Jews: The Essence and Character of a People

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9780060638344: Jews: The Essence and Character of a People

What makes a Jew a Jew? In the most controversial book on Jewish identity to come along in decades, two influential Jewish leaders dare to answer that provocative question. There is an essential Jewish identity, shaped by the legacy of history and faith, which bridges divergent cultures, politics, and even beliefs. So argues author Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, the outspoken and influential leader at the forefront of the world Jewish community, who together with Aron Hirt-Manheimer, the distinguished editor of Reform Judaism magazine, presents a myth-shattering view of Jewish character.

Jews is a landmark work that provocatively explores the meaning of Jewish identity through the ages. Hertzberg and Hirt-Manheimer present an original and insightful look at the entire Jewish experience and what it means for Jews and non-Jews alike. The authors boldly advance a series of radical arguments:

  • They dare to define the "essential" Jew.

  • They dare to say that the Jewish character has remained the same since the time of Abraham and Sarah.

  • They dare to propose that anti-Semitism is not a Christian invention-it is a reaction to Jews as persistent dissenters in every society.

  • They dare to suggest that the Holocaust was a reenactment of the Crucifixion in which the traditional roles were reversed.

  • They dare to examine the illness of self-hatred that has afflicted Jews from Karl Marx to Woody Allen.

This book offers a new and startling perspective on how Jews relate to people of other traditions while also defining the challenge, responsibility, and essence of being a Jew in our time. Jews: The Essence and Character of a People defies the conventional view of Jews that has prevailed for centuries and presents a compelling and realistic portrait of contemporary Jews. This important book is sure to stimulate passionate debate among both Jews and non-Jews.

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Review:

Jews is an earnest, disciplined attempt to do what has often been done recklessly, poorly, and even hatefully--to describe the things all Jews have in common. Arthur Hertzberg and Aron Hirt-Manheimer profile prominent Jews from Abraham to Woody Allen, discerning in their stories the essential Jewish qualities of "the chosen, the factious, and the outsider," and considering how these characteristics can help Jews rebuild their communities at the end of the 20th century. This book doesn't back down from any of the hard questions that Jews and gentiles ask about the Hebrew people: Do Jews contribute to anti-Semitism? Why do so many Jews marry gentiles? Why do some Jews think constantly of the Holocaust, and why do some ignore it? The answers Jews gives are rarely predictable and always provocative, and they're of lasting usefulness for all the children of Abraham. --Michael Joseph Gross

About the Author:

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, author of The Zionist Idea, Jewish Polemics, The Jews in America, Jews, and A Jew in America, is the Bronfman Visiting Professor of Humanities at New York University and Professor Emeritus of Religion at Dartmouth. A world-renowned Jewish scholar, he has served as president of the American Jewish Policy Foundation and the American Jewish Congress and as vice-president of the World Jewish Congress.

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