For the believing Jew today, no less than for those in the past, the study of the weekly Torah portion is a religious experience. For this reason it is customary to consider the section along with its traditional commentaries. It is important to know not only what the Torah meant when it was written, but also what it has meant within Judaism since then. It is also important for intellectual honesty to distinguish between the two. Moderns also have the advantage of using the results of linguistic studies and comparative studies of other ancient texts as well as archaeological finds to help us better understand the text. The Torah reflects an entire world-view concerning the nature of God and of human beings, the task of Israel and the way in which we are to live. Thus it is an ancient text that is ever new and always renewing itself. One studies it not only to learn what was, but also to discover what we are and how we are to live. These prefaces are meant to complement and enrich your study of the portion by pointing out important ideas found therein and raising problems and questions for consideration. Enter into the Torah text with this insightful companion and experience the full impact of the age-old and totally new weekly portion.
The Torah Portion is essentially what Christians whom belong to churches with a higher degree of ritual would call the the Weekly Lectionary selection. And as the Portion readings are much older then the Lectionary it is most certainly where that practice is derived from.
I can recommend this book to anyone wishing to achieve a better understanding of the that part of the Bible known known as the Torah or the Five Books of Moses according to traditional Jewish understanding and therefore perhaps increasing their own knowledge.
First of all, what this volume "claims to be" is an INTRODUCTION to the parshas [weekly Torah portion] that are read by Jews worldwide on Shabbat and the Holidays. In that respect, it is excellent. The author attempts to at least mention most of the major interpretations of the themes of each parsha, while adopting one or more as his own. This is in the mainline of the Jewish tradition of continually sifting and resifting what the Torah has to say to us – that is, acknowledging what has been said before by knowledgeable people and adding to it.
The lack of kabbalistic interpretations is not a defect, since only the well grounded Jew who had attained a mastery of the Talmud was traditionally to be exposed to kabbala. You don't put tensor calculus in a text on addition and subtraction. Further, the interpretations Reuven Hammer offers are not just from the Mishna, but range over the tractates of the Talmud and into more modern sources.
The perspective of this book is Conservative, with the somewhat more Orthodox overtones characteristic of the Masorti movement in Britain and Israel. It is, therefore, somewhat surprising that the essays comprising the book apparently appeared in an earlier form as columns in the rightwing Jerusalem Post. Certainly, there is nothing in the present volume that would reflect such an origin.
This is NOT a theological text. It is intended to be, and it is, an easy reading [if sometimes profound] commentary on the Torah of which there have been hundreds in the past and will be hundreds in the future. This volume is, however, exceptionally well written and often insightful.
Entering Torah could be read with profit by the "average Jew in the pew" or to a Gentile trying to get a feel for what Judaism and Jewish reasoning are all about. It does not, however, contain the elaborate scholarly apparatus of footnotes and bibliography that surrounds a scholarly text. With that caveat, however, I recommend it highly to the appropriate reader.
Three years ago I took a college class that was supposed to be a survey of world religion but ended up being a personal quest to learn more about Judaism. The history of the people, culture and religion appeals to me on a deeply spiritual level. I have read several books on Judaism and the Torah but this is the first book that explains what the Torah meant to those who wrote it and what it means to those who follow its laws today. Entering Torah is meant to be a study guide for the Torah and oh what a guide it is! Rabbi Hammer takes the reader on a journey through the Torah explaining in easy to understand terms the meaning behind the stories.
I had always wondered why G-d had to rest on the seventh day so imagine my delight when I read Rabbi Hammer’s explanation as to why this was written. G-d does not need to rest he explains but we do. For the workaholic this story illustrates the point that if G-d could take a day of rest so should man. I thought I understood the story of Cain and Abel as a lesson on anger and envy, yet Rabbi Hammer shows us there is much more to the story. “Every murder, says the Torah, is the murder of a brother. Every victim is an Abel, every killer a Cain. And the answer to the famous question ‘Am I brother’s keeper’? Is an emphatic yes” (Hammer, pg. 9). The book is 310 pages of lessons on the words of the Torah. The book brings the stories of the Torah to life and had me opening my copy of the Torah to re- read the stories with a better understanding and appreciation for them. This is the highest compliment I can give Rabbi Hammer, through his book I have learned to appreciate the Torah and what it teaches more than I had before I read his book.
This is a must have book for those who want to seek a better appreciation for the lessons found in the Torah. I would even encourage those Christians who understand the origins of what they call the Old Testament to read this book. I started the book one evening thinking it might take me a while to read, but found myself so lost in it that I finished it in three days. Rabbi Hammer is an excellent writer, his voice jumps from the pages. I felt as if he was sitting next to me engaged in a weekly lesson.
At the end of the book Rabbi Hammer says “Reading the Torah is a lifelong task, on that never ends. We no sooner finish the last book than on the very same day we begin the first one again, over and over”. I have to add that the same can be said of Entering Torah, I will read this book again and again finding new meaning in the Rabbi’s words.
six page chapters. They are listed in their yearly order and as they
fall into the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Each are clearly divided into 1) description and 2) analysis. Hammer
states this was
a number of years.
I am not particularly knowledgable about the Torah and don't even
remember which portion I read at my Bar Mitzvah. However I found "Entering
Torah" to have a good format and a managable and interesting content. The
overall themes discussed and the details tied together or speculated
upon gave me a much better understanding of Judaism and the confidence
to discuss it when opportunities arise.
The book seems to take the view that the Torah is pure revelation from God, with no precursor material upon which it was based. This actually becomes humorous in some cases, for example, when the author points out similarities between the story of Noach with the equivalent ancient Assyrian/Babylonian myth of the Flood, and hails the virtues of the Divine pattern because of the foundation of the story in morality (the fact that Noach was described to be a righteous man) over that of the older story, where the person who survived was merely an arbitrary favorite of the Deity. In my opinion, the realistic position is that the author of the Torah added comments about Noach in order to justify some of the reasoning behind the myth that he was transcribing, or in other words, that the point about Noach's righteousness was invented by the scribe, and not part of the original myth. I found that by going so far in the other direction while still referencing the preexisting materials, the author of this book has actually served to underscore the ridiculous nature of the "traditional" view. Because of this pattern, this book would serve as a good starting point for either viewpoint, as long as one is open to utilizing ideas that disagree with one's own ideas as a springboard for further study.
This book was printed on nice white paper, but the typesetting was unimpressive compared to other, more carefully produced volumes that I've seen from Gefen.
(I received a copy of this book to review.)