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VCU Menorah Review Summer/Fall 2013
Number 79
For the Enrichment of Jewish Thought

Books in Brief: New and Notable

Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame, edited by Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy
Twelve Books (Boston: Hatchette Book Group)

This is a timeless collection of biographical musings, sociological riffs about assimilation, first-person reflections and, above all, great writing on some of the most influential and unexpected pioneers in the world of sports. Featuring work by today's preeminent writers, these essays explore significant Jewish athletes, coaches, broadcasters, trainers and even team owners (in the finite universe of Jewish jocks, they count!).

Contributors include some of today's most celebrated writers covering a vast assortment of topics, including David Remnick on the biggest mouth in sports, Howard Cosell; Jonathan Safran Foer on the prodigious and pugnacious Bobby Fischer; Man Booker Prize-winner Howard Jacobson writing elegantly on Marty Reisman, America's greatest ping-pong player and the sport's ultimate showman. Deborah Lipstadt examines the continuing legacy of the Munich Massacre, the 40th anniversary of which coincided with the 2012 London Olympics. Jane Leavy reveals why Sandy Koufax agreed to attend her daughter’s bat mitzvah. And we learn how Don Lerman single-handedly thrust competitive eating into the public eye with three pounds of butter and 120 jalapeño peppers. These essays are supplemented by a cover design and illustrations throughout by Mark Ulriksen.

From settlement houses to stadiums and everywhere in between, Jewish Jocks features men and women who do not always fit the standard athletic mold. Rather, they utilized talents long prized by a people of the book (and a people of commerce) to game these games to their advantage, in turn forcing the rest of the world to either copy their methods or be left in their dust.

Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal
New York: Ecco (HarperCollins Publishers)

The Mossad is widely recognized today as the best intelligence service in the world. It is also the most enigmatic, shrouded in secrecy. Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service unveils the defining and most dangerous operations that have shaped Israel and the world at large from the agency's more than sixty-year history, among them: the capture of Adolf Eichmann, the eradication of Black September, the destruction of the Syrian nuclear facility and the elimination of key Iranian nuclear scientists.

Through intensive research and exclusive interviews with Israeli leaders and Mossad agents, authors Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal recreate these missions in riveting detail, vividly bringing to life the heroic operatives who risked everything in the face of unimaginable danger. In the words of Shimon Peres, president of Israel, this gripping, white-knuckle read “tells what should have been known and isn't that Israel's hidden force is as formidable as its recognized physical strength.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography by John J. Collins
Princeton University Press, 2013

Since they were first discovered in the caves at Qumran in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls have aroused more fascination — and more controversy — than perhaps any other archaeological find. They appear to have been hidden in the Judean desert by the Essenes, a Jewish sect that existed around the time of Jesus, and they continue to inspire veneration and conspiracy theories to this day. John Collins tells the story of the bitter conflicts that have swirled around the scrolls since their startling discovery, and sheds light on their true significance for Jewish and Christian history.

Collins vividly recounts how a Bedouin shepherd went searching for a lost goat and found the scrolls instead. He offers insight into debates over whether the Essenes were an authentic Jewish sect and explains why such questions are critical to our understanding of ancient Judaism and to Jewish identity. Collins explores whether the scrolls were indeed the property of an isolated, quasi-monastic community living at Qumran, or whether they more broadly reflect the Judaism of their time. And he unravels the impassioned disputes surrounding the scrolls and Christianity. Do they anticipate the early church? Do they undermine the credibility of the Christian faith? Collins also looks at attempts to "reclaim? the scrolls for Judaism after the full corpus became available in the 1990s, and at how the decades-long delay in publishing the scrolls gave rise to sensational claims and conspiracy theories.

The Unmaking of Israel by Gershom Gorenberg
New York: Harper Perennial

In this penetrating and provocative look at the state of contemporary Israel, acclaimed Israeli historian and journalist Gershom Gorenberg reveals how the nation's policies are undermining its democracy and existence as a Jewish state, and explains what must be done to bring it back from the brink. Refuting shrill defenses of Israel and equally strident attacks, Gorenberg shows that the Jewish state is, in fact, unique among countries born in the postcolonial era: it began as a parliamentary democracy and has remained one. Yet shortsighted policies, unintended consequences and its refusal to heed warnings now threaten its many accomplishments. Based on groundbreaking historical research and a quarter century of experience reporting in the region, The Unmaking of Israel is a brilliant, deeply personal critique by a progressive Israeli, and a plea for realizing the nation's potential.

