All in the Family featured the curmudgeonly Archie Bunker. Archie was television’s most famous grouch, blunt, blustering, straightforward and untouched by the PC crowd. He was the archetype of the conservative male. Michael desprately tried to reeducate him, but he persisted in his breviloquence.



Looking back at the last 40 years, we realize: ARCHIE WAS RIGHT!

8/27/2014

Rabbi B

I've developed a theological interest in all things Hebrew.  My reason for this interest has more to do with understanding my own faith than a desire to convert to Judaism.  This last year I started reading a introductory book (Meet the Rabbis) to try to gain an understanding of some basic Hebrew concepts.  That book isn't the basis for all of my curiosity and not everything that interests me is related beyond the general topic of "Jewish".  Some basic questions I have are:
  1. What is a good English translation of the Traditions and other Jewish commentary on the Tanakh?
  2. What other resources are necessary for understanding traditional/ancient Jewish thought?  Are there commentaries that are more esteemed and useful than others?  
  3. Do I need to learn ancient Hebrew in order to undertake a serious study of Judaism or are there enough English translations to keep me in reference material?
  4. If I need to learn Hebrew what are good resources/tools?
Some general if not off the wall topics/questions:

  1. The Jewish year is 5774.  I was wondering what resources there are that would help me understand the method reckoning time according to the ancient methods (I get that it is reckoned from creation).
  2. Somewhat calendar related.  I am curious to learn more about the traditional feasts and symbology associated with them.
  3. Jewish eschatology.
  4.  Circumcision.  Why?  I think I have figured out an answer to this on my own but since I have a Rabbi available I'd like a more enlightened view.
If you can address those 8 it would be a more than generous gift of your time.  I have more questions, but I don't want to over burden your kindness.  If you can point me to good reference material preferably in English I can do research on my own.

My thanks in advance.

12 comments:

Rabbi B said...

Res Ipsa,

I read your post and I would be delighted to help with your inquiries. Great questions by the way.

I'll try not to overwhelm you with my responses. Give me a few days to get back with you with some answers and resources.

My email is below and you are free to contact me about anything of interest where you think I might be of help. Thanks again.

rebbaruch10@gmail.com

Res Ipsa said...

Rabbi B,

Thank you for your help. I am appreciative of your efforts on my behalf and the knowledge you posses.

I have another question concerning a sect of Judaism, but it is rather broad and not focused. I'm interesting in learning about kabbalism. My interest is theoretical and methodological not mystical. My internet research has been less than enlightening and I'm not sure where to turn for reference material that is both informative and unbiased.

Rabbi B said...
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Rabbi B said...
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Rabbi B said...

I hope this is enough to get you started. It is never an imposition on my time, so please know that I am available to be of service however I can.

What is a good English translation of the Traditions and other Jewish commentary on the Tanakh?

I would start by acquiring a good Tanakh and I highly recommend anything published by Artscroll (they have a website). The Tanakh will be filled with general commentary which will compile and reference a vast range of Jewish sources as well as a nice introduction to get you started. You can’t go wrong with anything published by Artscroll by the way.

As far as specific commentaries, begin with the Torah commentaries (the first five books of Moses). I recommend the following for a start:

The Artscroll Chumash is the text of the five books of Moses with commentary that is a compilation of the classic commentators and rabbis. It is a great introduction for your purposes.
I have many, many more I can recommend (my personal library is filled with just over 1000 volumes and growing), and I certainly have my special favorites, but I will wait until you have spent time with the chumash before introducing or recommending them to you.

If you are interested in Jewish philosophy I highly recommend that you acquire Abraham Joshua Heschel’s ‘God in Search of Man’ and his short book ‘The Sabbath’ and his work ‘The Prophets’ to start as a good start. Fabulous works.

I always get questions about the Talmud. For now, I would recommend Abraham Cohen’s, ‘Everyman’s Talmud’, a classic introduction and overview.
I am sure there will have questions and I would be concerned if there weren’t, as Hebrew thought has a logic and approach all its own which is very different from a Greek and Western mindset. Keep that in mind as you look at Eastern texts with Western eyes – it’s a paradigm shift in more ways than one.

