MILWAUKEE – Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is coming to Milwaukee, to speak at a free community breakfast sponsored by the Jewish National Fund.
Telushkin is the noted author of more than 15 Jewish books, including “Jewish Literacy,” an 800-pager that’s been used in conversion classes. His 2014 book, “Rebbe,” is a New York Times bestseller. It’s a definitive tome on Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the remarkably influential Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi who believed strongly in Jewish outreach.
Telushkin talked by phone with the Chronicle before his coming visit to Milwaukee, about how he created “Jewish Literacy,” the questioning nature of Jewish culture and what he’s got planned for the future.
Creating a book
Picking a title, he said he tries to do two things – he looks for something new to say and for something he would like to read.
“In the case of ‘Jewish Literacy,’ a lot of it was what I already knew,” he said.
“I wrote the book in a very idiosyncratic matter,” he said. “I would imagine that I was at a lecture and somebody would then ask me, what’s the significance of this term in Jewish life?”
He wanted to avoid it sounding like an encyclopedia, though it’s organized into individual essays. It’s encyclopedic in scope, but not in presentation, he said. And with that in mind, he just sat down and wrote it. It tumbled out of his mind and into his writing. Later, he went back and checked things and added some items.
The book seeks to help those who want to enter the Jewish world. “A lot of Jews want to be a part of the Jewish community and they have big gaps in their knowledge,” he said.
Telushkin said he writes in a way that’s meant to be fair to all strains of Jewish thought.
Questioning is a large part of Jewish culture, Telushkin said. “What do they do at the Passover Seder?” he said. “They ask questions.”
“If anyone ever has an occasion to study Talmud it’s all rooted in a statement and question,” he said. “You’re seeing already a whole different kind of religious approach you don’t see in other religions.”
He told a story of how his daughter brought a friend to class. The friend went to a Catholic school and was surprised at how the children were challenging their teachers.
Telushkin is editing a commentary on the Torah. He’s also gotten involved with the creation of a proposed “World Jewish Museum” for a location in Israel. He’s met with the architect and is an adviser on content.
“There is no museum focused just on, what have Jews brought into the world?” he said. This museum aims to change that.
For example, the golden rule comes out of “love your neighbor as yourself,” he said. Jesus said it but he’s quoting the Hebrew Bible, Telushkin said. It’s in Leviticus.
There’s always more to learn about Judaism. Telushkin can be your gateway – just visit his speech or read some of his thousands of pages of books.
The Jewish National Fund is holding a free community breakfast at the The Wisconsin Club’s Country Club, 6200 W. Good Hope Road, Milwaukee, on May 10 at 7:30 a.m., featuring Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. RSVP by May 1 at jnf.org/wibreakfast or 414-963-8733. Telushkin’s talk will be “The Fifty Best Jewish Jokes and What They Show About the Jews.”