This debut by Elon, director of the Rabbinic Texts Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, is a haunting...


FROM JERUSALEM TO THE EDGE OF HEAVEN: Meditations on the Soul of Israel

This debut by Elon, director of the Rabbinic Texts Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, is a haunting mixture of modes and voices. Originally published as a special issue of the Israeli journal Shdemot (run by a unique group of left-wing kibbutz members involved in Jewish textual study), Elon's work is the product of a complex background. He was raised in an Orthodox family but embraced secular Zionism as an adult. He served in the Israeli army during the Intifada. And he is involved in an ambitious revisionist study of traditional religious texts. Part memoir, part social criticism, part religious meditation, this work is united by one theme: the battle for the soul of Israel between the rigidly Orthodox and the secular (a designation that actually includes many holding strong religious but non-Orthodox convictions). In the first section, Elon mythologizes his abandonment of Orthodox Judaism as a ""mercy-killing"" of God. In the second section, in which he traces the evolution of Zionism in modern Israel, he sets out a dialectical battle between the datti'im (strictly Orthodox) and hilonim (allegedly secular), arguing that the Zionist movement ""must not be content with the liberation of [the Jewish] people from the gentile world, but must also strive for the internal liberation of the Jewish people."" In the third section, Elon explores the very different attitudes toward holy texts taken by those absorbed in their study and by the ordinary Jew in the street. In the final section, a hypnotic recounting of his days on a rooftop observation post in the Gaza, Elon extends his meditations to encompass the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, which he sees refracted through biblical and rabbinic texts. Often a difficult book, From Jerusalem is aided immeasurably by Frymer-Kensky's astute translation, introduction, and notes. By turns dazzling, frustrating, enchanting, and vivid, this is a formidable first work whose timeliness is only underlined by recent events in the Middle East.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996


Page Count: 220

Publisher: Jewish Publication Society

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996