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186 SHOFAR Spring 2000 Vol. 18, NO.3 reached in the 1960s, and by the 1980s, Jews, so confident in a cultural pluralistic America, had the chutzpah to demand that their holidays be given almost civic recognition. Such are among the insights about that group's life in this country that may be stimulated by a reading of Riess's outstanding sports anthology. Jeffrey S. Gurock Department of Jewish History Yeshiva University A Short History of the Jewish People: From Legendary Times to Modern Statehood, by Raymond P. Scheindlin. New York: Macmillan, 1998. 274 pp. $22.95. In some respects, writing a short history of the Jewish people is a more difficult task than writing a lengthy one. As Raymond Scheindlin acknowledges in his introduction, it is no simple matter to compress into 274 pages "the entire theater of Jewish history, which embraces Asia from Iran to the Mediterranean, Europe and North Africa, and, across the Atlantic, North America," a history so intertwined with that ofmany "peoples more numerous and powerful" than the Jews (p. viii). Such a vast subject matter is "too daunting for a reader who is just beginning his exploration of the Jews," and so Scheindlin set out to capture the themes and highlights of Jewish history for such beginning readers. For the most part, he has succeeded. Scheindlin's pen glides easily across the vast panorama of the Jewish experience, from the origins of the ancient Israelites, their enslavement in Egypt and eventual liberation, the rise of the kingdoms of David and Solomon, the Babylonian exile and return, the Maccabean and Roman wars, and on through two millennia of dispersion. Scheindlin writes well and sustains the reader's interest throughout. The text is interspersed with an array of helpful maps, parallel timelines of Jewish and general history, and interesting sidebars on specific topics (among them the Dead Sea Scrolls, Yiddish, Golden Age poetry, Safed, and the Rothschilds). Space limitations compel Scheindlin to generalize, and his generalizations occasionally falter. The causes ofthe Sabbatean phenomenon, for example, are not fully addressed; Scheindlin alludes to the Chmielnicki massacres as the cause of mass support for Shabbtai Zvi's messianic pretensions, but makes no reference to Gershom Scholem's research on the internal Jewish religious developments connected to the rise ofSabbateanism. Scheindlin also notes that "importantrabbis took [Zvi] seriously," but he fails to acknowledge that there was also significant rabbinical opposition to Sabbateanism. He also overstates the movement's longevity, asserting that "many" of Zvi's followersjoined him in apostasy, "securing the movement an afterlife" and noting Book Reviews 187 that it "still exists in modem Turkey," while neglecting to mention that it is a tiny sect with no relationship to Jewry or Judaism (pp. 133-134). A welcome feature ofA Short History ofthe Jewish People is that it devotes more attention to the experience ofJews in the Muslim world than is usually found in general Jewish history texts. Interestingly, Scheindlin's assessment of the Jewish experience under medieval Islam is somewhat more positive than one might have expected. He contends that the inferior legal and social status of dhimmi, as Jews and other nonMuslims are categorized in Muslim lands, "actually brought relief' in the case of the Jews, "because it meant that the Islamic religion and state recognized their status and guaranteed their right to live and to practice their religion-not grudgingly, as under the humiliating logic of Saint Augustine ..." (p. 74). Whether the Jews themselves regarded the difference between official recognition and grudging recognition as being of much practical significance is less clear. As evidence of the relatively satisfactory condition of Jews in the medieval Arab world, Scheindlin points to their impressive literary output, particularly their Arabiclanguage poetry. Himselfa specialist in medieval poetry, Scheindlin adds an interesting and colorful dimension to his Short History ofthe Jewish People by making frequent reference to the role of poetry in Jewish arts and letters at various stages in history. It is important, however, not to overstate the significance of individual literary achievements in assessing overall Jewish communal comfort. One need only recall, for example, the poetry, novels, and scholarship produced by Jews amidst the misery oflife in Czarist Russia. Scheindlin...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 186-188
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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