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VCU Menorah Review Winter/Spring 2014
Number 80
For the Enrichment of Jewish Thought

Books in Brief: New and Notable

Père Marie-Benoît and Jewish Rescue: How a French Priest Together with Jewish Friends Saved Thousands during the Holocaust by Susan Zuccotti
Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Susan Zuccotti narrates the life and work of Père Marie-Benoît, a courageous French Capuchin priest who risked everything to hide Jews in France and Italy during the Holocaust. Who was this extraordinary priest and how did he become adept at hiding Jews, providing them with false papers and helping them to elude their persecutors? From monasteries first in Marseille and later in Rome, Père Marie-Benoît worked with Jewish co-conspirators to build remarkably effective Jewish-Christian rescue networks. Acting independently without Vatican support but with help from some priests, nuns and local citizens, he and his friends persisted in their clandestine work until the Allies liberated Rome. After the conflict, Père Marie-Benoît maintained his wartime Jewish friendships and devoted the rest of his life to Jewish Christian reconciliation. Papal officials viewed both activities unfavorably until after the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), 1962-1965.

To tell this remarkable tale, in addition to her research in French and Italian archives, Zuccotti personally interviewed Père Marie-Benoît, his family, Jewish rescuers with whom he worked, and survivors who owed their lives to his network.

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

This 400-page book is a collection of 15 responsa that studies the status of women in the synagogue and public life, prefaced by two introductory essays on approaches to the topic since 1845. Rabbi Golinkin deals with the tension that exists between Jewish Law and modernity, striving to bridge the gap between tradition and change. This important work points to the flexibility within Jewish Law that allows women to participate in most areas of Jewish ritual. Rabbi Golinkin deals with questions such as women being counted in the minyan (quorum of 10 for community prayer) and serving as Shelihot Tzibbur (prayer leaders), women being called for aliyot to the Torah, women reciting the mourners’ Kaddish, women putting on tefillin (phylacteries), women acting as poskot (decisors of Jewish Law), the ordination of women rabbis, and more.

Theatrical Liberalism: Jews and Popular Entertainment in America by Andrea Most
New York University Press

For centuries, Jews lived in diverse countries with vibrant theatrical cultures, yet they were one of the few peoples without a sanctioned theatrical tradition of their own. In the modern era, however, Jews came to be among the most important creators of popular theatre and film in America. Why? In Theatrical Liberalism, Andrea Most illustrates how American Jews used theatre to navigate encounters with modern culture, negotiating a position for themselves within and alongside Protestant liberalism by reimagining key aspects of traditional Judaism as theatrical. Discussing works from the Hebrew Bible to The Jazz Singer and Death of a Salesman, Most situates American popular culture in the religious traditions that informed the worldviews of its practitioners. Offering a comprehensive history of the role of Judaism in the creation of American entertainment, Theatrical Liberalism re-examines the distinction between the secular and the religious, providing a new way of understanding modern Jewish culture and liberalism, as well as their crucial contributions to a pluralist society. With extensive scholarship and compelling evidence, Theatrical Liberalism shows how the Jewish worldview that permeates American culture has reached far beyond the Jews who created it.

From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel by Robert S. Wistrich
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press

This is the first study to explore the transformation in attitudes on the Left toward the Jews, Zionism, and Israel since the origins of European socialism in the 1840s until the present. This path-breaking synthesis reveals a striking continuity in negative stereotypes of Jews, contempt for Judaism, and negation of Jewish national self-determination from the days of Karl Marx to the current left-wing intellectual assault on Israel. World-renowned expert on the history of Anti-Semitism Robert S. Wistrich provides not only a powerful analysis of how and why the Left emerged as a spearhead of anti-Israel sentiment but also new insights into the wider involvement of Jews in radical movements.

There are fascinating portraits of Marx, Moses Hess, Bernard Lazare, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky and other Jewish intellectuals, alongside analyses of the darker face of socialist and Communist anti-Semitism. The closing section eloquently exposes the degeneration of leftist anti-Zionist critiques into a novel form of “anti-racist” racism.

