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Spinoza and the History of an Image
Pioneering biblical critic, theorist of democracy, and legendary conflater of God and nature, Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was excommunicated by the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam in 1656 for his "horrible heresies" and "monstrous deeds." Yet, over the past three centuries, Spinoza's rupture with traditional Jewish beliefs and practices has elevated him to a prominent place in genealogies of Jewish modernity. The First Modern Jew provides a riveting look at how Spinoza went from being one of Judaism's most notorious outcasts to one of its most celebrated, if still highly controversial, cultural icons, and a powerful and protean symbol of the first modern secular Jew.
Ranging from Amsterdam to Palestine and back again to Europe, the book chronicles Spinoza's posthumous odyssey from marginalized heretic to hero, the exemplar of a whole host of Jewish identities, including cosmopolitan, nationalist, reformist, and rejectionist. Daniel Schwartz shows that in fashioning Spinoza into "the first modern Jew," generations of Jewish intellectuals--German liberals, East European maskilim, secular Zionists, and Yiddishists--have projected their own dilemmas of identity onto him, reshaping the Amsterdam thinker in their own image. The many afterlives of Spinoza are a kind of looking glass into the struggles of Jewish writers over where to draw the boundaries of Jewishness and whether a secular Jewish identity is indeed possible. Cumulatively, these afterlives offer a kaleidoscopic view of modern Jewish cultureand a vivid history of an obsession with Spinoza that continues to this day.
A Holocaust Survivor's Journey Back to Faith
In 1939, Baruch Goldstein was a religiously observant adolescent resident of the Jewish community in Mlawa, a town that was then in East Prussia. After war broke out, the Jewish community there was relatively sheltered, as that region was incorporated into the German Reich rather than into the General Government (the German run-fragment of pre-war Poland, where conditions were harsh for everyone). However in 1942, Goldstein was sent to Auschwitz, where he stayed two-and-a-half years. His family was scattered all to their deaths, but he survived the war--barely. For Decades I Was Silent is an account of life in a small Polish-German town and provides information on the religious life of the Jewish citizens. This book creates a direct sense of the random, mystifying personal violence individuals felt at the hands of Germans--not the anonymous industrial death machine, but immediate, face-to-face violence.
After the war, Goldstein drifted as a refugee to UNRR camps in Italy. Over time, young Goldstein had to face the fact that all of his extended family was lost and he had only the possibilities of Palestine or help from distant relatives in the United States as a future. His American relatives urged him to enter the United States as a yeshiva student, and eventually he became a rabbi and started a family. As a young rabbinical student, and then as a rabbi, Goldstein was forced to confront the events of the Holocaust and the damage done to his faith. This well-written and evocative book eloquently handles Goldstein’s story.
A Philosophy of Jewish Law
Every generation of Jews in every denomination of Judaism finds itself facing complex legal questions. The status of same-sex unions and the plight of the agunah (a woman who cannot obtain a divorce), are just two of a myriad of thorny questions Jewish legal experts grapple with today. These are not esoteric problems but issues with a profound impact on the daily happiness of countless people. How do the rabbis who draft responses to these questions reach their conclusions? What informs their decisions and their approach to Jewish law? Acclaimed writer and legal expert Elliot Dorff addresses these and other questions in this intelligent, accessible guide to the philosophy behind Jewish law. In his view, Jewish law is an expression of the love we have for God and for our fellow human beings. This theme permeates his discussion of important aspects of the law. For example, what motivates modern Jews to follow Jewish law? How does Jewish law strike the balance between continuity and change? On what grounds and under what circumstances do human beings have the authority to interpret or even change God's laws? Dorff also offers a systematic comparison of Jewish law and U.S. law, based on his course on this subject at UCLA School of Law. Whether you are a lawyer or simply interested in the philosophy behind recent rabbinic decisions, this is a book that will deepen your understanding of the Jewish legal system and its role in the modern world.
World Denial and World Redemption
Franz Rosenzweig's near-conversion to Christianity in the summer of 1913 and his subsequent decision three months later to recommit himself to Judaism is one of the foundational narratives of modern Jewish thought. In this new account of events, Benjamin Pollock suggests that what lay at the heart of Rosenzweig's religious crisis was not a struggle between faith and reason, but skepticism about the world and hope for personal salvation. A close examination of this important time in Rosenzweig’s life, the book also sheds light on the full trajectory of his philosophical development.
