The Book of Proverbs: A Social Justice Commentary

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ISBN: 978-0-88123-376-6

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By Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

The Book of Proverbs, attributed to King Solomon, is a profound collection of Jewish wisdom, song, and inspiration. Yet to contemporary readers, the text can appear vague, ambiguous, and contradictory. In this refreshing and relevant commentary, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz challenges us to find modern meaning in this ancient text. Using his signature blend of social justice practice and Jewish thought from throughout history, Rabbi Yanklowitz shows how the words of Proverbs are strikingly pertinent to issues we face today. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Rabbi Yanklowitz explores such topics as income inequality, feminism, animal rights, environmentalism, and many more. The author's commentary is paired with the full text of Proverbs--in both Hebrew and an updated, gender-accurate translation--so readers can glean their own insights.

FINALIST: Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year Award (Religion category)
Silver medal: Independent Publisher Book Awards (Religion category)

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Filled with well-known aphorisms, Proverbs is among the Bible's most morally rich books, yet rarely is it analyzed in depth. Now Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, one of American Jewry's leading social justice thinkers, brilliantly weaves together textual analysis, traditional commentaries, contemporary views, and powerful examples in applying key passages to some of our most vexing twenty-first-century social and personal challenges. This gem of a book will be an invaluable resource to rabbis (indeed, clergy of any faith) and teachers for sermons and classes, even while inspiring social justice activists across a broad political spectrum. -- Rabbi David Saperstein, Director Emeritus, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Proverbs is a treasure of Jewish wisdom that is a delight to read on its own terms, and I'm glad that Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz has written a thoughtful, moving, and modern commentary that will enlighten readers of all faiths and creeds. -- Senator Joseph Lieberman

You hold in your hands a commentary on the Book of Proverbs, that classic biblical collection of Jewish wisdom. But this volume is so much more. This is a book about contemporary life, a book about the Torah of our own lives as well as the Torah of tradition, a book that nourishes and challenges us by offering new ways of thinking about the questions we wrestle with as modern people. -- From the Foreword by Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi Emerita, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

Rabbi Yanklowitz (The Book of Jonah), president of Jewish learning center Valley Beit Midrash, delivers a superior analysis of the Book of Proverbs. Citing an eclectic range of sources that includes rabbis, psychologists, and historical anecdotes, the author studies the proverbs verse by verse and unpacks their wisdom on "relationships, power, humility, truth, and the reconciliation of the manifold complexities of life." ... Yanklowitz's lucid exegesis succeeds in transforming these "vague" verses "shrouded with literary ambiguity" into accessible, rousing calls to action. This progressive reading of proverbs edifies.
-- Publishers Weekly, starred review

While the book has a firm command of the ancient understandings of Proverbs and is accompanied by an impressive body of research reflected in the endnotes, it excels at disrupting the traditionalist impulses of religion. Readers are challenged to rebel against unjust systems of oppression, to always question authority, and to seek wisdom that transcends blind obedience to religious dogmas. And while the volume does not eschew traditional Jewish interpretations of Proverbs, it reads the texts "critically, with intellectual skepticism." As such, the work grapples with occasional passages that deal with, for instance, archaic ideas related to gender. Given Proverbs' lack of direct references to God, Yanklowitz convincingly argues that the biblical book "is accessible to a broad readership, believers and non-believers alike." This commentary, despite its distinctly Jewish outlook, likewise has a broad appeal and should interest readers of varied religious backgrounds. Written in an accessible style and with a useful glossary for those unacquainted with Jewish terminology, the volume will also entice scholars, religious leaders, and lay readers. ...An engaging, challenging, and relevant commentary on an ancient source of wisdom.
-- Kirkus Reviews

Although the original Hebrew and an English translation are provided for the complete book of Proverbs, Yanklowitz does not comment on every verse. Instead, he picks a select few and writes an essay using those verses as a stepping stone to explore issues of social justice. For example, the verse "for learning wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of discernment" (Proverbs 1:2) is used as the basis for an essay titled "On Human Responsibility for a Moral World." Yanklowitz believes that verse shows how "human growth is essentially a constant transformation, a transformation that affects people to the core of their being. To embrace transformation is to embrace human responsibility." He sees that responsibility as "the foundation of morality." One might say those sentences summarize the purpose behind his writing this book[:] ... to offer lessons from Proverbs and inspire his readers to forge their own path, one that includes creating a more just society. -- Rabbi Rachel Esserman, The Jewish Observer

Rabbi Dr. Yanklowitz writes engagingly about his chosen themes, is not afraid to state his own perspective, and includes in his comments a range of sources, rabbinic, artistic, philosophic, and psychologic. It is a virtuoso mix which he more than carries off. The Book of Proverbs is part of the genre of biblical literature that scholars call Wisdom Literature. This version is doubly rich, for it contains both the words from the Tanakh and those of Rabbi Yanklowitz. -- Rabbi Dr. Charles Middleburgh, Dean, Leo Baeck College

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ISBN 978-0-88123-376-6
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6" x 9"
Page Count: 472