Tag Archives: Judaism

Ryback, “Hitler’s First Victims”

In October, Random House released “Hitler’s First Victims: The Quest for ryJustice,” by Timothy W. Ryback. The publisher’s description follows:

The remarkable story of Josef Hartinger, the German prosecutor who risked everything to bring to justice the first killers of the Holocaust and whose efforts would play a key role in the Nuremberg tribunal.

Before Germany was engulfed by Nazi dictatorship, it was a constitutional republic. And just before Dachau Concentration Camp became a site of Nazi genocide, it was a state detention center for political prisoners, subject to police authority and due process. The camp began its irrevocable transformation from one to the other following the execution of four Jewish detainees in the spring of 1933. Timothy W. Ryback’s gripping and poignant historical narrative focuses on those first victims of the Holocaust and the investigation that followed, as Hartinger sought to expose these earliest cases of state-condoned atrocity.

In documenting the circumstances surrounding these first murders and Hartinger’s unrelenting pursuit of the SS perpetrators, Ryback indelibly evokes a society on the brink—one in which civil liberties are sacrificed to national security, in which citizens increasingly turn a blind eye to injustice, in which the bedrock of judicial accountability chillingly dissolves into the martial caprice of the Third Reich.

We see Hartinger, holding on to his unassailable sense of justice, doggedly resisting the rising dominance of Nazism. His efforts were only a temporary roadblock to the Nazis, but Ryback makes clear that Hartinger struck a lasting blow for justice. The forensic evidence and testimony gathered by Hartinger provided crucial evidence in the postwar trials.

Hitler’s First Victims exposes the chaos and fragility of the Nazis’ early grip on power and dramatically suggests how different history could have been had other Germans followed Hartinger’s example of personal courage in that time of collective human failure.

Wolfe, “At Home in Exile”

In October, Random House released “At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora is Good 9780807033135for the Jews,” by political scientist Alan Wolfe (Boston College). The publisher’s description follows:

An eloquent, controversial argument that says, for the first time in their long history, Jews are free to live in a Jewish state—or lead secure and productive lives outside it

Since the beginnings of Zionism in the twentieth century, many Jewish thinkers have considered it close to heresy to validate life in the Diaspora. Jews in Europe and America faced “a life of pointless struggle and futile suffering, of ambivalence, confusion, and eternal impotence,” as one early Zionist philosopher wrote, echoing a widespread and vehement disdain for Jews living outside Israel. This thinking, in a more understated but still pernicious form, continues to the present: the Holocaust tried to kill all of us, many Jews believe, and only statehood offers safety.

But what if the Diaspora is a blessing in disguise? In At Home in Exile, renowned scholar and public intellectual Alan Wolfe, writing for the first time about his Jewish heritage, makes an impassioned, eloquent, and controversial argument that Jews should take pride in their Diasporic tradition. It is true that Jews have experienced more than their fair share of discrimination and destruction in exile, and there can be no doubt that anti-Semitism persists throughout the world and often rears its ugly head. Yet for the first time in history, Wolfe shows, it is possible for Jews to lead vibrant, successful, and, above all else, secure lives in states in which they are a minority.

Drawing on centuries of Jewish thinking and writing, from Maimonides to Philip Roth, David Ben Gurion to Hannah Arendt, Wolfe makes a compelling case that life in the Diaspora can be good for the Jews no matter where they live, Israel very much included—as well as for the non-Jews with whom they live, Israel once again included. Not only can the Diaspora offer Jews the opportunity to reach a deep appreciation of pluralism and a commitment to fighting prejudice, but in an era of rising inequalities and global instability, the whole world can benefit from Jews’ passion for justice and human dignity.

Wolfe moves beyond the usual polemical arguments and celebrates a universalistic Judaism that is desperately needed if Israel is to survive. Turning our attention away from the Jewish state, where half of world Jewry lives, toward the pluralistic and vibrant places the other half have made their home, At Home in Exile is an inspiring call for a Judaism that isn’t defensive and insecure but is instead open and inquiring.

