This summer, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release “Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times,” edited by Ari Joskowicz and Ethan B. Katz. The publisher’s description follows:
For much of the twentieth century, most religious and secular Jewish thinkers believed that they were witnessing a steady, ongoing movement toward secularization. Toward the end of the century, however, as scholars and pundits began to speak of the global resurgence of religion, the normalization of secularism could no longer be considered inevitable. Recent decades have seen the strengthening of Orthodox movements in the United States and in Israel; religious Zionism has grown and radically changed since the 1960s, and new and vibrant nondenominational Jewish movements have emerged.
Secularism in Question examines the ways these contemporary revivals of religion prompt a reconsideration of many issues concerning Jews and Judaism from the early modern era to the present. Bringing together scholars of history, religion, philosophy, and literature, this volume illustrates how the categories of “religious” and “secular” have frequently proven far more permeable than fixed. The contributors challenge the problematic assumptions about the development of secularism that emerge from Protestant European and American perspectives and demonstrate that global Jewish experiences necessitate a reappraisal of conventional narratives of secularism. Ultimately, Secularism in Question calls for rethinking the very terms that animate many of the most contentious debates in contemporary Jewish life and far beyond.
This month, Princeton University Press releases Maimonides: Life and Thought, by Moshe Halbertal (NYU). The publisher’s description follows:
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.
Moshe Halbertal vividly describes Maimonides’s childhood in Muslim Spain, his family’s flight to North Africa to escape persecution, and their eventual resettling in Egypt. He draws on Maimonides’s letters and the testimonies of his contemporaries, both Muslims and Jews, to offer new insights into his personality and the circumstances that shaped his thinking. Halbertal then turns to Maimonides’s legal and philosophical work, analyzing his three great books–Commentary on the Mishnah, the Mishneh Torah, and the Guide of the Perplexed. He discusses Maimonides’s battle against all attempts to personify God, his conviction that God’s presence in the world is mediated through the natural order rather than through miracles, and his locating of philosophy and science at the summit of the religious life of Torah. Halbertal examines Maimonides’s philosophical positions on fundamental questions such as the nature and limits of religious language, creation and nature, prophecy, providence, the problem of evil, and the meaning of the commandments.
A stunning achievement, Maimonides offers an unparalleled look at the life and thought of this important Jewish philosopher, scholar, and theologian.
This summer, the University of Notre Dame Press will release a translation of The Choice of the Jews under Vichy: Between Submission and Resistance, by the late Adam Rayski. The publisher’s description follows:
“It is France that, along with Germany, has persecuted the most Jews.” Spoken at the beginning of 1943, this phrase was not a denunciation, but an unashamed assertion by André Lavagne, the chief of Marshal Pétain’s civil cabinet. Indeed, France’s leadership stood prominently among the governments of occupied Europe in its initiative and zeal in collaborating with the Nazis. Yet nearly three-quarters of the Jews living in France at the beginning of the war survived the “Final Solution.” How was this possible?
And what considerations motivated many prominent representatives of French Jewry, at least initially, to submit to the antisemitic measures of Vichy? Adam Rayski addresses these and other important questions in The Choice of the Jews under Vichy. He writes from the joint perspective of a historian and a participant in the events he describes. An organizer of the communist faction of the Jewish resistance in France, Rayski buttresses his analysis of war-era archival materials with his own personal testimony.
Based on extensive research into previously unpublished sources, including the archives of the military, the Central Consistory of French Jewry, police prefectures, and Philippe Pétain, Rayski clearly demonstrates the Vichy government’s role as an accomplice in the Nazis’ program of genocide. He also explores the sizeable pre-war divide between French-born and immigrant Jews. This manifested itself in cultural conflicts and mutual antagonism as well as in varied initial responses to the antisemitic edicts and actions of the Vichy government. Rayski reveals how these communities eventually set aside their differences and united to resist the Vichy-supported Nazi threat.