Fathers & Daughters in the Hebrew Bible by Johanna Stiebert
New York: Oxford University Press

The father-daughter dyad features in the Hebrew Bible in all of narratives, laws, myths and metaphors. In previous explorations of this relationship, the tendency has been to focus on discrete stories — notable among them, Judges 11 (the story of Jepthah’s human sacrifice of his daughter) and Genesis 19 (the dark tale of Lot’s daughters’ seduction of their father). By taking the full spectrum into account, however, the daughter emerges prominently as (not only) expendable and exploitable (as an emphasis on daughter sacrifice or incest has suggested) but as cherished and protected by her father. Depictions of daughters are multifarious and there is a balance of very positive and very negative images.

While not uncritical of earlier feminist investigations, this book makes a contribution to feminist biblical criticism and utilizes methods drawn from the social sciences and psychoanalysis. Alongside careful textual analysis, Johanna Stiebert offers a critical evaluation of the heuristic usefulness of the ethnographic honor-shame model, of parallels with Roman family studies, and of the application and meaning of ‘patriarchy’.

Following semantic analysis of the primary Hebrew terms for ‘father’ and ‘daughter’, as well as careful examination of inter-family dynamics and the daughter’s role vis-a-vis the son’s, alongside thorough investigation of both Judges 11 and Genesis 19, and also of the metaphor of God-the-father of daughters Eve, Wisdom and Zion, Stiebert provides the fullest exploration of daughters in the Hebrew Bible to date.

The Mark of Cain: Guilt and Denial in the Post-War Lives of Nazi Perpetrators by Katharina von Kellenback
New York: Oxford University Press

The author fleshes out a history of conversations that contributed to Germany’s coming to terms with a guilty past. Katharina von Kellenbach draws on letters exchanged between clergy and Nazi perpetrators, written notes of prison chaplains, memoirs, sermons and prison publications to illuminate the moral and spiritual struggles of perpetrators after the war. These documents provide intimate insights into the self-reflection and self-perception of perpetrators. As Germany looks back on more than sixty years of passionate debate about political, personal and legal guilt, its ongoing engagement with the legacy of perpetration has transformed its culture and politics. In many post-genocidal societies, it falls to clergy and religious officials (in addition to the courts) to negotiate and create a path for individuals beyond the atrocities of the past. German clergy brought the Christian message of guilt and forgiveness into the internment camps where Nazi functionaries awaited prosecution at the hands of Allied military tribunals and various national criminal courts, or served out their sentences. The loving willingness to forgive and forget displayed towards his errant child by the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son became the paradigm central to Germany’s rehabilitation and reintegration of Nazi perpetrators. The problem with Luke's parable in this context, however, is that perpetrators did not ask for forgiveness. Most agents of state crimes felt innocent. Von Kellenbach proposes the story of the mark of Cain as a counter narrative. In contrast to the Prodigal Son, who is quickly forgiven and welcomed back into the house of the father, the fratricide Cain is charged to rebuild his life on the basis of open communication about the past. The story of the Prodigal Son equates forgiveness with forgetting; Cain's story links redemption with remembrance and suggests a strategy of critical engagement with perpetrators.

1929: Mapping the Jewish World by Hasia Diner and Gennady Estraikh
New York: NYU Press

The year 1929 represents a major turning point in interwar Jewish society, proving to be a year when Jews, regardless of where they lived, saw themselves affected by developments that took place around the world, as the crises endured by other Jews became part of the transnational Jewish consciousness. In the United States, the stock market crash brought lasting economic, social and ideological changes to the Jewish community and limited its ability to support humanitarian and nationalist projects in other countries. In Palestine, the anti-Jewish riots in Hebron and other towns underscored the vulnerability of the Zionist enterprise and ignited heated discussions among various Jewish political groups about the wisdom of establishing a Jewish state on its historical site. At the same time, in the Soviet Union, the consolidation of power in the hands of Stalin created a much more dogmatic climate in the international Communist movement, including its Jewish branches.

