Book Reviews

Book Reviews, Literature, Poetry

Texts to the Holy – Rachel Barenblat

Texts to the Holy

Rachel Barenblat’s Texts to the Holy approaches some of the most serious topics with the lightest of touches. Barenblat’s linguistic dexterity gently guides her readers through an examination of faith. It is a brilliant example of how words can keep our feet on the ground while our minds and hearts explore more ephemeral ideas.

Barenblat’s poems bridge literature and liturgy, and reading them slowly are a meditative practice. Prayer book editors, clergy, and others who are looking to incorporate contemporary writing into their religious services, may find Barenblat’s work to be exactly what they need.

Barenblat successfully avoids the pitfalls of cliche and over-familiarity, protecting the sophistication of both her subject and writing. The collection will likely resonate more profoundly with a mature reader, acting as an effective foil to one’s personal life and spiritual experience. The close partnership between poetry and reader may mean that this text may be difficult to use in a larger educational setting. However, Barenblat’s work deserves a wide showcase as an example of the power of modern Jewish poetry.

Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries, Tevet - Burning Bush

Behold, The Bush Burned With Fire

It’s easy to overlook the Hebrblog coverew month of Tevet’s arrival. Chanukah celebrations are in full swing, and the only “holiday” is a minor fast on the 10th day of the month.

But in the annual cycle of Torah reading, Tevet contains a featured event. We complete the Book of Breishit (Genesis) and begin the Book of Shemot (Exodus). While we won’t get to the Israelite’s actual exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery until next month, the first chapters of the Book of Shemot contain some of the most well-known and pivotal scenes in all of Biblical literature – including Moses’ meeting with God at the site of the burning bush.

We selected this verse that begins this encounter as this month’s Jewish Text Art Challenge because of its essential role in the story of the Jewish people. It incorporates ideas of faith, relationship, holiness, spiritual transformation, individual power, miracles and magic, just to name a few. We are looking forward to sharing some of our favorite art inspired by this text, and hope that it will get all of our creative juices flowing.

Book Reviews, Literature, Poetry

The Sabbath Bee – Wilhelmina Gottschalk

With heSabbath Beer slim volume of prose poems The Sabbath Bee, Wilhelmina Gottschalk gives readers an incredibly relatable and inspiring work about experiencing the Jewish Sabbath. The poems appear as easily digestible vignettes reflecting both traditional and contemporary ideas of observance. The collection stands as a sturdy yet playful bridge to such philosophical ideas as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “palace in time”, mystical imagery of Sabbath brides, queens, and theological concepts like the neshama yeteira (the additional soul) and hiddur mitzvah (embellishing the commandment).

While individuals will certainly find much to appreciate in reading The Sabbath Bee, it also has tremendous potential value as a pedagogical tool. Gottschalk’s writing reflects an enormous breadth of shabbat observances and is an ideal companion to studying legal, liturgical, and philosophical texts. The book offers opportunities to discuss with students from high school through adulthood about finding meaning in different types of shabbat experiences, the gendered imagery that developed over centuries, the roles of the individual, family, and community in Shabbat (and all Jewish life), and the intersection of the physical and spiritual aspects of the day… just to name a few. With this potential The Sabbath Bee deserves a place on every clergy and educator’s book shelf. For synagogues and others looking for gifts for its youth (bar mitzvah, confirmation, Hebrew High graduation) The Sabbath Bee ought to be considered.

The only inconsistency in the volume comes in its organization. Gottschalk includes a number poems related to special shabbatot (those designated in the calendar as being directly related to holidays, such as Shabbat Shuvah, which occurs between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Unfortunately, she doesn’t include all of them, and they seem to appear haphazardly throughout the book. I would have preferred to see them at the intervals and in the order in which they arrive on the calendar.

When Ben Yehuda Press initiated its Kickstarter campaign to fund its poetry series, BooksAndBlintzes.com was proud to be a supporter. The Sabbath Bee perfectly captures why we needed to make this investment. So to Gottschalk and the publisher – we’ll be here anxiously waiting for more!