Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Book Review: Echoes Of Eden

Echoes Of Eden: Devarim: Echoes Of Sinai is the final installment in Rabbi Ari Kahn's Echoes of Eden parsha series. (You'll never guess what it's about!)

The truth is that my writing a review of Rabbi Kahn's book is like Trump writing a review of Lincoln. He most emphatically does not need my endorsement. However, I realise that not everyone has heard of Rabbi Ari Kahn, and so they might not know how much they will gain from reading his books. AND also I'm incredibly honoured to have been asked, so I'm writing this anyway.

The short review: Echoes of Eden is a series of nuanced English-language (and French too) books that convey deep and complex insights into the Parsha in a way which is accessible, and yet challenging, to everyone. You can't be too inexperienced or too learned to gain from them.

The long review: My biggest issue with English language books on Torah is that they usually simplify or in some way flatten out complex topics. In my opinion, you can't really learn English Torah books; you can only read them. There's a multi-faceted aspect to Torah which seems to slip through the cracks between the languages. But now there are five nuanced, deep English language books on Torah: Rabbi Kahn's 'Echoes Of Eden' set.

If you're just wondering why you should shell out for more parsha books, let me skip the biography and tell you why: Because you're worth it. They are a level above regular Parsha books. Rabbi Kahn brings together a range of cultural references (look for the essays titled after great rock songs) and across the board Torah opinions, drawing on teachings from chassidish and litvish traditions. He's remarkable in the breadth of Torah that he'll combine: the modern, the classic, and the forgotten Torah giants all together.

If you are an English-only learner with a weak background of Torah learning, you can read these books and understand the point of the parsha. More than that: Rabbi Kahn shares a methodology of how to learn Torah, which will help you get a bit further along understanding the next week's parsha too, before you even look at his next essay.

On the other hand, if you've got a strong Torah background and usually learn the original Hebrew texts, I promise you, you will still learn from these books. You'll delve into the extra Hebrew sources that Rabbi Kahn has appended in the footnotes throughout the book. Many of them will be new to you. (Another plus: no having to flip to the back of the book to look for the source of an idea, and then having to go look it up. Call me lazy, but I really appreciate being able to learn the original Torah source for a concept cited in the text without having to get up and find the relevant book. Especially when it isn't on my bookshelves.) You'll enjoy discovering aspects of Torah that you never noticed before, no matter how many times you learned it. And it's uncanny the way he does that. Everything that he writes is obvious, once you've read it.

If I have one criticism of the books, it's that there are more jokes in his spoken shiurim than in his written works. Which just means that you'll have to buy the books, AND find out when he's next speaking in your area.

If you're a long-time Rabbi Kahn fan, you won't need me to tell you to buy his books and to learn them. All I can tell you is that yes, they are just as good as all rest of the Torah he's taught you so far. And if you're new to Rabbi Kahn's teaching, all I can say is enjoy. And you can buy the book here

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