Although some French Jews did passively submit to the moves of the Vichy regime, Rayski provides evidence that many did not. With an informed account of the formation and actions of the French Jewish resistance, Rayski combats the clichéd image of Jews as victims. He also documents and describes the efforts and the absence of efforts of French Protestant and Catholic groups on behalf of their Jewish countrymen. Written for general readers and scholars alike, this book provides compelling insight into the story of French Jews during World War II.
This June, Amsterdam University Press will release “People under Power: Early Jewish and Christian Responses to the Roman Empire” edited by Michael Labahn (Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg) and Outi Lehtipuu (University of Helsinki). The publisher’s description follows:
This volume presents a batch of incisive new essays on the relationship between Roman imperial power and ideology and Christian and Jewish life and thought within the empire. Employing diverse methodologies that include historical criticism, rhetorical criticism, postcolonial criticism, and social historical studies, the contributors offer fresh perspectives on a question that is crucial for our understanding not only of the late Roman Empire, but also of the growth and change of Christianity and Judaism in the imperial period.
In May, Cambridge University Press will release “The Western Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy” by John Witte, Jr. (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:
For more than 2,500 years, the Western tradition has embraced monogamous marriage as an essential institution for the flourishing of men and women, parents and children, society and the state. At the same time, polygamy has been considered a serious crime that harms wives and children, correlates with sundry other crimes and abuses, and threatens good citizenship and political stability. The West has thus long punished all manner of plural marriages and denounced the polygamous teachings of selected Jews, Muslims, Anabaptists, Mormons, and others. John Witte, Jr. carefully documents the Western case for monogamy over polygamy from antiquity until today. He analyzes the historical claims that polygamy is biblical, natural, and useful alongside modern claims that anti-polygamy laws violate personal and religious freedom. While giving the arguments pro and con a full hearing, Witte concludes that the Western historical case against polygamy remains compelling and urges Western nations to hold the line on monogamy.
In June, Mulholland Books will release “Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth). The publisher’s description follows:
Despite predictions of continuing secularization, the twenty-first century has witnessed a surge of religious extremism and violence in the name of God. In this powerful and timely book, Jonathan Sacks explores the roots of violence and its relationship to religion, focusing on the historic tensions between the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Drawing on arguments from evolutionary psychology, game theory, history, philosophy, ethics and theology, Sacks shows how a tendency to violence can subvert even the most compassionate of religions.
Whilst dismissing the claim that religion is intrinsically a cause of violence, Sacks argues that theology must become part of the solution if it is not to remain at the heart of the problem. Through a close reading of key Biblical texts at the heart of the Abrahamic faiths, Sacks challenges those who kill in the name of the God of life, wage war in the name of the God of peace, hate in the name of the God of love, and practice cruelty in the name of the God of compassion.
In June, Cambridge University Press will release “The Origins of Organized Charity in Rabbinic Judaism” by Gregg E. Gardner (University of British Columbia, Vancouver). The publisher’s description follows:
This book examines the origins of communal and institutional almsgiving in rabbinic Judaism. It undertakes a close reading of foundational rabbinic texts (Mishnah, Tosefta, Tannaitic Midrashim) and places their discourses on organized giving in their second to third century C.E. contexts. Gregg E. Gardner finds that Tannaim promoted giving through the soup kitchen (tamhui) and charity fund (quppa), which enabled anonymous and collective support for the poor. This protected the dignity of the poor and provided an alternative to begging, which benefited the community as a whole – poor and non-poor alike. By contrast, later Jewish and Christian writings (from the fourth to fifth centuries) would see organized charity as a means to promote their own religious authority. This book contributes to the study of Jews and Judaism, history of religions, biblical studies, and ethics.
