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Book Reviews 189 Organizing Rescue: Jewish National Solidarity in the Modern Period, edited by Selwyn 1. Troen and Benjamin Pinkus. London: Frank Cass, 1992. 424 pp. $45.00. In post-exilic Jewish history there seems always to be a Jewish community at risk somewhere. In the thirties it was the Jews of Europe, yesterday it was the Jews of Ethiopia and the Soviet Union, today it is the Jews of Syria. In the pre-modern period ~oncern for such beleaguered individuals or entire communities was governed by the halakhic principle of "redemption of captives" (pidyon sbevuyim). Eventually that came to mean more than simply the payment of ransom. It developed into the obligation assumed by secure communities to support the cultural, religious , and social welfare needs within the beleaguered community. With the waning of religious enthusiasm during the modern period the law governing the redemption of captives was transmuted into a philanthropic mission carried forward by the new Jewish welfare agencies like the Alliance Israelite Universelle (1860), the Joint Foreign Committee of the Board of Deputies (1878), HIAS-Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (1884), Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden (1901), and our own American Joint Distribution Committee (1914). These agencies assumed the responsibility formerly carried by the entire Jewish community, which had become too fragmented to respond. Paradoxically the mandate of these secular agencies was rooted in a Jewish law their leaders usually no longer felt personally bound by. Growing out of a series of seminars convened at the Ben Gurion Research Center at Sede Boqer in April 1986, the essays in this volume focus on the modern period. The Hebrew edition appeared two years later. They are introduced in a preface by Selwyn Troen, the editor of the volume and organizer of the seminars. He calls our attention to the change in motivation and instrumentation which occurred in western Jewish communities between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in relation to less fortunate brethren who lived in areas not yet under the influence of modernity. That is followed by an essay by Ya'akov Blidstein which explains the halakhic background of pidyon shevuyim. The stage is now set for a tripart division to consider the problem in depth. The first takes the . " reader from the Damascus affair to the eve of World War I (1840-1914), the second brings the story to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, and the third carries us to the present. 190 SHOFAR Winter 1993 Vol. 11, No.2 The reader will have noted that the three-part division does not cut the pie into equal parts. The first part, which is closest to the beginning of emancipation, is interesting because one can still note an amalgam of traditional and secular approaches and motivation in the relationship between rescuers and the rescued. But ultimately the secular with its emphasis on efficiency and planning dominates and makes it increasingly difficult to distinguish philanthropy for the less fortunate from the desire to modernize backward Jewish communities. Because it contains the depredations in Eastern Europe after World War I and the Holocaust, the second period is far more weighty historically. The third period introduces yet a new element, the rebirth' of the state of Israel, which would totally alter the basis of rescue and redemption. The Jewish state, armed with sovereignty, now finds itself in conflict with the rescue and support strategies which originated and were shaped by the values of the second period. That is essentially what the contretemps over the destination of Soviet olim was all about. If the divisions are of unequal historical weight, the articles within them are sometimes far removed from the purported focus of the conference. That loss of focus is to some extent characteristic of all anthologies, but it becomes especially apparent in this collection. The editors have cast too broad a net and have caught all kinds of fish. Some articles, like Jehuda Reinhanz's "German Jewish Refugees in Palestine," deliver much more than promised. In fact Reinhanz delivers two separate articles. The first concerns a fascinating account of land holding patterns in the Yishuv, the second an account of the commercial and farming activities of the involuntary German...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 189-191
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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