By Michael Dallen
Several First Covenant members, and others, have asked us to post a list of "must read" books - for everyone who wants to know what everyone ought to know!
[Note: Foundation co-director Rabbi Michael Katz has not collaborated in the making of this list. Rabbi Katz doesn't share others' great enthusiasm for "the Hertz Torah," for instance, nor has he spoken publicly about the wonderful Cassuto book (The Documentary Hypothesis) or the latest edition of the Tabor book (Restoring Abrahamic Faith), below.
Rabbi Katz is himself a vital resource: a rabbinic scholar and leading expert in Noahide and Seven Law studies, a writer, literateur and book-dealer. So while this list offers generalized advice for every reader, Rabbi Katz can speak directly to one's individual needs. Go to Contact Us for his contact information.]
We make these recommendations in no particular order:
1) The Rainbow Covenant, Torah and the Seven Universal Laws, by Michael Dallen (Lightcatcher Books: Springdale, Arkansas, 2003). Hardcover, with index, illustrations and appendices, 355 pages. This is, we believe, by far the best book now available on the First (or Rainbow) Covenant and the Noachide Law, including all the latest books. It is far more comprehensive, detailed and reader-friendly than the great classical studies, the ancient foundational works by Maimonides, Nachmanides, and other Torah giants, whose shoulders it rests on. It also contains detailed source notes and appendices, including Israel's Thirteen Principles of Faith as well as an extensive, fairly comprehensive list of other resources, and recommended reading.
Click here for more information or to buy Rainbow Covenant. Everything we receive from sales, including author's royalties, goes straight to the cause, to the good work of the foundation.
2) The Hertz Torah (or "The Hertz Humash/Chumash," by Soncino). A book known by different names, this is the Hebrew-English Five Books of Moses in its ancient traditional arrangement, The Pentateuch (Pentateuch is Greek for "Five") and Haftorahs (anciently prescribed readings from the prophets, associated with each prescribed Torah-reading, in Israel's ancient cycle of readings). It's fully, formally known as The Pentateuch and Haftorahs With Commentary by J.H. Hertz, late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, published by Soncino.
This book is an education in itself. It contains the original Hebrew of the Torah and the readings from the (latter) prophets and a beautiful, revised King James' English translation, along with Rav Hertz's own English-language commentaries and notes.
It usually takes about a year to absorb the whole book (most readers go through it again and again, year after year, following the traditional cycle of readings), but, besides being enormously rewarding, it is enormously welcoming and a genuine pleasure to read.
Rabbi Hertz has a very naturalistic, rational, and universalistic approach to the Torah. We believe that it is infinitely more suitable for most of the English-speaking population of the planet than any other commentators'.
This great work - even very traditional-minded rabbis, who might prefer another chumash, agree that the Hertz is itself a great chumash - is available from Soncino, the publisher, as well as other sellers. However, very good used copies of "the Hertz" are available on the Web, at Amazon.com and other sites, for less than one-third the price of new.
[When it comes to getting a Hebrew-English book, with many pages covered in Hebrew printing, many English-only readers feel that they're paying for something that they can't use (the Hebrew text), but the English text, in the Hertz Torah, and in the Artscroll siddur, below, are so worthwhile that it more than makes up for it.]
3) Restoring Abrahamic Faith, by James D. Tabor; revised 3rd edition, 2008 (Genesis 2000, Charlotte, North Carolina). Softcover, 171 pages. We have a long friendly relationship with Dr. Tabor, and he speaks very positively of Rainbow Covenant here, but we would call this terrific little book a "must read" regardless. We love this book because it takes the Bible completely seriously, explores it fearlessly, following the text itself, and other sources, and explains things - including, e.g., the nature and early history of Christianity, but also many aspects of the Torah Tradition itself - directly, simply, and (we believe) rigorously honestly. This is an open-hearted, large-souled book, very American, in its way (in its trust in the power of logic, truth and the black-letter Scripture itself to create change), which convincingly explains why the whole human race needs to re-think the Bible and rediscover the ancient faith of Abraham.
James D. Tabor is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and the author of, among other works, The Jesus Dynasty (Simon & Schuster, 2007), now out in paperback.
This book is not perfect - we hope to have a review of it up in Covenant Connection soon - and we're distressed by the number of typos in it, but we expect a future 4th edition to be much better, and we still regard this 3rd edition as "must reading."
For further information, including ordering information, and other resources related to RAF, go to genesis2000.org.
4) The Complete Artscroll Siddur (for Weekday, Sabbath and Festival), a new translation and anthologized commentary by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, general editor; Artscroll Mesorah Series, by Mesorah Publications, Ltd., and the Etz Chaim Foundation, New York, New York (1985/2005). The Jewish Siddur, or Prayerbook ("siddur" pertains to "order," as in "the order of prayer) is an education in itself. Most of the prayer service was anciently established, thousands of years ago, by the "Men of the Great Assembly," including Micah, Ezra and Nehemiah, the prophets.
