An interview with Robert Holub on “Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem”

Nietzsche’s views about Jews and Judaism have been subject to considerable debate over the last century, though an increasingly popular view today holds that he was a principled adversary of antisemitism. In Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem, Robert Holub argues that evidence from Nietzsche’s published and unpublished writings and letters reveals that he in fact harbored anti-Jewish prejudices throughout his life. Recently, Professor Holub took the time to discuss his findings:

How did you become interested in the topic of Nietzsche’s relationship to Jews and Judaism?

Holub jacketRH: Philosophical accounts of Nietzsche have traditionally ignored his connections to discourses and movements in the late nineteenth century. In the early 1990s I embarked on a project that considered Nietzsche a “timely meditator,” someone who was participating in discussions of issues of his era. The book I hoped to produce would focus on his views on various social and scientific matters, among them the working class and socialism, women and feminism, German nationalism, colonialism, evolution, eugenics, and thermodynamics. One of the issues that interested me most was his relationship to Jews, Judaism, and anti-Semitism. The discourse about Jews and the place of Jews in German society underwent a dramatic change in the last few decades of the nineteenth century, and I wrote an article in 1995 placing Nietzsche’s views on the “Jewish Question” within this context. But when I went into academic administration – first as a dean, then as a provost and finally a chancellor – I put the entire book project on the back burner. Returning to these issues in 2012 when I came to the faculty of Ohio State, I found that my essay from 1995 was an inadequate account of Nietzsche’s views on Jews and Judaism, and that to deal with these matters in an appropriate fashion would require a book-length monograph. So I took a break from my larger project to present a fuller account of Nietzsche’s relationship to the Jewish Question. The result was Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem.

Why has this topic been so contentious over the years?

RH: There was controversy over Nietzsche’s views on Jewry from the very beginning. Some anti-Semites of his time believed he was sympathetic to their cause because his publisher was a noted anti-Semite and his sister had married a leader of the anti-Semitic movement. Moreover, Nietzsche was associated with Wagnerian ideology, which had obvious anti-Jewish dimensions, and remarks in many of Nietzsche’s writings could easily be understood as Judeophobic. But Nietzsche also rejected in the most categorical fashion what he understood as anti-Semitism, and many aphorisms, especially during his middle period, could easily be regarded as philo-Semitic. If not for the Holocaust, however, which forced a reevaluation of all German intellectual history, the topic might have remained a footnote to Nietzsche’s philosophy. Postwar treatments of his writings have generally taken his remarks on anti-Semitism to be Nietzsche’s definitive view on Jews and Judaism, and blamed any association of Nietzsche with Judeophobia on his sister or on the distortions of Nazi interpretations. The controversy over this topic is thus the result of the peculiarities of German history combined with Nietzsche’s apparently contradictory positions on the Jewish Question.

Why have previous treatments of this issue been unsatisfactory? Why did you feel that there was a need for your book?

RH: Most previous accounts were partisan and selective in their methodology. Reading them, one has the impression that they came to the material with something they wanted to prove and then sought evidence in Nietzsche’s writings. When Nietzsche became associated with National Socialism in the Third Reich, for example, you can detect a canonical interpretation of his views on Jews supported by the identical citations from his writings. In the postwar period, his condemnation of anti-Semitism was thrust into the foreground, and other, more questionable, comments on Jewry were ignored. Previous accounts were therefore partial in both senses of this word, and I felt that a new study was needed that would examine all the material, and, above all, that would situate Nietzsche’s remarks in the context of the nineteenth-century discourse on Jews and Judaism.

What role did the Nietzsche-Wagner relationship play in Nietzsche’s views on Jewry?

RH: Wagner was a decisive influence on Nietzsche in the late 1860s and early 1870s, and Nietzsche’s admiration for the composer extended into ideological realms. It appears that Nietzsche wanted to adopt and reinforce various views Wagner held on political and social issues, and we find Nietzsche in one of his early talks on Socrates and tragedy identifying Socratism with the Jewish press. Wagner, we should recall, had republished his Judeophobic essay “Judaism in Music” in 1869 at a time when Nietzsche and Wagner were very close. So it is perhaps not surprising that Nietzsche chose to emulate Wagner’s views on the pernicious affect of Jews on German culture. Nietzsche had begun to develop anti-Jewish attitudes prior to his acquaintance with Wagner, but these sentiments intensified and were reinforced as their friendship grew. And it is likely that Nietzsche’s break with Wagner, which was generally not recognized in the larger German public until the late 1880s, accounts for some of Nietzsche’s altered public, and largely favorable, pronouncements about Jews in the years from 1878-1885. Wagner is a key to understanding Nietzsche, whether the philosopher was adopting the Meister’s views of purposively opposing them.

