Duets on Psalms

Drawing New Meaning from Ancient Words

by Elie Spitz & Jack Riemer


About this book

Psalms are our people’s songs, an ancient playlist that still strikes a chord in our hearts. From lamentation to celebration, the Psalms speak to us from generation to generation.

Rabbis Elie Spitz and Jack Riemer take us into a deeper exploration of the Psalms, going beyond the surface meaning of the words with new, thoughtful interpretations, taking a fresh look at these ancient texts and the relevance they can hold for us today. These contemporary translations of the ancient text reveal new facets of insight and understanding.

It is a testament to their lasting power that the Psalms continue to provide readers with solace, challenge, inspiration, and more. Duets on Psalms will inspire you to revisit these ancient texts and see them with fresh eyes because, in the end, it’s not what the psalmist intended that matters but the meaning you gain from each psalm, making their words your own.

Advance Praise for Duets on Psalms

“Rarely do we get to sit by the side of two spiritual leaders at the height of their powers, to savor their wisdom as they unveil the deep wisdom and compassionate heart in the Book of Psalms. These ancient poems, newly translated, have spoken to seeking souls across the generations. Thanks to Rabbis Riemer and Spitz, they can speak to us now!”

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Dean of Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University, author God of Becoming and Relationship: The Dynamic Nature of Process Theology

“In Duets on Psalms, two remarkable rabbis breathe new life into the ancient words of The Book of Psalms. Rabbi Elie Spitz and Rabbi Jack Riemer perfectly complement one another offering us close readings, new translations, modern scholarship and timeless wisdom. They give us the tools to allow the words of the Psalms to open our minds and enter our hearts. This illuminating work is a literary journey filled with faith, wisdom, hope, healing, meaning and inspiration.” 

Rabbi Naomi Levy, author of Einstein and the Rabbi and To Begin Again

“Not just rabbis and pastors, but everyone who loves the Psalms should own this wonderful book. Rabbi Jack and Rabbi Elie have not only learned the Psalms all their lives, they have lived the Psalms through decades of ministry to people in every possible phase and crisis of life.  This book oozes with authentic wisdom that only comes from investing a lifetime in both God’s Word and God’s world.”

Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life

“The readings presented by these two master teachers bring the history and power of the Psalms to life. Prepare to be changed!”

Julia Reinhard Lupton, Distinguished Professor of English, The University of California, Irvine

“In Duets on the Psalms, Rabbis Riemer and Spitz, two of the master teachers of our times, prove the truth of the rabbinic adage, ‘Turn [the Scripture] over and over again, for all is in it,’ by providing new readings of familiar texts. Through their multi-layered explorations of and commentaries upon eleven psalms that address the gamut of human emotions and aspirations, they provide the reader with new insights and meanings into the human condition that stimulate the mind but more significantly transform the soul. Theirs is a spiritual masterpiece!” 

Rabbi David Ellenson, Chancellor Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

“What a brilliant combination. Rabbis Jack Riemer and Elie Spitz, two of Judaism’s most inspirational teachers, offer a lifetime of insights on the Bible’s most inspired book. A work to read and reread and to return to for inspiration.”

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Jewish Literacy and Words that Hurt Words that Heal

“The Jewish sages recommend that the Torah not be studied alone but in community, minimally with one other. This injunction has resulted in the tradition of hevrusa—the study partner.  Here is a book in which the richness of such study is made visible, and it results in a reading of selected psalms that brings them to life in a dialogical context. There is nothing quite like it in the literature of psalms. The reader is in the presence of minds fruitfully learning from and with one another.”

Peter Pitzele, creator of Bibliodrama and author of Our Father’s Wells.

“An insightful and inspiring modern look at our precious ancient Psalm heritage by two thoughtful rabbis of different generations.  Read it and be rewarded.”

Stuart M. Matlins, founder & former publisher, Jewish Lights Publishing

“This marvelous dialogue combines poetry and wisdom to make a book that gives both learning and life guidance to any seeking soul.”

Rabbi David Wolpe, Rabbi Emeritus of Sinai Temple, Los Angeles, author, David: The Divided Heart

“Halleluyah! Take a deep dive into these magnificent poems with two of our most thoughtful teachers of Jewish spirituality, Rabbi Jack Riemer and Rabbi Elie Spitz. You will never read or pray the Psalms the same way again after experiencing these important and uplifting ‘duets.’ A wonderful ‘community read’ for an entire congregation and Torah study groups.” 

