Commentary Magazine

Genesis and the Talking Heads

It is when we think we are most original that we often most reflect the spirit of the times. Twelve or thirteen years ago, in a period of my life when I had begun, after a long interval of rarely opening the Bible, to study the weekly Torah reading with its traditional commentaries every Saturday, I had what I took to be an illumination about the book of Genesis. It was, it came to me, a family novel. It was the greatest family novel ever written. And it was the saddest family novel ever written, for in this family everything went wrong; everything was ruined by too much love; everything was passed down to the next generation, the sins of the fathers visited upon the sons with fatal precision. Not even the happy ending of Joseph and his brothers, lavishly reunited in Egypt, could obscure the bitter truth of this book—which was that momentary lapses have eternal consequences and that momentary lapses are inevitable. Jacob, not Joseph, spoke for that truth when he said at the book’s end:

The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.

It hit me with such force that I sat down and began writing a novel about Genesis myself. I wrote two chapters. The first took place in Ur of the Chaldees, when Abraham and Sarah fall in love. The second was set on the descent from Mount Moriah, after the aborted sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham walks by himself. He knows his son is hiding nearby, somewhere in the burnet and the rockrose. He strains to make out his footsteps but hears only the birds. Then I threw the two chapters away.



In the early 1980’s Rabbi Burton Visotzky of New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, whose book The Genesis of Ethics: How the Tormented Family of Genesis Leads Us to Moral Development1 appeared this past year, began a monthly “Genesis Seminar” that attracted to it, in the words of the television journalist Bill Moyers, “a score of people . . . among them a film critic, a screenwriter, a poet, an editor, an essayist and novelist, and a smattering of biblical scholars, Jewish and Christian.” Hearing that the discussion at this seminar was “the best conversation in town,” Moyers decided “to check it out”; discovered that Genesis was about “a dysfunctional family” whose stories “retain their hold on us” because they “ring so true about human nature”; and came away “resolved then and there to test whether the communal reading of these stories could happen on television.” The ultimate result was a ten-part series, Genesis: A Living Conversation, which played to a large audience on PBS last autumn and has now been published as a book.2

And since twelve or thirteen years is not an overly long span for a literary pregnancy, one can assume that at least some of the other books treating Genesis as a family saga that have recently hit the market with remarkable simultaneity were conceived at about the same time. Some, by their authors’ testimony, were inspired by weekly Torah study too, and some of these authors participated in the Moyers program. Something, it would seem, was in the air.




Well, Torah study groups for one thing. Jews have always gone over the weekly reading in the privacy of their homes, but doing so in informal discussion groups came into fashion in America in the late 1960’s and 70’s, concomitantly with the havurah or “fellowship” movement. Many of these groups were composed of adults raising children, often in the process of rediscovering their “Jewish roots”—and when adults raising children sit around and talk, what do they talk about but adults raising children? Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Ishmael, Hagar, Rebekah, Esau, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, and Joseph and his brothers gave them plenty to talk about.

It may be, though, that Genesis could not have been talked about in this way had the ground not been prepared by a growing number of books and articles, many written by scholars coming from the field of literature, in which biblical texts were treated as literary ones.

Although, starting with the 1970’s, the change brought about in perceptions of the Bible by writers like Northrop Frye, Edwin Good, Frank Kermode, Michael Fishbane, Meir Sternberg, and Robert Alter was initially confined to the scholarly community, it had a broad trickle-down effect. After nearly a century in which the widespread loss of religious faith had removed Scripture as a living book from the hands of most cultured readers, leaving it in the possession of church- and synagogue-goers on the one hand and the Higher Critics on the other, the new literary approach restored it to general accessibility. Suddenly, a generation of sophisticated college graduates came to realize that a text like Genesis did not have to be approached as either the Word of God or a problem in Semitic philology. It could be read as an artful story by the same methods, and with as much profit, as The Odyssey or Hamlet—and, with the thirst of long deprivation, so it was.

And the family! Has any age talked and worried about it more than our own? In part this is because no other age has seen it fall apart like our own; in part because no other has expected more from it. Never before have families been smaller and have parents invested so much time and emotion in their children; never before have they felt so bitterly cheated by the results; never before have children been so angrily bewildered by what was wanted from them.

