STUDIES IN THE WEEKLY PARASHAH BASED ON THE LESSONS OF NEHAMA LEIBOWITZ
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by Moshe Sokolow
Hardcover, 285 pages
ISBN 13: 978-965-524-004-7
ISBN 10: 965-524-004-5
This volume contains studies on the weekly Torah
portion (parashah/sidrah) evoking
the memorable and influential
style of Nehama Leibowitz. Using
lesser-known published works
by Nehama and notes of her
private lessons, Moshe Sokolow
elucidates the text and its classic
commentaries in a manner that
engages readers, making them
active participants in Torah study.
About the Author:
Rabbi Dr. Moshe Sokolow is the
Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Professor
of Jewish Education at the Azrieli
Graduate School of Jewish
Education and Administration
of Yeshiva University. He
studied with Nehama Leibowitz
(1905–1997) and translated
and edited Nehama Leibowitz:
On Teaching Tanakh (New York:
1987), Nehama Leibowitz: Active
Learning in the Teaching of Jewish
History (New York: 1989), and
compiled Mafteah ha-Gilyonot:
An Index to Nehama Leibowitz’s
Weekly Parshah Sheets (New York:
1993). Professor Sokolow is the
author of numerous scholarly
and popular articles on Bible,
and has conducted a weekly class
on the sidrah at Lincoln Square
Synagogue in New York City for
more than twenty years.
Praise for Studies in the Weekly Parashah:
“Dr. Moshe Sokolow has done a masterful job in bringing the
methodology of Moratenu Nehama Leibowitz to an even wider audience and
with a series of even broader topics of commentary discussion. To a remarkable
extent, Nehama did to the Biblical commentaries what Rav Soloveitchik did to
the Talmudic commentaries: she demonstrated how their different understanding
of the textual material emanated from and resulted in different conceptual views
of crucial Jewish and human issues. All of this becomes exquisitely expressed in
Dr. Sokolow’s study, which serves as both a tribute to a great teacher as well as a
tour de force by a special disciple.”
-Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat and Dean of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs
“Prof. Moshe Sokolow, a loyal student of Nehama Leibowitz and a fine Biblical
scholar himself, offers us many valuable insights into Parashat Hashavua through
his diligent analysis of the comments of Rashi and other major exegetes. This
book will be of special interest for teachers of Torah.”
-Gabriel H. Cohen, Bible Dept., Bar Ilan University
“As devoted students of Rabbi Sokolow at Lincoln Square Synagogue for close
to ten years, we welcome this book with delight. Rabbi Dr. Sokolow here makes
Nehama Leibowitz’s previously unpublished and profound analyses available
to a wider audience. With the addition of his original and thought provoking
insights, this is a book of master lessons from a master teacher and scholar.”
-Margy-Ruth and Perry Davis
The Hebrew title of Moshe Sokolow's new book, Chatzi Nechama, is a double entendre. On the one hand, it implies that the book is a partial comfort for the tremendous loss to the world of Torah study suffered over a decade ago with the death of Nechama Leibowitz z"l. On the other hand, it alludes to the fact that while Sokolow builds the book on Nechama's teachings and methodologies, he uses those methodologies to present innovative ideas that are his own. This approach would certainly give full comfort to Nechama. Nothing would have made her happier than to see her students apply her methodologies to create their own chiddushim.
Perhaps, the most important aspect of Sokolow's work is that it makes Nechama's teachings and methodologies accessible to novices and to English speakers who might otherwise be unfamiliar with them. The presentation is in short lessons on the weekly Torah portion, with each chapter presenting three to five topics. Each chapter stands alone and is interesting in it owns right. Yet, when viewed as a whole, the book presents in a clear fashion the major aspects of Nechama's methodologies, such as her approach to understanding the use of peshat and derash by the classical commentators, her famous method of inter-textual comparison, her identifications of textual difficulties that serve as the source for a large percentage of classical and modern commentary, and her comparison of the approaches in the classical commentators. These aspects of Nechama's teachings are not presented systematically as independent topics, but are built in a spiraled fashion from chapter to chapter, or from week to week for those who use the book on a weekly basis to study the parashah.
In the preface to this work, Sokolow indicates that it draws largely on works that may be less familiar even to those who are familiar with Nechama's famous Iyunim (Studies on the Parashah). Several of the sources on which he draws – primarily her work on Rashi's commentary and her two volumes on teaching parshanut in the books of Bereishit and Shemot - are to date inaccessible in English. Another source – Torah Insights – while accessible in English, is a lesser known work which was written primarily for teachers of Torah. Yet, beyond making these works accessible to English speakers, Studies in the Weekly Parashah Based on the Lessons of Nechama Leibowitz provides added value to those familiar with Nechama's Iyunim by at times making explicit some methodologies that are left implicit in Nechama's own writings.
