TEANECK Even if most humans use only about a third of their brain power in their lifetimes, that’s still a lot of gray matter. Multiply that by the mental energies of some of history’s greatest Jewish legal minds, and you’ve got more than enough to fill a book.
Or in this case, two.
Some six years after the publication of "Gray Matter," a surprisingly accessible discourse on difficult contemporary issues from the viewpoint of halacha (Jewish law), Rabbi Chaim Jachter’s "Gray Matter: Volume II" has hit local bookstores (Yashar Books, $”.95).
While Volume I’s seven chapters summarized modern halachic opinion on practical topics as diverse as prenuptial agreements, women in leadership positions, and milking cows on Shabbat, Volume II’s seven chapters run the gamut from making a microwave oven kosher for Passover, to infertility treatments, to the complex cases of women whose husbands were presumed killed in the World Trade Center attacks.
Although the number seven symbolizes wholeness or completion in Jewish tradition, these two volumes of seven chapters each are just a start. Jachter, a Judaic studies teacher at the Torah Academy of Bergen County in this township and a rabbinical judge with the Beth Din of Elizabeth, is already mapping a third volume.
Each topic in the books is a longer, in-depth version of a weekly column Jachter writes for TABC’s "Kol Torah" publication (koltorah.org). The rabbi said he gets his ideas from contemporary issues, articles he’s read in halachic journals, and inquiries from the public.
For example, he said, his examination of infertility "emerged from a conversation I had with a couple who were having a problem [conceiving] children for a long time." In their case, the difficulty stemmed from an incompatibility between the woman’s ovulation cycle and the halachic timetable for marital relations. "I realized we needed to publicize the issue," said Jachter.
He said he is inspired by the fact that the Talmud always provides a foundation for practical answers, even to problems its authors could barely have dreamed of.
"I find it’s incredible how you have a halacha written ‘,000 years ago that’s pretty much immutable and we can’t amend it, yet for every issue we’re able to find a source in the Talmud," Jachter said. "That is the greatness of our tradition."
While religious Jews see in this phenomenon "a subtle divine involvement in the process," he continued, at the very least it should "increase one’s respect for the tradition and the halachic process in action on real issues."
While Volume I, which was self-published, is in use by pulpit rabbis to prepare adult education classes and as a text in some Israeli post-high-school yeshivot, Jachter hopes Volume II will reach to the left and right of the mainstream Orthodox world he represents. Its publisher, Yashar Books, assigned a non-Orthodox editor to ensure the book would be understandable to a broader audience.
"I would like to see it in haredi [fervently Orthodox] homes because it contains more analysis and a fuller range of positions than are typically presented in haredi halacha books," Jachter said. "And for Jews who are not Orthodox, I would very much like to expose them to the drama of applying halacha to the modern scenario."
As with Volume I, Jachter relied upon his co-author, Rabbi Ezra Frazer also of this township to recheck sources and add relevant material to turn the "Kol Torah" columns into book chapters.
Frazer was a student of just 19 when he began collaborating with his teacher; now ‘7, he recently received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University along with graduate degrees in Jewish education and Bible.
"During the two years I was at Gush [Yeshivat Har Etzion in the Gush Etzion bloc in Israel], studying for s’micha, I worked this into my schedule and did a lot of research in the yeshiva’s library," said Frazer. "That’s why these chapters are longer than in the first ‘Gray Matter,’ because they had books there that I couldn’t find here. I invested a lot of time finding significant information to add."
Jachter also brought in lay experts in various fields law, fertility, physics to read over the material and add their insights. Two other township natives rounded out the production crew: Dr. Avi Klein, who designed the layout for both books, and Judy Landau, who proofread the text.
"I think the first book was good; I think this one is better," said Jachter, who welcomes the opportunity to speak to community groups about any of the topics in the books. He can be reached at (’01) 837-19’9.