Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Middle East: a brief history of the last 2,000 years by Bernard Lewis

Mr. Lewis proves himself to be the master historian of the Middle East in this sweeping history. What makes him standout is his superb understanding, sensitivity to his subject and objective tone without invective.  This is a guide through a civilization for which one from the West is woefully ill-informed.

One understands the success of Islam from its beginning.  Unlike the other great religions, Judaism and Christianity, Islam's mission is completed with the death of Muhammad.  In other words, Moses is kept from entering the Promised Land, and Jesus is crucified on the cross, however, Muhammad gains a following, grows into a large successful community and state and dies as a successful king. For the believer, this becomes a persuasive argument in Islam's favor.

In discussing the methods of the critical historian, Mr. Lewis cites believing Muslim scholars' difficulties in determining the truth about the founder's life.  There is difficulty sifting through embellishments.  As a dispassionate critical historian, even more questions rise to the historicity of the events that surround the founder.

Nevertheless, the contours of the this vast civilization come out in the different languages of the region: Arabic, Turkish and Farsi.  One can almost trace the history of Islam by the different languages which dominate the civilization.  Arabic is the mother tongue of the prophet and remains the intellectual vehicle for all of Islam but the non Arabic peoples, the Persians who speak Farsi rival the tradition with their brand of Islam, the Shi'ah and the Turks originally converts begin to dominate the Islamic community for hundreds of years capping a dynasty with Suleyman the Magnificent.  The steppe peoples, Tatars make strong converts too and display the absolute diversity and universality of Islam.

The rivalry, however, with Christendom is ever present.  In the Middle ages, the Iberian peninsula is conquered, but entering Central Europe is stopped by the French and the peninsula is taken back by the Catholic monarchs. The modern period is, however, really the only serious time that Western civilization confronts and enters Islamic civilization.  The late 17th century marks the stop of the Ottoman empire when they begin their withdraw from Vienna.  WWI marks the downfall of the Ottomans [since they chose the wrong side to support] and the West's entry into and domination of the Middle East.  Islamic civilization finds itself woefully ill-prepared for the advancements of the West.  A proud civilization that precludes being dominated but always dominates has to adjust.  The West, the victorious allies, the UK and France carve out new states with monarchies that did not exist during the Ottoman empire.  The late nineteenth century nationalism that swept the world after the Napoleonic wars grabs also the Jewish people and Zionism is born finding its home through war in ancient Palestine to the chagrin of the Arabic speaking people of the region.

With fall of the Soviet Union, the Islamic engine of conquest has seemed to turn over and engage. The struggle to regain control of the region and evict the non-Muslim peoples and even enter the West to control and conquer them is ongoing.

Mr. Lewis' contribution is a very worthwhile read.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Islam and the West by Bernard Lewis

This study of the relationship between the Islamic civilization and Western civilization is highlighted by a spirited defense of modern scholarship of Islam against a certain Islamic suspicion that any non Muslim could not possibly study and understand Islam properly.  What makes Bernard Lewis a unique scholar is the fact that he has mastered all of the Middle eastern languages.

Islam is unlike Christianity in that there is no separation from the state.  Islam has no church. It is an ever growing religious state, originally built on the talents of founder and subsequent conquests.  The pinnacle of that state seems to have been the Ottoman empire, a fervently religious regime which unified the people and ruled the longest.  The fact that the Ottomans were not Arab, and the Mongols, Tatars were devout converts allows one to see the universal nature of Islam.

As an exclusive faith, however, Islam always rivaled Christian settlement and the Church since Christianity is also an exclusive faith.  There never seems to be the possibility of coexistence unless through a truce.  This means that a state of war is technically in force with the non Muslim state.  The notion of a Muslim living under the rule of a non Muslim is an anathema.

In a confrontation with Columbia professor Edward Said, Lewis dismisses Said's charge that "Orientalism" has an inherent bias and thus one can not rely on any of the past scholarship from non Muslims, citing his sweeping declarations without any proof of support.  The term itself implies Western bias because there is an assumption of one factor of geographic direction and no assumption about the cultural civilization! While Lewis might agree that there has been bias, or even the term is outdated, nevertheless, he shows that Said does not seem to understand the scientific methods of research that enable the critical scholar to understand and comment.

The book is a tour d'force as an excellent introduction to a highly cultured profound civilization.  Mr. Lewis treats his subject with great sensitivity and respect.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rav Breuer: His life and his legacy by Dr. David Kranzler and Dovid Landesman

Anyone familiar with the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights knows the Germany Jewish synagogue community known by its founding rabbi's name: Breuer's.  K'hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ) on Bennett Ave is a model "Kehillah", a Jewish community in the old corporate style of pre-enlightened Europe that is comprised of a rabbinate with its own court, kosher supervision service, a mikvah society, a full school system and synagogue. David Kranzler and Dovid Landesman have written an excellent history and record of the community's achievement by highlighting the amazing leadership of Rabbi Dr. Joseph Breuer, a grandson of Rabbi Samson. Refoel Hirsch and a trustworthy tradent of his philosophy, Torah im Derech Eretz.

Rav Breuer was a dynamic personality, a fearless individual who strove for truth and defended his grandfather's outlook of the primacy of Torah that subordinates secular studies without negating or ignoring them.  He believed that Torah im Derech Eretz was not just a ad hoc approach to dealing with modernity but rather a long term answer to the challenges of assimilation in the modern world.

One reads about the rav's fearlessness in dealing with the Nazis and his understanding that escape was the only option.  He was one of the few who saw that the true nature of Nazism was not a passing fad.

In coming to America, he had clarity of vision to set up a parallel community that was modeled after Frankfurt retaining all of Nusach Ashkenaz.  He refused to conform to America, and as a result was a towering role model.  With much tact, understanding and sensitivity, he identified with the financial struggles of his congregants, but never wavered in the demand for Torah observance.  He also initially did not identify with the Yeshiva world of negating the outside by creating Kollelim because the philosophy of Torah im Derech Eretz incorporated secular studies to gain employment and security. Only until it became clear to him that Orthodoxy needed such an approach of the Yeshivos in America did he lend his support.

His integrity and honesty was made famous by his aphorism: Glatt Kosher implies Glatt Yosher!  He would deplore the outward looking obvious pious Jew who cheated in business but was scrupulous in finding the proper kosher insignia on what he consumed.  He would not associate with any organization that acknowledged anything not Torah observant.  He did not identify with the religious Zionists of Mizrachi since they were in partnership with completely secular Zionists.  He sided with his grandfather to remain independent and secede from the irreligious community. He believed that the future of the Jewish State could only be long lasting if it were centered around Torah.

When I was a rabbinical student at Yeshiva University, (a community with the philosophy called "Torah U' Mada" Torah and Science and as some allege an offshoot of Torah im Derech Eretz),  I lived among the Breuer community in the same building as Chazan Frankel who was a superb refined human being with a very pleasant voice.  It became very clear to me that YU was not an offshoot of Torah im Derech Eretz but rather something original and it certainly lacked the consistency and clarity of the Breuer community.  Although secular studies were ensconced, YU was too eclectic to assume a Torah im Derech Eretz label.

I must mention that my experience with Rabbi Shimon Schwab Zt"L, Rav Breuer's successor, although brief had a profound effect on me.  He was an extraordinary role model.  When I frequented the synagogue, he used special crutches and although he seemed in pain as he walked, he demonstrated a lofty spiritual countenance as if accepting his pain out of love for Hashem; there was no grimace, only a faint smile. I would make a Kinyan with him to sell my Chometz and his pleasant smile still reverberates in my mind.  Even though he knew that I was not a permanent member of his community and knew I was studying at YU, I always felt a warm welcome from him.  I heard him tell of his experience with the Chofetz Chaim in a tone anticipating the coming of Mashiach.

This biography is an excellent introduction to the Hirschian philosophy of Torah im Derech Eretz and an inspiring read about one of the architects of Torah survival.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Denying the Holocaust: the growing assault on truth and memory by Deborah Lipstadt

Ms. Lipstadt has written a history of Holocaust denial, the troubling trend to sow the seeds of doubt about the most horrific event of the twentieth century.  Denying the Holocaust is a subtle way of hiding one's antisemitism under the cover of 'scholarship' by questioning the number of victims and methods of the Nazi annihilation of European Jewry.

The numbers defy the imagination.  The method of gassing seems too brutal to be true.  Coupled with the responsibility attached to the national identity of Germany one can understand a desire to forget about the greatest blight on humanity.  Without the overwhelming evidence of the slaughter, one could easily question how one could one be so cruel.

The evidence, however, has not stopped many from attempting to rehabilitate Germany from its Nazi past.  Most deniers, antisemites in disguise tend to create doubt by actually ignoring the overwhelming evidence by espousing arguments of 'reason', speculations and assumptions that reasonable people would never conjure up such brutality! Or peg the evidence on Jewish historians who they claim have an obvious bias against Germany!  Never is their argument ever fully explained because internally it can't stand up to internal logic.  If Hitler never wanted to destroy the Jews why would the Jews be against him?  Their arguments only make sense to one who hates Jews, who believe there is some kind of Jewish conspiracy against them.

I remember a Television program that aired a visit to Auschwitz in which a so called "expert engineer" collected samples of Zyklon B from gas chambers and concluded that there was not enough residue to effect lethal levels.  I don't remember a rebuttal of the charges that he made on the program.  Prof. Lipstadt, however, gives the background and discussion of this fellow and exposes him as a absolute fraud who lacked any professional training.  And in-spite of debriefing the TV producers before the airing of the show about the fraud, the program nevertheless aired!  It is a sad commentary about the nature of TV and ratings vs. the need to tell the truth.

