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November 13, 2013 10:09 am

Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership, by Menachem Genack (REVIEW)

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Letters to President Clinton by Menachem Genack.

Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership, edited by Rabbi Menachem Genack (OU Press, 2013).

In the Book of Numbers, Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp and Joshua is concerned for Moses and wants to get rid of them. Moses replies that he shouldn’t, and in the words of the Talmud ( Sanhedrin 17a) says “Just give them communal responsibility and that will finish them off.”

I know how hard and demanding it is to serve the Jewish community, wherever one is. As a general rule, one is insufficiently compensated or appreciated. So I have immense respect, and admiration for people who do take care of Jewish communal needs.

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Few people deserve our thanks more than Rabbi Menchem Genack for the years of ceaseless toil he has put in as the Chief Executive Officer of OU Kosher, which provides essential and worldwide support for Jews and Jewish practice. But his work has not just been in the sphere of providing services for the community. Rabbi Genack has performed the other essential task of establishing contacts and relationships with non-Jews, as well as other Jews in the corridors of power, including President Clinton, whom he used to send “words of wisdom” from himself and other religious personalities, regularly.”Ž

I was looking forward to reading his new book in the hope that it would tell us something about that relationship, about the struggles both moral and political that Clinton had during his presidency and the helpful personal advice that Rabbi Genack might have given him. I hoped it would reveal something about both men. I was sorely disappointed.

There is a generous and trite Foreward from the President that tells us no more than the annoying, brief notes of acknowledgment that are scattered like trophies throughout the volume. Other than their generosity, they contain little more than the usual assurances of his commitment to supporting the Jewish community and Israel.

The “words of wisdom” in the book come from an eclectic collection of contributors. They intersperse the messages from Rabbis Genack, which make up the bulk of this book. They too are disappointing. They offer no more innovative or creative thinking than the random mix of weekly Divrei Torah to be found in any one of the Communal newspapers across the Jewish world.

I don’t know who this book is aimed at. It is not an academic discourse on the challenges of power. It is not an innovative take on established and well discussed themes of authority, and it is not a systematic compilation of weekly wisdom based on the Torah readings.

It is a light compendium of brief observations from a cross section, lay and rabbinic, that will make for light reading on a Shabbat afternoon. This is not to be sneered at, of course. Rabbi Genack is a great ambassador and deserves congratulations. But hopefully one day he will write a book we really want to read.

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