Artscroll makes the best Hebrew-English siddurs (or siddurim, the plural form of siddur). Prayer isn't just petition (especially since God already knows what the petitioner will ask for) but progressive enlightenment and self-education; the prayers help one fathom the greatness and holiness of God, one's relationship with Him, the meaning of time, one's place in the Universe, and, e.g., how one may best approach God and become His better servant, son or daughter. One can learn a great deal about God and life, Torah and humanity from a siddur.
If one wants to learn or pray in Hebrew, the Artscroll also makes a transliterated linear siddur, the Seif Edition Siddur, with Hebrew, the English translation of the Hebrew, and a phonetic guide to pronouncing the Hebrew.
Siddurim are, in general, best purchased from a local Jewish bookstore (where the bookseller can ensure that the reader gets the siddur that best fits the reader's needs. There are, for instance, several different versions just of the Artscroll alone). Plus, your support for local business helps the community, especially when these businesses provide expert help in matters of religion. Rabbi Katz can also help you - and he might be your best resource. You can get his contact info from Contact Us, and call or write him; you can also call him direct at Holy Land, his shop, at (866) 358-3242.
5) The Documentary Hypothesis, and the Composition of the Pentateuch, by (Rabbi) Umberto Cassuto (Shalem Press, Jerusalem and New York), first published in Hebrew in 1941, English translation by the Shalem Center, 2006. 143 pages, softcover. This amazing little book is the record of eight lectures given by Umberto Cassuto, then Professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
If you know anything about what passes as "modern biblical scholarship," you know that it insists that several different writers, probably around the time of Israel's King David, produced partial versions of what passes today as the Five Books of Moses. It teaches that these different scraps of text were eventually fraudulently combined into a single text by a miraculous editorial "Redactor," probably around the time of the prophet Ezra. This school of thought, which dominates [really, the better term might be "monopolizes," because it rejects all contrary beliefs and findings out of hand] academia today, is called "the Documentary Hypothesis," "the (Julius) Wellhausen Hypothesis," "Biblical Higher Criticism," "the Biblical Historical School," and so forth. It calls the supposedly separate texts that the Redactor supposedly eventually squeezed together by letters: the "J Document," the "P (or "Priestly") Document," the E and the D Documents.
In these eight short but marvelous lectures, Professor Cassuto destroys the Documentary Hypothesis. A brilliant rabbi and academician himself, learned in many fields, he uses clear, simple logic and plain-to-every-honest-reader features of the Written Torah - the plain black-letter Bible, in its first Five Books - to prove that this huge edifice of orthodox academic thinking is, to put it nicely, an emperor who has no clothes. Cassuto, in other words, debunks the debunkers of the Torah and the larger Bible. Anyone who reads even one of the eight lectures will never think of the Bible or the Documentary Hypothesis - which turns out to have started as a no-nothing anti-Semitic expression of 19th-century German Protestantism - the same way again. This is a book that teaches Bible: all sorts of odd things [did you know that the Torah has two different lists of the wives of Esau (the twin brother of the patriarch Jacob), which together express the truth that Esau's home life was an unmitigated disaster? That the Sabbath isn't just a Jewish but a cosmic, universal event? That the blessing given to Noah and his sons was just the fulfillment of the blessing earlier bestowed upon Adam and his sons? Etc., etc.].
Get this book - which, again, teaches even very sophisticated readers an awful lot about the Bible, far beyond the permanent damage it does to the nasty academic orthodoxy called the Documentary Hypothesis - from Alibris.com. (But the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, the publisher, sells it for less and ships just as fast. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Update: Amazon.com has The Documentary Hypothesis at a good price, we see. Anyway, check out the reviews of Documentary Hypothesis at Amazon.com (click here).
These five books all recommended themselves: it wasn't that hard to keep this list down to five. But one could certainly benefit from many other resources. For instance, there is a new book, a proposed Noahide Siddur, Service From the Heart (312 pages, by the Oklahoma B'nai Noah Society of Rose, Oklahoma, that's quite interesting. You can order a copy, in hardcover or soft, or even read it online at http://www.okbns.org/. Both Rabbi Katz - who stocks it at his shop, Holy Land, in Florida - and Jack Saunders worked on it, along with many others. But it's still not as wonderful as a traditional Jewish siddur, and it's definitely no Artscroll. So in our judgment, it isn't an absolute "must read"or "must have" book, in contrast to the books listed above.
One last word, concerning politics. Anyone who chooses to have any connection at all to Torah or Israel will find out, sooner or later, that it has really remarkable political ramifications. People feel very strongly about these things, for and against them (often, the issue isn't entirely of this world but about the way that people think about God - combined with something political). Beyond that, just as the ancient Hebrew prophets were intensely involved in the leading issues of their days, the Noahide "justice" commandment, or "government" commandment, requires every righteous man to take an interest in things political. So the wise student should try to master the leading issues of the day.
Israel is always in the news. The best one book for understanding the Arab-Israeli conflict is probably the late Samuel Katz's Battleground; Fact and Fantasy in Palestine. You can get it from Amazon.com or order it, for much less, from a group that we also link to, Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI) .
An appendix to Rainbow Covenant, a list of recommended sources, with descriptions of each work, is said to be quite useful. We certainly tried to make it as readable and useful as possible!