You maintain that Nietzsche was against anti-Semitism, but at the same time you claim that he harbored anti-Jewish sentiments. How is this possible?

RH: I think the status of anti-Semitism in Nietzsche’s thought and writings has been a major source of confusion. Anti-Semitism for Nietzsche was a political movement that arose in the early 1880s. It was associated in his mind with crude and rancorous sentiments. It was also a movement that placed Nietzsche in an uncomfortable position with regard to his publisher and his sister. So Nietzsche was over-determined to disdain anti-Semitism. This categorical rejection of anti-Semitism, however, did not stop him from harboring views we would consider anti-Jewish, since Nietzsche, as well as contemporaries, like his friend Franz Overbeck, continued to identify Jews with unfavorable character traits, and saw the necessity of finding a solution to the Jewish Question. Nietzsche’s rejection of anti-Semitism and his anti-Jewish sentiments were not in contradiction for him. Indeed, they define his attitude toward Jews and Judaism.

Should Nietzsche be regarded as a forerunner of National Socialism and its racist ideology?

RH: There are strong arguments against considering Nietzsche as a precursor of National Socialism. Perhaps the two ideological pillars of Nazism were ardent nationalism and virulent anti-Semitism, and Nietzsche evidences neither of them. He was nationalistic and Judeophobic during his Wagnerian period, but he never embraced these tenets passionately and without reservation. On the other hand, Nietzsche did admire strong and dictatorial leaders, such as Napoleon; he detested democracy, parliamentary rule, and equal rights. And he flirted with eugenics in his later years, although it was never a racially based eugenics. So arguments can be made for and against this proposition. Of course Nietzsche was established as a precursor of National Socialism by Nazi philosophers and ideologues, but we should remember that some party members found it difficult to integrate him into their outlook. We should also recall that Nietzsche in his own time was vehemently opposed to any collective undertaking, whether it was on the right or the left of the political spectrum. It is difficult to know how he would have reacted to the rise of fascism in Germany several decades after his death. One of the main points of my book is that speculation of this sort is useless, and that the lens of National Socialism has contributed to a less than optimal scholarly record of Nietzsche’s views on Jews and Judaism. We can only determine with some degree of certainty where Nietzsche stood with regard to political manifestations he actually confronted in the nineteenth century.

How does your book change our views of Nietzsche as a philosopher?

RH: This question is difficult to answer. Many of Nietzsche’s most important contributions to philosophy have scant connection to his views on Jews and Judaism. So there is the temptation to regard these issues as secondary in considering Nietzsche’s philosophy and unimportant for any evaluation of his thought. Indeed, many of the most prominent philosophers in the German tradition expressed views on Jewry that were as bad as, or worse, than anything Nietzsche had to say about the subject. But we should also consider that philosophers possess a way of thinking about the world, and that part of Nietzsche’s way of thinking about the world contained stereotypes about race, gender, and ethnicity that he was unable to overcome. It would be foolish to regard everything Nietzsche wrote as contaminated by racism; but it would also be foolish to consider that his reflections on matters both historical and abstract were completely unaffected by the manner in which he approached the Jewish Question.

Robert C. Holub is Ohio Eminent Scholar and Professor of German at Ohio State University and former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The author of several books on nineteenth- and twentieth-century German literary, cultural, and intellectual history, he is also the editor of editions of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil.

Read chapter one here.

Celebrate Passover with “Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts”

Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Illustrated Manuscripts edited by Marc Michael Epstein, the Mattie M. Paschall (1899) and Norman Davis Chair of Religion and Visual Culture at Vassar College, provides the first full survey of Jewish illuminated manuscripts—from hand illustrated versions of the Bible, to beloved Jewish texts, to marriage documents—ranging from their origins in the Middle Ages to the present day. The illustrations are magnificent. As Passover is occurring now through Saturday, Marc Epstein provided us background on a handful of particularly arresting images. More information on Passover can be found here, and you can read chapter one here.

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Miriam and the daughters of Israel singing at the shore of the Red Sea. Haggadah. ("The Golden Haggadah"). Spain, Barcelona, c. 1320. London, British Library, MS Add. 27210, fol. 15r.

