'Jews and Words': The Conversation Continues Israeli Novelist Amos Oz and His Daughter Define Their Heritage with Their Greatest Gifts

By Moraru, Mona | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

'Jews and Words': The Conversation Continues Israeli Novelist Amos Oz and His Daughter Define Their Heritage with Their Greatest Gifts


Moraru, Mona, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


"JEWS AND WORDS"

By Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger.

Yale University Press ($25).

'We Jews are notoriously unable to agree about anything that begins with the words 'we Jews.' "

Even with that in mind, novelist Amos Oz and his daughter, historian Fania Oz-Salzberger, bravely propose that it is the relationship between Jews and texts that makes "we Jews" Jews. Through a combination of literary analysis, jokes and historical context, Mr. Oz and Ms. Oz-Salzberger give a fascinating overview of Jewish intellectual traditions from a secular perspective. While they are not quite successful in presenting a totally cohesive argument, their essays charmingly approach significant aspects of Jewish identity.

While the collection is academic, it includes such gems as a theoretical analysis of the old joke:

"So a Jewish grandmother walks on a beach with her beloved grandson when a big wave suddenly sweeps the boy underwater. 'Dear God Almighty,' cries Grandma, 'how can you do this to me? I suffered all my life and never lost faith. Shame on you!' Not a minute passed by, and another big wave brings the child back to her arms safe and sound. 'Dear God Almighty,' she says, 'that's very kind of you, I'm sure, but where's his hat?' "

Even those of us who don't have this grandma probably know one, "essentially a hefty double portion of the Jewish mother." One step beyond the laugh, the authors see in this and other jokes a model of how Jews relate to God.

Mr. Oz is an internationally acclaimed Israeli author and journalist, politically known for his vocal support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ms. Oz-Salzberger is a historian and professor who has held distinguished positions at universities in Israel as well as the United States. Both are secular, and, without arguing against faith, they approach their subject from a point where religion is immaterial to their admiration of and identification with Jewish culture. Although they are proud of their heritage, they are critical of it, and they do not argue for its superiority. The results are fair-minded essays written by people who are invested in the subject.

An interesting component of this particular text is the language. Mr. Oz and Ms. Oz-Salzberger are both native Hebrew speakers who, in writing this collection for the Yale University Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, skipped the step of a translator. …

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