By: Akiva Levy  | 

“Illuminating Jewish Thought”: The Title Says it All

At some point in a thoughtful Jew’s life, they are likely to encounter fundamental questions about emunah and Hashem. While there are many helpful seforim that help answer these questions, there are not many seforim in English that present an in-depth analysis of a variety of views. Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank’s new sefer, “Illuminating Jewish Thought, Volume 1: Faith, Philosophy, and Knowledge of God,” addresses that very encounter.

This sefer’s 798 pages feature deep, analytical looks at some of the fundamentals of machshava. The sefer is made up of four parts: Introducing Machshava, Aggada, Belief in God and Knowing God. Each section clearly explains the basics of the topic and takes a structured approach on how to understand the subject. The chapters are packed with dense information that expertly gives the reader a clearer understanding of important ideas in Judaism. It is not an easy read, but it is made to be available to all Jews who want a stronger understanding of machshava. This is the first volume (the second volume was published in 2018) in what will be a trilogy of insightful seforim by Rabbi Wiederblank. Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman is the series editor. 

As described by Rabbi Mordechai Willig in a haskamah at the beginning of the book, Rabbi Wiederblank is a “rising star” among the Undergraduate Torah Studies (UTS) rebbeim. Rabbi Wiederblank is a maggid shiur in the UTS Mazer School of Talmudic Studies and  gives shiurim to members of the Kollel and Kollel Elyon. 

In a conversation with Rabbi Wiederblank, he noted that he wrote this book with the intention of making it available to Jews of various backgrounds; all the reader needs is a thirst for understanding. It is not merely a sefer to read and acquire knowledge but a guided tapestry for every Jew to grow closer to Hashem. The goal of the sefer is not only to discover the truth about Hashem but to build a relationship with Him and His world.

Aligning with Yeshiva University’s mission, the book offers a chance for horizontal growth. It is clear that many prominent rebbeim and scholars might specialize in one topic but still have a good understanding of general gemara, halakha and machshava. As was even the case with Rabbi Wiederblank, most students at YU spend most of their time learning gemara and halakha, if anything, and, despite taking a required “Jewish Thought and Philosophy” class, do not find much time to get a good grasp on machshava. Now all students have an accessible approach to an important topic in Torah study.

There were YU students who were fortunate enough to collaborate with Rabbi Wiederblank in writing and research. A handful of students were involved in the process from the start up until the sefer was published. This included researching specific topics and copy editing. Rabbi Wiederblank considers this an integral part of the building of his sefer and offered for any interested students to reach out to him to potentially assist in the publication of the third volume or any other projects he may be working on.

I got the chance to ask Rabbi Wiederblank which section of this sefer was the most inspiring for him to research and write about. He said that he was able to discover a lot more behind the Rambam’s complex weltanschauung and personality. Rambam is often considered to be a dry, gritty intellectual, but he had a fiery and emotional passion for Torah, and philosophy helped develop that. In particular, it is stirring and provocative how Rambam wrote about Ahavas and Yiras Hashem.

There is no recommendation that I can give that can represent Rabbi Wiederblank’s sefer more than the beautiful haskamot written for him. The front of this edition features letters from Rabbi Willig, Rabbi Schachter and Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky. It is from the broad, stable shoulders of these gedolim that Rabbi Wiederblank presents his sefer, and that is recommendation enough.The size and depth of the sefer can be frightening and intimidating, but if you have a serious thirst for connection and clarity, this is the sefer for you.


Photo caption: “Illuminating Jewish Thought” from Maggid Books

Photo Credit: Maggid