Book cover: Jewish Tradition
Book cover: Jewish TraditionCourtesy

With great pleasure I will attempt to review the monumental new book by Rav Eliezer Melamed, “Jewish Tradition” which I read when the work was first published in Hebrew two years ago. In the introduction, Rav Melamed states:

“The goal of this book is to tell the story of “Jewish Tradition” as a reflection of Divine Ideals and Values as they are expressed in Jewish Law and History.”

Rabbi Melamed has achieved his formidable goal of capsulizing the story of the Jewish People, the fundamental tenets of Judaism and the laws of the Torah into a book you can both enjoy and carry in one sturdy hand. To a seasoned Torah Scholar accustomed to sailing through tomes of Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch, the format and presentation of “Jewish Tradition” may seem simple, but for ordinary Jews like myself, studying the book and absorbing its content will surely lead to a library of knowledge and to a deep respect for our heritage.

I benefitted enormously from relearning many things which I had forgotten due to the lack of review, while also learning many details that I never knew, including insights into the commandments and core beliefs of Torah.

The book is written in the reader-friendly fashion which characterizes Rabbi Melamed’s immensely popular series “Peninei Halacha” that covers the wide gamut of Jewish Law and the Jewish Holidays. The translation of the Hebrew by Dr. Yocheved Cohen is expert and flowing.

The publication of “Jewish Tradition” in English by Yeshivat Har Bracha marks the first time (to the best of my knowledge) that a comprehensive treatise on the story of the Jewish People and its Traditions and Laws has been made available to the wide public, both Jewish and non-Jewish, with the inclusion of a full chapter devoted to the all-important connection between the Jewish Nation and its unique Holy Land – the Land of Israel.

Here the reader will find deep explanations of the mitzvot dealing with Eretz Yisrael, Medinat Yisrael, and Tzahal, along with their many implications for Jewish Life today. Because of this addition, and because of Rabbi Melamed’s focus on the individual Jew’s connection with the Israelite Nation, in line with the philosophy of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook and Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav where Rav Melamed studied, the book postulates that to properly understand Judaism, first we are to comprehend who we are in the framework of the Nation established by our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, and to recognize our National mission in the world.

Our relationship and obligations to our fellow Jews, to our families, to Hashem, and to all of Creation stem from the side of our unique Divine National Essence and not merely from our individual selves. Once this basis has been established, the book concentrates on the commandments incumbent upon each and every Jew, then returns to a more in-depth analysis of the vital importance of the Holy Land to the mission of the Chosen Nation in bringing Divine Revelation to the world.

Rabbi Melamed carefully clarifies a fundamental foundation of Judaism, forgotten during the Galut, that the Torah, the Israelite Nation, and the Revelation of Hashem in the world, can only be complete in Eretz Yisrael. It is only upon the union of the Nation, the Torah, and the Land of Israel that the Divine Plan of Tikun Olam can be fulfilled.

Thus the book begins with the vision of Am Yisrael for a world of goodness, founded upon the principles of Divine Righteousness and Justice, beginning with Hashem’s command to Avraham Avinu to journey to Eretz Yisrael to give birth to a holy Nation destined to bring spiritual and material blessing to the world, as exemplified by the deeds of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs who sought to grace every aspect of life with the light of the Holy One Blessed Be He.

Rav Melamed illustrates the development of this mission by guiding the reader through a short course in Biblical History up to the creation of Am Yisrael via bondage in Mitzrayim, the Exodus, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and our conquest and settlement of the Promised Land. While “standing on one foot,” the book introduces us to fundamental themes of the Torah, such as good and evil, reward and punishment, Torah learning, self-sacrifice for the Nation, faith in Hashem and the building of the proper character traits.

Jews, we learn, exist not merely as holy individuals, but as a Holy Nation, to be a model for other nations. To accomplish this, Am Yisrael must use all of its talents, everyone contributing in his and her own way, in a united effort, everyone valuing the contribution of the other in being a light of justice, morality, and goodness that other nations can emulate. In a nutshell, this remarkable book is a compact encyclopedia of Jewish Law and Belief, as if encompassing all of the Rambam’s Mishna Torah in one volume of 500 pages, albeit in miniature.

Everything that can be found in the “Kitzur Shulchan Aruch” can be found here plus much more. In addition to a review of all of the mitzvot and proper character traits, a reader will find everything he wanted to know about Judaism in this book including discussions about Jewish Family Life, Marriage, Jewish Education, Prayer, Mourning, Conversion, Kashrut, the Beit HaMikdash, the Synagogue, he Jewish Home, Shabbat, the Jewish Holidays, and as we mentioned, the mitzvot related to the Land of Israel and the revival of sovereign Jewish Nationhood in the Jewish Homeland.

This rightfully leads us to ask – for what audience is the book intended? In my humble opinion, “Jewish Tradition” is for everyone. For secular Jews, new baalei tshuva, and would-be converts, the book is like a mini encyclopedia. Regarding the chapters which explain the ways of proper character traits and the fundamentals of Jewish Belief, people at all levels will benefit from the clear and concise summaries and their explanations. For yeshiva students steeped in Jewish Tradition, the book will not only be an excellent review of what they know, but many experienced scholars will be enlightened by the exalted perspective of Torat Eretz Yisrael which not everyone has encountered.

All in all, if someone were stranded on a deserted island with a Chumash, a siddur, and the choice of one more book, then “Jewish Tradition” would be a wise and worthy selection.

The book “Jewish Tradition” can be ordered at: