Best Contemporary Jewish Writing

Best Contemporary Jewish Writing

by Michael Lerner, Michael Lerner

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Lerner, who is the editor of TIKKUN magazine and a rabbi in San Francisco, has selected writings, both fiction and non-fiction, published between 1994 and 2000 (with a few exceptions), in the first of what he plans as an annual compilation. His reach extends to many types of writing, on many subjects, the selections being made on the basis of the work'sSee more details below


Lerner, who is the editor of TIKKUN magazine and a rabbi in San Francisco, has selected writings, both fiction and non-fiction, published between 1994 and 2000 (with a few exceptions), in the first of what he plans as an annual compilation. His reach extends to many types of writing, on many subjects, the selections being made on the basis of the work's discerning reflection on fundamental Jewish concerns. Authors include Philip Roth, Marge Piercy, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Adrienne Rich, William Safire, and about 50 others. Also included is the editor's list of the 100 best contemporary Jewish books. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Widely known as a religious and political liberal, Tikkun editor Michael Lerner brings together poetry, fiction, essays and memoir from across the spectrum in Best Contemporary Jewish Writing, which includes work by Philip Roth, Yehuda Amichai, Naomi Wolf, Daniel Pipes and Rodger Kamenetz. Still, Lerner aims for writing "that connects to or reflects the fundamental Jewish project of healing and transformation," both of the person and the world. This book also includes Lerner's list of the 100 best contemporary Jewish books, available in English and published since 1985. This book covers the years 1994-2000; the 2002 edition will include material from the years 2000 and 2001. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this collection of Jewish writings dating from 1994 to 2000, Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine, highlights his idea of the politics of meaning and the Jewish religious themes of healing and reconciliation. A wide range of authors (writing fiction, POETRY, and essays) discusses questions of Jewish identity, religion, culture, the Holocaust, and Israel. Feminism, gay studies, and environmental concerns are important aspects of the selections. Many well-known authors are included, among them Adrienne Rich, Philip Roth, Yehuda Amichai, Aharon Appelfeld, and Norman Podhoretz. Zalman Schacter Shalomi presents an open and honest attempt to rethink Jewish religious thought, Marge Piercy and Jacqueline Osherow's poems bring new elements to Jewish thinking, and Morris Dickstein describes the changing themes and ideas of writers in the United States. The result is an interesting and diverse anthology. Recommended for Jewish studies collections. Gene Shaw, NYPL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
In this collection of Jewish writing dating from 1994 to 2000,Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine, highlights his idea of thepolitics of meaning and the Jewish religious themes of healing andreconciliation. A wide range of authors (writing fiction, poetry,and essays) discusses questions of Jewish identity, religion,culture, the Holocaust, and Israel. Feminism, gay studies, andenvironmental concerns are important aspects of the selections.Many well-know authors are included, among them Adrienne Rich,Philip Roth, Yehuda Amichai, Aharon Appelfeld, and NormanPodhoretz. Zalman Schacter Shalomi presents an open and honestattempt to rethink Jewish religious thought, Marge Piercy andJacqueline Osherow's poems bring new elements to Jewish thinking,and Morris Dickstein describes the changing themes and ideas ofwriters in the United States. The result is an interesting anddiverse anthology. Recommended for Jewish studies collections.(Gene Shaw, NYPL, Library Journal, August 2001)

