June 29, 2017

new book on Jewish magic

I have several good reasons for not having blogged for three weeks. I’ll try to devote a blog post to each of them, saving the best for last. First, the rabbi at my congregation, Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, is going on a 3-month sabbatical, so I volunteered to be one of several lay folks to lead services during her absence on July 7.

The first thing I did was check the Torah portion for that week, which turned out to be Balak. You know, the one in Numbers with the pagan sorcerer who tries to curse Israel but can only bless instead and his talking donkey. I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to drash about sorcery in ancient Judaism, a subject in which I have some expertise.

To my delight, I learned that a new book on the subject, Jewish Magic before the Rise of Kabbalah by Yuval Harari, has just been translated into English. His book focuses on magic in the Second Temple and Rabbinic era as well as Heikhalot literature, Geonim and Karaite writings. I was thrilled to discover a wonderful interview with the author about his work. I’m including a few of his quotes here, followed by a link to the complete interview.

Harari begins by stating, “The Talmud is chock-full of magic and ways to ward off demons … Most ignore this topic because Modern Jews feel they have evolved beyond the past and Orthodox Jews ignore it because they cherry pick this material out as folklore or the ideas of the common people irrelevant to the their reading of the halakhic project.” Another quote I appreciate is, "the term 'magic’'is problematic, because it has generally been used to describe the religious and ritual practices of people whom the speaker disapproves of. In the sense that what I do is ritual, but what other people do is magic or idolatry."

But Harari does note that the purpose of ancient Jewish magic was not to become a wizard in the Harry Potter sense, but rather as pragmatic actions for specific practical goals such as healing or preventing illness or other misfortunes. He also notes that, "Jewish magic assumes that God gave us this power to do magic, just as He gave us the ability to farm or heal as doctors, and therefore it does not detract from God’s providence."

For the complete interview, click on this link.

Posted by maggie at 11:59 PM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2017

Rav Hisda's Dau a community read

Many Jewish organizations sponsor a Community Read where a group of people all read one book over a specific period of time. Often there are times when readers get together for discussions. I think the first volume of "Rashi’s Daughters" is especially appropriate for such a program, but the challenge for me of getting it, or any of my novels, chosen is twofold. First, most of these Community Reads are not well publicized outside of their local areas, and thus I am not even aware of how to make a nomination. Then, my book has to win out over the competition. Thus, in the few Jewish places where I heard of these projects, my attempts to pitch my novels have proved unsuccessful.

Imagine my pleased surprise when I got a Google Alert that "Rav Hisda’s Daughter" had been chosen for the “One Book, One Community, One Summer” read by Congregation Ohev Shalom in Maitland, FL. They will be reading and discussing my novel, five chapters every two weeks, starting June 10 and concluding August 17. I promptly emailed Ohev Shalom’s rabbi about the possibility of my skyping with them, and he responded positively. I love the idea of engaging with readers who have dived so deeply into my book. I hope I will be able to do it.

For more about the program, check out this link.

Posted by maggie at 01:46 PM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2017

Bathroom READING month

I am increasing impressed, as well as amused, by the large number of National Something-or-Other months or weeks. I just learned, courtesy of an article in AARP’s newsletter, that June is National Bathroom Reading Month. While this is not on any official government list [who knew there were such official lists?], I am happy to publicize it since my new book is a perfect bathroom companion.

What criteria does this entail? In my opinion the ideal bathroom book should be entertaining light reading, non-narrative [i.e. no plot or characters to follow], and consist of a series of pithy sections that need not be read in order. Thus readers can open to any page and spend as little or as much time as needed.

In my humble opinion, "Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say about You-Know-What" meets these criteria. Plus it has an additional advantage of being less than 120 pages so it doesn’t take up much room if you want to keep a copy in your bathroom permanently. Another book to consider for your bathroom bookshelf is 53-page "Jewish Wit and Wisdom", edited by Herb Galewitz. I found this little gem in a host’s bathroom while on book tour. Here is a link to learn more about National Bathroom Reading Month.

Posted by maggie at 07:24 PM | Comments (0)