Gordis, “Menachem Begin”

Earlier this year, Schocken Books released “Menachem Begin: The Battle for bweginIsrael’s Soul,” by Daniel Gordis (Shalem College – Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:

Reviled as a fascist by his great rival Ben-Gurion, venerated by Israel’s underclass, the first Israeli to win the Nobel Peace Prize, a proud Jew but not a conventionally religious one, Menachem Begin was both complex and controversial. Born in Poland in 1913, Begin was a youthful admirer of the Revisionist Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky and soon became a leader within Jabotinsky’s Betar movement. A powerful orator and mesmerizing public figure, Begin was imprisoned by the Soviets in 1940, joined the Free Polish Army in 1942, and arrived in Palestine as a Polish soldier shortly thereafter. Joining the underground paramilitary Irgun in 1943, he achieved instant notoriety for the organization’s bombings of British military installations and other violent acts.

Intentionally left out of the new Israeli government, Begin’s right-leaning Herut political party became a fixture of the opposition to the Labor-dominated governments of Ben-Gurion and his successors, until the surprising parliamentary victory of his political coalition in 1977 made him prime minister. Welcoming Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Israel and cosigning a peace treaty with him on the White House lawn in 1979, Begin accomplished what his predecessors could not. His outreach to Ethiopian Jews and Vietnamese “boat people” was universally admired, and his decision to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 is now regarded as an act of courageous foresight. But the disastrous invasion of Lebanon to end the PLO’s shelling of Israel’s northern cities, combined with his declining health and the death of his wife, led Begin to resign in 1983. He spent the next nine years in virtual seclusion, until his death in 1992. Begin was buried not alongside Israel’s prime ministers, but alongside the Irgun comrades who died in the struggle to create the Jewish national home to which he had devoted his life. Daniel Gordis’s perceptive biography gives us new insight into a remarkable political figure whose influence continues to be felt both within Israel and throughout the world.

Conference: “The Jews of Shanghai”

On June 1-3, 2015, Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center will host an international conference entitled “Law and Society:  The Jews of Shanghai” in Shanghai, China.

The history of the Jews of Shanghai is an intriguing story. But it is a story that is not well known in the United States. Baghdadi Jews came to Shanghai in the late 19th century and prospered, Russian Jews fleeing the Czar and then the Bolshevik Revolution emigrated in the early 20th century, and approximately 18,000 Jews from Europe sought refuge from Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and early 1940’s to the open port of Shanghai. The conference will closely examine this history from a number of perspectives, including, law, literature, and sociology.

For details please contact Linda Howard Weissman at lindah@tourolaw.edu.

Kreeft, “Ecumenical Jihad”

This January, St. Augustine’s Press will release “Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War” by Peter Kreeft (Boston College).  The publisher’s description follows:

Ecumenism and JihadJuxtaposing “ecumenism” and “jihad,” two words that many would consider strange and at odds with one another, Peter Kreeft argues that we need to change our current categories and alignments. We need to realize that we are at war and that the sides have changed radically. Documenting the spiritual and moral decay that has taken hold of modern society, Kreeft issues a wake-up call to all God-fearing Christians, Jews, and Muslims to unite together in a “religious war” against the common enemy of godless secular humanism, materialism, and immorality.

Aware of the deep theological differences of these monotheistic faiths, Kreeft calls for a moratorium on our polemics against one another so that we can form an alliance to fight together to save Western civilization.

Haynes, “Faith-Based Organizations at the United Nations”

In December, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Faith-Based Organizations at the United Nations” by Jeffrey Haynes (London Metropolitan University). The publisher’s description follows:

The book examines selected faith-based organisations (FBOs) and their attempts to seek to influence debate and decision-making at the United Nations (UN). Increasing attention on FBOs in this context has followed what is widely understood as a widespread, post-Cold War ‘religious resurgence’, which characterises a novel ‘postsecular’ international environment. One aspect of the new postsecular environment is increasing focus on global public policy at the UN, from FBOs from various religious traditions, especially Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Klein, “Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron”

Next month, Hurst Publishers will release “Lives in Common:  Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron” by  Menachem Klein (Bar-Ilan University, Israel). The publisher’s description follows:

Most books dealing with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict see events through the eyes of policy-makers, generals or diplomats. Menachem Klein offers an illuminating alternative by telling the intertwined histories, from street level upwards, of three cities — Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron — and their intermingled Jewish, Muslim and Christian inhabitants, from the nineteenth century to the present. Each of them was and still is a mixed city. Jerusalem and Hebron are holy places, while Jaffa till 1948 was Palestine’s principal city and main port of entry.

