Those who fear deep philosophical meanderings can rest easy. Each chapter is supremely readable, understandable, and...

A rock-solid primer on the history and background of the Jewish people that will appeal to adherents and non-Jews alike.

Surveying more than three millennia—from the Call to Abraham in roughly 1500 B.C.E. to the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989—Rosenstein (Director Emeritus, Israel Rabbinical Program/Hebrew Union Coll.; Galilee Diary: Reflections on Daily Life in Israel, 2010, etc.) highlights 30 events that have shaped Jewish life. The author effectively captures the essence of each turning point, providing both a timeline and a salient primary text explaining the Jewish understanding of each event. Abraham’s discovering God and Moses’ revelation of the law at Sinai embody the spiritual foundation on which Judaism is built. From there, the author travels through the history of Western civilization, including the Babylonian exile, Greek and then Roman rule, the transformation of oral law into the Mishna, and the experiences of Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and Hasidic Jews. The golden age in Spain (roughly 900 to 1200) saw a toleration of non-Muslims, and the diaspora of the 15th century dispersed Spanish Jews, creating new footholds across Europe. The Enlightenment encouraged Reform Jews to modify their beliefs and practices to better integrate. The end of the 18th century saw the partition of Poland and Jews fleeing to Russia, where they were dealt with by blood libel, expulsions, and pogroms. Ultimately, the only way to survive was to flee, and many went to the United States, joined by Germans, Italians, and Irish. The German immigrants brought the Reform movement and created a truly American Judaism. Into modern times, the Zionists, seeing a nationality, disputed the Reformists. From the beginning, Rosenstein insists that Judaism is a combination of nation, culture, and religion, a fact that will be debated for some time to come. Fortunately, he provides us with the fascinating basics to understand that debate.

Those who fear deep philosophical meanderings can rest easy. Each chapter is supremely readable, understandable, and enlightening, making the book a valuable addition to any library.

Pub Date: July 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8276-1263-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Jewish Publication Society

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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