“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Built On Sand.

with 2 comments

Jonathan Wittenberg has reviewed Shlomo Sand’s recent book and in a very polite way found it wanting:

“The flaws in Sand’s argument are both historical and conceptual. The idea of exile, he suggests, was adopted from the Christian view that the Jews were punished with dispersion for the crime of killing Jesus. But this makes no sense. The paradigm of exile and return is found in the Bible in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah in relation to the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians in 576BCE. It is thus part of the Jewish narrative centuries before Christianity. Further, contrary to what Sand maintains, serious historians of the period consider that the Romans did indeed kill or sell as slaves very many thousands of Jews. The rest of the population was banned from access to Jerusalem, which was renamed Aelia Capitolina. This would surely engender a sense of exile in any people.

Equally important is what Sand fails to discuss. To vast numbers of Jews, arguments about racial origins are both ugly and, more importantly, irrelevant. Instead, Jewish continuity is premised on religious factors, including observance of the Torah, the study of the Talmud, the creation of communities, the life of the synagogue and the bonds of the liturgy. These are what form the vital links between generations of Jews. To examine Jewish history almost without reference to its religious life and literature is like attempting to discuss Islam without mentioning the Hadith, the Shariya or the role of the Muslim community. Whereas Sand is quite right that Jewish life has always reflected local cultures, his claim “that there had never been a Jewish people’s culture” cannot be taken seriously.

Sand virtually ignores persecution and antisemitism as contributory factors in forming Jewish narratives, just as he omits the role of hostility towards it in fashioning Israeli attitudes later.”

Written by modernityblog

10/01/2010 at 16:26

2 Responses

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  1. I’ve always puzzled over arguments that seek to undermine the racial and historical claims of Jewishness. I mean, could it be more beside the point?


    10/01/2010 at 19:55

  2. Mesq,

    I suspect the reason for that is all too obvious, because it would play into the old Nazis’ definition of who is, or who isn’t, a Jew.

    You shouldn’t be defined by your enemy.

    There is a considerable historical context to this, an example, if you remember the pictures of people’s noses being measured to determine if they are Jews or not. It is along those lines.

    That leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

    On the other hand, I can see why people sometimes want to reaffirm some biological affinity (not that I would, but I can see why they might) as a counter to the whole “Jews are not Jews, but really Khazars” argument, which is advanced by the Far Right and others.

    So it’s less than straightforward.


    10/01/2010 at 20:17

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