My high school years were fraught with various frustrations about Judaism. One such topic, which I somehow managed to articulate with content – in addition to the emotional discontent – was the seeming rigidity and impersonal nature of halakha. I remember the endless arguments I had with my high school teachers, and these objections and discomforts followed me to Israel – where I studied after high school. It was there that I was exposed to Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo – an insightful and articulate baal-teshuva/convert from Amsterdam (read his bio to understand his complex transformation). It was by chance that I heard him speak, as I was planning to skip the optional guest lecture that had been arranged at my school. But after running into Rabbi Cordozo and giving him directions to the lecture hall, I felt guilty about not showing up! And so began my enthusiasm for his thinking and writing.
I began to read Rabbi Cordozo’s weekly divrei torah, and I took advantage of hearing him speak in person whenever the opportunity presented itself. Rabbi Cordozo’s depiction of Halacha as a Symphony (one of the chapters in this book) resonated with so many of the objections that I carried with me over the years. He wrote from a perspective that was neither defensive nor apologetic, and his soft tone invited me to listen, reflect, and reframe much of my discomfort.
Over the years, Rabbi Cordozo’s views on a number of topics has shifted, and some of his current thinking has fallen under scrutiny and controversy in the Orthodox world. (Perhaps at some point I will review his most recent book Jewish Law as Rebellion, which highlights this shift.) Regardless, Crisis, Covenant and Creativity is a classic which speaks to those who are committed as well as to those who are standing on the fence with skepticism. After reading this book I felt informed, enlightened, broadened, and proud to be a Jew.