Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review: The Dollar Table

In order that this blog not stay idle for long, I'm putting up something here that isn't of great importance, but that somewhat interests me.

On 14th ave in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn (not far from my current place of residence) there is a used Hebrew book store run by a Mr. "Pinter". It's sort of a particular store because of his "dollar table" where, as implied, all the books on it are one dollar. Strange thing is though, some of the books on the dollar table are definitely worth at least more than one dollar. Some such books are 50 to even 140 years old, and are still one dollar, and since I'm a great lover of antiquities I picked up two such books today on my way past the table today.

The one I wish to speak of was first printed in Krakow just over a century ago (1908), it's hard to tell if it's a first print though. It's called "דברי חכמים" (the whole book can be read on this site by the way...guess I wasted my dollar), by ד"ר וואלף מישעל from Câmpulung Moldovenesc (which is in the Bukovina area of Romania/Ukraine). It's about a subject which I consider important, but heard about far less than I would have liked to; the "true" meanings and significance of the Midrashim and Agadot. He mentions his frustration with something I too have dealt with, namely the "limitations" most commentaries put on the Midrashim; they make the Midrashim seem almost petty, and concerned with a very small scope of ideas. He also mentions that this approach is what turned most latter-day Rabbis off about Midrashim, and is what made them look for the very wackiest Midrashim, and explain them in ways that take advantage of their worthy Talmudical minds. This approach is what always turned me off about Midrashim as well; it seemed like they were just adding pointless additions to the biblical narratives based on discrepancies in wording. I thought, "why should it make any difference what color socks Avraham Avinu wore when he went to Canaan? The point is that he went!".

Then again we see what Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto says about Agadot, and we hear some of them expounded in that mindset by Rabbi Berel Wein, but is there a methodology for such a study? I can't say this book provides one, but that is the objective of the author, and it's closer at accomplishing that goal than any other book I've seen on the subject.'s interesting how sometimes history and people overlook some of the better books and creations of times past. Sometimes out of nowhere there is a sudden interest in certain old books that no one has heard of for a while, yet sometimes many books are just left abandoned, notwithstanding their worth.

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