It is clear to me, with the aging of and passing of Holocaust survivors, there will be more denial of the past crimes because most can't or won't fathom such abuse, sadism and murder even with the overwhelming evidence of the program for the 'final solution of the Jewish problem' by Hitler and his Nazi regime.

Titan: the life of John D. Rockefeller Sr. by Ron Chernow

This great biography is really a monumental contribution toward the history of US business of the late 19th and early 20th centuries putting into perspective the values and politics of a free capitalistic society and how government becomes involved. The American Oil companies of Mobil, Exxon, Chevron, Soho, Amoco have there origins in the Standard oil monopoly that was ultimately broken up by the government.  This is a story of the investment houses of JP Morgan and Kuhn Loeb (Jacob Schiff) as they pertain to the 'discounts' allotted to Standard oil by the different train companies to transport the oil for kerosene lighting.

Mr. Rockefeller Sr. was described sensitively and realistically showing what one person can achieve through thought, planning and great effort.  He exhibited some formidable qualities worth studying.  Highly sensitive and very intelligent, Mr. Rockefeller showed great restraint and control over his emotions.  Never one to allow a slight to go unanswered, Mr. Rockefeller never was impulsive.  He was a determined person with cunning and sharp insight always seeking an opponent's weak spot.

His way was legendary: be scrupulously honest in accounting and always give an account. (He required his adult son to always account for his expenditures even when their fantastic wealth could not have been affected by any miscalculation.)  He prided himself on honesty since his religious Baptist upbringing, well integrated into his being demanded it.  Similarly, however, he was known to be vindictive in a subtle way.  Only upon reflection does one see that personality flaw because he was so cunning in his retaliation, a way that always could be interpreted without vengeance.  He could always explain away his behavior in a positive manner.  His rapaciousness was constantly justified and explained as "cooperation" is always preferred over "competition".  Many testified that he was probably the most intelligent person of his day.

His antisemitism came out as he prided himself for besting a Jew in business.  Interestingly enough, he could not swallow up Shell Oil (founded by Jewish Marcus Samuel) and the Royal Dutch Oil companies but rather had to compete with them since they were supported by the financially muscular French Rothschild family.  Ironically, his son seemed to claim that his company received better treatment from the Jewish Jacob Schiff of the investment house of Kuhn Loeb then the house of JP Morgan.  There seemed to be a lingering feeling that Rockefeller could not trust Morgan.

Rockefeller showed tremendous restraint.  When he was completely vilified in a series of magazine articles and press coverage, he felt no impulse to respond and defend himself.  He always felt confident that he was guiltless.  As a matter of fact, during his tenure at Standard Oil he prided himself at keeping prices of kerosene low for the consumer.  With the rise of the automobile, Standard Oil supremacy remained through his successors who were responsible for the changes in price.  He shied away from any publicity until his retirement at which point he had already given away millions to a number of philanthropies (including the founding of the University of Chicago).

Rockefeller never understood or appreciated the charges against him.  He condemned the vilification of his person to the evils of 'Unionization' and 'Socialism'.  Teddy Roosevelt capitalized on Rockefeller's lack of appreciation of the charges against him.  He saw a great opportunity to grow the government and curtail free enterprise when the public cry against the rapacity of Rockefeller and Standard Oil rose to a deafening shout.

Ironically, the breakup of Standard oil did not punish John D. Rockefeller Sr.  Since he owned a majority share of the company he benefited by owning majority shares in each separate company which exponentially augmented his wealth to billionaire status.  Before the actual breakup, Mr. Rockefeller recommended buying Standard Oil stock because he understood the benefits of what was essentially a huge stock split! And although he became somewhat bawdy in his old age, by the time he died (well into his 90's) he was known for his philanthropy and not for his avarice.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Appeasers by Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott

This contribution puts to rest the notion that Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax deliberately coaxed and indulged the Germans with appeasement in order to give England a chance to rearm and prepare for the war against Germany.  The authors forcefully show how from the time of the Treaty of Versailles that the English were in no mood to commit to a war and were committed to peace at a very heavy price even at the expense of Poland's sacrifice until the moral outrage and public opinion demanded that England keep their committed alliance and guarantee.

The outrageous treaty that stripped Germany of its assets and pride is seen by the British as an embarrassment.  The British seem eager to re-establish the 'Anglo/Saxon' bound and out of guilt offer appeasing policies, allocating colonies and allowing the break up Czechoslovakia and ultimate annexation of Austria to placate the Germans and blunt to impact of Versailles.

There is ample evidence that the diplomatic corp throughout the 1930's offered intelligence that suggested that Hitler's appetite was far greater that anything Chamberlain envisioned would satiate. The diplomats were concerned with the emerging brutality of the Nazi regime, its Anti-Semitism and quashing of any dissent; that it signaled the impossibility of reason.

The element of secrecy became necessary because the British public opinion would not tolerate the betrayal of its ally France.  If in secret, an agreement of peace could be reached it could be announced dramatically and heroically. Chamberlain really thought that the public waiving of the Munich agreement would stave off war.  In retrospect, Hitler exploited Chamberlain's guilt all along with continued demands.  Hitler was never interested in peace, he was interested in conquest and hegemony over the world.

All countries are committed to peace. Appeasement, however, seems likely when a country lacks the will power to fulfill obligations. Even when England had a guarantee for Poland's sovereignty, it still secretly pressed Poland to deal with Germany's demands!  The demand for peace not only can obstruct the enemy's true intentions but it also can demoralize morale.  The public moral outrage brought down the Chamberlain government and brought on Churchill as PM. It is interesting to note that as a member of the cabinet, and even one who staunchly and consistently criticized Appeasement, Churchill did not publicly demand the fall of the government, nor was responsible for it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Who Crucified Jesus by Solomon Zeitlin

Who Crucified Jesus is an excellent work of historical research into the Christian scriptures showing that the Jewish people are not responsible for Jesus' crucifixion.  There are some important features about the first century CE that come out in this contribution.  Sectarianism is explained clearly to show context of the emerging new religion.  The role of the Sanhedrin is discussed in detail.  Philo and Josephus are heavily relied upon to give an accurate picture of the Roman procurators.  Professor Zeitlin explains the differences between political and religious offenses and concludes that Jesus was accused of a political offense and put to death under the Roman authorities.  The book originally written during WWII enables the author to analogize the Roman brutality to the Nazi onslaught making an evocative read.

After discussing the Hasmonean revolt and the emergence of the sectarians Pharisees and Sadducees, Professor Zeitlin explain the basic differences in belief.  The Pharisees believe in an afterlife and the resurrection of the dead and the Sadduccees do not.  This difference ends up being crucial in understanding the Jewish followers of Jesus commit no crimes in believing in a resurrection.  The prof. goes through the Tannaitic literature and shows that Jesus commits no religious crime that deserves capital punishment through the religious court, the Sanhedrin and concludes that there must have been a separate second Sanhedrin for political crimes against the Roman State to which which Jesus is ultimately submitted and then sent to the Roman procurator, Pilate.  The political offense of being accused of being the "King of the Jews" would imply sedition to which the Romans would sentence one to death by crucifixion.

Dr. Zeitlin shows his power of exegesis when he deconstructs the Christian Scriptures.  He shows the absolute contradictions among them.  By explaining, however, that each book addresses a specific audience, the prof. proves that there are not serious contradictions but understandable prejudices.  He claims that the so-called 'Synoptic Gospels' are really addressing a Jewish audience and thus one does not find a negative inference about the Pharisees being hypocrites; whereas the non 'Synoptic Gospel' is addressing a non-Jewish audience which understandably depicts much prejudice against the Jewish people for rejecting their messiah and introduce the Pharisees as being hypocrites.

According to Christian Scripture, Pilot the procurator that put Jesus to death is depicted as sympathetic, however, Professor Zeitlin cites the testimony of Philo and Josephus to show that Pilate was not a sympathetic character but rather a vicious personality. There is built in animosity against the Jewish people for rejecting Jesus, so the Romans are depicted as not being responsible for his death.

Professor Zeitlin shows definitively that the Jewish people are not and should not be accused of crucifying Jesus.  He admits that Jewish people rejected him as the Messiah but never did they try Jesus for any religious offense that the religious Sanhedrin (which was dominated by the Pharisees) could have been responsible for punishing him.  As a matter of fact, the corrupt High priest as the vassal authority who had everything to lose by not cooperating with the Romans delivered Jesus over to the authorities for the capital crime of sedition against the Roman state.  The book is an excellent read, showing the consummate skills of the critical historian.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Great Ages and Ideas of the Jewish People edited by Leo W. Schwartz

This book is a great survey of Jewish History written by some major Jewish historians of the mid 20th century.  Each person distinguished in his field of study: The Biblical Age is written by Yehezkel Kaufmann of Hebrew University, The Hellenistic Age is written by Ralph Marcus of the University of Chicago, and the Talmudic Age is written by Gerson D. Cohen of Columbia University (eventually associated with the Jewish Theological Seminary of America - the rabbinical school for Conservative Judaism).  Abraham S. Halkin of the City College of New York (now known as the City University of New York) wrote the essay on the Judeo-Islamic Age and Cecil Roth of Oxford University penned the contribution of the European Age.  The volume is concluded with a major contribution from Salo Baron of Columbia University called the Modern Age.