Jesuits Encounter Contemporary Judaism
The largest order of religious in the Roman Catholic Church, the Society of Jesus has been at the forefront of the Church's efforts at dialogue across religions.Understanding and improving relations between the Church and the Jewish people has been a major focus of the Holy See and the Society of Jesus for many years. This book, the fruit of a major conference on the history,nature, and dynamics of relations between Jesuits and contemporary Jewish life, brings together a rich, wide-ranging selection of essays by Jesuit scholars and pastoral leaders, a leading Jewish studies scholar,and a leading rabbi. Drawing on a variety of approaches in historical and constructive theology, literary criticism, and spirituality, the contributors explore historical, philosophical, theological, cultural, and institutional themes-from Ignatian perspectives on Halakhic spirituality and the role played in Jesuit history by Jews forced to convert to Christianity to Jesuit perspectives on Hannah Arendt, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Harold Bloom.
Before the Nazis sent members of the Filar family to Treblinka, these were the last words Marian Filar's mother said to him: "I bless you. You'll survive this horror. You'll become a great pianist, and I'll be very proud of you."
Born in 1917 into a musical Jewish family in Warsaw, Filar began playing the piano when he was four. He performed his first public concert at the age of six. At twelve he played with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and went on to study with the great Polish pianist and teacher Zbigniew Drzewiecki at the State Conservatory of Music.
After the German invasion, Filar fled to Lemberg (Lvov), where he continued his music studies until 1941, when he returned to his family in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Nazis killed his parents, a sister, and a brother, but he and his brother Joel survived as workers on the German railroad. After taking part in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Marian and Joel were captured and sent to Majdanek, Buchenwald, and other concentration camps. After liberation Filar was able to resume his career by studying with the renowned German pianist Walter Gieseking. In 1950 he immigrated to the United States and soon after was performing concerts with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He made his Carnegie Hall debut on New Year's Day, 1952. He became head of the piano department at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia and later a professor of music at Temple University, while continuing to perform in Europe, South America, Israel, and the United States.
Filar does not end his story with liberation but with the fulfillment of his mother's blessing. Without rancor or bitterness, his memoir comes full circle, ending where it began--in Warsaw. In 1992 Filar traveled to Poland to visit the school next to what had once been the Umschlagplatz, the place from which Jews had been sent to Treblinka and where he said farewell to the mother who blessed him.
Marian Filar, an internationally acclaimed concert pianist and retired professor at Temple University, has performed throughout the world and with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, and many others. He lives in Pennsylvania.
Charles Patterson is the author of Anti-Semitism: The Road to the Holocaust and Beyond, Marian Anderson, and The Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust.
How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths and Legends
Jews and Comic Books
Jews created the first comic book, the first graphic novel, the first comic book convention, the first comic book specialty store, and they helped create the underground comics (or "Comix") movement of the late '60s and early '70s. Many of the creators of the most famous comic books, such as Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, and Batman, as well as the founders of MAD Magazine, were Jewish. From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books tells their stories and demonstrates how they brought a uniquely Jewish perspective to their work and to the comics industry as a whole. Over-sized and in full color, From Krakow to Krypton is filled with sidebars, cartoon bubbles, comic book graphics, original design sketches, and photographs. It is a visually stunning and exhilarating history.
Myth, History, and the Interpretation of Scripture in Lurianic Kabbala
In From Metaphysics to Midrash, Shaul Magid explores the exegetical tradition of Isaac Luria and his followers within the historical context in 16th-century Safed, a unique community that brought practitioners of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into close contact with one another. Luria's scripture became a theater in which kabbalists redrew boundaries of difference in areas of ethnicity, gender, and the human relation to the divine. Magid investigates how cultural influences altered scriptural exegesis of Lurianic Kabbala in its philosophical, hermeneutical, and historical perspectives. He suggests that Luria and his followers were far from cloistered. They used their considerable skills to weigh in on important matters of the day, offering, at times, some surprising solutions to perennial theological problems.
Expounding the Bible in Talmudic Babylonia
The Bible has always been vital to Jewish religious life, and it has been expounded in diverse ways. Perhaps the most influential body of Jewish biblical interpretation is the Midrash that was produced by expositors during the first five centuries CE. Many such teachings are collected in the Babylonian Talmud, the monumental compendium of Jewish law and lore that was accepted as the definitive statement of Jewish oral tradition for subsequent generations.
However, many of the Talmud’s interpretations of biblical passages appear bizarre or pointless. From Sermon to Commentary: Expounding the Bible in Talmudic Babylonia tries to explain this phenomenon by carefully examining representative passages from a variety of methodological approaches, paying particular attention to comparisons with Midrash composed in the Land of Israel.
Based on this investigation, Eliezer Segal argues that the Babylonian sages were utilizing discourses that had originated in Israel as rhetorical sermons in which biblical interpretation was being employed in an imaginative, literary manner, usually based on the interplay between two or more texts from different books of the Bible. Because they did not possess their own tradition of homiletic preaching, the Babylonian rabbis interpreted these comments without regard for their rhetorical conventions, as if they were exegetical commentaries, resulting in the distinctive, puzzling character of Babylonian Midrash.