Fresh Fruit & Vintage Wine

The Ethics and Wisdom of the Aggada

By Yitzchak Blau

Format: Softcover


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Aggada represents a uniquely important aspect of the Talmudic corpus. While legal sections of Talmud constitute the bedrock of Jewish life and religious practice, aggadic sections explore the rich world of Jewish ethics, psychology, wisdom, philosophy, and theology. Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine: The Ethics and Wisdom of the Aggada opens a window into this world for scholar and layman alike.
Jewish tradition includes a great deal of excellent commentary on the psychologically astute stories and insightful ethical maxims of the Aggada. In Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine, Rabbi Yitzchak Blau provides access to this commentary culled from the broad range of Jewish literature: Talmudic commentaries, works of Jewish philosophy, Hassidic homilies, biblical commentaries, and ethical tracts. Insights adapted from the finest examples of Western literature also aid the interpretative process.
Fresh Fruit & Vintage Wine takes the enduring wisdom of ancient texts and expresses it with freshness and vitality. The volume speaks directly to religious issues: Jewish philosophy, prayer, festivals, character traits, halakhic observance, a balanced religious life, education, and modernity. The writing is lively, engaging the mind and elevating the soul, and the unfolding meaning is a profound and original experience of studying Torah.

About the Author
Rabbi Yitzchak Blau has taught at the Yeshivah of Flatbush and Yeshivat Hamivtar, and written for the Yeshivat Har Etzion Virtual Beit Midrash. He currently serves as the Rosh Kollel at Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah in Jerusalem. Rabbi Blau is on the editorial board of Tradition and publishes widely in journals of Jewish thought. He lives in Alon Shevut with his wife and four children.

Praise for Fresh Fruit & Vintage Wine
"Even a cursory perusal of this work reveals that R. Blau has impressive breadth of knowledge in aggadot Hazal and Jewish thought, as well as the kind of sane, balanced outlook on life one hopes to see in an educator. It is not surprising, then, that Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine succeeds in providing a comprehensive, wide-ranging survey of aggada-related commentary. The book also works as an engaging exposition of Modern Orthodox philosophy at its best, a tribute to the author's success as a teacher."
~ Simi Peters, Tradition

Although the title, Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine suggests a cook book, this new anthology of ancient rabbinic wisdom, accompanied by an analysis from Rabbi Yitzchak Blau is actually a recipe for life. As Blau states in the preface to his book, "the wisdom that matters most is the wisdom that teaches us how to live religiously and morally better lives". The texts he shares and the perspective which he brings to reading them do just that.
Begining with a chapter on prayer " one which doesn't shrink away from either the necessity of a prayer life, nor the challenges of cultivating a meaningful one, this book has something for everyone. And while anthologies always tell us the most about the anthologizer, what they believe and how they think, this collection brings together texts and topics which occupy the hearts and minds of all spiritual people.
Focusing on what is called Aggada, and generally thought of as inspiring non-legal stories in rabbinic literature, this book manages to celebrate narrative without giving up on the power of nomos " normative practice. That's no small task for the follower of any tradition, and for that alone this work serves as a valuable model for appraching any beloved tradition.
What allows this to happen? Love. As Blau says at the end of his book, "we can return to the texts we love almost endlessly". I thank the author for reminding us of that, and for inviting us to do so whether those texts are rabbinic aggadot, the words of the prophet Isaiah, or the poetry of Yeats.Read what you love, lovingly, and it will inspire you in a new way each day.
~ Brad Hirschfield,

Appropriately, Yitzchak Blau derives the evocative title of his selection of the Talmud's Aggadic material, accompanied by summation s and analyses of a wide variety of commentaries, from Rabbinic gloss on a verse from Song of Songs. In his preface, the author notes that the reference to fruit and wine in Song of Songs 2:5 is associated in the Talmud with a contrast between Jewish law on the one hand, and passages appearing in the Oral Tradition devoted to attitudes, perspectives on life, anecdotes, Biblical interpretations, and philosophical insights on the other. Blau, basing himself upon a latter-day commentary, explains the title as well as his approach to the material by saying that whereas Jewish lawis traditionally approached as reflecting eternal truths that transcend particular times and places, like "vintage wine," this is not the case with respect to Aggada, which in order to be understoodas relevant, must be given "fresh," contemporary interpretations.
The Aggadic passages along with their explanatory discussions are divided into fifteen chapters/themes, ranging from Prayers, Festivals, Learning, and Halachic Observance, to Character Traits, Jewish Philosophy, the Goal of Life, and Modernity. The discussions of the Aggadot are fairly concise and wide-ranging, including perspectives drawn from over thirty traditional Rabbinic sources, as welll as occasional secular references to the likes of Tennyson, Carlyle, and Mill. The author is not hesitant about adding his own opinions and experiences to the discussions, providing a decidedly present-day air to the Aggadic passages under consideration. Reflecting his considerable experience in Jewish education , many of Blau's personal comments are drawn from the world of pedagogy, which should prove of particular interest to fellow practitioners. The author notes that one of his aims is to encourage and demonstrate to those interested in Aggada how expanding the variety of sources used in one's research would be of great benefit, and I believe that he successfully achieves this goal.
~ Jewish Book Council