As we light the last candles of Hanukkah and prepare to bid the holiday goodbye for another year, I recommend that you promise yourself one final gift: a new book sharing the two virtues of knowledge and readability. My promise: It will be worthwhile for you in all your own Jewish years yet to come, and to share with the younger generation of Jews in your own family, because I have the book, and have read it, and do not hesitate to urge you to do so yourself.
The book is “Ask Rabbi Jack.” Its author is Jack Abramowitz, who has spearheaded educational initiatives over many years for all streams of Judaism. His ability to reach every one of us is beyond question. And here, in less than 300 pages, he answers many questions actually asked by many people who came to him from many backgrounds. He answers all with a richness of knowledge combined with simplicity, plus a welcome touch of humor in many of his responses.
Rabbi Jack never sets himself up as a guru; he frequently advises his readers to enlist real-life spiritual leaders of their own to approach for more information. What he does provide are answers born in Bible, Torah, Talmud and other sources that go to the heart of their questions; each gets an answer designed to tell truth and correct misconceptions through an easy-to-read, personal response.
Here’s one example to tempt you: The question is, “What’s the Jewish view of the Devil?” The answer begins: “That’s easy. There’s no such thing.” But then it goes on: “Now, if you had asked me about Satan, it would be another story.” And of course, Rabbi Jack does go on to tell that story: “A day when the sons of G-d came to present themselves before Hashem, and Satan was among them…”
Or here’s a question on a more contemporary issue: “Can DNA testing prove Jewish identity?” This calls for a much longer answer — actually several pages — but is not without humor as it nears its end by referencing the material Rabbi Jack has already provided: “So, for a variety of reasons, DNA is not considered a halachic ‘slam dunk’ …”
The book is divided into 10 sections covering a variety of topics that include some to be expected, including History or Holidays, but some more surprising, such as Science Fiction and Fantasy or Men, Women, Appearance and Deportment. The final section carries the current pandemic’s name as its title and deals at some length with Judaic implications inherent in COVID-19. This ends both chapter and volume with a version of Rabbi Jack’s briefer, more humorous style in contrast to the lengthy example of DNA immediately above. The book’s final question: “What is the Torah perspective on wearing a mask and social distancing?” The answer: “That you should do it.”
This book is an effective combination of real knowledge and a lighthearted approach to it, a meshing and melding of proven fact with well-researched personal opinion. Its style may have particular appeal for the younger ones among us — I would assume that many of its questions have been posed by young adults as well as the less scholarly of all ages. But I would not discount the Judaic knowledge and personal love of everything Jewish that Rabbi Jack displays in his fact-packed answers to all questions, which provide value to everyone.
“Ask Rabbi Jack,” published by Kodesh Press, is now available in paperback at $17.95 in bookstores and online. Give yourself a belated Hanukkah present; it will shine for you as brightly as this year’s candles!