A travelogue to the comers of the Jewish people, Parfitts' book covers his journey across ancient trade routes from Syria to Japan, Ethiopia, and finally South Africa in search of people who call themselves Jewish but are not always recognized as such, or who are captive Jews. The writing in the opening Syrian section is electric, the oppression palpable. Because Parfitt is not Jewish, he was able to talk even with Syrian authorities. The descriptions of other peoples in the book, especially the Bene Israel in India, the Makuya in Japan, and the Lemba in the Transvaal, are almost as compelling. In each case, the people have a surprising tenacity in performing Jewish rituals, often with a distinctly local flavor. This attachment to the Jewish faith, its people, and Israel is all the more remarkable since, with few exceptions, these people are not accepted as Jews by traditional Jewish legal authorities. Parfitt thus rises, without examining, the vital question of flow to define Jewish identity, implicitly suggesting that the traditional definition does not to justice to Jewish reality. Although the peoples in this book may be marginal, their stories enlarge our understanding of what it means to be Jewish and, finally, what it means to be human.
Pub Date: Nov. 17, 1987
Page Count: -
Publisher: Adler & Adler--dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux