cover image The Sacred Chain: The History of the Jews

The Sacred Chain: The History of the Jews

Norman F. Cantor, Norm Cantor. HarperCollins Publishers, $35 (472pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016746-2

Full of unorthodox opinions, Cantor's searching, critical, captivating history of the Jewish people is bound to be controversial. He deems the biblical account of Jewish origins, featuring Abraham and Moses, ``a romantic fantasy'' in light of historical and archeological research. In chapters rich in sociological insight, he discusses the fate of Jews in the Roman empire and medieval Christendom; the symbiotic interaction of Jews and Muslim Arabs in Spain and the Mediterranean; the ``Jewish Reformation'' undertaken by Hasidism, Kabbalism and other movements; European Jews' emancipation and their key role in the vanguard of cultural modernism; the Holocaust and the creation of Israel. Building on the work of David Wyman and other historians, he indicts American Jewry for failure to take action that might have mitigated the Holocaust. Cantor, a prolific historian and professor at New York University, sets the achievements of Jesus, Maimonides, Buber, Spinoza, Freud and others in the context of Jewish and world history. Contemporary American Jews may be committing ``racial suicide by intermarriage,'' opines Cantor; nevertheless, he maintains, ``the Jews have fulfilled their role in history'' by giving the world monotheism and puritanical ethics, and spawning Christianity and Islam. (Nov.)