Dr. Ron Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University and author of Relational Judaism.

“In this day and age when so many are searching for meaning, spirituality, and connection, Rabbis Spitz and Riemer masterfully distill the psalms in a way that is deep, accessible, and personal at the same time. A true testament to the evergreen wisdom of the Psalms if we see them in the right light and bring our honest selves to them.”

Rabbi Josh Warshawsky, composer of music for Psalms

“Two deeply spiritual rabbis explore the Book of Psalms – one of the holiest and most heartfelt books ever composed – and they make it come alive for us today. They draw on the most recent biblical scholarship, but also on their own wisdom, gained from decades in the pulpit and from counseling thousands of struggling human beings. Duets on Psalms is a gift. Open it and you will be uplifted, inspired and surprised.”

Daniel Matt, translator of the Zohar, author of God and the Big Bang, The Essential Kabbalah, and Becoming Elijah: Prophet of Transformation

My experience in reading this inspiring book started as hearing two voices thinking together who were joined by all the sources they brought along and soon after that hearing my own thoughts and ideas spontaneously join theirs. That was a delight. I thought, ‘These songs keep singing themselves!’”

Sylvia Boorstein, co-founding teacher, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, author, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist

“‘Sing Unto God a New Song.’ Rabbis Jack Riemer and Elie Spitz, who are spiritual guides with the souls of poets, do just that as they bring the poetry of the biblical psalmist-of-old to our modern sensibilities. Their wise, insightful interpretative commentary makes the psalms come alive, and enter into our hearts, touching our deepest yearnings and greatest joy. God is smiling and singing along.”

Rabbi Wayne Dosick, author of Living Judaism and The Real Name of God

“The Psalms are a national, indeed a global, eternal treasure. Rabbi Riemer and Rabbi Spitz have offered us a sweet gift with renewing the Psalms back to life for us through nuanced spiritual interpretation, powerful moral stories and richly woven together applications.”

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, author, Forty Arguments for the Sake of Heaven: Why the Most Vital Controversies in Jewish Intellectual History Still Matter

“When great souls come together, there can be sparks. When they unite to find new meaning in the sacred songs and poems of the book of Psalms, a fire burns.”

Craig Taubmansinger and composer

Table of Contents

Introduction: Falling in Love with Psalms

Psalm 1: “Happy Is the Person”
Psalm 8: “The Work of Your Fingers”
Psalm 19: “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God”
Psalm 23: “The Lord is My Shepherd”
Psalm 27: “Adonai Is My Light”
Psalm 30: “I Have Recovered: Thank You So Much, O God!”
Psalm 35:1-3: Its Role at a Crucial Moment in American History
Psalm 36: “In Your Light Do I See Light”
Psalm 44: “You Disgraced Us!”
Psalm 95: “The Prelude to Shabbat”
Psalm 137: “By the Rivers of Babylon”
Psalm 145: “Opening Your Hand and Satisfying Every Living Being”
Psalm 148: “Halleluyah!”

Acknowledgements 247

About the Authors

Rabbi Jack Riemer is widely known as the “Rabbi’s Rabbi of sermon-making” and in his mid-90’s is still actively writing on the weekly Torah reading. He has taught sermon-seminars for rabbis across the country and composed prayers that appear in the prayer books of the Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform movements. He has published two collection of his favorite sermons: Finding God in Unexpected Places: Wisdom for Everyone from the Jewish Tradition and The Day I Met My Father Isaac at the Supermarket: And Other Encounters with Biblical Tales and three volumes of prayer introductions for High Holyday services. Among his other books are Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them: A Guide for Sharing Your Values from Generation to Generation and Wrestling with the Angel: Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning.

Rabbi Elie Spitz served as the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel of Tustin, CA for over three decades and for two decades on the Conservative Movement’s Committee of Jewish Law and Standard. He is the author of Does the Soul Survive: A Jewish Journey to Belief in Afterlife, Past Lives, and Living with Purpose; Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World; and Increasing Wisdom and Guided Meditations to Strengthen and Calm Body, Heart, Mind and Spirit. He has written many articles on Jewish spirituality and legal responsa on such topics as “Mamzerut: How to Respond to an Unconscionable Biblical Law” and “Computers and Privacy in the Workplace.” His 30 minute video lessons on each of the 150 Psalms can be found at https://www.cbi18.org/events/psalm-a-day-sessions/

You may also like…