Featuring a sparkling array of scholars of Jewish history, 1929 surveys the Jewish world in one year offering clear examples of the transnational connections which linked Jews to each other — from politics, diplomacy, and philanthropy to literature, culture, and the fate of Yiddish — regardless of where they lived. Taken together, the essays in 1929 argue that, whether American, Soviet, German, Polish or Palestinian, Jews throughout the world lived in a global context.

Jews and the Military: A History by Derek J. Penslar
Princeton University Press

This is the first comprehensive and comparative look at Jews’ involvement in the military and their attitudes toward war from the 1600s until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Derek Penslar shows that although Jews have often been described as people who shun the army, in fact they have frequently been willing, even eager, to do military service, and only a minuscule minority have been pacifists. Penslar demonstrates that Israel’s military ethos did not emerge from a vacuum and that long before the state's establishment, Jews had a vested interest in military affairs.

Spanning Europe, North America and the Middle East, Penslar discusses the myths and realities of Jewish draft dodging, how Jews reacted to facing their coreligionists in battle, the careers of Jewish officers and their reception in the Jewish community, the effects of World War I on Jewish veterans, and Jewish participation in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Penslar culminates with a study of Israel’s War of Independence as a Jewish world war, which drew on the military expertise and financial support of a mobilized, global Jewish community. He considers how military service was a central issue in debates about Jewish emancipation and a primary indicator of the position of Jews in any given society.

Deconstructing old stereotypes, Jews and the Military radically transforms our understanding of Jews’ historic relationship to war and military power.

Bounded Mind and Soul: Russia and Israel, 1880-2010, edited by Brian Horowitz and Shai Ginsburg. Slavica Publishers
Indiana University. Bloomington, Ind.

In Bounded Mind and Soul, twelve leading scholars grapple with questions about the complex relationship between Israel and Russia. What are their mutual interests? What are the areas of conflict? And how has the immigration of more than one million Jews from the former Soviet Union affected Israeli culture, society, and politics? These essays range from studies of literature and intellectual history to in-depth examinations of the treatment of Jewish dissidents in Soviet times and new immigrants in Israel. The collection provides unexpected answers to the questions: what is the extent of Russia in Israel and Israel in Russia?

The Phantom Holocaust: Soviet Cinema and Jewish Catastrophe by Olga Gershenson
New Brunswick, N.J.

Even people familiar with cinema believe there is no such thing as a Soviet Holocaust film. The Phantom Holocaust tells a different story. The Soviets were actually among the first to portray these events on screens. In 1938, several films exposed Nazi anti-Semitism, and a 1945 movie depicted the mass execution of Jews in Babi Yar. Other significant pictures followed in the 1960s. But the more directly filmmakers engaged with the Holocaust, the more likely their work was to be banned by state censors. Some films were never made while others came out in such limited release that the Holocaust remained a phantom on Soviet screens.

Focusing on work by both celebrated and unknown Soviet directors and screenwriters, Olga Gershenson has written the first book about all Soviet narrative films dealing with the Holocaust from 1938 to 1991. In addition to studying the completed films, Gershenson analyzes the projects that were banned at various stages of production.

The book draws on archival research and in-depth interviews to tell the sometimes tragic and sometimes triumphant stories of filmmakers who found authentic ways to represent the Holocaust in the face of official silencing. By uncovering little known works, Gershenson makes a significant contribution to the international Holocaust filmography.

Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation by Yossi Klein
New York: Harper

In Like Dreamers, acclaimed journalist Yossi Klein Halevi interweaves the stories of a group of 1967 paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem, tracing the history of Israel and the divergent ideologies shaping it from the Six-Day War to the present. Following the lives of seven young members from the 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade, the unit responsible for restoring Jewish sovereignty to Jerusalem, Halevi reveals how this band of brothers played pivotal roles in shaping Israel’s destiny long after their historic victory. While they worked together to reunite their country in 1967, these men harbored drastically different visions for Israel’s future.

