Ben Rothke

The 5 best books of 5783

The term People of the Book, which sounds much better in Hebrew, Am HaSefer, is indeed apt. Walk into any Jewish bookstore, and new titles are arriving daily.

The year 5783 is coming to a close, and the year, like previous ones, was blessed with many excellent books. To which this is my list of the top five books of the year.

Book of the year: My friend Meyer Mandel said that the definition of a good shiur is one that after it’s over, makes you want to go and open up a sefer. With some license, a really good sefer is one that makes you want to open up more seforim.

In Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning (Maggid Books), Dr. Eric Brown (Director of the Sacks-Herenstein Center for Values and Leadership at Yeshiva University) does just that. Not only will this book inspire you to open up a world of seforim, it will take you to the world of fine art; as she uses painting and sculptures as avenues for elucidating different ideas.

Ecclesiastes/Kohelet deals with some of the most perplexing questions in life. Brown takes these head-on and deals with them in a manner that is both intellectually honest and stimulating. A book of rare brilliance and insights, Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning is the best book of 5783.


Reclaiming Dignity, A Guide to Tzniut for Men and Women

It’s disturbing that many ultra-Orthodox periodicals will print pictures of Osama bin Laden, Yasser Arafat, and Vladimir Putin; but not Sarah Schenirer, Golda Meir, or Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll. Yet that is the state of Orthodox media today.

In Reclaiming Dignity, A Guide to Tzniut for Men and Women (Mosaica Press), Bracha Poliakoff and Rabbi Anthony Manning have written a brilliant book showing why such an approach is wrong.

While their efforts will unlikely and sadly have no effect on overall right-wing Orthodox media, it’s still an incredibly valuable work for those who want to understand what real tzniut is.

Ruth Blau: A Life of Paradox and Purpose

As biographies go, you are hard-pressed to find one as interesting as Ruth Blau: A Life of Paradox and Purpose (Indiana University Press). Here, Motti Inbari, professor of Jewish Studies at the University of North Carolina, gives the reader insight into an enigmatic and complex person.

Ruth Blau was one of the most interesting and simultaneously enigmatic and controversial people you can read about. And that is what makes this such an interesting read.

ArchitecTorah: Architectural Ideas in Judaism and the Weekly Torah Portion 

Joshua Skarf is an architect who has a passion for integrating his profession into the world of Torah. He is able to extract architectural insights from every parsha.

In  ArchitecTorah: Architectural Ideas in Judaism and the Weekly Torah Portion (Urim Publications), he has over 170 highly original and insightful pieces that examine the Torah via architecture.  You don’t have to be an architect to enjoy this most engaging work.

101 Treasures from the National Library of Israel

If you have a decade free, then you could see most of the items in The National Library of Israel. For those that don’t have so much leisure time, 101 Treasures from the National Library of Israel gives the reader the best items there.

From R’ Dr. Tzvi Leshem showing Gershom Scholem’s concordance card file of Aramaic words in the Zohar, to Dr. Yoel Finkelman’s overview of Daniel Bomberg, arguably the greatest printer in Jewish history, and more, this is a fascinating read of interest to both the mind and the eye.

About the Author
I’m a senior information security and risk management professional, based in New York City. I speak at industry conferences, and write on information security, social media, privacy and technology. My book reviews are on information security, privacy, technology, and risk management. My reviews for the Times of Israel focus on Judaism, Talmud, religion and philosophy.
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