This month’s selections come from International Retail Manager and wannabe chef, Alex Drucker.
Alex Drucker is the International Retail Manager for Koren Publishers. Originally from London, he made aliya from Hong Kong in 2016 with his family and now lives in Modi’in with his wife and 3 children (each one born in a different country). In his spare time Alex can be found experimenting in the kitchen and leaving the dishes for someone else to deal with.
Let’s check out Alex’s Staff Picks for November:
Illuminating Jewish Thought – Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank
There are certain things we, as Jews, know to be true whether we can explain them or not. In Illuminating Jewish Thought, Rabbi Wiederblank expertly explains some of these fundamental certainties such as free will, the afterlife, and topics that spin off from discussions of these often-complicated subjects. Rabbi Wiederblank presents each view clearly with the relevant source texts (in English and Hebrew) and does not shy away from the more challenging opinions explaining each one on its own merits then juxtaposing each viewpoint to another. I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone with even a passing interest in Jewish philosophy or trying to understand how the world works and I can hardly wait for the next volume to be available.
The Mishna-Ot series is simply wonderful. With five masekhtot in the series (Rosh Hashana, Yoma, Sukka, Megilla, and Pesahim) the full text of the Mishna is presented clearly (with vowels), accompanied by commentary from the Bartenura as well as child friendly Hebrew explanations of the mishna. What really sets these volumes apart are the wonderful illustrations to keep younger (and older) learners engaged and to explain the concepts found in the Mishna. I think the best advert for the Mishna-Ot series is that my children chase me to learn it with them and not the other way around!
Although there are some incredible and groundbreaking siddur commentaries and translations available from Koren Publishers, sometimes I find the clarity of the font, and the elegance of the layout of Koren siddurim to be enough to change the way I approach my teffila. The Koren Talpiot Siddur and Koren Talpiot Shabbat Humash strip away the frills of the translation and commentary leaving just the beautiful simplicity found in all Koren Siddurim. The block formatting in the siddurim I grew up with, and even the nussah of teffila have hidden or warped the meaning of some of the prayers which are brought out again with Eliyahu Koren’s masterful formatting. The Talpiot series features English instructions making these siddurim user friendly and they are sleek enough such that even the larger editions fit nicely in my tallit bag.
Halakhic Morality – Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Having grown up in the UK, I feel as if my Jewish education was lacking from the absence of influence from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. I am grateful that my adult education has exposed me to to his incredible mind especially through the Maggid Modern Classics series. Halakhic Morality is The Rav’s exploration of the opening four mishnaot of Pirkei Avot as they serve as a basis for a moral religious existence and therefore well deserving of a place on this list. Rabbi Soloveitchik also delves into reflections on humility, Tzedakah, and different ‘religious styles’ and these previously unpublished essays are essential for anyone trying to live a thoughtful existence.
Aikh Livnot Hayim – Lt. Hadar Goldin Hy”d
Lt. Hadar Goldin was a commander in an elite reconnaissance unit of the IDF who was tragically killed in Gaza in 2014; his body has yet to be returned for proper Jewish burial. While on active duty and when studying in Yeshiva, Hadar found a particular affinity for the classic work Messilat Yesharim filling the margins of his copy with notes from shiurim and his own thoughts on how to apply the lessons found in the text. Following his death, as part of the on going international campaign to ‘bring Hadar home’, Aikh Livnot Hayim was published at the behest of the Goldin family, presenting Hadar’s hand written notes alongside the text of Messilat Yesharim so that we all might learn b’havruta im Hadar – in partnership with Hadar. This volume is meaningful to say the least and Hadar’s reflections especially make learning from this sefer all the more special. A talented artist, the cover design of this book is a reproduction of a painting by Hadar himself.
Mavericks, Mystics & False Messiahs – Pini Dunner
I was intrigued by Pini Dunner’s Mavericks, Mystics & False Messiahs from the moment I first heard about the subject matter before the book was published. Mavericks, Mystics & False Messiahs is a whirlwind through some of the strangest episodes of Jewish History. I knew the broad strokes of some the episodes (such as that of Shabbetai Tzvi or the Emden-Eybeschutz affair) but Rabbi Dunner weaves in details that gave me new insight. The real treat though are the even more obscure characters and stories such as that of Lord George Gordon who was imprisoned for inciting riots in 18th Century London where after he converted to Judaism or “Dr” Samuel Falk known as the “Baal Shem of London” and whose portrait is often mistaken for that of the father of Hasidut the Baal Shem Tov. Dunner is an incredible story teller which only adds to the fantastic stories he so expertly tells.