Prof. Warren Zev Harvey endorses the new Genesis commentary

“A fascinating, learned, and wide-ranging commentary that creatively blends the  insights of ancients, medievals, moderns, and post-moderns.”
Prof. Warren Zev Harvey, [Chair, Department of Jewish Thought], The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Newest Endorsement of the “Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis” commentary

Hello everyone!

Professor Allan C. Emery is a Harvard graduate (Class of 1999), as well as the Senior Editor of Hendrickson Publishers.  Allan was gracious enough to write an endorsement for my new commentary on Genesis, which will be available to purchase by the end of February of 2010. The book will be about 530 pages. Due to the time constraints of Hendrickson Publishers, the proposed book could not be published within the next 2-3 years, so I decided to go with Llumina Press instead as my publisher.


A few reflections on Rabbi Michael L. Samuel’s Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis: A Timeless Theological Conversation (Genesis 1–3)

It is a brave soul who will devote the time, study, and effort to devote a full-length book to exploring just three chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures. As senior editor at a publishing house devoted to the subject of Biblical Studies, I am fully aware of this reality. But Rabbi Samuel has done just that and in doing so has brought forth a marvelous theological reflection on the opening chapters of Genesis. The first portion of the book is devoted to a discussion of the foundations of how best to understand and benefit from the study of Genesis 1–3 using imagination, the understandings of past theologians and philosophers, all the while taking advantage of the benefits of a postmodern approach to this ancient text. The second portion of the book is given to a phrase-by-phrase translation of the Hebrew and discussions as to various appropriate interpretations of these Hebrew texts. The third section, almost half of the entire book, provides thirty fascinating theological reflections on the contribution of these three chapters to matters of modern interpretive interest. These include such diverse issues as “The Nature of Biblical Interpretation,” “Romantic Theology: Creation Flows from Love,” “Time, Creation, and Theology,” “A Theological View of Evolution,” “Examining the Biblical Concept of ‘Dominion’,” “The Meaning of Clinging,” “The Serpent as a Psychological Metaphor,” and “Why Did God Create Evil? A Parable of the Zohar,” to name fewer than a quarter of them.

All this said, there is little question that both in Jewish and Christian theological circles, the opening conversation of the Scriptures and of the Pentateuch itself is understood by many scholars to be pivotal to theological reflection on the whole of revelation. Issues related to the place of humanity within the cosmos with its ecological implications, issues dealing with the present state of humankind with respect to various moral issues related to how we deal with one another, and serious thought about the proper way to approach all theological reflection, spring from these seminal chapters. The importance of these opening chapters of the Pentateuch has been understood by both Jewish and Christian interpreters of the Scriptures for most of two millennia. And Rabbi Samuels draws from the rich resources of their thinking throughout his own work with a genuine appreciation for what each tradition has brought to the fore.

While this is a book written by a rabbi well-versed in the rabbinic tradition, one cannot read more than a few pages to discover that his research, his interests, and his appreciation of critical thought span the centuries of both Jewish thought and Christian, while encompassing the best of the non-faith-bound philosophers of these same millennia. Buber, Kohen, Kung, Derrida, and many, many others all have something to contribute to the discussion of these three brief chapters and Rabbi Samuel is fearless in drawing on their works and their thinking in order to provoke his reader to leap beyond the well-worn paths of the past.

I am aware that this book is but an opening salvo of a larger work encompassing the whole of the Pentateuch. We look forward to hearing more from Rabbi Samuels in the years ahead.

Allan C. Emery III, PhD

December 10, 2009

Celebrating Hanukah in the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp

Hanukah Reflections

This month we will be celebrating the holiday of Hanukah. If you were to ask most Jews living in the United States about the significance of Hanukah, you might be shocked and surprised by many of the responses you would most probably  receive. Many Jews don’t attach a great religious significance and view Hanukah as   a holiday for gift-giving. Many non-Jews (and even many assimilated Jews!) think of this holiday as the “Jewish Christmas,” adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration.

Hanukah is in my opinion, is undervalued largely because it is so widely misunderstood. This is in part to the spirit of commercialism that has  blinded us from appreciating this holiday’s timeless message: the triumph of light over darkness. To honor the memory of our ancestors’ victory, we must hold true to the values that make us and keep us Jewish.

Here is an anecdote adapted from the E. Yaffe’s  wonderful book, Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust.

The pious Jewish inmates in Bergen-Belsen were determined to kindle Hanukah lights and chant the appropriate Hebrew blessings. They were abject slaves, temporarily permitted to live and toil until their strength gave out. Death lurked on all sides. Even if they could manage to avoid detection by their taskmasters, they lacked the essential materials: Chanukah candles and a Menorah.

Yet, a seemingly impossible celebration came about on the first night of Hanukah 1943 in Bergen-Belsen. One of eleven fortunate survivors, Rabbi Israel Shapiro, better known among his Hasidim as the Bluzhever Rebbe, was the central figure of that macabre Hanukah celebration.

Living in the shadow of death, and not knowing when their own turn would come, the Jewish inmates were determined to celebrate Hanukah in the traditional manner and draw whatever spiritual strength they could from the story of the Maccabees. From their meager food portions, the men saved up  some bits of fat. The women, for their part, pulled threads from their tattered garments and twisted them into a makeshift wick.  For want of a real menorah, a candle-holder was fashioned out of raw potato.  Even Hanukah dreidels for the dozen children in the camp were carved out of wooden shoes that the inmates wore. Continue reading “Celebrating Hanukah in the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp”

Is there a sequence for lighting the Hanukah candles? Should it be done from right to left, or from left to right?

ANSWER: There are a number of ways of lighting the Hanukah menorah and each method is considered appropriate. R. Israel Isserlein (a.k.a, the “Rema”) indicates that the Rhineland tradition began at the left of the menorah and continued in sequence day by day. On the other hand, he also notes that in Vienna, precisely the opposite sequence was used, and one moved from right to left, in other words, in the fashion of the Hebrew writing.[1] To the best of my knowledge, there is no earlier discussion of this matter and there is no Talmudic or Mishnaic basis for any decision. The Shulhan Arukh (the Code of Jewish Law) decided that the candles should be inserted from the right, with one added each night, but lit from the left, with the newest lit first, a kind of compromise.[2]

The Talmud (T.B. Shabat 21b) is concerned with another problem, i.e., should one add a light each night or diminish the number each night? The School of Shammai began with eight candles and diminished the number until on the last night only a single candle was lit. On the other hand, the School of Hillel began with one candle and built to a climax of eight candles. Tradition has chosen to follow the School of Hillel, and we continue in this pattern.

Clearly then, family tradition in this matter may be followed, though the path of the Shulhan Arukh has historically become a general custom, and we should follow this pattern along with the majority of the Jewish community.

Ask your Kids the following question: What is the most important candle of the Menorah? Try to justify your answer.  Let me know what kind of answers you come up in your postings.

[1] Responsa of the Terumat Hadeshen #105

[2]  Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 676.5.