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The Kabbalah of Forgiveness Coming in Time for Rosh Hashanah

New for the Season of Repentance: a translation and modern commentary on Rabbi Moshe Cordovero’s classic of Jewish ethics, the Date Palm of Devorah (Tomer Devorah). Learn the Thirteen Levels of Mercy and discover how to forgive others (and yourself). Please visit and click on “The Kabbalah of Forgiveness” for excerpts and videos. Publication date: Rosh Hodesh Elul (August 26-27, 2014).

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (This Week in Jewish History)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch via Wikimedia Commons
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch via Wikimedia Commons

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) articulated a strategy to allow Jews their traditional observances while participating actively in the modern world.  Criticized from both the left and the right, his thought remains highly influential into the 21st century.

Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin (This Week in Jewish History)

The Yeshiva of Volozhin via Wikimedia Commons
The Yeshiva of Volozhin via Wikimedia Commons

Founder of the famous Yeshiva of Volozhin, Rabbi Hayim ben Yitshad was one of the most influential proponents of traditional Talmudic study of the early 19th century.  The author of Nefesh haHayim, he articulated a cogent response to the growing Hasidic movement.

Nicholas Donin and the Disputation of 1240 (This Week in Jewish History)

1413-disputation (1)

In 1240 Nicholas Donin, a Jewish convert to Christianity, engaged in a public debate with his former teacher, Rabbi Yechiel of Paris. Donin charged that the Talmud was a noxious document that prevented the Jews from embracing Christianity, and brought a total of 35 distinct accusations against this ancient holy text. Ultimately, 24 carriage loads of Talmuds, representing 10,000 priceless manuscripts were burned in Paris on June 6, 1242.

Personal note to my subscribers: I was so impressed with the NCSY Learnathon that my son Alexander completed, that I decided to join on my own! Please visit to support this great organization that does so much for Jewish youth (and encourage me to study more Talmud)!

Jerusalem Day (This Week in Jewish History)

Jerusalem Day, 2004 via Wikimedia Commons
Jerusalem Day, 2004 via Wikimedia Commons

Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim) celebrates the unification of Jerusalem in the context of the Six-Day War of June 1967.  This dramatic military achievement represented a victory that was both political and symbolic, giving Jews control over the the Old City and the Temple Mount after nearly 2000 years of exile.

Alexander’s Learnathon for Israel: Last Week to Participate!

Alexander Abramson runs the 2013 ING Miami Marathon
Alexander Abramson runs the 2013 ING Miami Marathon

Alexander has done well with his fundraising efforts to participate in the Boys Israel Leadership Training (BILT) program run by the National Council of Synagogue Youth.  He’s already raised $858 toward his goal of $3,000! To all of you who participated, thanks very much.  If you haven’t yet had a chance, please do so quickly, because the Learnathon ends on Friday, May 23!

Here’s a link to his fundraising page:

If you prefer to mail a check, please be sure to indicate it’s for Alexander Abramson and send it to:


11 Broadway, 14th Floor

New York, NY 10004

Thanks very much!

Henry (Hillel) Abramson

Proud Parent of a BILT participant

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (The Rema) This Week in Jewish History

Rabbi Moshe Isserles via Wikimedia Commons
Rabbi Moshe Isserles via Wikimedia Commons

Rabbi Moshe Isserles was an exceptionally important Polish Jew of the 16th century.  His commentary on the Code of Jewish Law brought Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewry together to an unprecedented degree, and established the ascendancy of Polish Jewry over the older German community.

Rabbi Dr. Yosef Baer (J.D.) Soloveitchik (The Rav) Jewish Biography as History

Rabbi Dr. Soloveitchik via Wikipedia.
Rabbi Dr. Soloveitchik via Wikipedia.

Known as simply “The Rav,” Rabbi Dr. Yosef Baer (J.D.) Soloveitchik was arguably the most influential figure shaping the Orthodox Rabbinate in the United States in the 20th century. From his position at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Rabbinical Seminary at Yeshiva University, he ordained some 2,000 Rabbis over four decades.

To view the Prezi associated with this lecture, please click here.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapiro, The Esh Kodesh (Jewish Biography as History)

Piacetzna Rebbe

Discovered in the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto, the wartime writings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapiro (1889-1943) offer a unique and powerful perspective on the life and suffering of religious Jews during the horrific years of the Nazi occupation.

By Dr. Henry Abramson

According to my knowledge of the words of the Sages and the history of the Jewish people in general, we have never experienced such horrific suffering as has been visited upon us by the wicked ones since the end of 5702 (fall 1942)—may Hashem have mercy on us and rescue us immediately.

—Entry from January 11, 1943.

Discovered in the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Aish Kodesh (Holy Fire) is one of the most remarkable works of Jewish spirituality to emerge from the Holocaust. A slim volume of some 150 pages in the first printing, Aish Kodeshpresents the Torah spoken at the clandestine seudahshlishis gatherings convened by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro, known to his followers as the Piaseczno Rebbe.

The author, a scion of the Grodzhisk Chassidic dynasty, was a creative thinker whose literary fame was established with the 1932 publication ofChovas haTalmidim (The Students’ Obligation). Trapped in Warsaw when the war broke out, he lived through all its tragedies: the sealing of the ghetto in the fall of 1939, the horrific typhus plague of the winter of 1941, the massive deportations to Treblinka in the summer of 1942, and the heroic but doomed uprising of April 1943. He was ultimately deported to a labor camp and shot in November 1943, most probably for his involvement in a second attempted uprising. Unlike Holocaust memoirs, journals, or diaries, Aish Kodesh is a book that is sui generis for many reasons.

Aish Kodesh is a public document, representing the real-time efforts of the beleaguered Jewish community to deal with the theological implications of the Holocaust as it unfolded in the Warsaw Ghetto. The intellectual task of understanding the meaning of unimaginable suffering was common to both Orthodox and secular Jews, and third-party reports of the Rebbe’s gatherings confirm that they were attended by believers and non-believers alike. Aish Kodesh is also a profoundly sustained work of theodicy, its pages filled with philosophical meditation on the meaning of evil in Jewish thought, and much scholarly attention has been devoted to this aspect of the work, notably Dr. Nehemia Polen’s masterly 1999 study, Holy Fire.

Aish Kodesh has not, however, been studied extensively by historians, who have typically been stymied by the sometimes abstruse Kabbalistic passages and the almost complete absence of explicit references to quotidian events in the ghetto: not once in the entire work do the terms “German” or “Nazi” appear, and the reader must wade through veiled Aesopian language to determine the message of hope that the Rebbe offered in response to the horrors of that week under Nazi occupation.

After the war, a desperate post-war search for the OnegShabbos archives (a collection of documents that chronicled the realities of ghetto life) unearthed the Rebbe’s manuscripts of Aish Kodesh and its subsequent publication in Israel. Popularized in song by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, a renaissance of interest in Piaseczno chassidus developed in both scholarly and popular circles, notably under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Woodmere, whose Aish Kodesh congregation takes its inspiration from the life and work of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro.

Publication information: Esh Kodesh, Tel Aviv: Va’ad Hasidei Piaseczno, 1960