And God! Many of us do not exactly believe in Him, but we are not prepared to let go of Him, either, not even when we call Him “her” or “it.” He lives on in us as a kind of fictional character with whom our imaginations remain intensely engaged. A fictional character? But suppose that is what He is in the Bible, too!

The stage is set for Genesis: A Living Conversation.



Beautifully produced, with delicate accompanying music and art work, each installment of the PBS series consists of an hour-long panel discussion on a different chapter of Genesis. Each panel has seven members, among whom only Burton Visotzky is a constant presence.

The other 37 participants switch on and off. Among them are Robert Alter, author of a recently published new translation of and commentary on Genesis3 ; Azizah al-Hibri, a Muslim feminist who teaches at the University of Richmond; Rabbi Norman Cohen, professor of midrash at the Jewish Institute of Religion (Reform) and author of Self, Struggle, and Change: The Family Conflict Stories in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for Our Lives4 ; Francisco García-Treto, chairman of the department of religion at Trinity University; novelist Mary Gordon; PK. McCary, author of Black Bible Chronicles: From Genesis to the Promised Land (1993); Indian novelist Bharati Mukherjee; Muslim theologian Seyyed Hossein Nasr; African-American social worker and pastor Eugene Rivers; psychotherapist Naomi Rosenblatt, co-author (with Joshua Horwitz) of Wrestling With Angels: What the First Family of Genesis Teaches Us About Our Spiritual Identity, Sexuality, and Personal Relationships5 ; Phyllis Trible, professor of sacred literature at Union Theological Seminary and author of Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (1984); Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, author of Genesis: The Beginning of Desire6 ; Karen Armstrong, author of In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis7 ; and Stephen Mitchell, author of another new translation of Genesis.8

An ecumenically representative and carefully gender-balanced group, including not a few ordained ministers and rabbis and/or teachers of theology. And yet Genesis proves to be a troublesome book for many of them—sexist, racist, and incompatible with contemporary norms.

The story of Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar, for example. Burton Visotzky finds it “horrifying” because Abraham is “put into a different moral category, which lets him get away with things that don’t belong in everyday morality,” and because Sarah “physically abuses” Hagar. Elizabeth Swados, who wrote the music for the series, thinks Sarah “a victim” who is “the second-class citizen in the relationship,” yet whose behavior toward Hagar and Ishmael “shows the beginning of class and cultural identity and false pride—in a sense, racism.” Bharati Mukherjee feels that in this story “there’s a kind of justification for the oppression of the rest of us.” Lewis Smedes, professor emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary, agrees: “It was wrong and dumb to have Hagar sleep with Abraham and have a son and have them all live in the same house. Sarah was obtuse and unimaginative . . . using Hagar and Ishmael for nationalistic or family purposes.” Abraham was “a very wimpish patriarch.”



The binding of Isaac, discussed in an episode entitled “The Trial,” poses even more of a problem:

Norman Cohen: As I read the account, it seems to me that the voice Abraham hears commanding him to sacrifice his own son is perhaps Abraham’s own voice. It’s Abraham’s ego that needs to prove his fidelity and his faith to himself and the world. . . . How can that possibly be what God wants?

Phyllis Trible: No, this story is terrifying precisely because it is God Who sets up the test. . . . My understanding is that the story has to do with idolatry—the idolatry of the son. Once God has given the gift of Isaac to Abraham, does Abraham focus on Isaac and forget the giver? Abraham is so attached to this child that the issue of idolatry becomes acute for God.

P.K. McCary: When I look at Abraham, I see a man . . . so detached from emotional involvement in other people’s feelings that he seems self-centered. . . . It’s as if the intimate relationships he has aren’t as important as the people in the rest of the world.

Francisco García-Treto: When we get to the point where we feel that God is calling us to give somebody else’s life up, we’re in bad troule. There’s no such thing as a theological suspension of the ethical [sic: the actual phrase, from Kierkegaard, is “a teleological suspension of the ethical”]. This is at the root of the worst things that religions have done. . . . Don’t you think that if God said, “Sacrifice your son” to a mother, the mother would say, “Get lost!”? I think that’s what Sarah would have said.

Bill Moyers: And many people who claim to hear a call from God sacrifice their families to their sense of mission.

Burton Visotzky: When I read this story, . . . I’m not sure I want to be involved with a God Who makes these kinds of demands on me. . . . If faith is being tested here, it’s a kind of faith I don’t want to subscribe to. I prefer to think that God demands a faith that calls for the intellect to be engaged rather than one that just says, “Yes, sir.”

To be sure, Abraham has his defenders. Picking up on P.K. McCary’s remark, Sayyed Hossein Nasr says:

I don’t think detachment is necessarily identified with selfishness. . . . God is the sacred, and the sacred has the right to ask of us all that we are. This is something that modern people have forgotten. . . . Isaac . . . is really our carnal, passionate soul, that must be sacrificed before the altar of divine reality. . . .

And Eugene Rivers adds:

We’re viewing this story through a 20th-century lens and then superimposing our context on a very complex historical, cultural, and political context that we don’t fully appreciate. . . . Abraham’s moral ambiguity is an argument for the position that you don’t have to be a goody-goody to function as an instrument of God. . . . I resonate with Abraham, and I identify with his frailty and humanity.

Rivers, too, however, illustrates how such “superimposition,” unavoidable in the reading of any text, is especially unavoidable in a modern reading of the Bible, whose prose, with its often-remarked-on radical minimalism, demands a filling-in of the many “blank spaces” between verse and verse, or even between word and word. For if one is not going to rely on traditional Jewish commentaries (and of all the panel members, only Avivah Zornberg makes a consistent point of doing so), one must create biblical commentary of one’s own. In discussing, for example, Abraham’s lie to Pharaoh that Sarah (who is consequently taken to Pharaoh’s harem) is his sister and not his wife—an act witheringly criticized by most of the panel members—Rivers declares:

Listen, I can imagine lying. I can see that. Here’s a black dude in the inner city. He’s got a white wife. A couple of Egyptian brothers roll up on the brother with the white wife. Now this guy’s not a complete fool. “Yo, baby, we work together. Right? Pretend you’re my boss. You’re not my wife, right, Because if you’re my wife, you may be a widow by the end of this evening.”

Other panel members, like Rivers, frequently cite their own experience in trying to understand that of a biblical character. Even when they do not, we often sense it in the background; sometimes, outside confirmation is available. Thus, in his Self, Struggle, and Change, Norman Cohen speaks of the binding of Isaac in greater detail:

We are all like Abraham; each of us is so involved in our outside worlds—our careers, interests, or our principles—that we do not or cannot see that it is our child, or spouse or parent that is bound on the altar. . . . For when Isaac calls out to Abraham . . . it is my son who is speaking to me and saying, “I know that you’re busy, dad, but do you have some time to watch the basketball game with me tonight?” and it is so easy to blurt out “Ilan, I’m tired. Some other time.” At those very moments, would that we would have the strength to respond hineini [“here I am,” Abraham’s response to Isaac] in the fullness of its meaning; would that I could say more often, “Sure, Ilan, nothing could give me more pleasure!”



It was at this point that I went in search of a remembered passage from Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling (1843), which also deals with the binding-of-Isaac story, may well be the most extraordinary commentary ever written on a single episode in the Bible. And it is also the first truly “modern” biblical commentary in the sense I have spoken of, for in writing it Kierkegaard deliberately used an incident from his own life—his breaking-off of an engagement to a young woman he loved because of his decision that marriage was incompatible with his religious vocation—as the key to understanding Abraham’s readiness to offer up his son to God. In the text of Fear and Trembling this incident is disguised, but in Kierkegaard’s journals it and its relation to the book are discussed at length.

How can we “superimpose,” to use Eugene Rivers’s word, our private experience on the Bible without the Bible’s being trivialized? Kierkegaard was troubled by this question too. The passage from Fear and Trembling that I was looking for reads:

I require of every man that he should not think so inhumanly of himself as not to dare to enter those palaces where not merely the memory of the elect abides but where the elect themselves abide. He should not press forward impudently and impute to them kinship with himself; on the contrary, he should be blissful every time he bows before them, but he should be frank and confident and always be something more than a charwoman, for if he will not be more, he will never gain entrance. And what will help him is precisely the dread and distress by which the great are tried, for otherwise, if he has a bit of pith in him, they will merely arouse his justified envy.