I am generally familiar with what’s available, so before spending your money on anything that catches your eye or seems interesting, I would be happy to discuss. There is so much available that it can be overwhelming I want your experience in exploring these topics of interest to be a pleasurable rather than discouraging one. I hope this is helpful to you.

I am available for questions and open to dialogue with you on any topic you want to better understand.

Rabbi B said...

What other resources are necessary for understanding traditional/ancient Jewish thought? Are there commentaries that are more esteemed and useful than others?

Just a few of the more prominent commentators listed below:

Maimonides (aka the Rambam) of Spanish descent and lived in Egypt (12th and 13th century)

*Nachmanides (aka the Ramban) also Spanish and a personal favorite (1194 – 1270)

Shlomo Yitchaki (aka Rashi) of French descent (1040 -1105)

Obadiah ben Jacob (aka the Sforno) of Italian descent (1475-1550)

*Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, (1808-1888, Germany). He has my highest esteem and respect. Later, after you have become familiar with my recommends above, I can’t recommend Hirsch enough. I have acquired everything he has written, and he was very prolific.

Of course my list is not even close to exhaustive, and as you spend time with the more general commentaries, you will inevitably become more and more familiar with other prominent and respected commentators as well. They all have their merits. But some consistently resonate with me more than others – Hirsch happens to be one that does.

Do I need to learn ancient Hebrew in order to undertake a serious study of Judaism or are there enough English translations to
keep me in reference material?

You will do just fine without the Hebrew, and will probably end up picking up some common terms along the way anyway. Most commentaries are available in English and oftentimes in English and Hebrew together. I am not as fluent in Hebrew as I would like to be, and I still rely heavily on the English translations.

If I need to learn Hebrew what are good resources/tools?

That probably depends on your goals. If you want to learn conversational Hebrew, you can’t do better than the Rosetta Stone software. This is what I use for my children.

If you’re just interested in more familiarity with the language to help with your studies, any basic Hebrew primer is good. There are so many available that it’s really difficult to recommend any particular one.

If you were just to teach yourself the Hebrew alphabet and spend time with the Hebrew/English commentaries you will pick up a lot.

One piece of advice though: avoid transliterations as much as possible (ie. using English letters to form Hebrew words). Force yourself to read the Hebrew characters. It might seem frustrating at first, but it will pay dividends in the long run. There is a lot of great Hebrew language software available to you as well.

Rabbi B said...

For more general scholarly/academic works you might find the following to be of interest:

Salo Baron's magnum opus, "A Social and Religious History of the Jews" (Columbia University Press, 18 Volumes)

Selections from Yale Judaica Press Series.

For Jewish Eschatology the Pesikta Rabbati (part of the Yale Judaica Series 2 volumes) is a treasure ... most particularly the sections on the Messiah, which is always of great interest to me, especially when studying the ancient Jewish texts, specifically texts that are contemporary with the 2nd temple period.

Speaking of the Messiah, I would also recommend Raphael Patai's classic work 'The Messiah Texts'.

I also have a great volume that presents the ancient rabbinic views of prominent rabbis on the text of Isaiah 53 that you might find to be of import.

It's easy to get carried away, so leave you with these recommends for now.

Res Ipsa said...

Rabbi B,

I went out of town for a couple of days. I'm just getting a chance to get back to the blog.

Thank you for your help. You have given me a great deal of material.

I noticed that the only major Jewish author that I've bothered to read didn't make your list at all. Oh well. Given what I was looking for in terms of aids, he probably wouldn't anyway.

I am sure there will have questions and I would be concerned if there weren’t, as Hebrew thought has a logic and approach all its own which is very different from a Greek and Western mindset. Keep that in mind as you look at Eastern texts with Western eyes – it’s a paradigm shift in more ways than one

This is something that I have been realizing. The Judeo/Christian ethic is a common theme in western civilization. However it is normally viewed backward as a Christian-Judeo philosophy. I wonder what difference it would make if we changed our prospective.

Rabbi B said...

I am looking forward to hearing your impressions after you have had time to dive in. From what little interaction we have had (and perusing your blog), you strike me as a serious and thoughtful researcher. All my best to you.

Res Ipsa said...

Thank you for your kind words.

Religious topics have been an area of life lone interest and a sort of hobby.

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