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The Gods Are Broken!

The Hidden Legacy of Abraham

Jeffrey K. Salkin

Publication Year: 2013

The story of Abraham smashing his father’s idols might be the most important Jewish story ever told and the key to how Jews define themselves. In a work at once deeply erudite and wonderfully accessible, Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin conducts readers through the life and legacy of this powerful story and explains how it has shaped Jewish consciousness.

Offering a radical view of Jewish existence, The Gods Are Broken! views the story of the young Abraham as the “primal trauma” of Jewish history, one critical to the development of a certain Jewish comfort with rebelliousness and one that, happening in every generation, has helped Jews develop a unique identity. Salkin shows how the story continues to reverberate through the ages, even in its connection to the phenomenon of anti-Semitism.

Salkin’s  work—combining biblical texts, archaeology, rabbinic insights, Hasidic texts (some never before translated), philosophy, history, poetry, contemporary Jewish thought, sociology, and popular culture—is nothing less than a journey through two thousand years of Jewish life and intellectual endeavor.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-xviii

A few years ago, I had a long cup of coffee with a Jewish man who was in his eighties. He was telling me about his life—about his loves, his losses, his successes and regrets. At a certain point in the conversation, he told me about the few unhappy years of his Jewish education. Those experiences had occurred in a heder (Hebrew school) that was located in a synagogue basement in Brooklyn...

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1 Out of Ur

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pp. 1-16

Why did the Jewish people need to exist in the first place? It’s an odd question, mostly because Jews are the only ethnic group who would actually have the audacity to ask it about themselves. It is difficult to imagine Swedes, Bosnians, or Italians sitting around and pondering that question....

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2 Abraham the Iconoclast

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pp. 17-32

Why did God choose Abraham? (This question is closely related to another deep religious mystery: Why did God choose the Jews?) The Bible doesn’t offer us a single bit of guidance on the question. But it can be added to the list of other deep questions that the Bible leaves unanswered: Why did God choose Moses as a leader? Why did God take the Israelites out of Egypt? Why did God choose the...

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3 Which Gods Shall We Break Today?

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pp. 33-48

It’s time for a confession: Like Sigmund Freud, I have a “thing” for idols. My fascination with idols began a number of years ago during a visit to Jerusalem. I noticed that a number of stores were offering antiquities for sale—archeological finds that were not “good” enough to make it into the priceless collections of the Israel Museum or the Rockefeller Museum. Because there was a surplus...

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4 Three Paths to the Sacred

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pp. 49-64

The story of the breaking of the idols is not just a story about Abraham’s rebellion against the religious mores of his time. It is something larger and deeper than that. The midrash is actually a religious typology illuminating three paths to the sacred—ways of dealing with religion that are alive and well in our world today. In fact, it might well be that in order...

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5 The Primal Trauma of the Jewish People

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pp. 65-80

For many years rabbis, Jewish educators, and parents have been recounting the legend of Abraham and the broken idols. The story has made numerous guest appearances in sermons and Jewish textbooks. Rabbi Marc Gellman of Melville, New York, even created a miniature Jewish “holiday” around the story. Every year on the...

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6 (Re)Embracing Teraḥ

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pp. 81-100

The young man entered my rabbinical study without an appointment. He told me that he had been passing by our synagogue, and not for the first time. He had often driven by our house of worship, and only that day did he gather up his courage to come inside and seek out the rabbi. He was sixteen years old, and he was troubled....

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7 From Broken Idols to Broken Tablets

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pp. 101-114

If I ever go into the movie production business, the movie I would want to produce would be called Shattered: A Jewish Story. It would start with the cosmic vessels of God’s light that were shattered at the dawn of creation, which is how the mystical teacher, Rabbi Isaac Luria of sixteenth-century Safed, imagined the unfolding of creation....

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8 The Sound of Broken Glass: Jewish Iconoclasm and Anti-Semitism

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pp. 115-134

The Hasidic rebbe Simcha Bunim once went on a walk with his disciples. Along the way, he and his entourage encountered a group of Jews engaged in casual conversation. Bunim said to his disciples, “Do you see those Jews over there? They’re dead.” The disciples were confused. Finally, one of them spoke up: “What do you mean, dead? They look perfectly alive to...


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pp. 135-148


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pp. 149-157

E-ISBN-13: 9780827611429
E-ISBN-10: 0827611420
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827609310

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 841903665
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Gods Are Broken!

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Idols and images -- Worship -- Biblical teaching.
  • Iconoclasm.
  • Monotheism -- Biblical teaching.
  • Abraham (Biblical patriarch).
  • Midrash rabbah. Genesis -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
  • Bible. O.T. Genesis -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
  • Antisemitism.
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