What I find remarkable about this volume was the common legacy that Profs. Halkin and Roth had to say about the Jewish people.  They both echo the same message that the Jewish people are unique: they are an ancient people that have held fast to their literature and steadfastly held on to their faith. The ancient Talmudic tradition, its unique curricula and manner of study has kept the Jewish people alive.  Through their ancient literature and studies, the Jewish people have been able to adapt to new situations and withstand the vicissitudes of history. And although the majority of Modern Jewish people do not study the Talmud, nevertheless, those that do color the Jewish nation with its authentic values.  Even the most secular Jew turns to the ancient literature to find inspiration.

I was impressed that Salo Baron could level a criticism against a fellow historian as being "annoyingly too objective" !  Reading Abraham Halkin's contribution, however, triggered my memory of him teaching me as a visiting professor at the University of California when I took his course about the Judeo-Islamic age.  I remember his sage like presence, soft eyes and kindly smile.  He inspired me in my own path to find and safeguard my heritage.  I once went to see him at his office and asked him if he could answer a religious/moral question that I had.  He was eager to help me understand.  I asked him about the commandment to destroy Amalek, that I didn't understand it.  He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a traditional yarmulke and donned it.  He grabbed a Pentateuch readily available on his office shelf and swiftly flipped to the relevant page and read the verse out loud to me.  "It's Geschribben!" he commented and then said to me ever so kindly, "Now, what don't you understand?"  For me it was an amazing moment.  The simplicity of a decree of scripture all depended on whether or not one accepted the book's authority.  If one does not accept the book's authority, then the commandment is unintelligible. If one, however, accepts the the authority of the book, then the commandment is easily understood.

I also remember the first time I saw the professor at the orthodox synagogue in Berkeley.  He was called to the Torah and instead of saying the blessings and proceeding to listen to the Torah reader's rendition, Prof. Halkin asked quietly the reader, "I usually read for myself, do you have any objections if I read?"  Everyone in the congregation was taken aback.  Never had anyone volunteered to read their own Aliyah!  So he read, and he read perfectly!  He pronounced every Dagesh Hazak, every Mapik Heh, every Kamatz Katan, every guttural consonant.  It was truly an extraordinary experience and as a result Prof. Halkin became the official Torah Reader during his visiting appointment at the request of the congregation.

Even though this volume was published in 1956, it represents the best secular scholarship of its day and still worth reading.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Contemporary Relevance of History by Salo W. Baron

This is a short series of essays on the different approaches that the professional historian may take under his wing. I would like to mention just two points that Mr. Baron makes when discussing the researching and writing of history with the addition of my own thoughts.

The critical historical method: the comparison of different sources and accepting only that fact that has corroborating evidence has certain limits.  Mr. Baron points out that the method is only efficient or relevant during periods of ample written evidence.  He points out that when studying cultures or societies that rely heavily on oral transmissions or societies that rely on memory and the written evidence is often vary scarce, the research is difficult since no corroborating evidence can be analyzed.

This means that studying the ancient Jewish world, for example, during the time of a functioning Sanhedrin when oral transmissions were forbidden to write down, research is difficult.  For example, first century historian, Josephus writing for essentially a Roman audience inevitably must be compared to much later Talmudic sources because the Jewish world at the time of Josephus was functioning and firing on Oral cylinders.  The Roman world values written histories, whereas the Jewish world does not.  If the sources agree, then the historian is confident of the facts.  If, however, they do not agree, then the researcher has a quandary because there are so many possibilities to explain the differences, with no way to verify data.  Any re-creation or construction is basically founded on sand.

Secondly, Mr. Baron makes a very strong case that history (and certainly Jewish history) should be analyzed through a religious social lens.  Although he goes through many approaches: Psychohistory, Quantitative History, Social history, Secular State history etc., he shows that religion has played the most profound effect on civilization even in the most secular environments.  He shows that even at the height of the Enlightenment with the founding of a country that is the most secular in nature, with the greatest separation of Church/State (USA), religion, nevertheless, plays an incredibly dominant role in the animation of its people.

Mr. Baron was not known to be a religious nor observant Jew, nevertheless, he observed the theocracy that preoccupied the individual psyche of most of the world's inhabitants during every major epic and civilization.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

All Shook Up: How Rock 'N' Roll Changed America by Glenn C. Altschuler

This volume chronicles the rise of the musical phenomenon, Rock and Roll of the 1950's and how it meshed with concurrent social trends of civil unrest, disobedience and the 'generation gap' of the coming turbulent times of the 1960's.  Prof. Altschuler explains that the genre of Rock and Roll reflects the emerging unrest of post WWII youth, a more affluent youth completely distinct from its veteran, depression era experienced parents.

Sex, race relations, and rebellion comprised the elements of Rock and Roll according to the author.  Mr. Altschuler explained a social evolution unfolds with Rock and Roll.  Rock and Rock originated in the Black community, known as Rhythm and Blues and implied explicit sexual expression in the music. It attracted young white males and Sam Phillips of Sun Records commented "if I had a white boy to sing these songs, I'd make a billion.."  Elvis Presley presented himself and became the transition bringing Black music to a craving white crowd.  Elvis' blatant sexual gyrations during his performances struck a chord with audiences: girls screamed desire for him, boys craved to be like him and parents were reviled, feared and were shaken by him.

Little Richard and Chuck Berry, black artists enthused audiences with their clearly sensual movements, yet threatened the status quo of segregation by appealing to mixed crowds.  Buddy Holly played at the famed Apollo theater in the Black section of New York's Harlem with many in the audience expecting to see a black artist yet were shocked at seeing a white one!  Jerry Lee Lewis pounded on the piano even with his feet evoking almost violent orgiastic experiences.  Rock and Roll manifested a breakout of the social and sexual repression of the 1940's and early 1950's.

By end of the '50s music producers cropped, edited and sanitized Rock and Roll so that mainstream vehicles and venues like American Bandstand with Dick Clark, The Steve Allen Show and the perennial powerhouse, The Ed Sullivan Show could exhibit Rock and Roll headliners without fear of negative repercussions.  Even Elvis Presley's agent Tom Parker understood the need for sanitizing Rock and Roll.  He forced Elvis to take a hiatus from singing and made movies that sanitized his image. Into the early '60s, Rock and Roll became dominated by innocuous love and romance songs by the smash English group the Beatles.  The only American groups to come close were Dianna Ross and the Supremes also singing about love and the adolescent group, the Beach Boys singing about surfing.

The book also discusses the corruption in the music industry.  It highlights the rise of and fall of pioneering DJ from Cleveland, Alan Freed taking money to spin records.  It shows the shrewd business sense of Dick Clark staying clear of getting caught, although it seems clear from the evidence that Clark benefited from music producers in the form of at least gifts and travels.

Rock and Roll seems to have met the test of time.  Well into the 1980's, Bruce Springsteen fooled the political spectrum with his "Born in the USA" by waving an American flag.  Conservative and liberal pundits alike identified with the song to represent an authentic truly American composition.  As a result, one may come to believe that Rock and Roll is here to stay!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer

Professor David Hackett Fischer's excellent history of the turning point of the American Revolutionary war brings out some important salient features of not only General Washington but also the emerging values of the nascent new country.  Besides his great leadership, one reads about the grand ideas and values of the Enlightenment that the leaders and founding fathers steadfastly hold up.

The book chronicled in detail Washington's crossing the Delaware river with the cover of night to make a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, NJ. After the abysmal showing in New York when the Continental Army was in constant retreat and the British leadership thought they had the insurrection practically quelled, moreover, with the Continental Congress beginning to regret Washington's commission as leader, the general devised a plan that exploited the element of surprise and capitalized on his army's 'celerity'.  The battles at Trenton and Princeton were routs, exercising swift movements and classic flanking maneuvers knowing that the British regulars enjoyed intimidating and overwhelming its enemies with direct assaults. The fight continued with the 'forage wars', the British seeking out of fodder for their cavalry's horses - something as important then as oil is today for a mobilized army.  The Americans successfully prosecuted a guerrilla war, quickly attacking  to inflict major damage and just as swiftly withdrawing and disappearing into the wilderness keeping casualties at a minimum.  At that point, with little cavalry horses left, many on the side of the British began to understand that winning such a war and putting down the 'insurrection' would be very difficult.

Mr. Fischer debunks the iconic painting of Washington in a boat crossing the icy river, one foot raised with right hand resting on his thigh as an impossibility.  The instability of such a position would have cast the general overboard.  The painting, nevertheless, captures Washington's regal and noble countenance to which all who knew Washington testified.  Washington's resolute determination to win and personal courage in battle were indeed awesome and inspiring to all those who witnessed them.

The author contrasts the ways of the British and Americans wage war.  For the British, war is a question of honor and manhood with certain expectations of the vanquished.  For the British, if one one would not surrender at their request, then there was no obligation to quarter or sustain prisoners. There were countless events of absolute ferocious brutality on their part.  The Americans, however, wage war simply to win. Taking the basic call from John Adams and specifically the example of George Washington, the Americans show magnanimity, generosity and humanity - something attested to by the British themselves.  The British General Howe was autocratic and did not accept advice from his war council.  Washington, on the other hand, presided at his war council by consensus and encouraged opinions.  The contrasts seem to reflect the different style of governments - a Monarchy vs. a free Republic.

