My 23rd Book
By Israel Drazin
Here is the URL of my 23rd book:
My late partner Rabbi Dr. Stanley Wagner
I wrote this book with my late partner who died this year, Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner. He died on February 23, 2013. His friends, who are many, and his family will miss him, but his contributions to the understanding of Judaism and the Bible will live on for a long time.
Stanley was an unusual person. He was ordained (received semicha) from Yeshiva University in 1956 and a PhD from Yeshiva University in 1964. His doctoral dissertation was “Religious Non-Conformity in Ancient Jewish Life.” He served as executive vice president of the Religious Zionists of America from 1970-72. In 1972 until his retirement in 1997, he was the rabbi of Beth HaMedrosh HaGodol (BMH) Congregation in Denver.
Somehow, he was able to perform four jobs simultaneously, as rabbi of the BMH Congregation, director of the Mizel Jewish Museum in Denver, which he founded, and also as founder and director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver. He was also the only rabbi to serve as chaplain of the Colorado State Senate, which he did from 1980 to 1998. In addition, he wrote, edited, or co-edited ten books. This volume, Beyond the Bible Text, and a Hebrew book, Iyunim Betargum, which we wrote together, are being published posthumously. A full biography of Stanley M. Wagner may be found in the Encyclopedia Judaica, Second edition, Volume 20.
My first contact with Stanley Wagner was in 1982 while I was on army active duty in the Pentagon. As Director for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver, Stanley had just published Targum Onkelos to Genesis by Moses Aberbach and Bernard Grossfeld. I had just received a PhD and had written Targum Onkelos to Deuteronomy and published it. Stanley and Ktav Publishing House wanted to complete the Targum Onkelos series, but Dr. Aberbach did not want to do this work and suggested that I take over. I had written my Deuteronomy book under the guidance of Dr. Aberbach. Stanley and Ktav studied my Deuteronomy book and accepted his suggestion. The final three volumes of this five volume series that I wrote were published by Stanley and Ktav in 1998. I never met Stanley during these sixteen years. Our communications were always by email.
I was surprised shortly thereafter when a friend introduced me to a tall, thin, handsome, athletic man in Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue. “Do you know who this is?” he asked. “I have no idea,” I responded. Thus for the first time, I met my friend. He suggested that we redo my scholarly Targum books and make them more accessible to a general audience. I agreed and thus began a new partnership and the publication of the five book Onkelos on the Torah series, Understanding Onkelos, this volume of Beyond the Bible Text, and the forthcoming Hebrew Iyunim Betargum. Our collaboration was done by email since Stanley and I lived in different countries, although we joined together twice a year for about two months each time in Jerusalem where Stanley and his wife Renee and my wife Dina and I have apartments. Stanley told all his friends that our collaboration was unique in that it had few difficulties. I must admit that this was because of Stanley’s remarkably positive personality. The world would be a better place if there were more people like him.
One of Stanley’s contributions to the five book Onkelos on the Torah series was his list of provocative questions that he placed at the conclusion of each of the biblical chapters. He called these sections Beyond the Text. This series of books has become very popular and the commentary in it has been repeatedly praised for its scholarship. Many people enjoyed Stanley’s questions because they made them think. Stanley suggested that we write a book that contains similar questions. While I did the first and last draft of all our other books, Stanley did the first draft of this and the Understanding Onkelos books.
I agreed with the popular view that the questions in his draft were excellent; however, I suggested that we also include a discussion on various issues that people sometimes, but very infrequently address, and, as usual for me, I suggested that we take a rational approach in our presentation, rather than giving the explanations generally found in rabbinical commentaries and in sermons. I wrote most of these discussions, although Stanley also wrote many.
We decided to place three essays for each of the 54 biblical portions and to keep each relatively short.
I hope that people enjoy this book.