Berkeley congregation publishes its members Torah commentaries in a handsome new book

When it comes to drashot, the Hebrew term for commentaries on the weekly Torah portion, Art Braufman is a black belt.

Braufman started writing and delivering Torah lessons back in the 1960s. For the last 23 years, he has been in the regular drash rotation at Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom, of which he is a founding member.

“There’s nothing more pleasurable for me then to dig in, pull out [Torah] verses and expound,” said the Berkeley resident.

He’s not the only one who feels that way.

Art Braufman

At Netivot Shalom, rabbis have always taken a backseat when it comes to delivering Torah commentaries. Most weeks, congregants take to the bimah to do the honors.

Now, under the guidance of Rabbi Menachem Creditor and Rabbi Emeritus Stuart Kelman, a group of Netivot Shalom volunteers has collected and published an anthology of their Torah commentaries in a hardbound volume titled “Paths of Torah.” A celebratory launch (and learn) party is slated for 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26 at the congregation.

Three years in the making, the book was a true community effort. Sixty-six people, all Netivot Shalom congregants, contributed their interpretations of and insights into the 54 Torah portions.

Each portion is introduced with a précis and an illustration, and some feature up to six commentators. Volunteers edited the material, and congregants’ children provided the illustrations.

“With even a cursory read, you see both profound insight into the Torah, but also who we are as commentators,” Creditor said. “Torah is not about scholars. The Torah that Netivot Shalom represents is the normal person seeking meaning in the world.”

The material is made up of 20 years of drashot, and congregant Peter Strauss offered to edit it. As part of that task, he met weekly with Creditor, “hacking and slashing” (as he put it) their way through the commentaries and selecting the best of the best.

“Lots of it was really stunning,” Strauss said. “We draw on a very strong academic community in Berkeley. There are some fine minds, which contributed drashot over the years. It gave me a much deeper appreciation for Jewish scholarship generally.”

For those involved, it wasn’t enough simply to collect the drashot. They wanted to create an heirloom.

“I knew if we were to do it, I wanted it to be professionally done and beautiful,” said Claudia Valas, president of EKS Publishing and the person who oversaw the production of the book. “Just as we are blessed with people skilled to do drashot, so are we blessed with people skilled to create a book.” EKS printed 1,000 copies.

“What’s interesting is the diversity of opinions and interpretations,” added Valas, who wrote one drash in the book. “For centuries people have looked at the text. What sets this apart is you get people from all walks of life: students, therapists, lawyers, doctors. Everyone brings a unique understanding.”

Braufman, 74, contributed five commentaries, making him the book’s most prolific analyst. His method is to put in hours of research, reading the sages’ interpretations and then trying to “figure out what were they concerned about, what issues they brought up, and what I can expound upon in modern times.”

Torah scholar that he is, Braufman said he is proud of his congregation’s collective wisdom. “I think it exemplifies Netivot Shalom’s participatory culture and the value of the diversity we personify.”

Then he couldn’t help but quote the Torah — Numbers 11:29 to be exact: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them.”

“Paths of Torah”
(307 pages, EKS Publishing, $30). Available at Congregation Netivot Shalom and Afikomen Judaica in Berkeley, or

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.