THE JEWS by Chaim Bermant


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What a Jew come-to-roost ought to know about Jewish attitudes, experience, and achievement, by an author whose pride is tinged (characteristically?) with discomfort. As a raconteur, Bermant gives a fast, rueful account of Jewish survival (""they have seen in their exceptional misfortunes proof of exceptional merit""), taking up historic anti-Semitic charges from usury to ritual murder and, in turn, scoring Jewish ""disdain for the gentile,"" ""commercial aggressiveness,"" hit-parade cosmopolitanism (the most ardent Germans, Britons, Americans)--however much each was warranted by circumstances. (Jewish ""lechery"" remains a dark secret.) For the rest, we learn--in the fashion of other ethnic audits--about notable Jewish bankers and entrepreneurs (especially Bermant's fellow Britishers); Jews in show business, medicine and the sciences, the arts, radical politics, and sports. Here, Bermant is beset by the twin problems of explaining why certain fields seemed to attract Jews and dealing with a mass of semi-Jews, ex-Jews, and indifferent Jews; and he falls into some foolish statements. Jews may be interested in dermatology because of the attention ""given by Mosaic law to skin ailments""; in mathematics, ""the most abstract of the abstract sciences,"" because of Talmudic theorizing; in psychiatry, because they believe in a cure for everything. Among individuals, radicals (like aggressive, achieving, anti-Jewish Trotsky) give him particular trouble: why, better off then ever, ""are so many Jews still on the other side of the barricades?"" He's not at all sorry, however, that Israel has at last proved the Jews' fighting prowess--while regretting that it has allowed ""Jewish deficiencies [to become] glaringly evident."" Only in exile--and chiefly in America--does Bermant see traditional Judaism thriving. A shaky book overall--entertaining and tedious, sharp and trite--but Jews can be counted on to read Bermant and give him an argument.

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1977
Publisher: Times Books (formerly Quadrangle/New York Times)