One emerges at the forefront of the religious settlement movement, while another is instrumental in the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. One becomes a driving force in the growth of Israel’s capitalist economy, while another ardently defends the socialist kibbutzim. One is a leading peace activist, while another helps create an anti-Zionist terror underground in Damascus. Featuring eight pages of black-and-white photos and maps, Like Dreamers is a nuanced, in-depth look at these diverse men and the conflicting beliefs that have helped to define modern Israel and the Middle East.

The New Reform Judaism: Challenges and Reflections by Dana Evan Kaplan et al.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press

This is the book that American Jews and particularly American Reform Jews have been waiting for: a clear and informed call for further reform in the Reform movement.

In light of profound demographic, social and technological developments, it has become increasingly clear that the Reform movement will need to make major changes to meet the needs of a quickly evolving American Jewish population. Younger Americans in particular differ from previous generations in how they relate to organized religion, often preferring to network through virtual groups or gather in informal settings of their own choosing.

Dana Evan Kaplan, an American Reform Jew and pulpit rabbi, argues that rather than focusing on the importance of loyalty to community, Reform Judaism must determine how to engage the individual in a search for existential meaning. It should move us toward a critical, scholarly understanding of the Hebrew Bible, that we may emerge with the perspectives required by a postmodern world. Such a Reform Judaism can at once help us understand how the ancient world molded our most cherished religious traditions and guide us in addressing the increasingly complex social problems of our day.

Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk by Elissa Bemporad
Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Minsk, the present capital of Belarus, was a heavily Jewish city in the decades between the world wars. Recasting our understanding of Soviet Jewish history, Becoming Soviet Jews demonstrates that the often violent social changes enforced by the communist project did not destroy continuities with prerevolutionary forms of Jewish life in Minsk. Using Minsk as a case study of the Sovietization of Jews in the former Pale of Settlement, Elissa Bemporad reveals the ways in which many Jews acculturated to Soviet society in the 1920s and 1930s while remaining committed to older patterns of Jewish identity, such as Yiddish culture and education, attachment to the traditions of the Jewish workers’ Bund, circumcision and kosher slaughter. This pioneering study also illuminates the reshaping of gender relations on the Jewish street and explores Jewish everyday life and identity during the years of the Great Terror.

How Judaism Became a Religion: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought by Leora Batnitzky
Princeton University Press

Is Judaism a religion, a culture, a nationality — or a mixture of all of these? In How Judaism Became a Religion, Leora Batnitzky boldly argues that this question more than any other has driven modern Jewish thought since the eighteenth century. This wide-ranging and lucid introduction tells the story of how Judaism came to be defined as a religion in the modern period — and why Jewish thinkers have fought as well as championed this idea.

Ever since the Enlightenment, Jewish thinkers have debated whether and how Judaism — largely a religion of practice and public adherence to law — can fit into a modern, Protestant conception of religion as an individual and private matter of belief or faith. Batnitzky makes the novel argument that it is this clash between the modern category of religion and Judaism that is responsible for much of the creative tension in modern Jewish thought. Tracing how the idea of Jewish religion has been defended and resisted from the eighteenth century to today, the book discusses many of the major Jewish thinkers of the past three centuries, including Moses Mendelssohn, Abraham Geiger, Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber, Zvi Yehuda Kook, Theodor Herzl and Mordecai Kaplan. At the same time, it tells the story of modern orthodoxy, the German-Jewish renaissance, Jewish religion after the Holocaust, the emergence of the Jewish individual, the birth of Jewish nationalism and Jewish religion in America.

More than an introduction, How Judaism Became a Religion presents a compelling new perspective on the history of modern Jewish thought.

The Book of Job: A Biography by Mark Lattimore
Princeton Univeresity Press

The Book of Job raises stark questions about the nature and meaning of innocent suffering and the relationship of the human to the divine, yet it is also one of the Bible’s most obscure and paradoxical books, one that defies interpretation even today. Mark Larrimore provides a panoramic history of this remarkable book, traversing centuries and traditions to examine how Job’s trials and his challenge to God have been used and understood in diverse contexts, from commentary and liturgy to philosophy and art.