Jews and Words by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger
New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press

Why are words so important to so many Jews? Novelist Amos Oz and historian Fania Oz-Salzberger roam the gamut of Jewish history to explain the integral relationship of Jews and words. Through a blend of storytelling and scholarship, conversation and argument, father and daughter tell the tales behind Judaism’s most enduring names, adages, disputes, texts, and quips. These words, they argue, compose the chain connecting Abraham with the Jews of every subsequent generation.

Framing the discussion within such topics as continuity, women, timelessness, and individualism, Oz and Oz-Salzberger deftly engage Jewish personalities across the ages, from the unnamed, possibly female author of the Song of Songs through obscure Talmudists to contemporary writers. They suggest that Jewish continuity, even Jewish uniqueness, depends not on central places, monuments, heroic personalities or rituals but rather on written words and an ongoing debate between the generations. Full of learning, lyricism and humor, Jews and Words offers an extraordinary tour of the words at the heart of Jewish culture and extends a hand to the reader, any reader, to join the conversation.

Seasons of Our Joy: A Modern Guide to the Jewish Holidays by Arthur O. Waskow
Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society

Circling the Jewish calendar from Rosh Hashanah to Tisha B’Av, this lively, accessible guide provides rituals, recipes, songs, prayers, and suggestions for new approaches to holiday observance. Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow explores the meaning of each holiday in relation to the history of the Jewish people and individual spirituality, examines how the place of each holiday in the cycle of the moon and the changing seasons affects the mood of the day, and suggests ritual and spiritual ways to prepare for each festival.

In his extensive afterword to this new edition of Seasons of Our Joy, Rabbi Waskow addresses the many changes Judaism has undergone in the last thirty years, as feminist Judaism, neo-Chassidic mysticism, eco-Judaism, and Jewish meditation have newly colored our understanding of the festivals.

The Promise of Israel by Daniel Gordis
Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley and Sons

Israel's critics in the West insist that no country founded on a single religion or culture can stay democratic and prosperous — but they're wrong. In The Promise of Israel, Daniel Gordis points out that Israel has defied that conventional wisdom. It has provided its citizens infinitely greater liberty and prosperity than anyone expected, faring far better than any other young nation. Israel's "magic” is a unique blend of democracy and tradition, of unabashed particularism coupled to intellectual and cultural openness. Given Israel's success, it would make sense for many other countries, from Rwanda to Afghanistan and even Iran, to look at how they've done it. In fact, rather than seeking to destroy Israel, the Palestinians would serve their own best interests by trying to copy it.

The Genealogical Science: The Search for Jewish Origins and the Politics of Epistemology by Nadia Abu El-Haj
The University of Chicago Press.

This book analyzes the scientific work and social implications of the flourishing field of genetic history. A biological discipline that relies on genetic data in order to reconstruct the geographic origins of contemporary populations — their histories of migration and genealogical connections to other present-day groups — this historical science is garnering ever more credibility and social reach, in large part due to a growing industry in ancestry testing.

Nadia Abu El-Haj examines genetic history’s working assumptions about culture and nature, identity and biology, and the individual and the collective. Through the example of the study of Jewish origins, she explores novel cultural and political practices that are emerging as genetic history’s claims and “facts” circulate in the public domain and illustrates how this historical science is intrinsically entangled with cultural imaginations and political commitments. Chronicling late-nineteenth- to mid-twentieth-century understandings of race, nature and culture, she identifies continuities and shifts in scientific claims, institutional contexts and political worlds in order to show how the meanings of biological difference have changed over time. In so doing she gives an account of how and why it is that genetic history is so socially felicitous today and elucidates the range of understandings of the self, individual and collective, this scientific field is making possible. More specifically, through her focus on the history of projects of Jewish self-fashioning that have taken place on the terrain of the biological sciences, The Genealogical Science analyzes genetic history as the latest iteration of a cultural and political practice now over a century old.

We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine by the Boys of Terezin
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press
Prepared and selected by Marie Rut Krizkova, Kurt Jiri Kotouc, and Zdenek Ornest. Translated from the Czech by R. Elizabeth Novak
A National Jewish Book Award Winner

From 1942 to 1944, Jewish boys imprisoned at the model concentration camp Theresienstad secretly produced a weekly magazine called Vedem (In the Lead). It contained essays, interviews, poems and artwork written behind the blackout shades of their cellblock. The material was saved by one boy who survived the Holocaust but was suppressed for 50 years in Czechoslovakia. It provides a poignant glimpse at the world of boys whose lives were turned upside down: separated from their families and ultimately, for the majority, killed. Includes black and white photographs, and color and black and white illustrations.

The Genius: Elijah of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism by Eliyahu Stern
New Haven: Yale University Press

Elijah ben Solomon, the "Genius of Vilna,” was perhaps the best-known and most understudied figure in modern Jewish history. This book offers a new narrative of Jewish modernity based on Elijah's life and influence.

