Named one of Kirkus's Best Nonfiction Books of 2015The House of Twenty Thousand Books is the story of Chimen Abramsky, an extraordinary polymath and bibliophile who amassed a vast collection of socialist literature and Jewish history. For more than fifty years Chimen and his wife, Miriam, hosted epic gatherings in their house of books that brought together many of the age's greatest thinkers. The atheist son of one of the century's most important rabbis, Chimen was born in 1916 near Minsk, spent his early teenage years in Moscow while his father served time in a Siberian labor camp for religious proselytizing, and then immigrated to London, where he discovered the writings of Karl Marx and became involved in left-wing politics. He briefly attended the newly established Hebrew University in Jerusalem, until World War II interrupted his studies. Back in England, he married, and for many years he and Miriam ran a respected Jewish bookshop in London's East End. When the Nazis invaded Russia in June 1941, Chimen joined the Communist Party, becoming a leading figure in the party's National Jewish Committee. He remained a member until 1958, when, shockingly late in the day, he finally acknowledged the atrocities committed by Stalin. In middle age, Chimen reinvented himself once more, this time as a liberal thinker, humanist, professor, and manuscripts' expert for Sotheby's auction house. Journalist Sasha Abramsky re-creates here a lost world, bringing to life the people, the books, and the ideas that filled his grandparents' house, from gatherings that included Eric Hobsbawm and Isaiah Berlin to books with Marx's handwritten notes, William Morris manuscripts and woodcuts, an early sixteenth-century Bomberg Bible, and a first edition of Descartes's Meditations. The House of Twenty Thousand Books is a wondrous journey through our times, from the vanished worlds of Eastern European Jewry to the cacophonous politics of modernity. The House of Twenty Thousand Books includes 43 photos.
Scattered over much of the world throughout most of their history, are the Jews one people or many? How do they resemble and how do they differ from Jews in other places and times? What have their relationships been to the cultures of their neighbors? To address these and similar questions, some of the finest scholars of our day have contributed their insights to Cultures of the Jews, a winner of the National Jewish Book Award upon its hardcover publication in 2002.Constructing their essays around specific cultural artifacts that were created in the period and locale under study, the contributors describe the cultural interactions among different Jews-from rabbis and scholars to non-elite groups, including women-as well as between Jews and the surrounding non-Jewish world. What they conclude is that although Jews have always had their own autonomous traditions, Jewish identity cannot be considered the fixed product of either ancient ethnic or religious origins. Rather, it has shifted and assumed new forms in response to the cultural environment in which the Jews have lived. Diversities of Diaspora, the second volume in Cultures of the Jews, illuminates Judeo-Arabic culture in the Golden Age of Islam; Sephardic culture as it bloomed first on the Iberian Peninsula and later in Amsterdam; and the Jewish-Christian symbiosis in Ashkenazic Europe. It also discusses Jewish culture in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; the culture of the Italian Jews of the Renaissance period; and representations of folklore and material culture through childbirth rituals throughout the Jewish diaspora.
Based on more than 20 years of original research in Europe, Israel, and the United States by artist Murray Zimiles, and accompanied by an essay by distinguished Judaica scholar Vivian B.Mann, this book is the first fully developed study of the secularization of Eastern European Jewish folk art traditions in America. Until recently, little was known in the United States about the creative work of European Jewish folk artists. The destruction of the material heritage of Eastern European Jews during World War II has made it very difficult to recover artifacts of Jewish artistry. The physical remnants of that heritage--among them, the types of papercuts, gravestones, and wood carvings featured in this volume--can only suggest how extensive the traditions of Jewish folk art in Eastern Europe once were. Skilled craftsmen, responsible for the painted and carved interiors of Eastern European synagogues and their elaborately carved arks and bimahs, came to the New World in the late nineteenth century, where they soon flourished and became the creators of some of America's greatest folk art. Folk art embraces many artistic expressions made by gifted individuals who have not had formal training in the arts. Folk artists apply a diverse range of skills to objects used in daily life. Jewish folk artist migr s encountered in the United States a society more interested in what they could produce than in what religion they practiced. Not only did they continue to carve religious artifacts for new synagogues serving fellow immigrants; they also created wooden trade figures, carnival figures, and some of the greatest carousel animals the world has ever seen. This volume tells the story of carvers who, released from Eastern European religious strictures, responded with great playfulness to an expansive new environment. Traditional patterns reemerged, often infused with American ideas and images, not only in synagogue decorations and objects intended for ritual use but also in the secular world. Within this dynamic, a surprising link was forged between the Eastern European synagogue and the American carousel. This volume and the exhibition that it documents recapture a sense of awe and appreciation for a nearly lost tradition. They return to the Jewish people, and to world culture, a visual tradition of great beauty and decorative complexity.
