I was able to participate last month in two book launches. Both books were and are, in my opinion, important works that warrant readership by the broader Jewish public. One book, “The Lion Cub of Prague” is an English elucidation of the the Bible and the classic commentary of Rashi from the legendary sixteenth century scholar and savant, the Maharal of Prague. The book was authored by Moshe Kuhr, M.D. and is a rather easy read of a very difficult subject.
Dr. Kuhr and I go back a long way to our days in Monsey, New York, as a friend and as the pediatrician for many of my grandchildren. I find it exciting that a number of my former congregants and friends from Monsey, upon their aliyah/retirement here in Israel have devoted themselves to Torah study and authoring works of Torah commentary.
Elihu Levine has written a translation of Kli Yakar, one of the classical sixteenth century commentaries to the Bible and now Moshe Kuhr has created an English version of one the works of Maharal. As the rabbis taught us there are seventy facets to the Torah. Each of the great commentators to the Torah reveals to us one of those sparkling iridescent facets and thereby enables us to glimpse the grandeur and depth of Torah.
Communicating these wonderful commentaries to Torah to a broader English-speaking readership has been a project that has gained momentum over the past few decades. “The Lion Cub of Prague” is a welcome addition to this great educational Torah program.
The second book, “Journeys in Talmud” was authored by Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein, a noted scholar, teacher and lecturer. The book covers a number of subjects discussed in the Talmud, all relevant and pertinent to current practical, every day issues of life and Jewish observance. Each subject is treated clearly, concisely and with a light touch that makes for an easy read and a most enjoyable educational experience.
The book traces each subject on its route from the original Talmudic source through the commentaries and opinions of the great medieval scholars and then to the development of the normative practice as seen today in the Jewish religious world.
Many times the operation of Talmudic thought and the opinions of the decisors of Jewish practice appear to be arcane or even mysteriously magical to those of us who did not have the benefit of an intensive Talmudic education. This is a work that will help to unravel the mystery and enable the reader to gain a full understanding and grasp of important Talmudic subjects that shape our value system and Jewish life generally.
The piquant quality of the Bernstein family’s wit and wisdom shines forth from every page of the book. There are great translations and elucidations of the Talmud available today. But this book goes beyond the simple exposure of what the Talmud says, and brings the reader into the inner workings of Talmudic thought and halachic decision-making. It truly takes the reader on a journey over the famous sea of the Talmud.
As is common knowledge by now, the book industry generally is in trouble and the Jewish book industry is not as healthy as it should be either. There are many reasons for this situation – the internet, the general dumbing down of society, addictive television watching, the frenetic pace of life of the Western world, to name a few that come instantly to my mind. The Jewish religious market is a relatively small one and many of our publishers operate on a very fragile shoestring.
Many books that appear from Jewish publication companies are in reality self-published books with the author bearing most or all of the costs of publication. This situation naturally inhibits many authors with their potentially important books from being published and known. Thus, much of the Jewish publishing world is dependent on individual sponsors who are willing to dedicate a book and help defray the cost of its publication.
From looking over historical records of Jewish book publishing, it seems that this has pretty much always been the case, certainly over the past few centuries. It resembles the patron-artist relationship of the great masters of the Renaissance and the Dutch Masters period. The artist or author may secretly feel one’s self slightly demeaned by this relationship – all artists and authors must of necessity have an active ego – but apparently in the current climate of book publishing, it seems to be pretty much unavoidable. But we should all expend our best efforts to encourage the production of books of lasting worth and education such as the works I have noted above.