CULTURES OF THE JEWS: A New History

David Biale, Editor . Schocken $45 (1232p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4131-0

This insightful collection of essays by today's leading Judaica scholars (such as Ilana Pardes and Isaiah Gafni) transports the reader from the nascent Jewish nation first emerging from bondage in Egypt through both its cultural and religious decline and efflorescence in the Middle Ages to modern-day Israeli and American Jewish culture. Divided into three sections, "Mediterranean Origins," "Diversities of Diaspora" and "Modern Encounters," the compilation provides an array of creative perspectives. Objects of material culture—a map, an amulet, a ketubbah (a Jewish marriage contract)—are used as lenses through which to examines various aspects of Jewish life in a given time and place; e.g., a menorah topped by an eagle symbolizing Polish sovereignty opens Moshe Rosman's study of Polish-Lithuanian–Jewish culture. The contributors assume that Jewish history did not develop in a vacuum, but that Jewish culture and religion were at times influenced by the surrounding cultures, and that Jews incorporated elements of what they saw around them while striving to refashion them as distinctly Jewish. Furthermore, if Jewish identity changed according to differing historical contexts, editor Biale (a professor of Jewish history at UC-Davis and author of Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History) suggests, referring to Jewish culture in the singular is inadequate and oversimplified. The authors raise questions central to the understanding of Judaism and Jewish life, and propose answers that try to reconcile ideas with their historical realities. Intellectually stimulating, articulately written and extensively documented, this collection is sure to raise excitement in aficionados looking for something to whet their historical appetite. (Oct. 15)

Reviewed on: 10/07/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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FORMATS
Hardcover - 978-0-8052-4133-4
Open Ebook - 997 pages - 978-0-307-48346-1
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