The author concludes that some contemporary critics of today who think that America is not a noble enterprise are wrong.  One need only to see Washington and the founding fathers as extraordinary people who created a country that reflects the generous ideas of the Enlightenment to set the record straight.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ancient and Medieval Jewish History: essays by Salo Wittmayer Baron (Leon Feldman editor)

This collection of essays in honor of Prof. Baron's 75th birthday show the professor's virtuosity in understanding that Jewish history is not the 'lachrymose' record that Graetz and others claim.  Baron points out acutely that being the 'serfs of the royal chamber' actually safeguarded and protected the Jews from an overbearing and far reaching Church.  Baron discusses the the tug of war between Church and monarchies over the possession of the Jewish people.  He shows the actual protection given to the Jewish people in spite of the aggressive Churchmen's charges.

Baron gave a strong description of Saadya Gaon as a profound leader who really understood how to utilize his position of power to fight the heretical sect, the Karaites.  Some of the essays were, however, curious to me.  The one entitled "The Economic views of Maimonides" was very erudite in going through statements of the Rambam's Mishna Torah.  Nowhere, however, does the professor make clear that the Mishna Torah is only a restatement of Torah shebaal Peh, the oral Torah and rabbinic law.  Dr. Baron seems to imply the Rambam's novel interpretations were his independent views detached from the Oral Torah.  This criticism was already leveled at Baron by a contemporary, Solomon Zeitlin in a review of the original publication.  After reading Baron's essay, I thought Zeitlin's critique resonated on its own merits.

The essay on Rashi and the community of Troyes was also curious. Most of the essay was trying to establish the accurate demography of the Jewish community because the historical issue at hand was the lack of data on the town.  For historians, Troyes was too young and immature to have produced such a profound Jewish community with such a formidable figure as Shlomo Ben Yitzchak. Its history seems just to appear out of nowhere!; as if when Rashi comes back from studying in the Rhineland, Troyes becomes a great city of Jewish learning.  The lack of data baffles historians even today [Robert Chazan of NYU also brings out this point of wonder of about Rashi and his community]  Nowhere in the article, however, does one get a sense of how important or profound Rashi was to rabbinic interpretation.  He seems to be an important commentator, yet one never understands that Rashi becomes the middle man, the address for rabbinic understanding who far surpasses anyone else in Jewish history.  The novice and the scholar together must begin with Rashi to understand the Jewish rendering of scriptures and rabbinic texts.

Baron brings out profound irony when discussing the Reformation, Luther's and Calvin's religious revolutions.  That in spite of both Luther's and Calvin's vitriolic hatred of the Jews, their positions that demand the existence of differences of opinion within the Church require toleration and as a consequence of their arguments of acceptance and toleration of Christian sects, ultimately the Jewish people benefit in the growing pains of toleration.

These essays are worthwhile reading because one gets a sense of what animates a professional Jewish historian, one who has been called the greatest of the twentieth century.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties by Shaye J.D Cohen

This contribution of Jewish history fits into the classic critical methods that ignore the possiblity that ancient traditions (called Torah SheBaal Peh) could actually exist.  If one is interested in critical methodology that is evaluating all extant materials, comparing contrasting and interpreting then one should read this book.  It covers questions of conversion to Judaism, the prohibition of intermarriage and origins of matrilineal descent.  If one is, however, a believer in 'Emunas Chachamin' and believes in the integrity of the Oral Torah, then this study will frustrate and annoy because the author uses terms like 'rabbinize' that somehow the rabbis changed history formulating normative Judaism.

Much of the book is consistent with the critical historian's view (which was set down many years ago - first quarter of the 20th century- see George Foote Moore's Judaism) that our Judaism, the practices and observances of today were formulated during the major rabbinic periods from 200 bce through the talmudic era of the 5th century.  So what the author 'proves' from extant literature that the concept of conversion from another nation did not occur until the 2nd century bce.  In other words, Ruth the Moabite was not really a convert but rather by virtue of marrying Boaz (which is a complete negation of Torah SheBaal peh) accepted into the nation of Israel. Or the author opines that the Bible is patrilineal and not matrilineal - it was the rabbis that changed this Biblical tradition to follow the mother.  Or there really was never a wide ranging prohibition to intermarriage (Ezra not withstanding) but rather the rabbis widened the prohibition creating a notion of 'us vs. them'

Professor Cohen acknowleges that he does not know the motivations for the rabbis to 'rabbinize' (a fascinating indescript term used when the rabbis adopt, or change something according to the critical historian's thesis) and he never gives the possibility that the rabbis had a standing ancient tradition in their hands. The reason he can not entertain such a thought is because there is no corroborating outside evidence to support such a view or tradition.  In other words, for the critical historian the lack of evidence is evidence. In other words, Torah SheBaal Peh is a concept that is 'ahistorical' or anti historical for the critical historian. Any tradition that does not have 'evidence' from the outside is not considered historically worthy.  The arrogance of the critical historian comes out in a footnote that cites J.D. Bleich, a very well known accomplished Torah Scholar, labeling his work as "its naive fundamentalism and antihistorical pietism render its conclusions useless for the historian."  The true view of the critical historian is that to be a believer in Torah SheBaal peh one need be naive or antihistorical.

From a critical point of view, the author is a fine scholar, very thorough. I have said in another place that sometimes the rules of the critical scholar can blind or restrict his viewpoint precluding that the simple piety of the rabbis can be a viable view.  There is not a shred of evidence that the rabbis somehow manufacture changes consciously.  The rabbis' point of view that they were holding on to ancient traditions, as the author concludes his book, requires hermeneutics and exegesis, not historical research.

One of the basic differences between Orthodox yeshivos and the Conserivative seminaries is the stress on critical history.  The major figures of yeshivos are halakhic adjudicators fluent in the Torah SheBaal Peh with negligent emphisis on history, whereas the Conservative institutions are fundamentally historians fluent in history but not fluent in Torah Shebaal peh or halakhic adjudication.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Salo Baron: Architect of Jewish History by Robert Liberles

When enrolled at the university, I had a visiting professor of Jewish history, Abraham Halkin, who required the reading of certain volumes of Salo Baron's Social and Religious History of the Jews. I developed somewhat of close relationship with the teacher to the extent that he would ask me questions from time to time like, "what did you think of the text that I assigned?"  I responded frankly, "Although the material is quite substantial, I found the style difficult to understand."  He exhibited surprise, saying that he had helped the author with the style to make the language more accessible since English was not Baron's first language. This was the first time I was introduced to Salo Baron's scholarship.  Dr. Halkin was my introduction to the old school professor who was fluent in all the romance and Semitic languages along with German, Russian, and Yiddish. During a course of Spanish Jewish history, I witnessed an exchange that took place basically in Arabic when the professor was challenged by two students who were conversant in the Koran. They expected to fluster the teacher with their command of Islam's holy text, however, the professor retorted and rejoined their challenges until the students in frustration removed themselves from the class seeing that they could not dislodge the professor from his seat of authority.  I imagined that Baron must have been similar to Halkin: both born in Eastern Europe, both fluent in many languages and both settled in the American Academy as American professors.

Although Liberles does not mention Halkin as one of Baron's colleagues, nevertheless, there is indeed a sense that Baron had problems with English.  There is a brutal exchange with his publisher that paints Baron in a petty, unreasonable light.  Liberles' study, however, of Baron and his scholarship is a crushing critical study of the emergence of "anti-Lachrymose" Jewish history.  It is the story of Baron's emphatic effort to down play the tragedies of Jewish history and see the unfolding of Jewish history through external economic, social and religious contexts.  

[I am reminded of an exchange with another teacher of Jewish history at a conference when the teacher expressed envy that I could teach Jewish History without "burning out"!  I asked what do you mean and she explained that for her, Jewish History is just one tragedy after another!  Its too much to bear! she said.  I responded by saying how can a study of the personalities of Jewish history burn one out? Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam, Rambam, Ramban etc. are all extraordinary inspiring people! One need not dwell on tragedies to see the profundity of Jewish History!]

One learns of Baron's tumultuous invitation to Columbia University as the first chair in Jewish History placed in the History department.  There is irony in the fact the president of the university is very receptive to establishing a Jewish chair on the one hand but is instrumental in creating a Jewish quota system to limit the number of Jewish students to the university.

The bulk of Baron's scholarship is produced before WWII.  One learns that his innate optimism colors his attitude toward Nazism and woefully misreads the brutality of the Nazis.  Being a great historian does not mean one is a good prophet.  

One reads about the the biting criticism from contemporary historians that Baron often made sweeping generalizations without proper foundations from sources.  The most devastating critique comes from Solomon Zeitlin claiming that Baron cited from secondary sources (Jewish Encyclopedia) when original sources were available casting doubt on Baron's competency!  Zeitlin also stings Baron saying that to claim Maimonides held certain economic views in an Islamic environment when those views are universally held by the rabbis of the Mishnah, is to grossly mislead his reader.  

Yitzchak Baer of Hebrew University formidably disagrees with Baron on elements that moved the Jewish community. Baron favors external forces whereas, Baer stresses internal Jewish elements.  Baron downplays anti-Semitism as the primary mover in the great migration of Eastern European Jewry to the west.  He claims the economic stress, depressions of the communities were more fundamental.  Most historians find this claim incredulous in its suppression of the great Anti-Semitism of the Tzar.

