or week­ly Torah por­tion. In Torah Lights, Rab­bi Riskin fol­lows the style of one of his teach­ers, the late Nechama Lei­bowitz, by includ­ing an aver­age of six essays on each week­ly por­tion in Gen­e­sis. Again, like his teacher whose works appeared piece­meal and then were col­lect­ed in five vol­umes, this is only Vol­ume One. We may expect vol­umes two through five to appear in short order. 

For a num­ber of years Pin­chas Peli con­tributed a col­umn on the Torah read­ing of the week for The Jerusalem Post (See Jew­ish Book World, Spring 5764/2005, p. 40 for a review of Torah Today, Peli’s col­lec­tion of essays from The Jerusalem Post). Rab­bi Riskin has been writ­ing this col­umn, which is also syn­di­cat­ed in 30 oth­er Anglo-Jew­ish news­pa­pers world-wide, for the past many years. This col­lec­tion is from those week­ly essays. He writes in a breezy style which makes a point but is nev­er pedan­tic. He often illus­trates his the­sis with a Hasidic sto­ry or an episode from his per­son­al his­to­ry. It is pleas­ant, infor­ma­tive, con­cise, and well-structured. 

Grant­ed that Gen­e­sis frames the his­to­ry of our first fam­i­lies, the sub­ti­tle Gen­e­sis Con­fronts Life, Love and Fam­i­ly is too mod­est. Riskin deals with broad soci­etal issues, the­ol­o­gy, his­to­ry, sci­ence, soci­ol­o­gy, psy­chol­o­gy, mes­sian­ism, etc. These are minis­er­mons meant to stim­u­late thought and reflec­tion couched in a bite-sized for­mat. The late Rab­bi Joseph Look­stein, dean of Amer­i­can Jew­ish preach­ers in the mid 20th cen­tu­ry, once observed that a good ser­mon can be sum­ma­rized in one sen­tence. These essays car­ry one thought and are well developed. 

Rab­bi Riskin has shed Torah lights on a myr­i­ad range of top­ics, and we eager­ly antic­i­pate the fol­low­ing vol­umes in this series for those who may not have ini­tial­ly seen them in the pages of their local Jew­ish paper.

Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

Discussion Questions