Reckless Rites by Elliot Horowitz
To announce in a book’s subtitle that its topic is “the legacy of Jewish violence” is to promise a great deal. Although Elliot Horowitz, an associate professor of Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, has written a study replete with interesting detail, this promise is not lived up to.< br>
The thesis of Reckless Rites, which deals with the darker side of Jewish attitudes toward Christians and Christianity from late antiquity to modern times, is straightforward. Despite its being a commonplace to state that Jewish societies in Christian Europe were characterized by a strong aversion to physical violence and a very low level of it, Horowitz claims that such a characterization is misleading. In point of fact, he argues, Jews, as a religious minority in a Christian culture that treated them with contempt, not only harbored deep feelings of animosity toward Christians; they also, while generally keeping such feelings to themselves, acted them out annually on the one occasion that served for their ritual expression and release. This was the holiday of Purim, the annual celebration of the Jewish people’s victory in ancient Persia over its arch-foe Haman—at the culmination of which, according to the biblical book of Esther, “the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, slaughtering and destroying them, and did what they would unto those that hated them.”
About the Author
Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a veteran contributor to COMMENTARY. Portions of the present essay were delivered at Northwestern University in March as the Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.