He is the last of the singular historians in the class of Gaetz and Dubnow. I have always enjoyed Baron's history because of his respect toward the tradition and his view that the future of Judaism is more dependent on the religious community than its secular manifestation.[Ironically he himself never went to synagogue nor led a religious lifestyle except conducting a Passover Seder.] He is instrumental in the plethora of Jewish Studies departments all over America and as such is considered the progenitor of the scholarship that has made himself outdated! 

Friday, June 13, 2014

The (guilty) Conscience of a Conservative by Craig Schiller

Although published before the Reagan years, this book puts into perspective why the former governor of California and eventual president of the USA initially lost in the 70's but became a very popular president in the 80's.  Rabbi Schiller explains that if the image of the Conservative could be stripped of the stereotypes of crony capitalist, hater of the poor or destroyer of welfare programs and resonate with regular Americans whom Rabbi Schiller claims are sincerely conservative then the White House would be held by more conservative candidates.

The rabbi points out that there was a bipartisan approval for Social Security which means that even conservatives believe in the appropriateness to aid those that can't afford care.  They do not believe in the fraudulent opportunities that a central government creates.

This book is really a primer in conservative politics. One learns that Conservative thinking is not monolithic.  There are many different kinds of conservatives from the deeply religious, to the completely secular or historical.  Rabbi Schiller makes the case that religious people are naturally politically conservative because of the role that religion and tradition play in their lives.  Keeping tradition and skirting change is a key element in being religious and being politically conservative.

Over the years, I have found myself drifting to right in politics.  Most recently, however, I have acutely felt the unreasonable encroachments of a big centralized government.  The more the government encroaches, the more one's liberty is curtailed.  Phone data collection strikes me as Orwellian.  The notion of prosecuting journalists for doing their job violates freedom of speech.

Rabbi Schiller calls upon Conservatives to go back to the unifying roots of free market capitalism with limited but solid social programs that everyone can support.  The face of the evil amoral capitalist as the Conservative is the creation of the left's propaganda.  The rabbi calls for better communication of the values with which most Americans identify.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Living on the Black: two pitchers, two teams, one season to remember by John Feinstein

This book is a record of the 2007th season that highlights the careers of pitchers Tom Glavine of the NY Mets and Mike Mussina of the NY Yankees.  It is the season that Glavine got his 300th win insuring him for the Hall of Fame but the Mets shut down and lost after being in the lead of the Pennant drive .  This book is for the aficionado who has the patience to plow through 500 plus pages.  I felt the book could have been curtailed to 300 pages and still captured the essence of two very intelligent, mature pitchers.

Pitching is not only very taxing but requires great concentration to pinpoint accurate throws.  Both Glavine and Mussina work the corners of the plate; hence the title "Living on the Black" which refers the black outline of Home plate.  What makes this record worthwhile is not necessarily the description of the baseball but rather the introduction to these two men as likable, smart, and mature individuals.  It is a book that introduces the protagonists not as 'jocks'.

Ted Williams used to say that Pitchers were stupid because they tend to repeat pitches.  He would take note of a particular pitches in particular situations and expect them when the situation repeated itself and then would crack a base hit as a result! The success, however, of these two pitchers lie in the fact that their selection varied and were not repetitive and placement was consistently at the corners of the plate making hitting more difficult.

When reading such a book, I can not help but recall my own experience in organized baseball in High School.  The challenge between hitter and pitcher is great and palpable: the hitter is going smack the ball unless the pitcher places the ball where the hitter can't hit it.  I recall one particular hitter, a very successful powerful one.  I placed two pitches 'up and in' which this fellow crushed both foul by pulling the ball and then I came in with a low and away screw ball that tailed away from hitter striking him out with a weak swing!(Didn't even waist a pitch!)  On the other hand, there was another fellow whom always seemed to expect my pitches and as a result he was always getting base hits!

Mr. Feinstein's writing is fluid and his knowledge of baseball comes through with enthusiasm for the game that I believe mirrors life very well.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Anti-Judaism The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg

Professor David Nirenberg of the University of Chicago has re-framed Antisemitism in the context of the Western tradition as a natural progression in the history of ideas.  He starts with pre-Christian and pre-Islamic eras to show that an animus toward not just Jews but also "Judaism" has existed from the beginning of the emergence of Western Thought.  He describes personages, Manetho and Apion (from ancient Greece and ancient Rome respectively) as harboring anti-Jewish opinions.  He shows his power of exegesis in explaining the disagreements of the emerging Christian church and how the Jewish rejection of Jesus translates into a progression of thought that counters a Jewish world outlook. Christianity defines itself in contradistinction to Judaism.  Its philosophy develops turning away from the Jewish path.  Similarly, the professor shows a similar pattern occurs with the rise of Mohammed and the advent of Islam.  Jewish rejection of Mohammed develops into deep animus toward the Jewish religion.  Professor Nirenberg guides the reader through the ages showing with virtuoso power of interpretation how during the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the Renascence and the Enlightenment Jewish constructs are created and perceptions of Judaism set up only to be torn down.  The author often notes that these constructs are often devoid of real Jews.  A simple example would be that Jewish Law represents material and Christian Love represents spiritual, the "Jewish" temporal pitted against the "Christian" eternal, one being of course superior to the other.  Throughout our Western tradition Jewish constructs or "Judaism" are set up only to be torn down or at least held as a example of what is least desired.

What I found annoying about the Professor's style was his determination to state almost constantly that his interest was not to evaluate the truth of these Jewish constructs nor to state whether these constructs had any relevance to real Jews, but rather to take seriously the existence of such perceptions.  Reality in many ways is determined by perception.  His style for me was so difficult, I had trouble understanding where the author stood on the issue of Antisemitism.  His determined effort to preface Church fathers with Saint or never allowing the name Jesus to dangle alone without the Christian assumption of his being gave me pause to wonder whether the author was taking sides in the discussion of Anti Judaism by being a Christian or merely a secular scholar who was just using common terminology.

I sensed some opinions and prejudices.  Why the author needed to inject that a Palestinian narrative was understandable based on his exegesis of the progression of Anti Judaism seemed unnecessary and the praise of Edward Said seemed gratuitous.  When referring to actual Jewish communities from Eastern Europe migrating to the USA, the author calls them "yammering in Yiddish" to emphasize their strangeness and only glossing over the reasons for the migrations by saying they left for "a variety of reasons"  Why the author restrained himself from commenting on the difficult animus coming from the Czar was baffling to me.{Or perhaps Czarist animus was omitted because old fashioned antisemitism stemming from "Deicide hatred" does not fit the author's thesis}

It was only in the epilogue that the author's intent became more clear to me.  He lamented the lack of critical reflection about the Jewish constructs and "Judaism".  That the university, a place for free expression of ideas could be so marred by antisemitism and anti Judaism.  He called for critical reflection.  Unfortunately for me, this read was frustrating.  No doubt one could discern great learning and understanding, even profound exegesis of the Western Tradition by the author.  I expected, however, to hear outrage or condemnation or at least where the thinkers of the past got Judaism wrong, so that one could not go away from reading the book being complacent about the existence of Antisemitism.

My own thoughts on the subject are somewhat basic without claiming the authority of a professional historian.  I am not surprised at the animus toward "Judaism"nor did I ever think that Professor Nirenberg's thesis could not be easily proven.   Jewish civilization poses a unique manifestation in the history of the world.  In ancient Greece, Hellenism swept the world with everyone assimilating to Greek ways until Hellenism comes to the land of Israel.  Upheaval ensues because of Jewish rejection of Hellenism (even though the Jewish world suffered a rupture of civil war about the adoption of Hellenistic ways)  Separateness out of rejection results in animus.  The same happened with ancient Rome.  Who had the audacity to reject the Roman juggernaut?  Even Josephus thought that his own people were on a suicide course. The Jews revolt and reject Rome and although defeated, the Jewish people do not go off into the sunset. The Roman reaction is cruel and violent destroying and negating the Jewish identity of Israel no longer calling it "Judea" but rather "Palestine".  In their exile they, the Jewish people continue to be separate rejecting the outside or at least adapting to the outside without divorcing there own value system.  Why such a small insignificant people command such attention in the world?  Because the Western tradition defines itself in contradistinction to that small civilization of the Jews.  The Jews refuse to be Christian or Muslim much like they reject Hellenic and Roman civilizations.  The key is not what the Jewish people do but the absence of doing the expected. For example, the Jewish community in Brooklyn NY is one that rejects the outside and instead of being left alone with a "live and let live" attitude. animus can be sensed against them by the surrounding non Jewish communities. Separateness out of rejection results in animus.  Such animus is irrational because the Jewish people do not do anything to deserve the animus.  Although simply stated, the sentence is quite complex psychologically.  One can see this theme in Luther's life (he expected them to do something - convert) and even in Voltaire's life (the Jews refuse to "be human" like everyone else).  The hatred is not rational because it is based on someone else's expectation.  It is not a legitimate reaction to an actual salvo of invective. The animus morphs, however, into thoughts and ideas of us/them, good/ bad, ideal/wanting  etc.  {The Biblical book of Esther expresses this idea.}

There is irony in the fact that Marx called the USA "Jewish", negatively addressing the nature of capitalism.   The USA is one of the least Antisemitic countries founded on the principle of "live and let live" in terms of religious freedom.  In the USA, there has been little animus by comparison of Europe against the Jews because "separateness" in America is a value.  The USA is a salad bowl of culture, of ethnic diversity: its ok to be different.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Driving Mr. Yogi by Harvey Araton

Driving Mr. Yogi is a story of friendship between two former Major League baseball players.  One who played in the late 1970's and the other who played in the 1950's and 60's.  More importantly it is a warm introduction to the oldest living NY Yankee, Yogi Berra.  What makes this a delightful read is that the subject is a great personality.  In an age of great wealth, great egos and arrogance that comes with great wealth, the reader is introduced to a warm unaffected personality in Yogi Berra.  The book centers around the seasons that Yogi Berra, retiree joined the Yankees in their Spring Training facility in Florida with Ron Guidry being Berra's personal driver.

