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The Canadian Jeiwsh News

Friday, July 25, 2014

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Informative new publications push genre boundaries

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Not that many years ago, it was impossible to read advanced discussions of issues in traditional Judaism unless you had solid knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic. But in the last few decades, many of the classics of traditional Judaism have been translated into English, often very accurately. Besides translations, original works that describe, analyze or promote traditional Jewish observance and belief are now written in English all the time.

Some of these new English-language books fall into the standard genres of traditional Jewish writing (for example Bible commentaries or codes of law) in everything except for language. Others, though, represent attempts to expand genre boundaries and create new types of works that might appeal to modern sensibilities. Two such works have recently been published.

Rabbi Wayne Allen’s latest book, Further Perspectives on Jewish Law and Contemporary Issues, defies easy categorization. It is organized in the style of a traditional book of rabbinic responsa, where each short chapter raises an issue in Halachah (Jewish law), outlines what the classical texts said directly or indirectly about the issue, and then rules on it. Rabbi Allen provides learned discussions about such disparate halachic issues as how many hours before sunset Shabbat prayers may be recited on Friday; whether a synagogue may congratulate in its public announcements a couple that intermarries; whether oral sex is permitted by Halachah; whether you may listen to a radio in your car in a cemetery as you await the beginning of a funeral or an unveiling; whether wedding guests should stand up when the bride or groom begins to walk down the aisle, and other interesting and relevant issues.