A groundbreaking historical reexamination of one of the most infamous episodes in the history of anti-SemitismJoseph S ss Oppenheimer--Jew S ss--is one of the most iconic figures in the history of anti-Semitism. In 1733, Oppenheimer became the court Jew of Carl Alexander, the duke of the small German state of W rttemberg. When Carl Alexander died unexpectedly, the W rttemberg authorities arrested Oppenheimer, put him on trial, and condemned him to death for unspecified misdeeds. On February 4, 1738, Oppenheimer was hanged in front of a large crowd just outside Stuttgart. He is most often remembered today through several works of fiction, chief among them a vicious Nazi propaganda movie made in 1940 at the behest of Joseph Goebbels. The Many Deaths of Jew S ss is a compelling new account of Oppenheimer's notorious trial. Drawing on a wealth of rare archival evidence, Yair Mintzker investigates conflicting versions of Oppenheimer's life and death as told by four contemporaries: the leading inquisitor in the criminal investigation, the most important eyewitness to Oppenheimer's final days, a fellow court Jew who was permitted to visit Oppenheimer on the eve of his execution, and one of Oppenheimer's earliest biographers. What emerges is a lurid tale of greed, sex, violence, and disgrace--but are these narrators to be trusted? Meticulously reconstructing the social world in which they lived, and taking nothing they say at face value, Mintzker conjures an unforgettable picture of Jew S ss in his final days that is at once moving, disturbing, and profound. The Many Deaths of Jew S ss is a masterfully innovative work of history, and an illuminating parable about Jewish life in the fraught transition to modernity.
"REMARKABLE . . . A WONDERFUL STORY."
--The Boston Globe
--San Francisco Chronicle
To gain an accurate view of medieval Judaism, one must look through the eyes of Jews and their contemporaries. First published in 1938, Jacob Rader Marcus's classic source book on medieval Judaism provides the documents and historical narratives which let the actors and witnesses of events speak for themselves. The medieval epoch in Jewish history begins around the year 315, when the emperor Constantine began enacting disabling laws against the Jews, rendering them second-class citizens. In the centuries following, Jews enjoyed (or suffered under) legislation, either chosen or forced by the state, which differed from the laws for the Christian and Muslim masses. Most states saw the Jews as simply a tolerated group, even when given favorable privileges. The masses often disliked them. Medieval Jewish history presents a picture wherein large patches are characterized by political and social disabilities. Marcus closes the medieval Jewish age (for Western Jewry) in 1791 with the proclamation of political and civil emancipation in France. The 137 sources included in the anthology include historical narratives, codes, legal opinions, martyrologies, memoirs, polemics, epitaphs, advertisements, folk-tales, ethical and pedagogical writings, book prefaces and colophons, commentaries, and communal statutes. These documents are organized in three sections: The first treats the relation of the State to the Jew and reflects the civil and political status of the Jew in the medieval setting. The second deals with the profound influence exerted by the Catholic and Protestant churches on Jewish life and well-being. The final section presents a study of the Jew "at home," with four sub-divisions with treat the life of the medieval Jew in its various aspects. Marcus presents the texts themselves, introductions, and lucid notes. Marc Saperstein offers a new introduction and updated bibliography.
A 900-year history of the culture and folklore of the shtetl Eishyshok. As well as a testament to a victimized people, the book is a living history - the author lived in Eishyshok until the age of four when the Nazis murdered all the inhabitants except for herself and a few others who escaped.
Hard to believe but true:- The Passover Seder is a Greco-Roman symposium banquet
- The Talmud rabbis presented themselves as Stoic philosophers
- Synagogue buildings were Roman basilicas
- Hellenistic rhetoric professors educated sons of well-to-do Jews
- Zeus-Helios is depicted in synagogue mosaics across ancient Israel
- The Jewish courts were named after the Roman political institution, the Sanhedrin
- In Israel there were synagogues where the prayers were recited in Greek. Historians have long debated the (re)birth of Judaism in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple cult by the Romans in 70 CE. What replaced that sacrificial cult was at once something new-indebted to the very culture of the Roman overlords-even as it also sought to preserve what little it could of the old Israelite religion. The Greco-Roman culture in which rabbinic Judaism grew in the first five centuries of the Common Era nurtured the development of Judaism as we still know and celebrate it today. Arguing that its transformation from a Jerusalem-centered cult to a world religion was made possible by the Roman Empire, Rabbi Burton Visotzky presents Judaism as a distinctly Roman religion. Full of fascinating detail from the daily life and culture of Jewish communities across the Hellenistic world, Aphrodite and the Rabbis will appeal to anyone interested in the development of Judaism, religion, history, art and architecture.