Thursday, August 13, 2009

Light (But Not Lightweight) Reading

Right now, I'm a little annoyed at R. Ari Enkin. He is not only the editor of Hirhurim. As readers here know, he is also the author of a weekly column on Jewish law. But what he isn't, or isn't supposed to be, is the controversial one here. That's my role.

Yet, week after week, he seems to be generating controversy. Fairly consistently, his posts receive critical and sometimes angry comments from readers who disagree with what he writes or how he writes it. I think part of that is because people don't understand what he is doing and how he is going about doing it.

Click here for moreR. Enkin's approach comes across pretty clearly in two ways in his recently published book, Amot Shel Halacha: Halachic Insights. The first is in his introduction, where he explains his goal. The second is in the actual essays that make up the vast majority of the book, in which -- like his column on Hirhurim -- his concept is turned into a reality.

I first became acquainted with R. Enkin and his new idea a few years ago, when he tried to help me turn my blog into essays that could be combined into a book. After one collaborative effort, I pulled the plug on the partnership. He and I see things differently. R. Enkin wants to introduce people to the beautiful variety of Judaism. He wants to write something that anyone regardless of their background can read, understand and -- most importantly -- enjoy. His goal is to present to readers surprising ideas that make them want to continue reading, all the while absorbing the idea that halakhah is all-encompassing and requires people to think about what they are doing and how to do it appropriately. He doesn't want to argue for any particular opinion. He wants to delight you with perspectives and views you might not have previously encountered, and introduce you to authorities with whom you may not be familiar.

This can be seen most clearly in the few essays in the book that are based on other people's articles (the first essay is based on one of my posts and a few are based on published articles by R. Michael J. Broyde). The contrast in style is remarkable. R. Enkin moves the sources to the footnotes and manages to smooth out complex concepts, certainly because readers new to halakhic writing might not understand them. He succeeds in making difficult and complex topics entertaining and easy to digest. And for the more advanced reader, R. Enkin provides ample sources that enable further research on interesting topics.

Does this approach annoy people who are looking for very specific approaches and very detailed writing that is full of nuance and complexity? Probably. But appreciate R. Enkin's writing for what it is and what it successfully accomplishes. I think the audience for what he is doing is much bigger than the complex articles you find in technical journals.

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