Klein portrays a society in the late Ottoman period in which Jewish-Arab interactions were intense, frequent, and meaningful, before the onset of segregation and separation gradually occurred in the Mandate era. The unequal power relations and increasing violence between Jews and Arabs from 1948 onwards are also scrutinised. Throughout, Klein bases his writing not on the official record but rather on a hitherto hidden private world of Jewish-Arab encounters, including marriages and squabbles, kindnesses and cruelties, as set out in dozens of memoirs, diaries, biographies and testimonies.

“Windows onto Jewish Legal Culture” (Ben-Menahem et al., eds.)

Next month, Routledge Press will release “Windows onto Jewish Legal Culture: Fourteen Exploratory Essays” edited by Hanina Ben-Menahem (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Arye Edrei (Tel Aviv University), and Neil S. Hecht (Boston University School of Law).  The publisher’s description follows:

Windows onto Jewish Legal CultureThis book opens windows onto various aspects of Jewish legal culture. Rather than taking a structural approach, and attempting to circumscribe and define ‘every’ element of Jewish law, Windows onto Jewish Legal Culture takes a dynamic and holistic approach, describing diverse manifestations of Jewish legal culture, and its general mind-set, without seeking to fit them into a single structure.

Jewish legal culture spans two millennia, and evolved in geographic centers that were often very distant from one another both geographically and socio-culturally. It encompasses the Talmud and talmudic literature, the law codes, the rulings of rabbinical courts, the responsa literature, decisions taken by communal leaders, study of the law in talmudic academies, the local study hall, and the home. But Jewish legal culture reaches well beyond legal and quasi-legal institutions; it addresses, and is reflected in, every aspect of daily life, from meals and attire to interpersonal and communal relations. Windows onto Jewish Legal Culture gives the reader a taste of the tremendous weight of Jewish legal culture within Jewish life.

Among the facets of Jewish legal culture explored are two of its most salient distinguishing features, namely, toleration and even encouragement of controversy, and a preference for formalistic formulations. These features are widely misunderstood, and Jewish legal culture is often parodied as hair-splitting argument for the sake of argument. In explaining the epistemic imperatives that motivate Jewish legal culture, however, this book paints a very different picture. Situational constraints and empirical considerations are shown to provide vital input into legal determinations at every level, and the legal process is revealed to be attentive to context and sensitive to cultural concerns.

Berkovitz, “Protocols of Justice”

This month, Brill Publishers releases “Protocols of Justice: The Pinkas of the Metz Rabbinic Court 1771-1789” by Jay R. Berkovitz (University of Massachusetts, Amherst). The publisher’s description follows:

Presented here to the public for the first time, the Pinkas of the Metz Beit Din is the official register of civil cases that came before the Metz rabbinic court in the two decades prior to the French Revolution. Brimming with details of commercial transactions, inheritance disputes, women’s roles in economic life, and the interplay between French law and Jewish law, the Metz Pinkas offers remarkable evidence of the engagement of Jews with the surrounding society and culture. The two volumes of Protocols of Justice comprise the complete text of the Metz Pinkas Beit Din, which is fully annotated by the author, and a thorough analysis of its significance for history and law at the threshold of modernity.

Through his painstaking and path-breaking treatment of this incredibly nuanced and rich text, Jay Berkovitz has placed before academics and all other interested readers a heretofore untapped resource of vast importance. His insightful and extensive introductory monograph beautifully sets the stage for scholars in a wide array of fields to mine this material, which will undoubtedly yield significant new results in the history of Jewish and non-Jewish society in eighteenth-century Europe and beyond. Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Law, Yeshiva University

Bedzow & Broyde, “The Codification of Jewish Law and an Introduction to the Jurisprudence of the Mishna Berura”

In October, Academic Studies Press releases “The Codification of Jewish Law and an Introduction to the Jurisprudence of the Mishna Berura” by Ira Bedzow (Emory University graduate student) and Michael Broyde (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Codification of Jewish Law and an Introduction to the Jurisprudence of the Mishna Berura analyzes the jurisprudential methodology of Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan of Radin, the author of the Mishna Berura. It also provides an introduction to the codification of Jewish law and the methodology of codification more generally. The authors demonstrate that Rabbi Kagan had a unique approach in that he tried to balance opposing forces of tradition and modernity. He also attempted to provide definitive halakhic guidance to every question of Jewish law, based on four central questions and ten halakhic principles. After a comprehensive introduction, the authors provide 250 examples from the Mishna Berura to demonstrate their findings and to clarify their thesis in practical and clear terms.