Jerusalem, Israel - Sept. 22, 2022 - As the end of 5782 rapidly approaches, I have decided to break with my usual process of reviewing books. When a new volume arrives, I usually take time to read the book from cover to cover before posting a book review. However, now it is time to finish up one long overdue project and start the New Year with a clean slate.
From the minute the comprehensive 496‑page coffee‑table‑style book The Book of Jewish Knowledge arrived at my door it was different. The heavy weight of the book as the deliveryman handed it over, the packaging and design all indicated that extensive effort and cost had been invested in this volume.
It is an ambitious project to explore the teachings, observances, and history of Judaism in one volume for a general readership, and to get Judaism’s message to the world. The preface states, "It offers 1200 answers in 1200 voices."
The Book of Jewish Knowledge consists of five sections: Jewish History, Jewish Teaching, Jewish Practice, The Jewish Year, and Lifecycle Milestones. There are icons for citations to let the reader know where a source is from--Chumash, Talmud & Midrash, Sages, Mystics, Laws & Customs, Perspectives, Historical Documents, or Stories & Parables.
These sections are further divided into 160 sub-sections and topics, such as “The First Jews,” “The Exodus,” “Business Ethics,” “The Synagogue,” “Shabbat,” “The Passover Seder,” ”Education," ”Marriage,” and much more. The Appendices include the names of the authors and works cited, a Glossary, additional sources, and notes, plus a bibliography and index.
There are photos and drawings from over 100 artists and photographers and 78 full-color graphs, tables, and maps. The timelines and infographics are aimed at the young generation, instead of long wordy descriptions. There are even recipes for Classic Gefitle Fish and Moroccan Shabbat Fish on page 301.
Maryland's veteran Chabad Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan was assisted by dozens of professionals and supported by multiple donors, as well as The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) to produce this encyclopedic volume. JLI has learning centers in over 2,000 communities and on the internet to provide adult education. JLI’s mission is to make Jewish learning accessible and personally meaningful to every Jew, regardless of background or affiliation.
I started reading weeks ago and have read multple sections of this impressive and quality volume. However, it could take an entire year before I would finish cover to cover as there is such a wealth of varied material. For example, the list of authors and works cited begins with Rabbi David Aaron, includes Benjamin of Tudela, and concludes with Rav Zvi Elimelech of Dinov.
The Book of Jewish Knowledge is now available to the public. It is not meant for serious scholars, rather it presents an overview of thousands of years of Jewish history to the public in an accessible manner by the Chabad educational professionals.
Over Yom Tov, I plan to find a few quiet moments, and explore a new aspect of Jewish history or practice. If I am to tired to concentrate, I will sit and enjoy the photographs and drawings of this magnificent volume.
The Book of Jewish Knowledge Pub.: The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, Pub. date: Sept. 30, 2022, 496 pgs., Reg. Ed., $79 ISBN: 978-1-63668-011-8 Slipcase Gift Ed. $99 ISBN: 978-1-63668-012-5 Editor in Chief: Rabbi Yanki Tauber, Creative Director: Baruch Gorkin
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