Would that these words had been inscribed above the entrance to the PBS studio! For by “the palaces where the elect abide,” as opposed to those inhabited only by the “memory” of the elect, Kierkegaard means the books of the Bible as opposed to the traditional commentaries upon them; and what he is urging us to do is to read these books in a dual frame of mind that is difficult to maintain.

On the one hand, Kierkegaard says, we should be “frank” and “confident” with them, by which he means that we should not conceal our private experience from the biblical text, but should rather admit it into our reading and make use of it there without false or self-demeaning modesty, as one admits valid evidence into the proceedings of a trial. Precisely to the extent that the Bible is an eternal document, we are its contemporary witnesses, a role for which we disqualify ourselves when we discount the testimony of our own lives.

But, on the other hand, Kierkegaard warns us, we should not be “impudent” and “impute kinship” between us and the biblical heroes; if we do, we shall lose sight of their greatness and degrade them to our level of understanding rather than struggle to rise to theirs. And the best way to guard against this is to keep in mind their “dread and distress.” If we fail to do this—if we allow ourselves to think that they acted easily or mindlessly, or without inward reflection of a more intense and anguished manner than is customarily our own—we shall be led to assume that we too, in similar circumstances, could have done as well as or better than they did, a conclusion that can only make us resentful of the homage paid them and itching to take them down a peg.

This is excellent advice, and if it had been followed by Norman Cohen and Burton Visotzky, the former would never have compared Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac with a father’s refusal to watch a basketball game with his son, nor would the latter have written in The Genesis of Ethics that “One can almost see the flat affect of the depressive as [Abraham] walks, zombielike up the mountain” of Moriah. “I know,” writes Visotsky in the same passage,

that every parent has a moment or two, particularly with teenagers, when the thought “I’ll kill them” has flitted through his or her mind. But it is a long way—three days’ distance—from an angry or frustrated passing thought to the assumption that this murder is a divinely commanded sacrifice.

Three days is indeed a long while for a man to be walking with the son he loves and has gambled his entire life on to the place where he will slay him, which is why the Bible specifies the time it took. And if one would grant this man, for every second of those days, the dread and distress that Visotzky and Cohen deny him by turning him into a psychopathic or (what is in a sense even worse) grumpily inattentive father, one would be safeguarded from their particular kind of impudence.

“This is the amazing thing about the people of Genesis,” says Bill Moyers. “The more we talk about them, the more they look like people we know—faces in the mirror.” What is truly amazing is the thought that we might want to read a book that has inspired countless millions of people for thousands of years in such a way. The people we know are all around us; if we are merely going to find them again in the Bible, why bother reading the Bible at all?

“For its healing insights,” answers Norman Cohen. But Cohen’s insights are not extracted from the biblical text; they are the shibboleths of our age, read into it so that he can pretend to take them out again like the coins a magician pulls from a spectator’s ear. Or, to alter the metaphor, they are the postcards sent by the tourist who has journeyed to a foreign land and, summing up his impressions, now writes to the folks back home, “They have everything here that we do!”



Why, for that matter, read great literature of any kind (if great literature is what the Bible is), if instead of extending our horizons it simply confirms the ones we are familiar with?

The problem is not just with reading the Bible. It is not even just with reading great literature. For great literature tends to be about heroes, which is to say, about people fundamentally different from ourselves—and if there is anything our conventional contemporary piety cannot tolerate it is the idea of fundamental difference. Behind the paternoster of anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ageist, anti-abusist, anti-victimist-of-any-kind rhetoric—even, or paradoxically most of all, behind the rhetoric of multiculturalism—lies a leveling will, more sweeping than that of the most egalitarian economics. Marxism, after all, seeks only to abolish outer distinctions, whereas the piety of our age passes over these to aim straight at inner ones.