It is a story of the reconciliation of George Steinbrenner, the contentious Yankee owner with an impulsive tendency to fire managers in an unreasonable manner.  When he fired Berra, he did not give him the courtesy of a personal meeting but rather assigned an underling to the task.  Berra's reaction was a demonstration of protest by boycotting the Yankee organization until amends would be made.  It would take a 14 year boycott of the organization before Mr. Steinbrenner approached Yogi Berra at his museum and learning center to apologize.

What makes Berra a great man is his ability to forgive and forget because after that apology Berra conducted himself as if the "Boss" was a close friend.  He stayed at the owners Hotel in Florida and enjoyed the occasions during which they met and dined.

Talking Baseball is Berra's life.  He can talk to anyone!  He has no pretenses.  He can talk to those in the hair salon in the same manner he  talks to people at a restaurant.  He rarely refuses an autograph - only when mobbed with unreasonable fans at a restaurant will he refuse by getting up and finding and another place to eat with little interruption.  In Florida, he would rotate restaurants with Mr. Guidry so that fans would not congregate to disturb.

Yogi Berra observed talent and his role in Tampa was to give his impressions of the young players and enjoy the general environment of Baseball.  He did not impose his views but rather responded when asked, being a true gentleman.  He gave hitting tips to slumping players effectively.  He befriended difficult people easily because of his affability. (When Derek Jeter struck out on a high pitch out of the strike zone, Yogi asked him why he swung at such a bad pitch?  As Jeter quipped "But you swung at the those pitches!" Berra rejoined adroitly "Yea, but I HIT them!")

In a world of ego maniacs, hedonism and culture lacking values, Yogi Berra stands out as an example of the simple values of friendship, loyalty, modesty and lack of pretensions.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich

This contribution toward education undermines the traditions and models of the current "educational industrial complex".  The book encourages parents to take control over their children's education and take advantage of the explosion of new technologies and social networks.  It attacks traditional school as antiquated, inefficient, and too expensive.  According to the book, traditional school caters to the common denominators and not to the individual, tests don't work, and homework is a waste of time that could be utilized for 'real learning'.  The concept being a "drop off" parent can be devastating to a child's development and the author encourages that care givers be those that love the child like a grandparent instead of a hired nanny.

The author is a believer in observation and discovery and informal outdoor education (one learns so much more at a summer camp then during a whole year at school).  He believes that observing animals as microcosms is more valuable than listening to a teacher drone on about societies.

Mr. Aldrich encapsulates and conceptualizes learning to three directions: Learn to be, learn to do and learn to know.  These three concepts will guide anyone's curricula of study.  We want our children, for example, to be good citizens, morally and ethically aware.  We want our children to be able to do things, developing skills to succeed.  Knowledge is required for both.  If one would use these three concepts as their guide one will discover traditional school is not at all necessary.

Mr. Aldrich claims that our grandparent's generation got it right when the core learning consisted of 'reading, writing and arithmetic'.  Those three areas are essential to success in life.  One needs to be able to research a subject of interest, one needs to be able to correspond socially and one needs to be able to make purchases and balance a checkbook.  He encourages projects likes creating a business or creating or planning an event to replace classroom learning because that is what happens in real life! The amount of time spent learning literature is waste for most and should be only be encouraged to those that LOVE literature.  Calculus should be part of History and only a math subject for those that show LOVE of mathematics.   Math should include 'the spread sheet' as a requirement because it is essential in every business.  He claims the ideal classroom size is 5 students not 25.  The interaction of 5 is so much more intimate and real then organizing 25 people.

This book is really for those committed to homeschooling, those willing to devote much time to the development of one's child's growth.  Those parents willing to remove their child from the common educational industrial complex and allow the child freedom to explore the world on one's own terms. [My wife and I pulled our children out of their elementary school one year to homeschool them until we were satisfied that the school changed sufficiently.  That year we connected with an accredited Charter School, homeschooled them and admittedly our children learned more in one year then their previous years of schooling. Socially, however, our children felt they suffered, they felt isolated from their friends and missed the school culture to which they were already accustomed and they were happy to return to their school.] Although Mr. Aldrich would like to see a major change to traditional school, he understands that the majors changes he encourages are not going to happen in the near future.  His ideas nevertheless should be taken into account by every educator.

I am personally taken by his three concepts of learning (to be, to do and to know) because they immediately remind me of a Torah education of the most traditional kind.  A Torah observant person learns to Be a good Yehudi, he learns to Do the mitzvos and is devoted to (as the Rambam says) KNOW Hashem.  The traditional Yeshiva model fits perfectly into Mr. Aldrich's conclusions about education.  Traditional Yeshiva students are actually well educated for success because they have mastered the skills behind learning to be, learning to do and learning to know!  With the conclusions of Mr. Aldrich, one should not be so quick to dismiss traditional Yeshiva education.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Our Crowd by Stephen Birmingham

This richly researched study of an American Jewish aristocracy shows that the USA is truly a land of opportunity, and reinforces the idea that assimilation, the disappearance of Jewish identity is associated with its high society and culture.  Mr. Birmingham traces the fantastic rise of some prominent 19th century German Jewish immigrants from poor beginnings to astronomical wealth.  It is a study of timing and opportunity, being in the right place at the right time with the appropriate ambition and talent.  The family names of Seligman, Lehman, Guggenheim, Schiff, Loeb and Warburg are highlighted in this very readable study.

The Lehmans started out in the South as cotton brokers and survived the Civil War to eventually develop a commodity trading house that evolved into the investment house of Lehman Bros.  The Guggenheims started out peddlers and sold successfully copper polish and eventually developed the mining business in states like Colorado.  Jacob Schiff as a young German immigrant joined the investment banking of Kuhn, Loeb and eventually eclipsed the founders' success as a result of his vision of the railroad industry and representing one the most successful railroad barons.  Joseph Seligman and his brothers started out as pre-Civil War peddlers, yet developed an investment banking house that practically mirrors the famous and most powerful Rothschilds by placing brothers strategically in European cities.

Jacob Schiff's leadership in the Jewish community is so profound that he becomes the address for philanthropy during the wave of massive Eastern European immigration of 1880's through almost the first quarter of the twentieth century.  His rigid principles and integrity serve him well.  WWI, however becomes a curious dilemma for him when he makes a stipulation that his loan to Britain and its allies may not in anyway be utilized by Czarist Russia.  Schiff, angry at Russia's treatment of Jews had loaned money to Japan to successfully win its war against Russia earlier. He can not bring himself to see that such a hard line stipulation would be interpreted as German sympathies.  He is falsely accused of hoping for a German victory.

Otto Kahn, also a partner of Kuhn, Loeb, is an example of opulence and the culture of New York City because he nurses to health the NYC opera company.  According to the book, the street, 5th Ave. of NYC basically begins as a row of Jewish built mansions.

In most of these cases Jewish identity becomes blurred or becomes unimportant with the generations that inherit the incredible wealth.  The lure of materialism and hedonism along with the desire for social acceptance seem to ravage these once religiously identified orthodox Jewish families to become a secular almost Protestant group - when asked about her Jewish identity, one heiress replied that perhaps she was once married by a rabbi.

This book, nevertheless, demonstrates that the USA has been a tremendous land of opportunity open to all and lacks the profound anti-Semitism of European history.  This book shows that some prominent Jews play a key role in building up its cities and developing the culture of America.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Tradition and Reality: the impact of History on Modern Jewish Thought by Nathan Rotenstriech

Since the emergence of the Jewish people into modernity from their Ghettos of Europe, their intellectual class has grappled with the tension between a unique Jewish Tradition the implies obligations and commandments from a Divine Authority and precludes the outside world vs. the joining of the common historical process of the outside surrounding nations.  From the 19th century onward, beginning with the Science of Judaism, one has seen a gradual withdrawal from a fundamental religious tradition centered around Hashem's commandments given at Mount Sinai to a secular national identity reduced to a common ancient language (Hebrew) centering around the modern concept of the state, specifically the modern State of Israel.  Professor Rotenstreich shows how far adrift the Modern Jew is from his authentic Jewish Tradition.

With a discussion of Zunz's and Krochmal's determination in finding the unique conceptualization of the eternity of the Jewish people, calling upon the "eternal spirit" or perennial cyclical upheavals, one understands a tension being uncovered when applying critical 'scientific' methods to studying Jewish History.  Abraham Geiger understood that historicism inevitably creates changes in Tradition.  With Henrich Graetz, Jewish tradition is reduced to a strict process of History in a Hegelian sense.  With Ahad HaAm and Nachman Bialik history turns nationalistic in a strict cultural way turning off the path of a rigorous historical process.

According to Professor Rotenstreich the Modern Jew has gone far away from Jewish Tradition, yet, he yearns to retain somehow his unique Jewish Identity.  Mr. Rotenstreich expects that the modern Jew must come to terms with his authentic Tradition and come back to it.  He does not advocate in any one direction but rather, he sees that the sociological experiment with the study of History has run its course.  

