Sunday, November 2, 2014

Just Published: Zionism - A Brief Overview

My short ebook, Zionism - A Brief Overview, is now available as a free download. As a preview, I am including below the table of contents and the preface from the book.

Table of Contents


Roots and Precursors
The Roots of Zionism
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer
Moses Hess
The Chovevei Tzion Movement
Supporters of Colonization
Political Zionism

Notable Figures in the Early Zionist Movement

The Zionist Organization

Zionism in Action
Chaim Weizmann & the Balfour Declaration
The British Mandate
Ben-Gurion & Independence
The Government of the State of Israel
The Political Parties
Jewish Opposition to Zionism

Religious Zionism
Non-Messianic Religious Zionism 
Messianic Religious Zionism
Zionism Today


This booklet grew out of materials that I prepared for a class on Zionism given in a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school. The material was designed to be covered in five sessions, each covering one of the major sections, “Roots and Precursors”, “Political Zionism”, “Zionism in Action”, “The Israeli Government”, and “Religious Zionism.”

A number of important changes have been made in the material in preparation for publication. Among these was an attempt to raise the level of the material to one more appropriate for adult readers. Nevertheless, it must be confessed that the material still has much of the didactic tone of classroom curriculum materials. I hope that readers will not find this off-putting.

One of the difficulties I faced while compiling this material is that I am not myself a Zionist (in the political sense). In principle, of course, this should not be a problem. Facts are facts! Human nature being what it is, however, I had to be very careful not to let my personal ideological position improperly color my presentation of the subject.

In preparing this material for publication, I felt that it was necessary to include a section on traditional Jewish opposition to Zionism. Not only is this important and relevant information in its own right, it also provides essential context to the positions taken by religious Zionism.

I have ended my discussion of the history of the Zionist movement with the founding of the State of Israel. Although, of course, Zionism continues to exist to this day, the nature of the movement fundamentally changed with the founding of the state. It is critically important to understand that the meaning of the term “Zionism” has evolved, and today is often used to mean simply that one is concerned about the continued well-being and security of the State of Israel. In this booklet I use the term in its original sense, to refer to the movement to establish a secular Jewish homeland in the land of Israel.

It is my hope that this small booklet will provide, in an easily accessible manner, some of the essential context and background information that is often missing in many discussions of this topic in the press.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Review: "Daven Your Age" by Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein

In Daven Your Age, Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein makes a sincere attempt to respond to a well-known dilemma; the fact that many adults have failed to grow up in their approach to prayer and still see it from the perspective of when they last studied it, in grade school. Rabbi Grunstein therefore attempts to reintroduce many aspects of this most basic element of Jewish spirituality in a way that is intended to appeal to adults and their concerns.

The book is divided into five sections. The first section is a general overview of basic ideas about prayer. The second section discusses the importance of communal prayer, and the next three sections discuss various aspects of the daily morning prayer service. Each chapter is followed by a brief summary of the topics covered, and these summaries are then collected as a final appendix to the entire book.

One of the difficulties I had when reading this book is that it is fairly obvious that I am not part of Rabbi Grunstein's target audience. While I will readily admit that I am very far from where I ought to be with regard to my prayer, I found the topics that Rabbi Grunstein discussed to be very elementary and I often felt that he was glossing over many major issues, topics, and sources that I would have expected to be covered. This was especially true in the first section of the book. In my opinion, the final three sections, which deal with the details and language of the prayers are far stronger than the first two.

I had similar issues with the style of presentation, which I often felt was excessively informal and "chatty".

However, ultimately these are a questions of taste and style, and it is difficult to judge whether Rabbi Grunstein made the right decision in these areas, especially as I am not really clear on the nature of his target audience.

While I have a number of criticisms of the content of the book, most of these criticisms are about minor details that aren't really worth detailing. The one exception is in the first chapter of the book, where Rabbi Grunstein incorrectly assumes that the Biblical concept of "service of the heart" refers exclusively to a spontaneous, emotional experience. Rabbi Grunstein then compounds this error by reading this idea into the words of two major Jewish authorities, Maimonides and Nachmanides, in their debate over the Biblical obligation to pray. While there is no question that spontaneous, informal prayer is a very important aspect of Jewish prayer, there is no question whatsoever that formal, structured prayer is also a fulfillment of the Biblical commandment of "service of the heart." The debate between Maimonides and Nachmanides is on the nature of the obligation, but all sides agree that all sincere prayer, whether spontaneous or formal, is a fulfillment of the commandment to serve God "with all your heart."

However, with the exception of this one error (which, unfortunately, is in the first chapter of the book), the book is reasonably well-done. The basic themes that Rabbi Grunstein focuses on are all valid and important (even if I would have presented them somewhat differently), and I am sure that there are many people who would benefit from reading his book.