While the experience of Jews in modernity has often been described as a process of Western European secularization — with Jews becoming citizens of Western nation-states, congregants of reformed synagogues and assimilated members of society — Stern uses Elijah’s story to highlight a different theory of modernization for European life. Religious movements such as Hasidism and anti-secular institutions such as the yeshiva emerged from the same democratization of knowledge and privatization of religion that gave rise to secular and universal movements and institutions. Claimed by traditionalists, enlighteners, Zionists, and the Orthodox, Elijah’s genius and its afterlife capture an all-embracing interpretation of the modern Jewish experience. Through the story of the “Vilna Gaon,” Stern presents a new model for understanding modern Jewish history and more generally the place of traditionalism and religious radicalism in modern Western life and thought.

A Jew among Romans: The Life and Legacy of Flavius Josephus by Frederic Raphael
New York: Pantheon Books

From the acclaimed biographer, screenwriter and novelist Frederic Raphael, here is an audacious history of Josephus (37-c.100), the Jewish general turned Roman historian, whose emblematic betrayal is a touchstone for the Jew alone in the Gentile world.

Joseph ben Mattathias’s transformation into Titus Flavius Josephus, historian to the Roman emperor Vespasian, is a gripping and dramatic story. His life, in the hands of Frederic Raphael, becomes a point of departure for an appraisal of Diaspora Jews seeking a place in the dominant cultures they inhabit. Raphael brings a scholar’s rigor, a historian’s perspective, and a novelist’s imagination to this project. He goes beyond the fascinating details of Josephus’s life and his singular literary achievements to examine how Josephus has been viewed by posterity, finding in him the prototype for the un-Jewish Jew, the assimilated intellectual and the abiding apostate: the recurrent figures in the long centuries of the Diaspora. Raphael’s insightful portraits of  Yehuda Halevi, Baruch Spinoza, Karl Kraus, Benjamin Disraeli, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Hannah Arendt extend and illuminate the Josephean worldview Raphael so eloquently lays out.

The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, edited by David Golinkin
Jerusalem: Shechter Institute of Jewish Studies

This book is dedicated to the study of the halakhic status of women in the synagogue and in public life. Rabbi Golinkin deals with the tension which exists between Jewish Law and modernity, striving to bridge the gap between tradition and change. He looks for leniencies within the framework of Jewish Law in order to show that changes can be made in the status of women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Golinkin deals with questions such as women and tefillin, women in the Minyan and as Shelihot Tzibbur, aliyot for women, women and the mourners' Kaddish, women as halakhic authorities, the ordination of women as rabbis, and more.

Boy 30529: A Memoir by Felix Weinberg
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Verso Books

This memoir tells the story of a child who at the age of 12 lost everything: hope, home and even his own identity. Born into a respectable Czech family, Felix’s early years were idyllic. But when Nazi persecution threatened in 1938, his father travelled to England, hoping to arrange for his family to emigrate there. His efforts came too late, and his wife and children fell into the hands of the Fascist occupiers.

Thus begins a harrowing tale of survival, horror and determination. Over the following years, Felix survived five concentration camps, including Terezín, Auschwitz and Birkenau, as well as, by the skin of his teeth, the death march from Blechhammer in 1945. Losing both his brother and mother in the camps, Felix was liberated at Buchenwald and eventually reunited at the age of 17 with his father in Britain, where they built a new life together.

Boy 30529 is an extraordinary memoir, as well as a meditation on the nature of memory. It helps us understand why the Holocaust remains a singular presence at the heart of historical debate.

Israel Has Moved by Diana Pinto
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

Israel has changed. The country was born in Europe's shadow, haunted by the Holocaust and inspired by the Enlightenment. But for Israelis today, Europe is hardly relevant, and the country's ties to the broader West, even to America, are fraying. Where is Israel heading? How do citizens of an increasingly diverse nation see themselves globally and historically? In this revealing portrait of the new Israel, Diana Pinto presents a country simultaneously moving forward and backward, looking outward and turning in on itself. In business, Israel is forging new links with the giants of Asia and its booming science and technology sectors are helping define the future for the entire world. But in politics and religion, Israelis are increasingly self-absorbed, building literal and metaphorical walls against hostile neighbors and turning to ancient religious precepts for guidance here and now.

Pinto captures the new moods and mindsets, the anxieties and hopes of Israelis today in sharply drawn sketches of symbolically charged settings. She takes us on the roads to Jerusalem, to border control at Ben Gurion Airport, to a major Israeli conference in Jerusalem, to a hill overlooking the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount, to the heart of Israel's high-tech economy, and to sparkling new malls and restaurants where people of different identities share nothing more than a desire to ignore one another.