Larrimore traces Job’s obscure origins and his reception and use in the Midrash, burial liturgies, and folklore, and by figures such as Gregory the Great, Maimonides, John Calvin, Immanuel Kant, William Blake, Margarete Susman, and Elie Wiesel. He chronicles the many ways the Book of Job's interpreters have linked it to other biblical texts; to legends, allegory, and negative and positive theologies; as well as to their own individual and collective experiences. Larrimore revives old questions and provides illuminating new contexts for contemporary ones. Was Job a Jew or a gentile? Was his story history or fable? What is meant by the “patience of Job,” and does Job exhibit it? Why does God speak yet not engage Job's questions?

Offering rare insights into this iconic and enduring book, Larrimore reveals how Job has come to be viewed as the Bible’s answer to the problem of evil and the perennial question of why a God who supposedly loves justice permits bad things to happen to good people.

The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax
Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

It’s World War II, and Misha’s family, like the rest of the Jews living in Warsaw, has been moved by the Nazis into a single crowded ghetto. Conditions are appalling: every day more people die from disease, starvation and deportations. Misha does his best to help his family survive, even crawling through the sewers to smuggle food. When conditions worsen, Misha joins a handful of other Jews who decide to make a final, desperate stand against the Nazis.

Heavily illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki with sober black-and-white drawings, this powerful novel dramatically captures the brutal reality of a tragic historical event.

Jews in Gotham: New York in A Changing City, 1920-2010 by Jeffrey S. Gurock
New York University Press

Jews in Gotham follows the Jewish saga in ever-changing New York City from the end of the First World War into the first decade of the new millennium. This lively portrait details the complex dynamics that caused Jews to persist, abandon or be left behind in their neighborhoods during critical moments of the past century. It shows convincingly that New York retained its preeminence as the capital of American Jews because of deep roots in local worlds.

Hanukkah in America: A History by Dianne Ashton
New York University Press

In New Orleans, Hanukkah means decorating your door with a menorah made of hominy grits. Latkes in Texas are seasoned with cilantro and cayenne pepper. Children in Cincinnati sing Hanukkah songs and eat oranges and ice cream. While each tradition springs from its own unique set of cultural references, what ties them together is that they all celebrate a holiday that is different in America than it is any place else. For the past two hundred years, American Jews have been transforming the ancient holiday of Hanukkah from a simple occasion into something grand. Each year, as they retell its story and enact its customs, they bring their ever-changing perspectives and desires to its celebration. Providing an attractive alternative to the Christian dominated December, rabbis and lay people alike have addressed contemporary hopes by fashioning an authentically Jewish festival that blossomed in their American world.

The Rise of Abraham Cahan by Seth Lipsky
New York: Nextbook/Schocken

The first general-interest biography of the legendary editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, the newspaper of Yiddish-speaking immigrants that inspired, educated and entertained millions of readers; helped redefine journalism during its golden age and transformed American culture.

Already a noted journalist writing for both English-language and Yiddish newspapers, Abraham Cahan founded the Yiddish daily in New York City in 1897. Over the next fifty years, he turned it into a national newspaper that changed American politics and earned him the adulation of millions of Jewish immigrants and the friendship of the greatest newspapermen of his day, from Lincoln Steffens to H. L. Mencken. Cahan did more than cover the news. He led revolutionary reforms — spreading social democracy, organizing labor unions, battling communism and assimilating immigrant Jews into American society, most notably via his groundbreaking advice column, A Bintel Brief. Cahan was also a celebrated novelist whose works are read and studied to this day as brilliant examples of fiction that turned the immigrant narrative into an art form.

Lipsky gives us the fascinating story of a man of profound contradictions: an avowed socialist who wrote fiction with transcendent sympathy for a wealthy manufacturer, an internationalist who turned against the anti-Zionism of the left, an assimilationist whose final battle was against religious apostasy. Lipsky’s Cahan is a prism through which to understand the paradoxes and transformations of the American Jewish experience. A towering newspaperman in the manner of Horace Greeley and Joseph Pulitzer, Abraham Cahan revolutionized our idea of what newspapers could accomplish.

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Updated: Jan. 24, 2013

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