Citrin, Rabbi Paul (editor). “Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions”, CCAR Press, 2015.
God, Humanity and the Jewish People
Before I begin my review, I must state that my rabbi has an article in this collection and that is how I got to this book. With that said, “Lights in the Forest” is a collection of essays that deal with three major topics– (1) On God, (2) On Our Humanity, (3) On the Jewish People. Each of these has four questions that the rabbis included attempt to answer. Those answers are written in personal and thoughtful essays that include thoughts about God, ethics, humanity, suffering, evil, the soul, after-life, interfaith dialogue, and more. I understand that the intention of the authors was to find a way to “expand the knowledge and understanding of the readers in Jewish life, practice, and identity.” The essays are in many cases provocative and evocative and they open the door so that the reader can walk in and then continue on a journey of further study which, in turn, leads to even more questions.
The more time I spend with other Jews including those at my temple in Brookline, Massachusetts, I find myself thinking about what Jewish faith is. In fact, it is safe to say that I have always wondered what it is as well as what is my relationship with God and if it is possible that it has changed over the years. I find that the more I age, the more I think about both of these concepts. In the introduction Rabbi Paul Citrin spends some time looking at faith and he tells us that faith is the product of a “searching heart” that is open and yearning. For me, as Rabbi Citrin states, faith is a very personal part of my being and yet I am not sure where this drive for faith emanates from. I want my religion, my Judaism, to guide and to bring me to study.
Thirty-nine rabbis write about the three topical issues and they do so from the personal point of view and the book is smartly made up of male and female rabbis, academics and pulpit rabbis and who are rabbis that were ordained over the same 39-year period so that we have discussions from two generations.
The idea of light in the title is a wonderful metaphorical way of shining light into our minds—all of us have some kind of darkness within and the way to bring it out is to shine light on it.
By and large, the essays are well written but of course with so many writings we cannot expect them all to be perfect. I do find the way the book is organized to be something of a problem and I would have loved to see the rabbis’ names and page numbers in the table of contents. But that is a minor quibble. I got my copy of the book this morning and read all day (until I finished it and this is not something I recommend). I believe that the book is to be spoken about after the reader finds himself deep in thought about what he has read. I read it the way I did because I am in a class at my temple that is using this book and so I will the chance to reacquaint myself with the topics that I seem to have rushed through.
The twelve questions contained here are wonderful for provoking thought and I want to share just a few with you: “What is your concept of God, and how has your view changed through your life? What is God’s relationship to suffering and evil? What does it mean to be created in the divine image? What is a Jewish definition of “being religious” or “having faith”?
I am not saying that you will find answers to these questions but I do believe that you will start thinking about them (and the others) more intensely than ever before. As a reviewer and as a reader, I tend to gravitate toward books that make me think and I can tell you that I have been thinking about some of these questions all day and will do so on the days to come.