Authored by Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank, a maggid shiur at Yeshiva University, Illuminating Jewish Thought: Explorations of Free Will, the Afterlife, and the Messianic Era, is the first volume in a trilogy that explores the theological foundations of Jewish faith. Launched by Yeshiva University and Koren Publishers Jerusalem, the volume was released by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem, last April.
With the approach and scope of a master educator, Rabbi Wiederblank brings together a wide array of Jewish texts ranging from philosophical to Kabbalistic, ancient to modern, in a clear and accessible source book. In this first offering, the latest in the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) hashkafah series, he illustrates the richness of the Jewish scholastic tradition while examining free will, the afterlife, the Messianic era, and other fundamental religious discussions through the prism of Jewish thought.
“I began teaching machshavah while serving as scholar-in-residence at Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton, Alberta,” said Rabbi Wiederblank. “Because the congregants were most interested in learning about topics like the afterlife, free will, and the Messianic era, I sought a source book that presented and elucidated the primary sources on these topics, but I was unable to find one. So, I began collecting and organizing sources myself. Many of these ‘source-sheets’ form the root of the Illuminating Jewish Thought series, in addition to modified lecture notes on these topics, which I have taught at YU.”
Primary sources are presented in their original language, with modern English translation, enabling readers to analyze the texts independently, while Rabbi Wiederblank illuminates the complex concepts.
“Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank has authored an outstanding hashkafic work,” said Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth Chair in Talmud and Contemporary Halacha at RIETS. “It is a masterful presentation of the fundamentals of faith, written clearly and annotated thoroughly. His comprehensive contribution is invaluable for sincere students of ikarei emunah.”
Erudite and meticulously researched, Illuminating Jewish Thought is an extraordinary guide to understanding some of the most fundamental and profound concepts in Judaism. The philosophical concepts can help prevent the reader from falling into the intellectual pit of blind faith. There are no easy answers to the difficult and challenging matters in the book. Rabbi Wiederblank writes that these topics and the underlying texts demand rigorous study. He suggests that, ideally, one should read the texts and analyze them attentively and not exclusively trust his interpretation.
As Rabbi Wiederblank has so astutely written, the challenge of real faith comes with its challenges of making sense of the many seemingly contradictory ideas we see daily. Through the pages of his work, the author brings the reader along on his journey, offering no answers but in their stead, an abundance of thought-provoking sources.
Illuminating Jewish Thought is an exceptional sourcebook dealing with some of the most fundamental and essential topics in Jewish philosophy. For those seeking answers to these questions, it will serve as an indispensable guide.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.