Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Rabbinic Creativity in the Modern Middle East

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Rabbinic Creativity in the Modern Middle East

Article excerpt

Rabbinic Creativity in the Modern Middle East. By Zvi Zohar. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.399 pp. $140 ($42.95, paper).

Most scholarship on Middle Eastern Judaism is written from a Euro-centric or even Ashkenazi-centric perspective, according to which Middle Eastern Jews are "others." The great strength of Rabbinic Creativity is that it offers the perspective of prominent rabbis of their day active in centers of Sephardi learning such as Baghdad, Aleppo, and Cairo. While aware of Jewish-legal developments in Europe, the rabbis in question were not over-awed by them, and persisted in deciding matters of Jewish law and communal policy in a spirit far removed from that of their European colleagues. Nineteenth-century European orthodoxy was more often than not characterized by opposition to innovation and a withdrawal behind barriers erected to keep the faithful from "contamination" by new currents. The rabbis brought to light by Zohar were more open to innovation and more concerned with preserving the unity of the entire Jewish community.

The bulk of the book consists of a series of fascinating case studies supporting this generalization. Some may feel that declaiming on the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewries is "old hat" (despite the increasing orthodoxy of Sephardic Jewry in Israel and the Diaspora), but Zohar probes beyond that commonplace observation. …

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