Ben Rothke

The best books of 5780

The oft used term People of the Book, which sounds much better in Hebrew, Am HaSefer, is an apt term. Walk into any Jewish book store, and new titles are arriving almost daily. And that says a lot.

The year 5780 is coming to a close, and the year was blessed with a lot of truly excellent books. To which this is my list of the top five books of the year, all of which were reviewed in this fine publication.

#1 & #2: The top two spots are actually a photo finish between two phenomenal books. That of Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman (Professor of Bible at Bar-Ilan University) and To This Very Day: Fundamental Questions in the Bible Study by Rabbi Amnon Bazak (Ram at Yeshivat Har Etzion).

These two books have some overlap, and they both take on significant and consequential issues of the time. Issues such as Biblical criticism, fundamentals of faith, Torah and archeology, and much more are discussed, addressed, and answered. Each of these books have the common denominator of fascinating topics, written by authors whose intellectual honesty and humility match their brilliance. Both of these stunning books are timely, stimulating, and required reading for the thinking reader.

#3 – What do you get when you combine ten academic contributors with expertise in Egyptology, Assyriology, plants, animals, geology, ancient near east, tabernacle, and priestly garments, Biblical scholarship, Biblical Israel, and the Book of Exodus. A fantastic commentary and elucidation on the book of the Torah that sets the foundation for the Jewish nation. In The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel, editor-in-chief David Arnovitz provides the reader is provided with a much deeper and more meaningful understanding of what occurred in ancient Egypt.

While the reading for the Book of Exodus does not start until January 9, 2021, avoid the rush and get this fascinating book now.

#4 – Familiarity breeds contempt, is defined as knowledge of or close association with something that leads to a loss of respect for it. Sadly, the familiarity with prayer, davening thrice daily, can lead to it becoming rote. In Prepare My Prayer—Recipes to Awaken the Soul, Rabbi Dov Singer (Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivat Mekor Chaim) has written a marvelous guide to bringing back that loving feeling of praying to the Almighty.

The book is not a quick fix, rather a listing of short and concise steps that one can use on the long journey to better appreciate the art of prayer.

#5The holiday of Rosh Hashanah is hours away. Its name can be loosely translated as “the commencement of change.” In The Making of Modern Jewish Identity: Ideological Change and Religious Conversion, Motti Inbari (associate professor of religion at the University of North Carolina) has written a fascinating and engaging monograph that explores the process of transformational change.

Focusing on religious and political change, Inbari profiles six personalities from the last 80 years in this enthralling book.

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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