Most "Best of" lists tell us more about the list-makers than about anything else. This one is probably no different, but that doesn't mean that it isn't useful in to think about what were the best Jewish books of 2010.
The truth is, that I probably would not have even addressed this issue were it not that I was recently asked to provide an answer to the question: what was the best Jewish book of 2010? In fact, the question was asked by a good friend, who is an editor for one of the most popular online outlets for news and opinion -- the Huffington Post.
Once he got me thinking about it, I found it a pretty compelling question -- one which really helps whomever offers an answer, a window into their own understanding of what Jewish is all about. Of course, because this is a Jewish response, I cannot limit myself to a single answer! I will instead offer four Best Jewish Books of 2010, recommending each for a different reason.
First on my list, though not because it is better than the others, would be To The End Of The Land by David Grossman, because of its ability to address so many issues relating to Israel. Neither left- or right-leaning, just a passionate and powerful engagement with a seemingly endless dilemma which effects us all.
Next would be The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, because of its keen sense of contemporary Jewish identity, particularly for non-Orthodox Diaspora Jews i.e. the largest demographic category for global Jewry. Finkler's questions are most Jews' questions and they deserve real attention.
Third on the list is the final volume of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud edited by Adin Steinsaltz. This one is here not because this final volume is more impressive than any of its predecessors, but because it culminates a 40 year effort to make sacred texts increasingly available to the general public. The more access more people have to sacred text, the better.
Finally, I must include What Does It Mean To Be Jewish? by Linda Vero-Ban. This beautiful little book, produced by a young Jewish educator in Budapest, Hungary is a children's book for people of all ages who want an inviting open approach to the infinite number of possible answers to that question. You have to go on-line to get it, but it is well worth the effort.
When I shared this list with my editor friend, he asked me about a new book by Rodger Kamenetz, Burnt Books. My response to him, as it is to you, is that Kamenetz wrote a beautiful book, but because it offers more of an answer (in many ways to the central questions evoked by the works on my list) than it captures a set of questions or realities, I see it as less appropriate for this list.
To be clear, I love RK's answers, but I remain committed to the importance of questions over even the best answers, in all but the most urgent circumstances. And yes, I guess that's my answer, but at least I know that and acknowledge that it's just one among many.
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