“What really matters is not whether Abraham is good or bad or cowardly or heroic, but that God pursues His design for the welfare of the human family with . . . people like us.” “When we come to this story . . . I have this sinking feeling that it’s . . . about the mixed family so many of us experience now—first wife, second wife, surrogate parenthood, children, conflict.” “I still want to know: What’s the deal? What do I get in this covenant?” “Abraham, in a sense, is the prototypical American. He’s got hustle. . . . We have only Abraham’s word that the Lord appeared [to him]. . . . It’s like a guy saying, ‘Look, I need to inspire my followers to take this arduous journey, so I’d better make God come on. I’d better bring on the voices, bring on the vision.’ ”

And indeed, how could God be so unfair, let alone elitist, as to talk to Abraham when He does not talk to us? These are what Nietzsche called the voices of democratic ressentiment—with a vengeance.

But they are not, happily, the only voices on Moyers’s program. (In fairness, they are not even always the voices of the voices I have quoted.) There are others, many of them wise and insightfull. There are the two Muslim panelists, who of all the panel members are the most religiously traditional in their thought and, ironically, those closest in many respects to what might be called a normative rabbinical point of view. There are more conservatively-minded Jewish panelists like Leon Kass, who reminds us that the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs were playing for the stakes of handing on a “divine lineage,” which are higher than those of personal relationships; and like Avivah Zornberg, who time and again brings the discussion back to the realities of the Hebrew text from which it keeps escaping. There are black panelists like Renita Weems and Eugene Rivers, who—clearly irked by some of his colleagues—remarks at one point:

The Scriptures function as an emancipatory mechanism to resurrect faith and hope so that a person can transcend the whining, can transcend the limousine liberalism where you’re just whining about your rights. . . . See, the funny thing about this is that most poor people don’t need any of our liberal cliches about the unfairness of it all because they know that infinitely better than we do. So much of what salon intellectuals do in the academy, where we go through a kind of hand-wringing routine about the injustice of life, really has no bearing out there in the streets. This is why the Scriptures are so important for people. . . .

And there is the British-American artist Hugh O’Donnell, who did the graphics for Genesis: A Living Conversation. O’Donnell participates in the first and next-to-last panel, which is called “God Wrestling” and deals with Jacob’s struggle with the angel on the eve of meeting his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years—the same Esau whom he last saw on the day he cheated him of his father Isaac’s blessing. It is hard to say what this discussion would have been like without O’Donnell; with him, it soars with the excitement of minds rising on each other’s updrifts. It makes me wish I could have been there.



“God Wrestling” begins, like many preceding installments, with a panelist—in this case, the liberal Protestant theologian Walter Brueggemann—criticizing the moral standards of a biblical hero. Jacob, says Brueggemann, is “duplicitous” to the end. “Even after this last, wonderful vision” of the angel, “the very last thing Jacob does is lie to his brother. He says ‘I’ll meet you’ [at Esau’s home in Seir] and then he goes the other way.”

Avivah Zornberg: But Jacob doesn’t actually believe in Esau’s peacemaking.

Burton Visotzky: I’m with Walter on this. . . . Nothing about Jacob changes. In a way, that’s what’s so depressing.

Bill Moyers: When we meet [Jacob], he is a thief, a coward, and a fugitive. He has stolen a birthright and is running for his life from his brother because he’s afraid of his brother.

Here O’Donnell intervenes for the first time. “Jacob,” he says, abruptly flinging the conversation off its familiar feet, “is pure genius. He’s human genius.” “How so?” asks a perceptibly startled Moyers.

Hugh O’Donnell: Jacob is a real hero in this story because he’s cursed with a kind of active monkey brain and incredible invention and intellect. It keeps him awake.

He can’t get any rest or any peace. He’s sent running through the world, and God comes down and gives him help. . . . He actually shows him the pathway to heaven [in the vision of Jacob’s ladder]. He shows him the structure of how to do it because the man has the intellect and equipment to do something about it.

Bill Moyers: What does this tell you about God? Here’s this young man who’s stolen his family birthright, abused his brother, and he’s on the run, afraid for his life.

Hugh O’Donnell: He’s a typical second-born son, right? He’s emerged with this equipment, and he’s got this wild brother, and he knows, through the support of his mother, that he really is the one who has to save God’s vision and the covenant.



