Tag Archives: Talmud

Jew of the Week: Herman Wouk

America’s Tolstoy

Herman Wouk

Herman Chaim Aviezer Zelig Wouk (1915-2019) was born in New York to poor Russian-Jewish immigrants. He studied at Columbia University and was the editor of its humour magazine. He also took courses at Yeshiva University. After graduating, Wouk worked as a radio actor, and when World War II began, wrote radio commercials in support of the war effort. Wouk enlisted in the army himself after Pearl Harbour, and served in the Navy in the Pacific. He fought in eight battles, won a bunch of medals, and rose to the rank of lieutenant. It was during this time that he wrote his first novel. He sent a copy to an old professor, who passed it on to a publisher, who sent Wouk a contract to his base near Okinawa. The book was published in 1947, shortly after Wouk returned from military service. It was an instant hit. Wouk’s second novel didn’t do so well, but his third, 1951’s The Caine Mutiny, sold a whopping three million copies, won a Pulitzer Prize, and was adapted to a Broadway play, followed by a Hollywood film. A few years later and after another bestseller (also made into a Hollywood film), Wouk was on the cover of TIME magazine. Throughout this time, he maintained strict observance of the Torah and was deeply religious. This was inspired by his grandfather, who taught Wouk the Torah and Talmud in his youth. Wouk would later state that his grandfather and the Navy were the two biggest influences in his life. In 1959, he wrote his first book of non-fiction, This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life. The book was credited with opening up Judaism to the American mainstream, enlightening the world about Jews, and helping to counter anti-Semitic myths. It also showed Jews that it was possible to be modern, American, and Orthodox. His third non-fiction book was about the interplay between religion and science. He also wrote a two-volume, 2000-page war drama likened to War and Peace. Altogether, Wouk wrote 21 books and plays, many of which were adapted into films or TV shows. His last was a memoir published when he was 100 years old. Wouk won countless awards and honourary degrees, and was described by the Library of Congress as an “American Tolstoy”. Stephen King wrote an award-winning short story called Herman Wouk is Still Alive. Wouk is considered by many to be the most successful Orthodox Jewish author to date. Sadly, Wouk passed away two weeks ago, just days shy of his 104th birthday, and in the middle of writing his newest book.

The Kabbalah of Exile and Terrorism

Words of the Week

That idea, that life is here purely for personal pleasure, that is a goal in life for a herd of swine.
– Albert Einstein

Jews of the Week: Rabbi Zlotowitz and Rabbi Scherman

The ArtScroll Revolution 

Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz

Meir Yakov Zlotowitz (1943-2017) was born in New York to Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Poland. He showed an affinity for art from a young age, and after graduating from yeshiva (and receiving his rabbinic ordination), he co-founded ArtScroll Studios. Originally, the company produced artfully-decorated pamphlets, posters, ketubot, and scrolls. In 1975, a close friend of Rabbi Zlotowitz passed away shortly before Purim. The rabbi decided to honour his friend by composing a new translation and commentary on Megillat Esther within the shloshim, the first 30-day period of mourning. Rabbi Zlotowitz worked day and night for 30 days, barely eating or sleeping at all. When he was done, he produced a beautifully-designed and intellectually in-depth edition of the Book of Esther. It was an instant hit, and quickly sold 20,000 copies. The success of the publication made Rabbi Zlotowitz realize he could do the same for other Jewish holy texts. He went in search of a partner who could work with him, and found the perfect person:

Rabbi Nosson Scherman

Nosson Scherman (b. 1935) was born in New Jersey to a traditional family and originally attended public school. He went to a Jewish after-school program and was inspired to go to yeshiva several years later. Scherman became a rabbi, first worked as a school teacher, and then became principal of Yeshiva Karlin Stolin. He wrote the introduction to Rabbi Zlotowitz’s Megillat Esther, then joined him full time at ArtScroll. The partners had little money and set up the Mesorah Heritage Foundation to help finance their work. Under their leadership and wisdom, ArtScroll has produced over 700 titles and some 2000 volumes, including possibly the world’s most popular Chumash, and the entire Talmud (a whopping 73-tome set). This Talmud was the product of over 70 scholars working together from all over the world, and for many it is the go-to version of Talmud today. It has allowed thousands of regular people to learn and love the Talmud, in clear English and with insightful commentaries. ArtScroll has been credited with revolutionizing Jewish study, and with helping to facilitate the massive baal teshuva movement in recent decades, inspiring the return of countless Jews to their faith and traditions. Despite being in his 80s, Scherman continues to helm ArtScroll, producing ever more beautiful and enlightening Jewish books.

Purim Begins Tonight! Chag Sameach!

15 Purim Facts Every Jew Should Know

Words of the Week

It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.
– Gertrude Elion