Whenever my old friend, the curmudgeonly book lover, came acrossan anthology with a title like "Best Plays" or "Best-Loved Poems,"he'd always mutter, "Best? Best? Who says so?" Who, indeed? Why,editors of anthologies claiming "bestness," of course. The editorof "Best Contemporary Jewish Writing" is Rabbi Michael Lerner,editor of Tikkun magazine and himself included in Utne Reader'slist of America's "100 Most Important Visionaries."
Continuing his quest for the best, Lerner concludes his collectionwith a list of "The One Hundred Best Contemporary Jewish Books." Somany judgment calls about what's best may well stimulate debate.Still, why quibble? As Lerner explains, this is simply his opinionof what is most significant.
Lerner is a man with a mission, and the mission concerns Jewishspiritual renewal. If large numbers of American Jews in the earlyand middle decades of the 20th century were breaking loose fromtheir traditional moorings, the last few decades have witnessed, ifnot quite a return to origins, then certainly a renewed interestamong Jews in their religious and cultural heritage. And, indeed,the sheer diversity of voices in this collection, the passion,intelligence and sense of commitment that can be heard are ampleevidence of this renewal.
Many kinds of writing have been included: memoirs, essays, literarycriticism, fiction and poetry. Sen. Joseph Lieberman describes theorigins of his commitment to public life. Moroccan-born Ruth KnafoSetton reflects on her personal experiences as a "Sephardic Jewess"(from the title of her piece). In "Gay and Orthodox," Rabbi SteveGreenberg discusses the dilemmas he has faced trying to reconcilehis sexuality with scriptural injunctions against lying with men.Questions of Jewish identity, such as finding the right pathbetween assimilation and distinctness, are addressed in a varietyof forms, including an engaging poem by Kenneth Koch and athoughtful essay by David Biale.
Several pieces by feminists, such as theologian Rachel Adler andnovelist Anita Diamant, offer provocative and illuminatinginterpretations of biblical stories (although Susan Schnur'sdiatribe against sexism in the Book of Esther is simplyobtuse).
On the current literary front, Morris Dickstein surveyscontemporary Jewish writers, while Norman Podhoretz has someincisive things to say about Philip Roth and Saul Bellow.
Perhaps the most fascinating material in this book deals with humanresponsibility toward the natural world. "My commitment to the lifeof the planet is stronger than my commitment to any philosophy orcreed," declares Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the JewishRenewal Movement. "If you have felt commanded by the DivineImperative to protect Earth from planetary destruction, then youhave undergone the first stage of a Gaean initiation." Citing EvanEisenberg's book "The Ecology of Eden" (one of the 100 best onLerner's list), Arthur Waskow offers an account of the Hebrewreligion as a response of humble, freedom-loving WesternSemites—shepherds, hunter-gatherers and hill farmers—to the farmore regimented, hierarchical world of the Babylonian empire, wherea revolution in agricultural technology had created wealth, orderand stability, but at the cost of a drastic change in man'srelationship to the Earth, to women and to his fellow man.
Two later sections, "Living in the Shadows of the Holocaust" and"Israel in Conflict," are marked by a certain tendentiousness.Although Lerner makes some concession to representing those pushingfor the peace process and those who consider it sadly unrealistic,the overall thrust is to lend plausibility to the doves. A triad ofessays discussing the Holocaust—by Jonathan Rosen, Zymunt Baumanand Tikkun's associate editor Peter Gabel—makes some interestingpoints about everything from the film "Schindler's List" to theNazi mentality. Read in sequence, they function as a kind ofthree-pronged critique of Jews who (as they see it) use theHolocaust as an "excuse" to justify Israeli hard-linepolicies.
Jews concerned for their safety and survival having thus beendiscredited as victims of mass hysteria, the stage is set forIsraeli revisionist historian Benny Morris' critique of previousIsraeli historians for their tendency to minimize Israel's role ingetting Palestinian Arabs to flee their homes during the IsraeliWar of Independence. Then, for anyone still concerned about thedangers of anti-Semitism—anyone who's been following the venomousgoings-on at the soi-disant "anti-racism" (viz. anti-Zionism) U.N.conference in Durban—Jerome Slater notes (rightly, but perhaps nolonger all that relevantly) that Palestinian Arabs were notinnately anti-Jewish and only became that way after their land wasoccupied by Israel. (To this, one might say: Nor were Germansoverwhelmingly anti-Semitic until they were humiliated atVersailles! To recognize a "root cause" does not necessarily, byitself, enable one to undo the effects.) A grimmer and (sadly, onefears) more realistic view is provided in Daniel Pipes' essay "Landfor What?"
Still, there is an optimism, excitement and animation aboutLerner's collection that is hard to resist. This volume is thefirst in a series that is planned to come out each year. It isclearly an auspicious beginning. (By Merle Rubin, LA Times,September 17, 2001)

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The One Hundred Best Contemporary Jewish Books

Michael Lerner

Why only a hundred? There could easily be a thousand!

I asked dozens of Jewish writers, thinkers, rabbis, academics, and community leaders to make recommendations and a smaller group of them to help me narrow down the list. By the end of the process I still had two hundred books that deserved to be noted and room to list only half of them.

I decided to limit my list to books that are available in English and have been written since 1985. That helped winnow the list somewhat, but it pained me to not be able to cite some books that have had tremendous influence in the current period but were published before 1985. I am thinking particularly of the work of my teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emmanuel Levinas, and Martin Buber; the poetry of Don Pagis and Denise Levertov; the best fiction of Cynthia Ozick, Tillie Olsen, Chaim Grade, Chaim Potok, and Bernard Malamud; the writing of Irving Howe; the early and probably more significant works of Elie Wiesel; and the influential works that appeared in the "Jewish Catalogue"(s) or in the writing of the most important Jewish feminists, collected by Susannah Heschel in 1983.

In saying "best" books, I actually mean "most significant" books. By significant, I mean books that have a profound message or are written in ways that are overwhelmingly beautiful and compelling or have had a profound impact on public Jewish discourse or have influenced the most creative people in their take on reality or are likely to have that impact.

Some people suggested that I list my own Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healingand Transformation
(HarperCollins, 1995) or my dialogue with Cornel West, Blacks and Jews: Let the Healing Begin (Putnam, 1995). I appreciated their enthusiasm, but I demurred. In fact, if anything I've sinned against anyone close to me by bending over backward to avoid playing favorites. I've listened to others, and included books that I don't like (and some that I really can't stand) but have played an important role in contemporary Jewish discourse.

What's the point of this kind of list? Well, its primary value is as a way to cut through hundreds of hours of research and focus on the books that are central to contemporary Jewish literacy. I can safely say that if you read the books listed here, you'll be amply prepared to participate in contemporary discussions in the Jewish world. But I do apologize to the many, many authors whose works are equally deserving to be on this list.

