The Texture of Jewish History
IS THERE some way for an ordinary reader to get on top (as it were) of Jewish history, taking it all in, adding it all up? The answer is probably no, for the complexity of the subject matter leaves even the best historians hard put to convey both its unity and its diversity. The late Cecil Roth’s Short History of the Jewish People, limiting itself deliberately to a broad outline, brings out the highlights very readably in about 500 pages, but at the cost, inevitably, of dealing with issues and characters in the most generalized way. The opposite approach-exemplified notably in the work of the American historian Salo W. Baron-is concerned less with the outline than with the texture, digging deeply into original sources, hitherto unexplored or misinterpreted, to reveal currents of thought and feeling-and, above all, social issues-which cannot be fitted neatly into a chronological outline. The reader of Baron’s multivolumed A Social and Religious History of the Jews is not concerned with what happened next. He is absorbed on every page-and even more so in the notes-with the realities of daily existence. The play of ideas and the richness of documentation bring the Jews to life in their time and place with no pattern imposed on how it will all end, or indeed what it might all mean.
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