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Is There Jewish History? Is There Jewish History? Review Essay Dean Bell Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies 125 Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor ofYosefHayim Yerushalmi (Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry Series, 29), edited by Elisheva Carlebach, John M. Efron, and David N. Myers. Hanover and London: Brandeis University Press, 1998. 462 pp. $50.00. Ambrose Bierce once noted that history is "an account mostly false of events mostly unimportant brought about by rulers mostly knaves and soldiers mostly fools." Now more than a century removed from Bierce, we can retain his cynicism while rejecting his argument. It may be that it is not history that is inherently false, unimportant, or subjective, but rather the historians who craft it and the histories that they construct. In the introduction to a recent set of microhistorical articles translated from the Italian historical journal Quaderni Storici, Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero ask, in language simultaneously dismissive, suggestive, and hauntingly accurate, "what might be unmasked by seeing the historian as criminal, historical practice as a kind of crime. What crimes do historians commit? They might best be seen as thieves, as persons who practice a form of grave robbing. Renaissance grave robbers carried offbodies to sell to physicians for dissections, and historians also appropriate and dismember the past, absconding with the words ofothers to make their own classifications and to write new narratives. Even more than the inquisitors and judges ofthe criminal record, historians are likely to suborn witnesses, depriving them oftheir own integrity; at the worst they are even forced to answer historians' questions with words spoken in answer to other questions ..." (History from Crime, edited by Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero, translated by Corrada Biazzo Curry [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994], pp. vii-viii). Within such a context, the nature, construction, and purpose ofJewish history calls for attention. Is there Jewish history? Do Jews think historically, and if so, how and why? Recently, these questions have been assessed in writings of many of the most well-known and gifted scholars in contemporary Jewish historiography, collected in the volume Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, dedicated both to Yerushalmi and the impact ofhis scholarship as related to Jewish historiography and conceptions of history. The essays in this volume cover an extremely broad range of themes and periods--conforming of course to Yeru- 126 SHOFAR Spring 2000 Vol. 18, No.3 shalmi's own predilections and foci, they are not entirely representative-and as such offer an opportunity to explore some of the major issues facing the current academic approach to Jewish history, at least a Jewish history written largely by Jews themselves and based on Jewish sources (this opposed to the volumes of Jewish history currently being produced by non-Jews, as, for example, in Germany). According to the editors, there are four central clusters of themes drawn from Yerushalmi's work that are examined in the volume. It is evident that such a construction begs important questions about the nature ofwhat is considered both "Jewish" and "history," as well as about the methodological presuppositions ofYerushalmi himself. Such a division is also, in many respects, rather fluid, and topics and issues raised in one section are not thereby excluded from treatment in others. Briefly stated, the four themes are: historical consciousness and the construction ofmemory in medieval and early modem texts; the relationship between time and history in areas of pre-modem Jewish thought; the modem age as the demise of traditional forms of collective memory and identity; and finally, if rather vaguely, research and Jewish history in modem times. The four categories, as presented, assume certain arguments and nuances in Yerushalmi's work, and the first essay by David N. Myers, "OfMarranos and Memory: YosefHayim Yerushalmi and the Writing ofJewish History," assesses this role. While praising Yerushalmi's eloquence and academic insight, Myers reveals a number of important themes that run through Yerushalmi's scholarship and which have, therefore, been assumed in the construction of this volume. Myers notes that Yerushalmi's important book Zakhor is really part of a large body of work concerned with the problems and permutations...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 125-130
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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