cover image Jews and Words

Jews and Words

Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger. Yale Univ, $25 (248p) ISBN 978-0-300-15647-8

These four long essays—really more of a free-flowing conversation between the noted Israeli novelist and his daughter, a historian—focus primarily on the Jews as “a nation only by virtue of its texts,” from the Bible to the work of contemporary Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai—and the interpretations and argumentations that flow from them. The authors, secular Jews who are lovers of the Hebrew Bible, note that “Genesis, Isaiah, and Proverbs are our pyramids... our Gothic cathedrals... undemolished in the flow of time.” They look specifically at the role of “vocal women,” such as Eve and Lilith, in the Bible and biblical legends. The authors also delve into how the classic Jewish narratives treat time and timelessness, as when a midrash (rabbinic pedagogic story) achieves the “brazen transcendence of time” by having Moses learn about the teachings and terrible fate of Rabbi Akiva, who lived more than a millennium later. A spirited epilogue looks at the strong Jewish tradition of irreverence toward most everything, including God, and cites another novelist, who said that contemporary Judaism’s “rendezvous with Western humanism is a fateful one, formative... irrevocable.” Oz and Oz-Salzberger’s discussion is sometimes disjointed and rambling, but far more often playfully instructive; it will appeal to lay readers interested in a nonreligious Judaism based on contemporary readings of traditional and more modern Jewish texts. (Nov.)