Seder scene. Haggadah (The Brother Haggadah). Catalonia, third quarter of the 14th century. London, British Library, MS Add. Or. 1404, fol. 8v.

Family and Moorish servant at the Seder table. The first significant treatment medieval Jewish book arts focused on this manuscript, which as still to yield up many of its mysteries. Haggadah. (The Sarejevo Haggadah). Spain, Catalonia, c. 1350. Bosnia and Hercegovnia, Sarajevo, Zemaljski Museum, ms 1, fol. 31v. CLEARED FOR USE.

Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh. Spatial and figural renderings of the sort labeled by some scholars as "primitive." Haggadah (The Hispano-Moresque Haggadah). Spain, Castile, ca. 1300. London, British Library, MS Or. 2737, fol. 74v.

Death of the Egyptian firstborn and the Exodus. Haggadah (The Golden Haggadah). Spain, Barcelona, ca. 1320. London, British Library, MS Add. 27210, fol. 14v, c and d.

"We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt." The lower margin and central illustration depicts the slaving Israelites, while at top, a hare is served a drink by a dog, perhaps articulating the wish that "one day the Egyptian dogs will serve us." Haggadah. ("The Barcelona Haggadah"). Spain, Barcelona, c. 1340. London, British Library, MS add. 14761, fol. 30v.

Israelites building store-cities for Pharaoh. Haggadah illustrated by Joseph Bar David of Leipnick, Moravia. Germany, Altona, 1740. London, British Library, MS Sloane 3173, fol. 11v.

Barbara Wolff. "The gods." The ancient Egyptian religion centered on the idea of birth, death, and rebirth in an afterlife. Just as the people daily life depended on the annual flooding and receding of the waters of the Nile, the Egyptian pantheon of many gods guided and protected all aspects of nature and human existence. From a relatively early time, haggadot have included archaeological details, with lesser or (as here) greater degrees of accuracy. There is a certain irony, it must be admitted, in depicting the very gods that are described as being "judged" and obviated by God in Exodus and in the text of the haggadah, as if perpetuating the memory of that which we are enjoined to forget. Daniel and Joanna S. Rose Haggadah, 2013, 19.

Barbara Wolff. "In Remembrance" On the night of "Broken Glass" (Kristallnacht 9-10 November 1938), over a thousand synagogues were looted and burned in Germany, Austria, and Poland. Jewish shops were smashed, many Jews were killed, and over thirty thousand taken to concentration camps. It marked the beginning of the Holocaust in which over seven million Jews perished. Barbara Wolff's illumination calls on us to remember this dark chapter of Jewish history by incorporating images of several of the synagogues that were attacked. The traditional text, "Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know you," is supplemented with a text calling upon God to pour out "love upon the nations that know You." This prayer was allegedly discovered in a beautiful haggadah manuscript on parchment dated 1521, which had been lost during the Holocaust, but this story seems, unforutnately to have been a fabrication, the prayer having been composed around 1928 by Rabbi Bloch (1881-c. 1970). Still, the sentiment is a beautiful one, and Block's prayer is worth translating: "Pour out your love on the nations that know You and on the kingdoms that call Your name. For the good which they do for the seed of Jacob, and [the manner in which] they shield Your people Israel from their enemies. May they merit to see the good of Your chosen, and to rejoice in the joy of Your nation. Daniel and Joanna S. Rose Haggadah, 2013, 38.

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New Jewish Studies Catalog!

Be among the first to browse and download our new Jewish studies catalog!

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Of particular interest is Moshe Halbertal’s Maimonides: Life and Thought. Maimonides was the greatest Jewish philosopher and legal scholar of the medieval period, a towering figure who has had a profound and lasting influence on Jewish law, philosophy, and religious consciousness. This book provides a comprehensive and accessible introduction to his life and work, revealing how his philosophical sensibility and outlook informed his interpretation of Jewish tradition.

Also be sure to note Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern’s The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe. The shtetl was home to two-thirds of East Europe’s Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, yet it has long been one of the most neglected and misunderstood chapters of the Jewish experience. This book provides the first grassroots social, economic, and cultural history of the shtetl. Challenging popular misconceptions of the shtetl as an isolated, ramshackle Jewish village stricken by poverty and pogroms, Petrovsky-Shtern argues that, in its heyday from the 1790s to the 1840s, the shtetl was a thriving Jewish community as vibrant as any in Europe.

