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New books enliven Jewish conversation

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Posted: Friday, August 24, 2012 12:00 am

In his quest to catalog the top 100 great Jewish books, Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman has written one. Not a great book in the tradition of the sacred texts that are foundational to Jewish belief and practice, nor in the tradition of the notable scholarly works that explore Judaism's historical, philosophical or theological underpinnings, nor in the tradition of the great works of fiction and poetry that limn its spiritual and emotional depths. No, "One Hundred Great Jewish Books, Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation" (Bluebridge, $17 paperback) is a great book because it gathers all of this greatness and more in a comprehensive compendium that provides an expansive view of the progression of Jewish life and thought.

Hoffman, a prodigious Jewish scholar who is the Barbara and Stephen Friedman Professor of Liturgy, Worship, and Ritual at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, offers not a mere annotated bibliographic list, but a short but substantive course in Jewish history as he carefully chooses works to highlight each significant period. Those choices, grouped in nine chronological sections, reinforce his underlying premise that Jewish life is best understood as an ongoing conversation. His selective list provides not only a record of that conversation, but also an invitation to join in.

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