THE SOCIAL JUSTICE TORAH COMMENTARY | Kirkus Reviews
In an introduction, editor Block writes that every rabbi, including himself, has heard the complaint from someone in their synagogue that “We want to hear Torah, not politics, from the bimah.” Yet, as Block and his expert contributors demonstrate in this volume, Jewish prophets and teachers have long “understood the essence of the Torah as a call to action” against injustice. If one deeply studies the meaning and intent of ancient Jewish festivals, rituals, and stories, contributor Andrea L. Weiss notes, “The prophetic message is simple: What matters most is justice.” In more than 50 essays by members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, some of the nation’s leading Jewish teachers, scholars, and thinkers offer erudite perspectives on how the Torah informs current social debates. Drawing on material from Genesis to Deuteronomy, each essay connects a specific biblical passage to a pressing issue in contemporary life. Contributor David Spinrad, for instance, connects the digging of Isaac’s third well to systemic racism, and Andrea C. London ties the commandment “You Shall Not Murder” to gun control. Other essays tackle LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights, climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, criminal justice inequities, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although most essays are centered on specific injustices, others use passages from the Torah to promote essential citizenship and community values on such subjects as trauma-informed care and voting rights. Collectively, this volume is a well-researched, welcome addition to Torah commentaries. Scholars will find detailed, sophisticated analyses, and general readers, assisted by the book’s approachable writing style and helpful glossary, will find pragmatic ways to pursue social justice action in their own lives. It might have been more useful to organize the essays thematically rather than by their chronological relation to the books of the Torah. Nevertheless, it has the potential to be a volume that both rabbis and laity will turn to for decades to come.