Maimonides by Sherwin B. Nuland; The Life of David by Robert Pinsky
“There is no end to the making of books,” wrote the biblical sage, an observation to which the subsequent history of the Jews bears eloquent witness. In the classical religious context, books were, and still are, studied in order to absorb their wisdom and to put it into practice. Authors were masters, readers disciples, and both writing and reading were acts of deference to tradition even when they challenged aspects of the reigning consensus. Modernity has witnessed no diminishment of the seemingly endless stream of books on Jewish figures and ideas, but it has raised a critical question—what is the goal of the whole endeavor?—that continues to elicit a range of answers. One answer is given, at least implicitly, by these two brief biographical studies, the first offerings of a new series called Jewish Encounters. The series, under the general editorship of Jonathan Rosen, seems to have been modeled on the “Brief Lives” template that has lately become something of a publishing vogue. By design, according to its promotional literature, the series is “idiosyncratic and ambitious,” aiming “to create books that are at once edifying, entertaining, and wonderfully illuminating.” Its authors are not professional scholars, or at least not professional scholars of the subjects on which they write, and the reader is thus spared the onslaught of footnotes and tedious surveys of previous scholarship under which many a worthy topic lies buried.
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