Written in 1973, this book is somewhat prescient because now one has seen somewhat of a renaissance of Jewish Tradition among the secular and Reformers who are now encouraging more adherence to Jewish Tradition.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rebecca Gratz - Women and Judaism in Antebellum America by Dianne Ashton

Professor Ashton has written an excellent American Jewish history surrounding the outstanding personality of Rebecca Gratz of Philadelphia. Gratz is famous probably for the legend about the character, Rebecca of York in the Sir Walter Scott historical novel Ivanhoe.  In the novel, Rebecca of York is invited to stay on with Ivanhoe and his wife, Rowena as court doctor on condition that she converts to Christianity.  The sympathetic Jewish character delivers a formidable defense of remaining true to her people and religion in declining the offer.  In real life, Rebecca Gratz devotes her entire life promoting traditional Judaism and arguing against conversion and intermarriage despite the fact that even some of her siblings marry Christians. During this period of Antebellum America, Evangelicalism keeps pressuring Jews to convert; Gratz only demands respect for her own convictions without preventing her from carrying on close correspondences with her gentile sisters in law.

Gratz was a member of the Philadelphia elite.  Her father and uncle were patriots (Ben Franklin even contributed to the building of their synagogue, Mikva Israel).  Her home was essentially a salon to a literary class - Washington Irving was a frequent guest.  She was a voracious reader and enjoyed writing poetry and excelled at correspondence.  She was a remarkable voice against Reform.  Not believing in parochialism, nevertheless, she understood the need for Jewish education and founded the first Hebrew Sunday School system patterned after the Protestant model.  She also founded the first Female Hebrew Benevolent Society and also the first Jewish Foster Home in Philadelphia.

Antebellum America (first half of the 19th century) was an environment that lacked Jewish Scholarly leadership.  Often times, a Rabbi's credentials could not be verified.  What made Gratz extraordinary was the fact that she did not know Hebrew, but was content with a Siddur with English translation on the opposite side of the page, that her devotion to Judaism was Bible centered with little rabbinic insights.  She was, nevertheless, an implacable foe to any changes to Jewish practice and could not identify with the leaders of Reform, David Einhorn and Isaac M. Wise. She believed that Jewish people had no reason to feel inferior to Christians; that American values demanded equality and respect for all. The dearth of educated Jews was acutely felt because without Jewish education one could not intelligently respond to the arguments of Evangelicalism.  Her clergyman, Isaac Leeser, also acutely understood the need for Jewish education and vigorously defended Traditional Judaism in his influential periodical, The Occident. 

The uniqueness of Rebecca Gratz lies in her benevolent work and her spinsterhood.  Although considered an outstanding beauty, she remains single but that does not lead her into a lonely life lacking traditional domesticity.  She often has to care for her immediate family and raise her nieces and nephews when they become orphaned. She expresses a deep love for children and articulates deep affection through her correspondence for her extended family. She is also clearly a powerhouse, an organizational leader in the benevolent community.

Why Rebecca Gratz did not marry remains a curious mystery. As an orthodox Jewess, often defending Judaism, she must have understood the value of marriage.  There is evidence from her correspondences, however, that perhaps she was skittish about entering into a bad marriage.  This is speculation (based on little evidence) that her suitors were gentile and she refused to marry for religious reasons. Unfortunately, why she remains single is a mystery.

At the end of this fine history, Professor Ashton ruminates on the lessons learned from Rebecca Gratz's individuality, single-hood and her legend making some interpretations that serve as examples for modern Jewish women who remain single or deviate from traditional domesticity . I feel her interpretations are difficult. The interpretations take Gratz out of context of her milieu and position. The motivation for Gratz's single-hood is unknown.  The fact of single-hood should not be enough to serve as a meaningful model.  One who defends tradition, advocates no changes (meaning that the Torah is sufficient to inspire everyone and needs no improvement) would seem to me hardly an example to inspire those that have strayed from Traditional Jewish practices.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Salvation by Sholem Asch

This complex historical novel covers the period after the Napoleonic wars during the polemics against Hasidism and end of the Kotzker Rebbe's life and beyond.  It is about a simple son who yearns to learn Torah and to succeed in the spiritual realm of fear of Hashem.  He develops into a highly sensitive person able to empathize with the simple folk. In spite of the scholarly elite's ridicule, this son grasps the meaning of saying Psalms with the community of the ignorant. With the Kotzker's blessing Psalms becomes the vehicle for gaining an understanding of Jewish thought and fear of Heaven.  The Yiddish title of the book is "The T'hiliner Yid" (the Psalm Jew).  His empathy, sincerity, and ability to understand people catapults him unwillingly as the leader, a rabbi of the ignorant community.  Ironically, his reluctance to give advice mirrors the reluctance of the Kotzker to give advice claiming unworthiness.

The basic plot follows the career of the T'hiliner Yid who is told by the Kotzker that one can actually go very far through Psalms and one should not despair about one's learning.  Slowly but surely he gains much understanding and becomes a unique leader of a non - scholarly community.  The rabbi is approached with a demand to guarantee a child to a childless couple.  The demand coming from a highly unscrupulous horse trader is not simple but with strings attached that will help the poor.  The T'hiliner Yid makes the promise that Hashem will deliver, however, not without sacrifice: his own wife and newborn die in childbirth.  The rabbi becomes known as a miracle maker by also nursing a poor man back to health who claims that the rabbi gave back feeling to his feet, the rabbi cured his frostbitten feet and becomes his servant.

The promised child, a daughter grows up only to fall in love with a gentile peasant.  Although she is pledged to a Jewish scholar, the plan is to ride off with the gentile to the convent to be baptized and be entered into the Catholic faith and then marry the gentile.  With tremendous angst and turmoil, the child has doubts about carrying through with her apostasy, nevertheless the nuns and priest deny exit from the convent without conversion.  Eventually, the daughter commits suicide without leaving the faith of her ancestors. The rabbi, however, who throughout his life refuses to believe that the Divine could be anything less than good has a crisis of faith and wants to abandon his role as rabbi to the community.  He argues that one with little faith can give no serious advice.  Yet he overcomes his crisis with the argument of simple piety: one is not to question the Almighty but rather one is only to believe in His goodness.  Some questions are not meant to answered and thus should not be asked.  The book concludes with the rabbi predicting a very good year after Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.  The rabbi expires with the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

The symbolism of this book is overwhelming.  This is a story of tension between father and son, tension between the learned and ignorant and the tension between rich and poor.  It is a scathing criticism of scholarly arrogance.  The book also touches on the tension between Judaism and Catholicism.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Herod The Great: statesman, visionary, tyrant

Norman Gelb’s study of Herod the Great rehabilitates the tyrant into a multifaceted positive personality in contradistinction to the common notion that Herod was a typical Near East evil tyrant.  Mr. Gelb uses the critical skills of the historian to show that Herod was actually sympathetic to Jewish communities of the diaspora and quite philanthropic making him popular outside of the land of Israel.  Herod's paranoid personality does not obstruct his ability to adapt to the political machinations of Rome to his own benefit. The author details the rise of Herod's father in the court of Hyrcanus, Herod's murderous defense of the northern district being summoned to the Sanhedrin for judgement, his escape, his alliances with the different Caesars and their accompanying political intrigues.  Eventually the reader is told that he stabilizes his kingdom all the while rooting out real and imagined Hasmoneon threats to his rule.

Dismissing the authority of Jewish tradition, the author makes a vigorous case about Herod’s Jewishness, despite the fact that the local Jewish populace never accepts him and he himself identifies more with Rome than with Jewish observance.  The author makes the Jewish claim based on Herod's patrilineal descent through his grandfather's forced conversion during John Hyrcanus' conquest of Idumea. Mr. Gelb utilizes critical historical methods when he says that the traditional Jewish line of matrilineal descent is not established until well over 300 years later. [Such a claim is limited by the assumption that a lack of evidence implies actual evidence.  I am assuming that he is pointing to the Mishnaic source of matrilineal descent appearing much later.]  He ignores the possibility that the Mishna represents traditions much older.   

One must also point out that the Jewish tradition accepts the phase of Herod’s renovation of the Second Temple (although Mr. Gelb calls it a third Temple, not a renovation like Jewish tradition) as a rehabilitated phase, a result of regretting his harsh brutality against the rabbis.  

Mr. Gelb oddly claims that the salient feature of the Herodean era is the emergence of Jesus and his followers.  One can argue, however, that the salient feature is the rise of Pharisaic Judaism, the schools of Hillel and Shammai and the literary output of the Oral Torah publicized by the rabbinic tradition.  Hillel, a contemporary of Herod the Great, being a Babylonian and not Hasmoneon poses no threat to Herod and his teaching house flourishes. By contrast, Jesus and his followers only appear during the end of the Herodean period and remain an insignificant group of sectarian Jews, without affecting the Jewish people of the land of Israel. 

After displaying the tools of the critical historian throughout the book concerning Herod, Mr. Gelb seems to drop those tools and accepts the Christian narrative uncritically as the sequence of the events during the concluding years of this era discussing the crucifixion, Paul's dispute with Peter to evangelize to the pagans, the Jewish Christian sect breaking away much later beyond this era to form a completely different religion.  

