In Search of Cecil Roth
CECIL ROTH-a magic name in a certain realm of Jewish history writing-died on June 21, 1970 in Jerusalem, at the age of seventy-one. His first writing in what became his chosen field had had appeared just about fifty years before, in 1920. Since that time, the work had poured from him-books, articles (including many in these pages), lectures, catalogues, not to mention judgments and controversies-in an apparently unending stream. To the world at large, two of his books, A Short History of the Jewish People* and The Jewish Contribution to Civilization, had made him the embodiment of general Jewish history writing. The audience was vast, for Jewish existence had in our time suddenly become a central issue. Who were the Jews? What was their raison d’etre? Where did they fit into the social and cultural pattern of the Western world? These were the questions that forced themselves into public consciousness, from the early 1930′s onward, with an urgency that had never existed before. At one end, the emerging crisis in Germany had burst history open, exposing a festering evil that so many had hoped never to hear of again. At another end, something strange and moving was happening in Palestine, uncertain as yet in its future for the Jewish people but already indicating reserves of strength and hope that might revolutionize the story with countervailing power. But even apart from this doubly driving interest, the question of identity was calling for some authoritative definition among millions of people of Jewish descent in every country of the world, increasingly conscious, behind the facade of acculturation everywhere, of having somehow lost their bearings.
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