Amongst my most recommended books of this past year is פרשני המקרא, by Avigayil Rock z’l, (it has been translated into English under the title Great Biblical Commentators). It is an extraordinary, encyclopedic panorama of biblical commentary starting with Onkelos’s Arameic translation, through the middle ages, and into modern times.
Each of the 25 chapters is devoted to a different parshan. It begins with a short biography, and places the person in their historical context. It is then followed by an explanation and examples of their approach to understanding Torah text. At its simplest, one cannot be but amazed by the breadth of knowledge Rebbetzin Rock had to have to write this book, on top of her synthetic skill in bringing all the pieces together. First, choices had to be made about whom to include or exclude, and second, how the commentators would be grouped together and in relation to one another historic, stylistic and geographic). Part of what makes the book amazing are the very different ways that parshanim have approached their understanding of Torah, how these approaches change by the age and surrounding culture, and how they are in dialogue with one another.
There were new and surprising parshanim, like the one on Rabbi Yona ibn Jenach, an early Sefardic commentator, whose focus on biblical language and grammar became the basis for many of the medieval commentaries, especially the Ibn Ezra. There were less new, but equally fascinating chapters on the Netziv and Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, both of whom brought their extraordinary Torah breadth and depth to modern and deeply relevant readings of the Torah’s text.
If you can manage the Hebrew, I suspect this book, given the large number of Hebrew sources, is preferable in its original (even if it took me much longer to read). But if not, the Koren translations are always excellent.
Just Because I Liked It:
- I’ve always been a fan of Rabbi Berel Wein’s straight-talk. His response to the kol koreh not to attend the rally in Washington was no exception. He is down to earth, as always. For some larger context, you can find the kol koreh, and Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s response to it, here.
- I really enjoyed this interview about Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand with Jennifer Burns on Tyler Cowen’s podcast. While I’ve never read Friedman (other than his being reviled on the left), I have a deep skepticism about Rand and her influence. The podcast did nothing to change that perception, but it was interesting nonetheless.
- I also found this episode of Dovid Lichtenstein’s Halacha Headlines, which focused on the halachot of war, very interesting.