Jonnie Schnytzer
Constantly between shtetl & avant-garde.

The Problem with our Jewish Bookshelf

Manuscript of Tazaze Senbet, private collection

I have a dream. It is one we all share – to transform and truly unify the Jewish people. And, I have an idea, which can lead to true unity. I am not talking about pretend. I mean, in the words of the old country – mamesh! And the beauty of it? It’s so simple and trivial.

Consider the Jewish bookshelf. I’ll let you take your pick and visualize any specific one in mind – it can be the one in the synagogue you go to, the synagogue you claim to go to or even the one you’ve never stepped foot in. It can be the bookshelf of any yeshiva, school, so on and so forth.

Now look at it carefully. It stands supposedly proud, boasting to have given the gift of the Torah, the Talmud, an ocean of calligraphic ink penned on manuscript by towering medieval figures the likes of Maimonides and Nachmanides. It gave the world the Zohar! I could go on in a sort of -Chosen-People-Syndrome kind of way but I choose not to. No – it is my conviction that I, WE must not continue down this path.

The truth of the matter is that our Jewish bookshelf is flawed. It’s credibility tainted.

Let me put it more precisely, lest I get myself into trouble. THE Jewish bookshelf offers a wonderful, enriching experience which has been literally life-changing for a great many. We all have a fond memory of at least that one book that did it. For me, it will forever and always be Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s Radical then, Radical Now. Not only because it was a gift from my parents, but also because it was the first time I discovered that ‘Jewish books’ could be page-turners.

My point is, there is a huge discrepancy between THE Jewish bookshelf, and the one most of us have assembled proudly within our spiritual homes. To put it bluntly – it is a very Eurocentric bookshelf.

You don’t believe me?

When was the last time you heard a drasha or had easy access to the books of figures the likes of Rabbi Isaac Hai Bukhbeza, or even heard of figures like Qes Aba Yishak, or had a glimpse of one of the greatest pieces of Zionist literature written, by Rabbi David ben Shimon? I am not even sure these giants have English Wikipedia pages.

One of the above figures was born in Tunisia, one in Ethiopia and one in Morocco.

You get the drift.

Why does this matter? Is this merely a social-cultural thing? Am I merely talking about the literary injustice of having abdicated all things continentally European?

No. There is far more to it. There is far more to the basic call of justice which demands that our Jewish bookshelf have more of an uncanny resemblance to its people! It is the bookshelf itself, and the community of its authors who lived and wrote so that their knowledge bequeaths to future generations, offering the best Jewish education possible.

My claim is very simple. If our bookshelf isn’t truly unified, our source sheets, drashas and lessons don’t have a hope to be such. If our bookshelf gives birth to talks that quote Rashi, Hirsch and Sacks, but does not incorporate the teachings of Abuhatzeira or Aba Tzevra, then we lack the confluence needed to compel the heart to think and feel in a unified manner.

Jewish peoplehood and its unity begin with a unified bookshelf.

Until we act and do something about this, I am afraid our bookshelf stands truly weak and vulnerable, upon trembling knees!

If you believe in this dream as well, and this idea that I am selling makes sense, then there is a simple step you can take in a joint effort to assemble the true Jewish bookshelf.

I, together with my partner in crime, Qes Efraim Lawwi, have initiated a crowdfunding campaign to translate into Hebrew and English and publish a, perhaps the magnum opus of the Ethiopian Jewish bookshelf – Tazaze Senbet. It is a Legend about the Sabbath, a Shabbat midrash, unlike anything you have ever read before.

By supporting this campaign you will not only ensure that in the near future we will be at last one book closer, but I firmly believe it can create a literary tidal wave, one that is badly needed.

Click on the link below to hear more about the project and you can become our partner instantly. Together, we can ensure that it’s up there on as many bookshelves as possible and why? Because what Shabbath means through Heshel or the tractate of Shabbat is amazing. But combined with Tazaze Senbet – in the words of Janice – OH MY GOSH!

Link to campaign.

So let’s do this.

It will take you one click, less than a minute to support the campaign and perhaps a few more to spread the word. But the reward – now picture what that Jewish bookshelf looks like tomorrow.

Shana tova!

About the Author
Jonnie Schnytzer, author of Mossad thriller The Way Back, is probably the only Yid to hold a PhD in Jewish Philosophy who can say that he once beat the head of the IDF Naval commandos in a swimming race. Jonnie is a researcher and lecturer with an academic forte in medieval kabbalistic manuscripts and lectures on a wide variety of topics relating to Judaism. Previously, Jonnie has served as Advisor to the CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, taught and led Israel advocay delegations with StandWithUs and directed the strategic partnerships of the Israel-Asia Center. Jonnie is a passionate Essendon Bombers supporter.
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