Beautiful Days, Holy Days: Review

Beautiful Days, Holy Days: The Majesty and Profundity of the Jewish Holidays

Avraham Peretz Friedman (Compass Books, 2015), 216 pages

This book comprises an eclectic collection of essays on the festival cycle, citing sources as varied as Aldous Huxley and the Belzer Rebbe.  Written by Rabbi Avraham Peretz Friedman (author of the excellent monograph ‘Marital Intimacy’) in memory of his father and in honour of his mother, ‘Beautiful Days, Holy Days’ covers the Jewish year in an engaging and original way.  Some essays are entirely new to this volume; others like his highly original study of I.L. Peretz’s anti-religious tale ‘The Pious Cat’, have appeared before.  Some, like ‘Why do we eat honey on Rosh Hashanah’, address narrow, ritual issues; others, for example, an intriguing piece on Sukkot, consider major existential themes.  The latter actually provided me with a trigger for my most recent Ne’ilah sermon, at which I addressed the theme of meaninglessness and fundamental values.

Friedman’s style is accessible and interesting, although I found that the essays themselves vary in quality.  Some, like the piece addressing the process of prayer, are insightful and source-rich, but others I found less engaging, focusing on topics to which I struggled to relate.  On reflection, this variation is actually part of the book’s charm.  I expect that the author is trying to reach a wide audience which includes scholars and lay people of a range of persuasions and backgrounds:  those who are looking for intellectual stimulation and those who are seeking inspiration.

‘Beautiful Days, Holy Days’ should find a broad readership and is a welcome addition to the corpus of recent works on the festivals.