Tested by Zion by Elliot Abrams
New York: Cambridge University Press

This book tells the full inside story of the Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Written by a top National Security Council officer who worked at the White House with Bush, Cheney and Rice and attended dozens of meetings with figures like Sharon, Mubarak, the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and Palestinian leaders, it brings the reader inside the White House and the palaces of Middle Eastern officials. How did 9/11 change American policy toward Arafat and Sharon's tough efforts against the Second Intifada? What influence did the Saudis have on President Bush? Did the American approach change when Arafat died? How did Sharon decide to get out of Gaza and why did the peace negotiations fail? In the first book by an administration official to focus on Bush and the Middle East, Elliott Abrams brings the story of Bush, the Israelis, and the Palestinians to life.

What Does A Jew Want? by Udi Aloni
New York: Columbia University Press

In the hopes of promoting justice, peace, and solidarity for and with the Palestinian people, Udi Aloni joins with Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou and Judith Butler to confront the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their bold question: will a new generation of Israelis and Palestinians dare to walk together toward a joint Israel-Palestine? Through a collage of meditation, interview, diary and essay, Aloni and his interlocutors present a personal, intellectual and altogether provocative account rich with the insights of philosophy and critical theory. They ultimately foresee the emergence of a binational Israeli-Palestinian state, incorporating the work of Walter Benjamin, Edward Said and Jewish theology to recast the conflict in secular theological terms.

Handbook of Jewish Literature From Late Antiquity, 135-70 CE by Eyal Ben-Eliyahu, Yehudah Cohn and Fergus Miller
New York: Oxford University Press

From major seminal works like the Mishnah or the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds, to Biblical commentaries, translations of Biblical books into Aramaic or relatively little-known mystical, liturgical or apocalyptic writings, here is a complete guide to the rich tradition of Jewish literature in the second to seventh centuries of the Common Era. Each work is described in a succinct and clearly structured entry which covers its contents, dating, language and accessibility (or otherwise) in print or online.

The aim throughout is to cover all of this literature and to answer the following questions: what Jewish literature, written either in Hebrew or Aramaic, has survived? What different genres of such literature are there? What printed texts, or translations into any modern language, or commentaries (either in Hebrew or a European language) are there? And, for those who want to enquire further, what are the manuscripts on which modern editions are based?

This handbook will be of value to scholars and students of Jewish Studies and historians of Late Antiquity, as well as scholars in neighboring disciplines, such as Near Eastern history or theology.

New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought by Jeremy Brown
New York: Oxford University Press

In this ground-breaking study of the Jewish reception of the Copernican revolution, Jeremy Brown examines four hundred years of Jewish writings on the Copernican model. Brown shows the ways in which Jews ignored, rejected or accepted the Copernican model, and the theological and societal underpinnings of their choices.

Throughout New Heavens and a New Earth are deft historical studies of such colorful figures as Joseph Delmedigo, the first Jewish Copernican and a student of Galileo's; Tuviah Cohen, who called Copernicus the "Son of Satan;” Zelig Slonimski, author of a collection of essays on Halley's Comet and contemporary Jewish thinkers who use Einstein's Theory of Relativity to argue that the Earth does not actually revolve around the sun. Brown also provides insightful comparisons of concurrent Jewish and Christian writings on Copernicus, demonstrating that the Jewish reception of Copernicus was largely dependent on local factors and responses.

The book concludes with the important lessons to be learned from the history of the Jewish reception of Copernican thought, and shows how religions make room for new scientific descriptions of reality while upholding their most cherished beliefs.

The New Jewish Leaders: Reshaping the American Jewish Landscape, edited by Jack Wertheimer Lebanon, N.H.: University Press of New England (Brandeis University)

By the end of the twentieth century, a new generation of leaders had begun to assume positions of influence within established organizations. They quickly launched a slew of new initiatives directed at their age peers. Born during the last quarter of the twentieth century, these leaders came of age in a very different America and a different Jewish world than earlier generations. Not surprisingly, their worldview and understanding of Jewish issues set them apart from their elders, as does their approach to organizing.

Based upon extensive interviews and survey research, as well as an examination of the websites frequented by younger Jews and personal observation of their programs, The New Jewish Leaders presents a pioneering account of the renewal of American Jewish community. This book describes how younger Jews organize, relate to collective Jewish efforts, and think about current Jewish issues. It also offers a glimpse of how they re-envision American Jewish communal arrangements. What emerges is a fascinating exploration of Jewish community in America today — and tomorrow.

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Updated: Jan. 24, 2013

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