My book pick this month is Rabbi Neal Scheindlin’s The Jewish Family Ethics Textbook, a finalist for the 2021 National Jewish Book Award in the Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice category. This may seem like a strange pick for July; after all, it’s not your typical beach read.
It’s one of my favorite types of Jewish books, though: one that asks good questions and then asks the reader to consider their answers. Don’t let the “textbook” in the title scare you away. You don’t need to read this book all the way through, and you don’t need to read it alone, and you may, if you choose, read it on the beach (or, if it’s a library copy, at least near the beach). In fact, it’s best consumed in small chunks. Fifteen minutes of reading will give you enough food for thought and conversation for a day, a weekend, a lifetime. Scheindlin’s book is human-centered. Its seven sections cover broad areas of ethical concerns: parents and children, honesty, social media, sex and intimacy, medical ethics at the beginning of life, abortion, and medical ethics at the end of life. Each section’s “case studies” and “text studies” focus on issues we all face daily, whether in regard to ourselves or to the important people in our lives, that compel us to consider the rightness of our words or actions.
Offering excerpts from Jewish texts, both classic and contemporary, each section provides a means to reflect on issues that are constantly before us. Social media bullying, caring for family members with Alzheimer’s, abortion, whistleblowing, sexuality, rebellious kids, abusive parents, cheating, lying, privacy, surrogacy, physician-assisted suicide, and more. It’s all here for your consideration in a way meant to help you think clearly and act rightly. So, the next time you feel like shouting at some talking head on TV or the internet for defending the indefensible or marginalizing the already marginalized, take a breath and read a bit of The Jewish Family Ethics Textbook instead. I think it will help.