cover image To Bigotry No Sanction: The Story of the Oldest Synagogue in America

To Bigotry No Sanction: The Story of the Oldest Synagogue in America

Leonard Everett Fisher. Holiday House, $16.95 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1401-7

Offering more than the subtitle suggests, this ambitious but uneven work uses the history of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., as the focal point of a fact-filled, frequently intriguing overview of European persecution of the Jews, particularly the Jews of Spain and Portugal and their suffering during the Inquisition, and the kindling of religious freedom in colonial and post-Revolutionary America. In covering these broad subjects, however, the author neglects some fundamental areas. Oddly, there is no discussion of possible causes of Jewish persecution, merely a dramatic statement that lumps together all victims of the Inquisition, begun by the Church in 1229, with the aim of ""rout[ing] out all those who did not believe as the church wished them to believe. Jews, Muslims, scientists, artists, writers--all those who dared to be different--could be accused of heresy."" It's scanty armor against the inevitable, disturbing question, Why the Jews? The chronicling of the Jews of Newport and the building of the synagogue forms the most solid section, although even here the language has an overblown quality: ""The quietness of the building's exterior... belied the tormented history of its congregants, resolute in their beliefs."" Fisher's fans may be disappointed that this book, unlike his Alexander Graham Bell (reviewed above), is illustrated not with his acclaimed paintings but primarily with black-and-white photographs, many of which lack crispness and clarity. Ages 8-12. (Feb)