In reading my comments until now, one might get the impression that Studies in the Weekly Parashah Based on the Lessons of Nechama Leibowitz does not have value for those who are more familiar with Nechama's teachings. This is not the case. Even "students of Nechama" will find this work worthwhile, not just for its nostalgic elements, but for the insights that can be gleaned from new applications of her methodology.
I would take issue with Dr. Sokolow on one point. In his preface, he indicates that he did not rely on Nechama's famous gilyonot for this work because they have already been published. In fact the gilyonot were distributed over the years to many of Nechama's students, but have not yet been published systematically, nor have they been translated into English. As such, a work based on the gilyonot would indeed give accessibility to the many gems that they contain. Perhaps, Dr. Sokolow would consider a second volume based on the gilyonot. This might provide the other half of the comfort that we await.
The master teacher of Torah in this past century was Nechama Leibowitz, a simple woman in Jerusalem who sent out stenciled sheets on the portion of the week to students all over the Jewish world, and who personally read and graded their responses. She was a woman diminutive in size, but she was a giant in her knowledge of the sources, and in her ability to clarify, compare and contrast the different commentaries on the Torah. For her, “the most important thing was that the students should study Torah from all angles; search it out, and choose or reject interpretations -- all out of love.”
Now, one of her trusted disciples, Dr. Moshe Sokolow, has reproduced some of her less-well-known study sheets. He has differed from his teacher in that, unlike her, he has not only raised questions but has also provided his own answers to the questions
-Rabbi Jack Riemer
South Florida Jewish Journal
The work, whose Hebrew title derives from the word play on the Talmudic adage tsarat rabbbim hatsi nehamah (shared distress is a partial consolation), offers readings on the weekly parashah/sidrah evoking the style of Nehama Leibowitz by drawing on her lesser-known published works and private lessons. Sokolow does not use the Iyyunim/Studies or the original gilyonot. Instead he draws on Perush Rashi la-Torah: Iyyunim be-Shittato, which Nehama co-authored with Moshe Ahrend, (Open University, 1990) and Limmud Parshanei ha-Torah u-Derakhim le-Hora’atam (World Zionist Organization, 1975). This book is written in an easy-to-read and original style, which often employs a light, humorous touch in its stylistic phrasings e.g., “Va-Yelekh—Elementary, My Dear Rashi,” an allusion to Watson via A.C. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
This book of nehamah (consolation) affirms love of Medinat Yisrael, the Hebrew language, and Tanakh study. It is recommended for all Jewish libraries (synagogue, JCC, academic, seminary, etc.). It joins Nehama’s oeuvre, and the growing number of books (e.g., Tales of Nehama by Leah Abramowitz and To Study and to Teach: the Methodology of Nechama Leibowitz by Shmuel Peerless) that reveal Nehama’s wisdom and skill as a teacher.
-David B. Levy
As a young yeshiva student, I first met the late Nehama Leibowitz in the beit midrash, where she taught advanced Bible students. Her style was unique, as she found ways to engage all of her students in active learning, and her method involved the analysis of texts using the wealth of gilyonot (study sheets) she had prepared from 1941–1971.
Those mimeographed gilyonot were a gold mine of information. But the information was not what Nehama sought from her students. Rather, these yellowed sheets presented a series of commentator texts, followed by a few questions. The most difficult of these questions were signaled with an “x” or at times “xx” - and via these gilyonot she would challenge her students to understand the perspective of the commentaries, and the difficulty in the Biblical text.
Among her many thousands of students was Dr. Moshe Sokolow. A master of Biblical texts and teaching in his own right, Dr. Sokolow was fortunate to have studied with Nehama for many years, to have mastered her technique, and much of her teaching. To Nehama, he was a talmid-chaver, a student and colleague.
The book is divided into fifty-four chapters, corresponding to the fifty-four parshiyot in the Torah. Unlike the original gilyonot, each parasha includes not only the texts in question, but also comments of Nehama, and the answers to the questions posed. Because of this, the chapters can be read and discussed, and yet it is not intended, as were the original gilyonot, to serve as a source of active discovery and investigation.
To Dr. Sokolow’s credit, many of the key lessons Nehama sought to teach are included in these chapters. From the distinction between peshat and drash to the Biblical use of stories, and the true differences between the ways that different commentators view the Biblical narrative, many of the greatest issues addressed during the thirty years which she composed her gilyonot are found in this book.
Nehama Leibowitz was the ultimate teacher, whose own epitaph reads simply “Morah.” With skill and admiration, Dr. Sokolow faithfully conveys many of her lessons and adds to her legacy.
-Rabbi Dr. Leonard A. Matanky
Jewish Book World