“The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture” by Ruth R. Wisse (University of Chicago Press, 395 pages, $18)

Webster uses the word “genuine” when defining a literary canon. Wisse’s list of “genuine” Jewish works is unapologetically personal, but she defuses complaints about her idiosyncratic selections by inviting readers to discuss their content rather than debate their worthiness. Hers is a gentle approach to the often contentious field of literary criticism; her canon is a collection of prose fiction in various languages, from various places, sweeping across a century of Jewish history.

A presumptuous undertaking, perhaps, but doable by this Harvard professor of literature with eight earlier volumes on Jewish writings and culture. This book starts with Sholem Aleichem’s bittersweet Yiddish tales and ends with Hebrew stories by some Israelis only now rising to literary prominence. Her analysis of each selection also serves to validate its inclusion on this canonical list, even as she chastises herself for her own omissions.

In the fluid world of modern writing, “This book is only a signpost on an unfinished road,” Wisse concludes. New works are “like a constellation, waiting to be discovered and studied, and known. … The rest is up to the readers.”


“Shakti Rhythms” by Shiva Rea (Sounds True, 76 min.)

Rea lives in California, teaches at UCLA, writes for Yoga Journal and holds a master’s degree in dance movement therapy. She’s also internationally known for teaching Vinyasa yoga practice.

As a yoga teacher, she’s excellent — and so is the two-disc DVD, “Yoga Shakti,” that accompanies this recording. “Shakti Rhythms” is fusion music, and that’s fine if a lot of percussion and erratic, repetitious electronica are what you enjoy.

Most of the music is instrumental, but the better tunes combine world music rhythms with Indian-style chanting. Performers include Spy From Cairo, Jai Uttal and Rara Avis.

Web site

Public schools can’t teach religion, but they can teach about religion. The task, however, is a delicate one, and many teachers fear that they are treading on treacherous territory. This site comes to the rescue.

Geared toward middle and high school, the site offers materials to help teachers “exercise a scrupulous neutrality regarding religion” and to teach with a view to diversity. The site advocates exposing students to secular thought about life’s meaning, as well as to the world’s major religious traditions. The site’s developer is a California nonprofit group lobbying for representation of “nonreligious world views,” along with religious world views in teaching about religion in the public schools.

Features include a mini-course to prepare teachers in the subject of religion and links with free lesson plans and materials such as religion demographics information for the United States. There’s a “Contemporary Issue” link focusing on the debate over the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, with background information, lesson plans and guidelines for handling the subject neutrally.

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