Monday, September 12, 2011

The Big Book of Halakah

A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice is 522 pages of text issuing guidance on the observance of Judaism from the Conservative perspective.  Don’t expect ‘spiritual’ Judaism here or New Age incarnations of tikkun ha olam or the gathering the hidden lights, this is a nuts and bolts presentation of the correct practice of Judaism, on a day to day, year to year, birth to dead perspective.  This is a source book, and should not be read as a guide to Judaism. It’s overwhelming emphasis on halakah, on the doing and not-doing, gives the book a Betty Crocker feel to it: this is Judaism by the numbers.  

Of course, there is no meaningful Judaism without halakah.  So in a certain sense, this book can be an eye opener for many readers.  The detailed anatomical explanations of what goes into (and comes out of) making an animal kosher are startling, and enough to make even the most ardent meat eater a vegetarian. 

It has quaint holdovers from the era of the author’s formative years.  In discussions of the kitchen and kashrut, he discusses housewives with casual ease.  When explaining the laws of Hanukkah, he explains that it has become more popular in recent years, especially in America, due to its proximity to a certain Christian holiday.  Really?  He can’t write the word Christmas!  Bravo for Rabbi Klein.

But it is all for the best.  If you want a book that presents a Judaism between the gigantic freedoms Reform Judaism affords, and the constriction of Orthodox Judaism in its various stripes, this is not a bad big book at all.

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