Wednesday, May 21, 2008

REVIEW: Pirkei Avos with a Twist of Humor, by Joe Bobker

Pirkei Avos with a Twist of Humor, by Joe Bobker. Published 2008 by Gefen Publishers. Hardcover.

I read this book as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program, courtesy of Gefen Publishers.

Okay, I don't know all there is to know about the Talmud (or much of anything) but I'll do my best. Please correct me if I've made an error with my facts. The Pirkei Avos, often also called The Sayings of the Fathers, is a collection of rabbinical teachings and sayings from various sages, and is a part of the Mishna, one of the two books making up the Talmud, which is the record of Jewish oral law. Over the years there have been many approaches to interpreting the Pirkei Avos, and many versions have been published, from different streams of Judaism and different interpreters. For the most part those doing the interpretations are rabbis, which tends to lend some scholarly credence and authority to the discussions. These discussions tend to be fairly serious, since the Talmud is a pretty serious document.

Then there's Joe Bobker. Bobker is a newspaperman, former editor-in-chief and publisher of the Los Angeles Jewish Times and author of several books including Torah with a Twist of Humor, his take on written Jewish law. Let it suffice to say that Pirkei Avos with a Twist of Humor is a light-as-a-feather trifle. Each saying is accompanied by about three quarters of a page of interpretation, and followed by a joke meant to illustrate the principle under discussion. The book also has a good introduction and endnotes to teach the reader a little more about the sayings. But even with all the footnotes the book makes no claim to scholarship or erudition. Bobker himself writes in an introductory statement labeled "Caution" that the book should be seen as merely an introduction to "Jewish law and lore," and that "the information contained in the endnotes may not always be entirely accurate". So don't use it to study. Use it to be entertained- read a little here and there, get your toes wet with a little funny stuff, but realize that this book is basically an amusement. It's funny, and it's also charming and has some meaningful things to teach, albeit gently.

Read it if you're interested in a low-key discussion of Jewish ethics or if you like Jewish humor. I've heard some people make some rather heady pronouncements about the profundity of this book, but I don't see it. It's a cute book, kind of funny, on a serious topic, meant to bring that topic down to earth a little and help people relate to it. That's about it.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from

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