The Jewish Eye
Beautiful Days, Holy Days
Beautiful Days, Holy Days
The Majesty and Profundity of the Jewish Holidays
By Avraham Peretz Friedman
Compass Books: Linden, New Jersey (2015)
Reviewed by Anna Dogole - August 30, 2015
The Jewish holidays are the glue that knits the Jewish year together. In Beautiful Days, Holy Days: The Majesty and Profundity of the Jewish Holidays, Rabbi Avraham Peretz Friedman offers keen insights into the main Jewish holidays. These insights are offered via a series of eloquent and uplifting divrei Torah covering Rosh Hashanah, Yom HaKippurim, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret - Simchat Torah, Chanuakah, Parashat Zachor/Parashat Parah, Purim, Pesach, Sefirat HaOmer, Shavuot, and Tisha B'Av.
While Parashat Zachor and Parashat Parah are not technically holidays, a divrei Torah on these two readings are included. As Rabbi Friedman notes in the text that these are, "... the only two demanded by the Torah during the entire year..." (pg 110), which makes these readings an exceptional fit with the holiday theme of the book. The commentary on these two readings is primarily presented in a question and answer format along with an extra section that further elucidates the meaning and importance of these two readings - and why they are required.
In all, there are fifty-three divrei Torah in this volume, and most use a combination of questions and answers mixed with essay sections. There are also some talks that use a strict, traditional essay format. The number of divrei Torah for each holiday varies, but all are noted for the clarity by which Rabbi Friedman explains the intricacies of each holiday, and by his in-depth knowledge and love of the Torah. The divrei Torah cover such diverse and unexpected topics as "Why do we eat honey on Rosh Hashanah?" to "How many orthodox Jews does it take to change a light bulb?" This is a book that is ideal for reading straight through, for skipping around and reading one or more sections just before the relevant holiday, and for reading aloud and discussing with your friends and family around the dinner table.
While I enjoyed all the talks, and found them all inspirational, the one I found the most interesting, was the essay in which the Rabbi uses Talmudic principles to analyze and interpret I. L. Peretz's story, "The Pious Cat." I found this essay particularly interesting because while the story is often viewed as anti-Torah, and anti-Orthodoxy, Rabbi Friedman succinctly decodes the story to show that it actually celebrates Torah-Judaism. He also shows that it has, as a subtext, a warning about the dangers of divesting yourself of your Jewish identity.
The Jewish holidays help to shape the Jewish year, and they help to shape Jewish identity. Lose one and you lose the other. The essay on the "The Pious Cat" is the last essay in this book and it can be found in the section on Tisha B'Av. It is a fitting conclusion for the book as it reminds us of the importance of maintaining a cultural and religious identity - if we, as a people, want to remain Jewish. Leastways, that is the way I read the essay. Your interpretation and understanging of each essay, like the many interpretations that have been applied to "The Pious Cat," may vary from mine, and are likely to change over time as your read, and re-read each talk. One thing is certain, this essay, and all the others that are contained in the Beautiful Days, Holy Days will make you reconsider what you thought you knew about each of the holidays discussed. By extension, this will make your celebration of each holiday more rewarding and spiritually uplifting. This excellent book is a must-have for all Jewish homes, and will make an ideal addition to Jewish libraries, both private and public.
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