by Rabbi Ari Kahn
Reviewed by Rabbi Gil Student, Jewish Action (November 2016)
Much of classical rabbinic Torah commentary consists of complex distillation and expansion of midrashic and Talmudic interpretations. Comparing explanations from across the midrashic literature, these commentaries have built vast and intricate theories that shed halachic light on the ancient texts. After erecting these impressive structures, often building on the commentaries that recently preceded them, many commentaries proceed to deduce profound moral and religious lessons. Because of its complexity, this genre delights the Talmud scholar but remains largely off limits to the layman. For years, Rabbi Ari Kahn, the director of foreign student programs at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, where he also is a senior lecturer in Jewish studies, has been engaging in this traditional commentary in English. He has not been popularizing the insights of others but expanding the literature, creating his own insights in English so that a broader audience can understand. However, readers without a strong yeshivah background may find the journey through texts and concepts overwhelming.
In his latest book, Rabbi Kahn takes a further step in broadening the audience of his popular rabbinic Torah commentary. Omitting the hard textual work, he presents short interpretations of the weekly Torah reading that contain the messages and the Biblical insights in a style tailored to the non-specialist. He quotes midrash and Talmud with a light touch, without posing contradictions and proposing reinterpretations, and in a way that directly sheds light on the Biblical passage he is addressing. The reader is left with a taste of the classical rabbinic method. Most remarkably, Rabbi Kahn accomplishes this without short-changing the reader. The brief interpretations are succinct and complete, standing firmly alone without the need for additional study. A Taste of Eden is an attractive presentation of an old method dressed in contemporary language and style.
A Taste of Eden: (More) Torah for the Shabbat Table by Rabbi Ari Kahn is available here.