And don’t miss out on new and forthcoming books in the series Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World and others. Jonathan Marc Gribetz fundamentally recasts our understanding of the modern Jewish-Arab encounter and of the Middle East conflict today in Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter and Sidney H. Griffith offers a new frame of reference for the pivotal place of Arabic Bible translations in the religious and cultural interactions between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the ‘People of the Book’ in the Language of Islam.

More of our leading titles in Jewish studies can be found in the catalog. You may also sign up with ease to be notified of forthcoming titles at (Your e-mail address will remain confidential!)

The Marginalia Review of Books announces the “Lives of Great Religious Books Essay Competition”

From The Marginalia Review of Books web site:


The Marginalia Review of Books announces the “Lives of Great Religious Books Essay Competition.” We invite essay submissions of up to 3,000 words related to the theme of the reception of religious books, broadly conceived. Those interested should read past essays to ensure their submissions correspond to MRB‘s style. The eminent philosopher Roger Scruton will join the MRB editors to judge the competition. The winner will receive Princeton University Press’s entire Lives of Great Religious Books series, and we will consider all submissions for publication in early 2015.

The competition closes on November 1 and the winner will be announced in January 2015.

For details on how to submit an essay for consideration, please visit The Marginalia Review of Books web site.

About the Lives of Great Religious Books series:

Lives of Great Religious Books is a new series of short volumes that recount the complex and fascinating histories of important religious texts from around the world. Written for general readers by leading authors and experts, these books examine the historical origins of texts from the great religious traditions, and trace how their reception, interpretation, and influence have changed–often radically–over time. As these stories of translation, adaptation, appropriation, and inspiration dramatically remind us, all great religious books are living things whose careers in the world can take the most unexpected turns.

Carlin Romano called the series “innovative,” in his earlier article for The Chronicle of Higher Education and Bruce Elder, writing for The Sydney Morning Herald praised the series as an “inspired publishing idea.”

For a list of the books currently available in the series, please click here.

To see the list of forthcoming volumes, please click here.


An Alternative Passover Menu from Merry “Corky” White, author of Cooking for Crowds

Many family memories of Passover include delicious shared food experiences. I asked Merry “Corky” White, the reigning expert on Cooking for Crowds, for advice on how to shake up the traditional fare and introduce some new flavors and ideas to the Passover table. Here is her alternative Passover menu.

white-m[1]Forget the brisket–or relegate it to a nice memory of a great aunt who did it well–and choose a Belgian beef stew– Carbonnades Flamandes. Serve with small boiled potatoes.

A second idea, equally good and homey is the Greek Beef Stifatho, made either with beef or with lamb, which has some Sephardic possibilities, in the cinnamon and cumin. Leave out the feta if you are keeping kosher. If rice can be on your menu, serve it with rice: if not, saffron-tinged mashed potatoes with olive oil.

Stuffed Cabbage would be also a nice dish, but use ground beef and substitute 3 Tb olive oil for salt pork in the version for six people.

The best possible dessert for Passover is a flourless hazelnut torte and strawberries. Unfortunately I have no flourless tortes in the book but if it is permissible to use dairy in a meat menu, then Strawberries with Sabayon Sauce will do beautifully. Or the Toasted Almond Parfait, again, if dairy is permitted.

If you try any of these recipes, please leave us a note below. We’d love to hear from you!

Princeton University Press’s best-selling books for the first quarter of 2014 are…

In a slight departure, we are going to celebrate the end of our first quarter of sales in 2014 with a longer list than usual. Here are the top 30 books for the last three months, according to combined BookScan and eBooks sales.

What is remarkable about this list is that it encompasses new releases like 1177 B.C. and GDP; perennial best-sellers like On Bullshit and This Time is Different; course reading for economics and calculus; biographies of Nicola Tesla, Martin Gardner, and Maimonides; and bird guides like The Warbler Guide. It truly represents the strength, subjects, and longevity of the books we publish. This is also a list of some really terrific reads, so click through and sample free excerpts for each book.


Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson
The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson
On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
the 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward Burger and Michael Starbird
The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality by Angus Deaton
The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup by Noam Wasserman
Beautiful Geometry by Eli Maor and Eugen Jost
Rare Birds of North America by Steve Howell, Ian Lewington, and Will Russell
The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility by Gregory Clark
What W. H. Auden Can Do for You by Alexander McCall Smith
1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric Cline
The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century by Angela Stent
The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William Helmreich
The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Phillips Feynman
Maimonides: Life and Thought by Moshe Halbertal
Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner by Martin Gardner
Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit by Charles W. Calomiris & Stephen H. Haber
The I Ching or Book of Changes edited by Hellmut Wilhelm
How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya
The Dollar Trap: How the U.S. Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance by Eswar S. Prasad
GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History by Diane Coyle
Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History by Donald E. Canfield
Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist’s Companion by Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke
This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff
Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong by David Edmonds
Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian by A. Douglas Stone
The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism by Robert E. Buswell Jr. & Donald S. Lopez Jr.
The Calculus Lifesaver: All the Tools You Need to Excel at Calculus by Adrian Banner
The Best Writing on Mathematics 2013 edited by Mircea Pitici

“Is Judaism a Religion?” Leora Batnitzky at the Tikvah Center, February 20, 2014


Join the Tikvah Center as they welcome Leora Batnitzky for a discussion of the intellectuals who recast Judaism as a modern religion, those that opposed the change, and the legacy of modern Jewish thought today.

Is Judaism a Religion?

Leora Batnitzky

Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 5:30pm EST

The Tikvah Center
165 East 56th Street, 4th Floor
New York, New York 10022

Reserve your seat:

Nineteenth century political emancipation brought citizenship rights to European Jews.  In How Judaism Became a Religion, Leora Batnitzky explores how this new political reality affected Jewish philosophy and the Jewish people.  The prospect of secular citizenship challenged Judaism’s premodern integrity, and drove Jewish writers, intellectuals, and rabbis to grapple with how to recast Judaism as a “religion,” emphasizing its private faith over its national call to public practice.  The transformation of Judaism as a religion – and reactions to it – is the driving question of modern Jewish thought to this day.  What does Judaism gain and lose as a religion?  What effects, positive and negative, has this modern transformation yielded?  How does conceiving of Judaism as a religion relate to Zionism and the refounding of a Jewish State for the Jewish People?

Leora Batnitzky is the Ronald O. Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies, Professor of Religion, and Chair of the Department of Religion at Princeton University.

Book launch video for Maimonides: Life and Thought

Moshe Halbertal, Gruss Professor of Law at NYU School of Law, and Noah Feldman, Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School, discuss Halbertal’s new book, Maimonides: Life and Thought.

What happens at AAR/SBL doesn’t stay at AAR/SBL…

Prompted by this great meeting overview in Publishers Weekly, I asked our religion editor Fred Appel what his experience was like at the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature conference. Here’s how he describes the meeting:


Princeton University Press religion editor Fred Appel with Sharmila Sen and Jennifer Banks, religion editors of Harvard University Press and Yale University Press, respectively.

The joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature is one of North America’s biggest academic conferences. Almost 11,000 scholars attended last month’s meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center. The meetings are noted for their diversity. All manner of religion scholars attend, from specialists of the Hebrew Bible and Qur’an, to experts in Zen Buddhism, Christian monasticism and Hinduism, to historians of American religion. The exhibit hall is filled with all sorts of publishers, including many with avowedly religious/confessional commitments. Publishers from the world of scholarly book publishing were also there in force.

Among PUP’s strong sellers at this meeting were recent volumes in the “Lives of Great Religious Books” series, especially Mark Larrimore’s book on Job and John Collins on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Also quite popular was The Bible in Arabic, a scholarly book tracing this history of early translations of the Bible in the Arab world by Sidney Griffith of Catholic University. Our two big religion reference books (The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism and A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations) this season also attracted considerable attention, and we had one social science title that performed very well too: Mark Chaves’ American Religion.

Happy Hanukkah!

Since Hanukkah is officially underway as of Wednesday night, we at the Press would like to say Happy Hanukkah by showing off some of our most interesting books about Jewish culture and history. So take a break from your Black Friday shopping and check out some of these Jewish gems!

Happy Hanukkah!
Maimonides: Life and Thought

By: Moshe Halbertal

Maimonides was the greatest Jewish philosopher and legal scholar of the medieval period, a towering figure who has had a profound and lasting influence on Jewish law, philosophy, and religious consciousness. This book provides a comprehensive and accessible introduction to his life and work, revealing how his philosophical sensibility and outlook informed his interpretation of Jewish tradition. A stunning achievement, Maimonides offers an unparalleled look at the life and thought of this important Jewish philosopher, scholar, and theologian.
No Joke: Making Jewish Humor

