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Book Review: Navigating Worlds by Shlomo Zuckier

Bezalel Naor, Navigating Worlds: Collected Essays (Kodesh Press)
Shlomo Zuckier

This summer I have the pleasure of reading through the recently released Navigating Worlds: Collected Essays by Rabbi Bezalel Naor, containing essays authored over the past 15 years. In his characteristic witty and creative writing style, R. Naor weaves together incisive readings of traditional texts with a broad knowledge of Jewish and general thought and a familiarity with the culture of the Gedolim of previous generations that provides an added flavor to his writings.

The essays are often short, developing an insight in reading a text and fleshing it out, with notes offering fascinating historical details or other enjoyable trivia. To provide one example, the chapter “A Meditation of Masekhet Megillah” features the intriguing subtitle “Thanks to Three Liberated Litvaks: Rabbi Zadok Hakohen, Emmanuel Levinas, and M. Shoshani.” It lays out Rav Tzadok’s idea that talmudic aggada always relates to its nearby legal material and Emmanuel Levinas’ project of reading aggada as literary units. With that methodological frame, R. Naor then goes about analyzing the sugya, which discusses whether Tiberias qualifies as a walled city for Purim, questioning whether its sea border qualifies as a wall, and transitions into an aggada about Rome. These bookends to the talmudic passage, he suggests, serve as literary foils to one another, and the discussion is a talmudic meditation on the encroaching reality of the Roman Empire, as the anshei Yavan emerge from the sea, threatening the bordering Tiberias, unless it can sufficiently construct its wall. The reader is treated not only to this insightful talmudic reading, but also to footnotes featuring lengthy excurses on Rav Tzadok’s methodology and the enigmatic Monsieur Shoshani, a teacher of Levinas, Elie Wiesel, and others.

These are generally not systematic essays but collections of insights into all areas of Torah, ranging over Lomdus and Kabbalah, the Rav and Rav Kook, Parasha and Gemara, messianism and interfaith issues, and everything in between. In that sense, a volume of collected essays suits this author particularly well in light of his proclivity for sharp insights rather than extensive treatises.

One note to the reader: While the book is categorized by sections – parshiyot ha-Torahdappei Gemara, topical sections, and book reviews – they do not fully capture the genres of this multifarious work, although they might point to the origin of the insight – biblical, talmudic, topical, or some other book. Experiencing the rich intermingling of topics and the surprisingly refreshing intellectual jaunts between different texts, thinkers, and topics is one of the pleasures of reading this very original contemporary thinker, teacher, and author.

Originally posted: https://traditiononline.org/traditions-2021-book-endorsements-part-ii

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