This June, Princeton University Press will release “What’s Divine about Divine Law? Early Perspectives” by Christine Hayes (Yale University). The publisher’s description follows:
In the thousand years before the rise of Islam, two radically diverse conceptions of what it means to say that a law is divine confronted one another with a force that reverberates to the present. What’s Divine about Divine Law? untangles the classical and biblical roots of the Western idea of divine law and shows how early adherents to biblical tradition—Hellenistic Jewish writers such as Philo, the community at Qumran, Paul, and the talmudic rabbis—struggled to make sense of this conflicting legacy.
Christine Hayes shows that for the ancient Greeks, divine law was divine by virtue of its inherent qualities of intrinsic rationality, truth, universality, and immutability, while for the biblical authors, divine law was divine because it was grounded in revelation with no presumption of rationality, conformity to truth, universality, or immutability. Hayes describes the collision of these opposing conceptions in the Hellenistic period, and details competing attempts to resolve the resulting cognitive dissonance. She shows how Second Temple and Hellenistic Jewish writers, from the author of 1 Enoch to Philo of Alexandria, were engaged in a common project of bridging the gulf between classical and biblical notions of divine law, while Paul, in his letters to the early Christian church, sought to widen it. Hayes then delves into the literature of classical rabbinic Judaism to reveal how the talmudic rabbis took a third and scandalous path, insisting on a construction of divine law intentionally at odds with the Greco-Roman and Pauline conceptions that would come to dominate the Christianized West.
A stunning achievement in intellectual history, What’s Divine about Divine Law? sheds critical light on an ancient debate that would shape foundational Western thought, and that continues to inform contemporary views about the nature and purpose of law and the nature and authority of Scripture.
This June, Brandeis University Press will release “Israeli Society in the Twenty-First Century: Immigration, Inequality and Religious Conflict” by Calvin Goldscheider (Brown University). The publisher’s description follows:
This volume illuminates changes in Israeli society over the past generation. Goldscheider identifies three key social changes that have led to the transformation of Israeli society in the twenty-first century: the massive immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union, the economic shift to a high-tech economy, and the growth of socioeconomic inequalities inside Israel. To deepen his analysis of these developments, Goldscheider focuses on ethnicity, religion, and gender, including the growth of ethnic pluralism in Israel, the strengthening of the Ultra-Orthodox community, the changing nature of religious Zionism and secularism, shifts in family patterns, and new issues and challenges between Palestinians and Arab Israelis given the stalemate in the peace process and the expansions of Jewish settlements.
Combining demography and social structural analysis, the author draws on the most recent data available from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and other sources to offer scholars and students an innovative guide to thinking about the Israel of the future.
This book will be of interest to scholars and students of contemporary Israel, the Middle East, sociology, demography and economic development, as well as policy specialists in these fields. It will serve as a textbook for courses in Israeli history and in the modern Middle East.
This past February, Columbia University Press released “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Collaboration and Conflict in the Age of Diaspora” edited by Sander L. Gilman (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:
Islam, Christianity, and Judaism share several common features, including their historical origins in the prophet Abraham, their belief in a single divine being, and their modern global expanse. Yet it is the seeming closeness of these “Abrahamic” religions that draws attention to the real or imagined differences between them. This volume examines Abrahamic cultures as minority groups in societies which may be majority Muslim, Christian or Jewish, or self-consciously secular. The focus is on the relationships between these religious identities in global Diaspora, where all of them are confronted with claims about national and individual difference. The case studies range from colonial Hong Kong and Victorian London to today’s San Francisco and rural India. Each study shows how complex such relationships can be and how important it is to situate them in the cultural, ethnic, and historical context of their world. The chapters explore ritual practice, conversion, colonization, immigration, and cultural representations of the differences between the Abrahamic religions. An important theme is how the complex patterns of interaction among these religions embrace collaboration as well as conflict–even in the modern Middle East. This work by authors from several academic disciplines on a topic of crucial importance will be of interest to scholars of history, theology, sociology, and cultural studies, as well as to the general reader interested in how minority groups have interacted and coexisted.