1. Rachel Adler, Engendering Judaism
2. S. Y. Agnon, Only Yesterday
3. Rebecca Alpert, Like Bread on the Seder Plate
4. Robert Alter, Canon and Creativity
5. Yehuda Amichai, Open Closed Open
6. Judith S. Antonelli, In The Image of God
7. Aharon Appelfeld, The Conversion
8. Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust
9. Saul Bellow, Ravelstein
10. Meron Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948
11. Ellen Bernstein, Ecology and the Jewish Spirit
12. David Biale, Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History
13. Harold Bloom, The Book of J
14. Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel
15. Melvin Jules Bukiet, Stories of an Imagined Childhood
16. Jules Chametzky and others (eds.), The Norton Anthology of Jewish American Literature
17. Steven M. Cohen and Arnold M. Eisen, The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America
18. David Cooper, God Is a Verb
19. Anita Diamant, The Red Tent
20. Elliot N. Dorff and Louis E. Newman (eds.), Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality
21. Evan Eisenberg, The Ecology of Eden
22. Yaffa Eliach, There Once Was a World
23. Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, Booking Passage
24. Marcia Falk, The Book of Blessings
25. Michael Fishbane, The Exegetical Imagination
26. Eva Fogelman, Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust
27. Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam
28. Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews
29. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses
30. Neil Gilman, Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew
31. Sander L. Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred
32. Allan Ginsberg, Selected Poems, 1947-1995
33. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners
34. Elyse Goldstein (ed.), The Women's Torah Commentary
35. Rebecca Goldstein, Mazel: A Novel
36. Allegra Goodman, Paradise Park
37. Roger S. Gottlieb, A Spirituality of Resistance
38. Arthur Green, Seek My Face, Speak My Name
39. Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays
40. David Grossman, See Under Love
41. Moshe Halbertal, The People of the Book
42. David Hartman, Israelis and the Jewish Tradition
43. Geoffrey Hartman, The Longest Shadow
44. Judith Hauptman, Rereading the Rabbis
45. Susannah Heschel (ed.), Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel
46. Lawrence Hoffman, My People's Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries
47. Paula Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore, Women in America
48. Rodger Kamenetz, Jew in the Lotus
49. Aryeh Kaplan, Innerspace
50. Judith A. Kates and Gail Twersky Reimer (eds.), Reading Ruth
51. Alfred Kazin, God and the American Writers
52. Irena Klepfisz and Melanie Kaye-Kantrowitz (eds.), The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women's Anthology
53. David Kraemer, Reading the Rabbis
54. Chana Kronfeld, On the Margins of Modernism
55. Lawrence Kushner, God Was in This Place and I, i Did Not Know
56. Tony Kushner, Angels in America
57. Lawrence Langer, Art from the Ashes
58. Emmanuel Levinas, Nine Talmudic Readings
59. Deborah E. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust
60. Bernard Malamud, The Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud
61. Daniel Matt, The Essential Kabbalah
62. Diane Matza (ed.), Sephardic American Voices
63. Benny Morris, Righteous Victims
64. Jacob Neusner, Recovering Judaism
65. Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life
66. Carol Ochs, Our Lives as Torah
67. Debra Orenstein, Lifecycles: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones
68. Amos Oz, In the Land of Israel
69. Grace Paley, Collected Stories
70. Marge Piercy, The Art of Blessing the Day
71. Peter Pitzele, Our Fathers' Well
72. Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai
73. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Deborah, Golda, and Me
74. Marcia Prager, The Path of Blessing
75. Riv-Ellen Prell, Fighting to Become Americans
76. Adrienne Rich, Selected Poems, 1950-1995
77. Thane Rosenbaum, Elijah Visible
78. Philip Roth, The Counterlife
79. Steven J. Rubin (ed.), A Century of American Jewish Poetry
80. Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi, Paradigm Shift
81. Nosson Scherman (ed.), The Stone Edition of the Chumash
82. Howard Schwartz (ed.), Gabriel's Palace: Stories from the Jewish Mystical Tradition
83. Tom Segev, The Seventh Million
84. Rami M. Shapiro, Minyan
85. Laurence J. Silberstein and Robert L. Cohn (eds.), The Other in Jewish Thought and History
86. Isaac Bashevis Singer, Shadows on the Hudson
87. Art Spiegelman, MAUS: A Survivor's Tale
88. Ilan Stavans (ed.), The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories
89. Adin Steinsaltz (ed.), The Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud
90. Aryeh Lev Stollman, The Far Euphrates
91. Joseph Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values
92. Ellen M. Umansky and Dianne Ashton, Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality
93. Michael Walzer and others (eds.), The Jewish Political Tradition
94. Arthur Waskow, Down-to-Earth Judaism
95. Susan Weidman Schneider, Jewish and Female: Choices and Changes in Our Lives Today
96. Elie Wiesel, Memoirs
97. Leon Wieseltier, Kaddish
98. A. B. Yehoshua, Mister Mani
99. Richard Zimler, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon
100. Avivah Gottlieb Zornburg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire

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