Books For Life Newsletter
Volume 1, Number 3

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Dear friends,

Shalom U-vrakhah! Welcome to Issue Number 3 of "Sefer Ha-Hayim - Books for Life" Newsletter. In this issue I am proud to announce our first book--fresh off the press!

I will also update you on the ongoing "Zoo Books" controversy I wrote about in a special bulletin. And I'll tell you about some new and exciting events and projects.

Thank you,

Gil Student
President, Yashar Books

Find out more about some of the other people at Yashar Books at

Vol. 1, No. 3


1. As Long as the Candle is Burning
2. Excerpt: "Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker" by Menahem G. Glenn
3. Banned Books
4. YU Seforim Sale
5. Free for the Asking
6. Reminders and Coming Attractions

1. As Long as the Candle is Burning

Rabbi Dov Katz, in his "Tenuat HaMusar (The Musar Movement)," tells the following story: Late one night, Rabbi Israel Salanter walked past the home of an old shoemaker, noticed that despite the late hour, the man was still working by the light of a dying candle. "Why are you still working," he asked. "It is very late and soon that candle will go out." The shoemaker replied, "As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to work and to make repairs." Rabbi Salanter spent that entire night excitedly pacing his room and repeating to himself: "As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to work and to make repairs."

The human soul is compared to a candle : "Ner Hashem nishmas adam hopeis kol hadrei baten -- The candle [lamp] of G-d searches the innermost chambers of man's soul." (Proverbs 20:27) And "Ki ner mitzvah ve-Torah or -- The Mitzvah is a candle and Torah is the light..." (Proverbs 6:23)

From the simple shoemaker, Rabbi Salanter took the message never to give up. As long as the candle is burning you can still make repairs. As long as there's life, there's still time to make spiritual repairs as well. We can still set right all the things that are wrong.

This story perhaps epitomizes Rabbi Israel Salanter and the revolution he began with a spiritual "declaration of independence" from despair and corruption.

2. Excerpt from "Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker" by Menahem G. Glenn

In old age [Rabbi Israel Salanter] did not give up either traveling or working for social welfare. In spite of his recurring malady he devoted much of his time to promulgating his theories and also seeking ways and means of strengthening Judaism among his people.

To carry out his purpose he sought scholars to compose a Talmudic dictionary in Yiddish. He turned for advice to some friends in Memel who had been formerly Talmud scholars. They, however, could not help him much in this enterprise. Rabbi Israel, however, never abandoned the idea of making of the Talmud a textbook easily understood by any Jew, or for that matter by any non-Jew wishing to become familiar with the treasure house of the Jews. He believed that an edition of the Talmud translated into Hebrew with modern punctuation, vowel points, and with a new commentary, to replace Rashi's commentary which one has to be a scholar to understand, easy as his style is, was essential; that it would further religious observance. The new commentary on a modernly redacted Talmud would render it fit even for beginners. Rabbi Israel, however, did not have in mind making a compendium or an abridgment of the Talmud, neither did he plan to get up a book of Talmudic readings. He maintained that dialectics and casuistry were of inestimable value in studying the Talmud, in developing the mind of the youth of high schools and universities. He held that the students should also engage in secular studies, especially mathematics. Rabbi Israel believed that a better acquaintance with the Talmud by non-Jewish intellectuals would remove many of their prejudices against the Jews, and that it would deal a death-blow to the calumny spread about the Talmud.

Rabbi Israel planned to edit this Hebrew translation of the Talmud with the cooperation of over one hundred Rabbis. Only by division of the work could he hope to accomplish this task. Each translator and commentator would work on about thirty pages and thus would the entire new edifice of the Talmud be built. After the difficulty of languages was removed and dialectics eliminated, the work could be introduced as a text book even in the non-Jewish schools. In order to bring this about, he planned to petition the authorities of higher learning. It really did not matter much to Rabbi Israel in what language the Talmud would be translated as long as it would be made accessible to the students in secular schools. He preferred however a Hebrew translation since that would retain much of the original flavor of the Talmud.

Nothing, however, came of these plans. Rabbi Israel met with some opposition among the Rabbis, who looked askance upon any attempt to modernize or secularize the Talmud.