By: Ruth R. Wisse

Humor is the most celebrated of all Jewish responses to modernity. In this book, Ruth Wisse evokes and applauds the genius of spontaneous Jewish joking–as well as the brilliance of comic masterworks by writers like Heinrich Heine, Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, S. Y. Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Philip Roth. At the same time, Wisse draws attention to the precarious conditions that have called Jewish humor into being–and the price it may exact from its practitioners and audience.
How Judaism Became a Religion: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought

By: Leora Batnitzky

Is Judaism a religion, a culture, a nationality–or a mixture of all of these? In How Judaism Became a Religion, Leora Batnitzky boldly argues that this question more than any other has driven modern Jewish thought since the eighteenth century. This wide-ranging and lucid book tells the story of how Judaism came to be defined as a religion in the modern period–and why Jewish thinkers have fought as well as championed this idea. More than an introduction, How Judaism Became a Religion presents a compelling new perspective on the history of modern Jewish thought.
History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage

By: Beth S. Wenger

Most American Jews today will probably tell you that Judaism is inherently democratic and that Jewish and American cultures share the same core beliefs and values. But in fact, Jewish tradition and American culture did not converge seamlessly. Rather, it was American Jews themselves who consciously created this idea of an American Jewish heritage and cemented it in the popular imagination during the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. This is the first book to examine how Jews in the United States collectively wove themselves into the narratives of the nation, and came to view the American Jewish experience as a unique chapter in Jewish history.
A Short History of the Jews

By: Michael Brenner
Translated by: Jeremiah Riemer

This is a sweeping and powerful narrative history of the Jewish people from biblical times to today. Based on the latest scholarship and richly illustrated, it is the most authoritative and accessible chronicle of the Jewish experience available. Describing the events and people that have shaped Jewish history, and highlighting the important contributions Jews have made to the arts, politics, religion, and science, A Short History of the Jews is a compelling blend of storytelling and scholarship that brings the Jewish past marvelously to life.

More Upcoming Ruth Wisse Events You Don’t Want to Miss

NoJokeAuthor Ruth R. Wisse will be making several appearances in the next couple of months to discuss her new book, No Joke: Making Jewish Humor. In this book, Ruth Wisse evokes and applauds the genius of spontaneous Jewish joking–as well as the brilliance of comic masterworks by writers like Heinrich Heine, Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, S. Y. Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Philip Roth. At the same time, Wisse draws attention to the precarious conditions that have called Jewish humor into being–and the price it may exact from its practitioners and audience.

The next two events will be held in November, the first being November 20th at 7:00 PM at the APJCC Auditorium in Silicon Valley. To learn more about the event, click here.

The second event will be held at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on November 21st at 7:00 PM. To learn more about the event, click here.

For both events, Wisse will discuss “No Joke: Making Jewish Humor,” her book about the most celebrated of all Jewish responses to modernity. Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University. She is the author of The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Language and Culture, which won a National Jewish Book Award. Her other books include Jews and Power (Schocken) and The Schlemiel as Modern Hero.

“Aftermath”, a Polish Film Based on Jan T. Gross’ “Neighbors” Is Released

aftermath_us_poster_1_lgAftermath, a Polish film based on the historical book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland by Jan T. Gross, was recently released in limited showing in the United States, including New York City and Los Angeles (with Boston, Chicago and more to come shortly).

The official website for the film can be found here on Menemsha Films’ website, which includes a short synopsis, a trailer, photos from the film, and reviews. It also has links to locations and showtimes for the film in the United States.

The film was reviewed by The New York Times, which can be found here.

k7018One summer day in 1941, half of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half, 1,600 men, women, and children, all but seven of the town’s Jews. Neighbors tells their story.

This is a shocking, brutal story that has never before been told. It is the most important study of Polish-Jewish relations to be published in decades and should become a classic of Holocaust literature.

Jan Gross pieces together eyewitness accounts and other evidence into an engulfing reconstruction of the horrific July day remembered well by locals but forgotten by history. His investigation reads like a detective story, and its unfolding yields wider truths about Jewish-Polish relations, the Holocaust, and human responses to occupation and totalitarianism. It is a story of surprises: The newly occupying German army did not compel the massacre, and Jedwabne’s Jews and Christians had previously enjoyed cordial relations. After the war, the nearby family who saved Jedwabne’s surviving Jews was derided and driven from the area. The single Jew offered mercy by the town declined it.

Most arresting is the sinking realization that Jedwabne’s Jews were clubbed, drowned, gutted, and burned not by faceless Nazis, but by people whose features and names they knew well: their former schoolmates and those who sold them food, bought their milk, and chatted with them in the street. As much as such a question can ever be answered, Neighbors tells us why.