The strength of this book is the author's understanding of the politics of Rome and describing Herod's connections and talents in fitting in and coming out on top.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

East River by Sholem Asch

A 1946 NY Times Bestseller, this profound novel of Jewish life on the East side of New York touches on all the major themes of growing up in a NYC immigrant household with a Hasidic foundation: poverty, Anti-Semitism, Assimilation, the rise of the Jewish garment industry with emerging Socialism and Jewish radicalism through the growth of the Unions.  It is basically the story of a struggling Jewish family originally from Eastern Europe whose initial residence was the Lower East Side of Manhattan but moves up to 47th Street between First and Second Ave.  The family comprises an Orthodox couple named Davidowsky with two sons, one emerges as a very successful manufacturer in the garment trade, and the other a paralytic struggling to find his voice among the socialist activists.  The real main character of this story, however, is arguably, a sensitive daughter of an Anti-Semitic Irish Catholic who lives among the Jews in the neighborhood.  Although the book probes some very complex psychological issues relating to family dynamics, it analyzes the psychology of Anti-Semitism.  Asch's idealism shines force,however, that despite profound differences in religion, familial love ultimately triumphs.

Mary McCarthy, unable to pay cash, having been rejected by the Italian Catholic grocer, out of desperation, enters Moshe Wolf Davidowsky's grocery .  Mary's first stereo type of Jews is shattered when the Orthodox Jew warmly extends not only credit but also generously recommends traditional Irish corned beef.  She is introduced to Jewish kindness, something unheard of in her Catholic education.  She attributes her fate to Jesus' directing her there.  Her father acts violently upon hearing that his daughter did business with a Jew.  Her experience is different and she ends up befriending the paralytic and becomes his dresser and aid and even confesses being in love with him.

The book takes on a complex plot line making neighborhood childhood friends adult rivals: Catholic Mary competes with Jewish Rachel for the attentions of Irving, Moshe Wolf's younger son, successful businessman.  After surviving the famous Triangle Shirt factory fire at Washington Square, Mary decides on a course of action to maintain financial stability and marry Irving.  Irving goes against Jewish tradition on two counts by marrying out of the faith and denying the request of a man on his death bed.  With the mitigating circumstances of Mary's impending pregnancy  a la Irving and never having been officially committed to Rachel even though the entire neighborhood is under such an impression, Irving never fulfills the dying man's wish and marries Mary.  Irving, nevertheless uses Rachel to gain funding for his own company by taking out a loan from her wealthy Uncle.

When the intermarriage is revealed much soul searching ensues despite the traditional Shiva period as if one died, Moshe Wolf says kaddish for Irving.  The intermarriage seems intact, however, until Mary violates the agreement with Irving that the child not be raised in either faith when she brings the child to baptism in the Church. The married couple argue; Irving is devastated and Mary goes off on an anti-Jewish rant because such an agreement is illegitimate from the beginning from a Christian point of view and Irving should have known that from a Jewish point of view too.

The whole family is initially broken up and even disgraced in the Synagogue. Ultimately, the qualities of reconciliation and kindness triumph. Moshe Wolf struggles with the concept of an uncircumcised gentile grandson, "one to grow up and hate the Jews". Jewish concepts of never shaming a person, and of being merciful ring out in the piety of Moshe Wolf when he does not hold a grudge against Mary for baptizing her child.  He argues that the child goes after the mother.  All this time, Mary is overwhelmed with Moshe Wolf's piety and humanity.  There is even a hint at Mary's faith in Jesus beginning to wane since all of her Jewish experiences comprise of love, something that was lacking in her own family. The Davidowskys accept her even with her faith.

The Passover scene where Mary as a believing Catholic attempts at making sincere kosher preparations for her pious father in law seems to strain credibility.  What makes this book a compelling read is, however, the reality of assimilation in America and the American value of liberal acceptance.  The sad truth is when one lacks a strong faith, lacks a Jewish education, and strives to Americanize, then the Biblical prohibition of intermarriage is overwhelmed by simple love and acceptance.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Willie's Time by Charles Einstein

The most exciting, most talented baseball player that I ever saw was Willie Mays.  My family's transition from living in New York to moving to the San Francisco Bay area('64) was during the peak years of Willie Mays, and although I went nuts for the NY Mets when they finally won a pennant and a World Series ('69), Willie Mays was and has always been my favorite baseball player.

One always tried to imitate Willie- one would run the bases with abandon, one would attack the pitched ball with a lightning speed swing, and one would always get rid of the ball to make a play as fast as possible. His range in Center field was awesome.  One believed that there was not a ball he could not get to!  "He played all fields" from Center.  My father would call him 'poetry in motion'.

Charles Einstein wrote a wonderful tribute by documenting his storied career along with the contemporary events that occurred during Willie Mays' time.

The height of his career coincided with the Civil Rights movement and some criticized him because his public persona did not translate into the civil rights activism of a Jackie Robinson or a Curt Flood. Willie Mays, however, was essentially an entertainer on the baseball field   Mr. Einstein, nevertheless, demonstrates that Willie Mays was a leader of men on and off the field during this tumultuous time of America history.  When Alvin Dark showed his traditional Southern upbringing that naturally caused tension on the Giants, Willie Mays stepped up and stopped the dissension.  When a race riot almost occurred when Juan Marichal clubbed Johnny Roseboro over the head, Willie Mays cradled Roseboro, embracing him with friendship and got him out of harm's way.

He was a Baseball genius - doing things that even his manager Clyde King did not understand like shrinking a double into a single so that the pitcher would be forced to pitch to the next batter, Willie McCovery (and not walk him). He could hoodwink a pitcher by claiming that he could not see a pitch so that he could expect it next time.  He would deliberately strike out during a no consequence inning so that he could expect the same pitch later with men on base and deliver the necessary RBI's.

Ted Williams was correct when he said, "Baseball was created for Willie Mays!"  This volume is a great tribute to a great ballplayer; a very worthwhile read of contemporary history.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner

For one seeking a probing analysis of the different approaches of being the Prime Minister of Israel, Yehuda Avner paints a detailed picture of Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres.  Along the way one gains insight into the various international figures that play so prominently in Middle East politics.  This well written mix of memoir and history teaches some important differences and lessons about Israeli leadership and specifically about the often misunderstood giant personality of Menachem Begin.

Avner, raised in Manchester, UK is called in by Levi Eshkol  as an English specialist and becomes his speech writer, and thus begins his civil service experience seeing the intimate side of the office of the Prime Minister.  He starts out as a religious Zionist identifying not necessarily with the ruling party of Labor.  He sees up close the pressure Eshkol was subjected: being asked to step down in favor of Ben Gurion to lead during the crisis that led up to the Six Day War by opposition leader Menachem Begin. Eshkol proves to be smart, enduring and loved as the one to lead the country during such crisis. Eshkol's Yiddishisms make an indelible mark on the author.

He notes that Golda Meir, strong willed is really a faith based personality.  The faith is not the Jewish faith but rather the 'Zionist Labor faith!'  She adamantly claims she was not religious but had she stayed in Moscow as Ambassador, seeing all those underground Jews congregate in the Great Synagogue perhaps she would have been inspired.  Mr. Avner recounts the intimate interview given to Orianna Fallaci, the famous Italian journalist woman to woman.

Nixon and Kissinger are highlighted.  Although Nixon known to despise liberal Jews refers to Kissinger as 'his Jew', nevertheless, it is Nixon who ordered the airlift during the Yom Kippur war to save the Jewish state.  Henry Kissinger is psychoanalyzed.  His Judaism is completely sublimated as a result of his experiences fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938. Kissinger's family immigrates to Washington Height in Manhattan and joins Rabbi Joseph Breuer's congregation. Emotionally, Kissinger buries his Jewish feelings.

He develops a close trusting relationship with the naturally shy Rabin and is taken by his power of analysis and conceptualization, being able to succinctly size up every situation.  He gains an appreciation for Rabin's bluntness.  However, the book is really about Menachem Begin.  At first, Mr. Avner is very apprehensive about working for Mr. Begin because his reputation as the leader of the opposition party preceded him as a terrorist, warmonger, and demagogue.  Rabin convinces Mr. Avner to work for Mr. Begin because his duty as a civil servant demands it.

Mr. Avner is completely surprised at who the real Menachem Begin is.  As a religious Jew, Avner sees the faith of Menachem Begin as a sincere.  He is the first Prime Minister to hold regular Torah Study sessions, inviting the scholarly class of Hebrew University faculty to share Torah.  The likes of Nehama Liebovitz, Ephraim Urbach and Dr. Yosef Burg delight in sharing their Torah exegesis.  Mr. Begin is first to visit Gedolei Yisroel upon his visits to the USA: Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, The Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rav Moshe Feinstein are felicitously consulted.

Mr. Begin is different than the rest.  He incorporates traditional Jewish identity to his role as Prime Minister.  He incorporates a understanding of Jewish history as a cycle of suffering and redemption in his political explanations.  The Holocaust plays a profound role in understanding the significance of the State of Israel and the destiny of the Jewish people.  When dealing with the American administrations of Carter and Reagan which comprised of some hostile voices, Mr. Begin is eloquent and forceful in putting forth Israel's positions toward the PLO, toward Iraq's nuclear program and incursions into Lebanon.  He refuses to relinquish Israel's right to defend itself, nevertheless, he shows that the Jewish people of Israel are lovers of peace and at the first opportunity succeeds with Anwar Sadat making an enduring peace treaty.

This well written book is very rich in describing world leaders and how they interact with the State of Israel and highly recommended.