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A scholarly rabbi comments on the book of Esther and more

Urim Publications in Jerusalem and New York has just published “Faith Fulfilled, Megillat Esther and The Maariv Evening Service for Purim with Commentary from the Writings of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits.” It is compiled and edited by Rabbi Dr. Reuven Mohl. The book is excellent. Rabbi Berkovits’s comments are very thoughtful, well-worth reading and knowing. People of all religions will gain much by reading it, especially before and during the holiday of Purim.

Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits (1908-1992) was a highly respected philosopher, theologian, and Bible and Talmud scholar. He is considered one of the major Jewish philosophers of the twentieth century. He was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi at the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin. He received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Berlin. He served in the rabbinate in Berlin, England, Australia, and Boston until 1958. In 1958, he became chair of the philosophy department at the Hebrew Theological College in Chicago. In 1976, he retired to Israel where he remained for the rest of his life. He is the author of numerous philosophical writings and articles. He authored nineteen books, including two works on halakha that were published in Hebrew. He is a clear writer and a rational thinker. Portions of twelve of his books and two of his article are quoted in this volume.

This book contains a four page introduction to the thinking and writings of Eliezer Berkovits by Reuven Moul. Among much else, he tells how Berkovitz was “a pioneer in examining many present-day crucial ideas within a halakhic framework. He did not fear to express what he believed to be correct and ethical.” He offered a solution to the agunah problem, where Jewish husbands leave the home but refuse to give their wives a get, a Jewish divorce. This is a problem because under current Jewish law, a wife may not remarry without the get. He supported the women’s expanded involvement in Judaism, including their right to be the public reader of the book of Esther. He “poses that God somehow self-limited Himself in order to leave room for man to make his own decisions. Man is called upon to be a partner in creation. [This idea that people are required to act is supported by] An enigmatic point of Megillat [scroll of] Esther is that God’s name is excluded from the whole Megillah.” Rabbi Berkovits experienced antisemitism and compared Nazi Germany’s antisemitism to the acts in the book of Esther. Mohl also wrote about Berkovits’s concept of faith, and more.

This book includes the Ma’ariv, evening service, which precedes the reading of the scroll of Esther in synagogues. Mohl introduces the service by an explanation of it from Rabbi Berkovits’s writing in his book Prayer, gives an English translation of the Hebrew service, and includes Rabbi Berkovits’s commentary in each of the 34 pages, except for two of them. These commentaries and observations include discussions on anthropomorphisms, portraying God having a human body and performing human-like acts, stories, tells how despite changes in society, Jewish law is composed “in a manner that enables the meaning and purpose of the law to guide man and society in … the ever-enduring vital partnership with God,” explains the command of tzitzit, the fringes required by Numbers 15:37-41, God’s silence in history, how Jews and others learnt how to pray from Hannah in the opening chapter of the biblical book Samuel, and more.

The 59 pages of the Hebrew and English translation of Esther has quotes from Rabbi Berkovits’s thoughtful and eye-opening books and articles on every page, but one. Among much else we read how Jews are sanctified by observing the commandments, comments on King Achashverosh showing “the riches of his glorious kingdom,” about the “negative opinions [of too many Jews] about women and their place in society [that] are not authentically Jewish,” how “the righteous women fulfilled a unique task in the history of the Jewish people,” what is the highest type of relationship between a husband and wife, “the wandering Jew does not travel alone, he is accompanied by the wandering Amalek,” how were Mordecai and Esther heroic, Jews have no “Old Testament,” according to Jewish tradition one may attempt to force one’s will on God, “God’s unconvincing presence in history is testified to though the survival of Israel,” and much more.

Mohl includes at the end of his book the seven page article by Rabbi Berkovits Women Reading the Megillah. He adds his own thirteen page article Tzimtzum in the Writings of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits showing how “a modern rationalist theologian, and by no means a mystic, used the mystical concept of tzimtzum to enhance his theology of Judaism.”

In short, this brief listing of what this new book contains should show readers that the book contains much that will interest and enlighten its readers.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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