Originally Rabbi Israel intended to have the Talmud translated in German and introduced into the schools in Germany, the home of anti-Semitism. He was ready to violate the Talmudic injunction against teach a non-Jew the Talmud, so long as the ethical values of the Talmud could be taught. He held it was not only of great value to train the youth of the non-Jewish world in the ethical precepts of Judaism, but he believed that Jewish youths who were being weaned away from Judaism, upon seeing the gentiles devote time to Jewish studies, would have more respect for their own cultural inheritance. Failing to obtain his object in Germany, Rabbi Israel now seventy years of age, set out for Paris. He hoped to engage some Jewish scholars to translate the Talmud into French, so that it could be introduced as a subject of study like the classics at some colleges or universities in France. Here, too his plans were not realized. Though the chief Rabbi, Zadok Kahn, Michael Erlanger, Professor Derenbourg and his old friend from Berlin, Dr. Sternheim, accorded him honor, they could not help in his undertaking. He did not find in Paris the proper people to help him nor was he promised the necessary financial aid for such a work.

3. Banned Books

As most of you know, three of R. Nosson Slifkin's books have been banned by a number of prominent sages. I have written extensively about the situation (See, so I will just summarize some of the key issues here. As the rhetoric heats up on both sides, it's important to keep a sense of balance. With the greatest deference to the sages who issued the ban, Yashar Books follows those sages and scholars who espouse the well-established path of synthesis between Torah and the other, lesser wisdoms.

R. Nosson Slifkin has written many books about science and Torah and he confronts some of the hardest theological questions of the age. One of his conclusions is that the world is, contrary to a simple understanding of the Jewish tradition, billions of years old. However controversial this view, it has been suggested before by Torah leaders of previous generations. No less than Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote:

"Our Rabbis, the Sages of Judaism, discuss (Midrash Rabbah 9; Tractate Hagigah 16a) the possibility that earlier worlds were brought into existence and subsequently destroyed by the Creator before He made our own earth in its present form and order. However, the Rabbis have never made the acceptance or rejection of this and similar possibilities an article of faith binding on all Jews. They were willing to live with any theory that did not reject the basic truth that 'every beginning is from God.'" (Collected Writings, vol. 7 p. 265)

For an overview of venerable sages who have voiced similar views, see More discussion of this topic will be posted to the Sefer Ha-Hayim Blog on the Yashar website over the next few weeks. To order R. Slifkin's books, call your local bookstore or click .

4. YU Seforim Sale

Perhaps the book-buying event of the year is the YU Seforim Sale, which attracts buyers and browsers from all over the Tri-State area. It is run by students and supports student activities and outreach programs. Mark the dates: February 10th - March 2nd 2005. This year's sale will in effect be the unofficial "coming out party" of Yashar Books. I hope to meet you there! (For more information, see

5. Get it Free

Call or write for the "Intellectual's Guide to the Jewish Internet"--a handy bookmark/card with an annotated list of Jewish websites for intelligent surfing. While you're at it, ask for "First Rungs," the introductory minicatalog of books from Yashar Books: "Your Ladder to the World of Jewish Thought."

6. Reminders, Discounts and Coming Attractions

If you haven't visited the Yashar Books Reading Room yet, make yourself a cup of tea (optional), sit down and go to It's the next best thing to a Beis Medrash!

Support Your Local Bookstore: Ask your favorite bookstore if they got our mailing: "Yashar Books--the Bookstores' Friend." Remind them that we offer a special discount to anyone who buys Yashar Books from their bookstore, rather than buying directly from us. Sound strange? Maybe it is, but we feel the heart and soul of publishing is the local bookstore. (See our ad from the Winter issue of the prestigious journal "Jewish Educational Leadership" published by The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education.

Coming Soon: "The Open Access Project": Yashar Books' project of "Open Source Learn-Ware." Yashar opens the door to free articles, essays and books to promote Jewish scholarship. More details in next issue.

For more information or to place orders, come to the Reading Room at Yashar Books,, 1548 E. 33rd St., Brooklyn, NY 11234, Phone: , Fax: ...,

Please join us. "Books for Life" is meant to be your newsletter. Send us your thoughts on our books or suggestions for new ones. From time to time, we will quote reader's letters.

Thanks again for joining us!

Gil Student

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