And now, despite Visotzky and Moyers’s repeated attempts to drag it back down to the well-trodden ground of Jacob’s ethical incorrectness, the conversation begins to take off. First O’Donnell gives it another push by remarking, “Morality isn’t a question of life. Life is voracious, and you have to make really, really clever decisions on what is going to grow and what is not.” Renita Weems then agrees that “There’s nothing like being confronted with reality. . . . When you’ve had some kind of experience where you know that God is accessible, then heaven is accessible,” and tells a story about how, when she was once despairingly contemplating suicide, “All of a sudden something lifted. I knew that it was God and that God was speaking to me.” Roberta Hestenes also relates a religious experience and says, “And one of the things in the Jacob story that touches me is that this [kind of experience] is so unexpected.” Renita Weems adds:

We asked earlier: Why doesn’t God judge Jacob and punish him or chastise him in some way? But sometimes an experience [like Jacob’s wresting a blessing from the angel, who then lames him] is enough to prostrate you. Sometimes the worst thing that God can do is show up and do something merciful to you.

Hugh O’Donnell: And sometimes when you get these wonderful gifts, it just ups the ante. God has given you a bit more, and so you have more to do.

Walter Brueggemann: The story isn’t about morality. . . . It’s about grace—the unexpected and unearned. . . .

Hugh O’Donnell: And it’s angels every time, isn’t it? We’re talking about agency. Whenever heaven’s gates open, it’s because of an agency, which is not the person you think is driving. It’s something like a lodger that lives inside you and takes over, thank God.

Soon after, O’Donnell speaks of having once had to wrestle with his own father as Jacob did with the angel. “Physically?” asks Bill Moyers. And the answer is:

Yes, physically. I had to overpower him because until then he had overpowered me. . . . There were no two ways about it—it had to be done. . . . This was drawing blood. But when this occurred, he immediately arrived at a state in which he could say, “You are free—and free with my blessing.”

Avivah Zornberg: Isn’t it very poignant with Jacob, then?

Hugh O’Donnell: I think it’s extremely poignant. . . . Jacob doesn’t know how to reconcile himself with what he’s done because he’s done something that is greater than his awareness of himself. He has moved into his destiny. This need shapes his vision of moving into God as the next father.

The conversation continues to gather intensity, moving from the lives of the participants to the story in Genesis and back again, one aperçu following another, until Renita Weems says near the end of it:

There’s something about reading with others and hearing other experiences that make this story just so precious. . . . [I]n this conversation there were times when we were all locked into “What does it say?” Then there were other times when we were a little freer, playing with what it says and how we experience what it says and what it does not say.

To which Hugh O’Donnell responds:

And that ladder is Jacob, seeing himself stretch all the way to heaven. He’s that large.



What these panelists have done is the opposite of what their colleagues did in discussing Abraham, Isaac, and Sarah. There, to adopt Kierkegaard’s language, one had an impudent pressing-forth, a reduction of the Bible’s heroes to the size of the participants; here one has a blissful bowing-down, a subordination of the participants to the aspect of a biblical hero. The two procedures may depend on a similar use of analogy, but the difference between them is precisely the difference between descending and ascending a ladder.

And an interesting phenomenon emerges here. These discussions, I have said, were made possible by a “literarization” of the Bible, without which a book like Genesis could not have been talked about with the freedom Renita Weems speaks of. And I have also said that if the human characters of Genesis were to be regarded as fictional, it would be only consistent to regard the God of Genesis in the same way.

But here something happens. Although no member of Bill Moyers’s panels has ever met Sarah or Jacob, some of the panelists do feel that, in a mysterious manner they cannot explain, they have met God. And when they express this feeling, the movement of their reading begins to ripple back in the other direction. For if the God of Genesis is real, it is only consistent to regard the characters of Genesis in the same way—and so, with a sudden shifting of the tide, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Ishmael, Hagar, Rebekah, Esau, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, and Joseph and his brothers become intensely real too, realer than the characters in any other work of literature, realer than Odysseus or Hamlet.

The Bible as a family novel? Up to a point. Up to a point.



1 Crown, 211 pp., $20.00.

2 Doubleday, 361 pp., $29.95.

3 Norton, 324 pp., $25.00.

4 Jewish Lights, 209 pp., $21.95.

5 Delacorte Press, 388 pp., $22.95.

6 Jewish Publication Society, 456 pp., $34.95.

7 McKay, 195 pp., $20.00.

8 HarperCollins, 161 pp., $20.00.


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.

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