"family, nationhood, verbal imperative, and accountability"
May 29, 2013 2:24 AM   Subscribe

"Trading Faith for Wonder: On Judaism's Literary Legacy". The LARB reviews Jews And Words, by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger.
father and daughter argue that the Jews are best understood as a people with a shared literary history. “Ours is not a bloodline but a textline,” they proclaim. “Jewish history and peoplehood form a unique continuum, which is neither ethnic nor political.” In other words, Jews are not first and foremost a race or a religion but a civilization, one linked by the texts they read, the stories they tell, and the history they’ve chronicled.
Reviwed also in moment: " The new book by Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger is not Jews and Words, it’s jews and words. As we shall see, in this case—lower case—size matters."
NPR: "Oz, a professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva, and Oz-Salzberger, a writer and historian at the University of Haifa, talk with NPR's Scott Simon about Jews and Words. The father-daughter team explain their ideas about "Jewish atheism," Judaism's evolving traditions and the origins of chutzpah."
Haaretz: "Reading between the lines: How Amos Oz views Jewish identity"

An extract, a sample on Google Books.
posted by the man of twists and turns (6 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
People of the Book, ne?
posted by X-Himy at 4:20 AM on May 29, 2013

No Jewish sect — except perhaps the Karaites, who only trust the Bible, forsaking the Talmud and all other elements of Rabbinic Judaism — can claim to uphold a purely Jewish vision.

I agree that no group can claim to uphold a purely Jewish vision, since Judaism has evolved, assimilated, and split apart. However, it's bizarrely wrong to claim, even tongue in cheek, that the Karaites are more Jewish by dint of their rejection of "the Talmud and all other elements of Rabbinic Judaism". Rejecting the Talmud is not more Jewish than accepting it, unless we redefine Judaism to mean Karaite Judaism. Besides, even Karaite Judaism has its own identity and traditions. You might as well say that we should all agree that Messianic Jews are more Christian than all other Christians: this would only be true if you ignore the fact that the various sects of Christianity are each forms of Christianity, complete with their divisions and internal laws and adoptions from various pagan cultures, which is to say nothing of how each version of Messianic Judaism has its own unique body of traditions.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:34 AM on May 29, 2013

I don't like the phrase "People of the Book". It's a Moslem term that distinguishes Jews and Christians (who were historically treated badly) from other non-Moslems (who were treated worse), so it's both exogenous and discriminatory.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:42 AM on May 29, 2013

At least now I know that it's coded in my DNA to be the odd man out on the playground reading science fiction instead of catching and throwing large projectiles or climbing all around and getting my clothes dirty. I'm okay with appropriating "People of the Book".

Seriously, though, this is the exact reason I have always been loathe to let go of the old traditions, ceremonies and superstitions despite my avid atheism and deeply anti-Zionist bent.
posted by Mooseli at 7:02 AM on May 29, 2013

I started my Jewish education, formally, at 2 years old at the North Valley Jewish Community Center. I learned that every Friday, we thanked Adonai for the grape juice and challah. My first Friday of public school, I reportedly came home to tell my parents that my 1st grade teacher had forgotten to do Shabbos.

I entered Hebrew school at 9 years old. I learned that it was our job to ask questions. I learned that al cheit, the prayer confessing our "sins" - was in fact a concept akin to archery. We have missed the mark. We have missed the bullseye. We will pull our bow and try to aim closer to the bullseye next time.

I asked question upon question and eventually, I became an atheist but the concepts; of aiming to do better (al cheit). Of yearly considering the baggage I'd like to leave behind (tashlich). Of repairing the world (tikkun olam) were the ethos that continue to guide me to this day.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:12 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

A thoughtful review of what sounds like a book well worth reading. I love this bit:
And while they tend to adopt a respectful pose, Oz and Oz-Salzberger do enjoy going head-to-head with believers and right-wingers; their elegant style leaves plenty of room for pugnacity. They argue that the appeal of traditional Judaism remains, in part, that one can “live in a timeless realm,” before embarking on a savvy critique of ultra-Orthodox Jews who
walk the world in the clothing of Polish nobility of the seventeenth century, sing beautiful Hasidic songs based on typical Ukrainian melodies, and dance ecstatic Ukrainian folk dances. They argue with us seculars, at best, according to Maimonides’ logic, drawn from Aristotle, or — alternatively — attack the weakness of our national loyalty on the basis of Hegelian arguments, courtesy of Rabbi Kook. But of us, they demand faithfulness to the original fountainhead.
Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 11:55 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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