The Life of Judaism, Edited by Harvey E. Goldberg

By Prell, Riv-Ellen | Shofar, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

The Life of Judaism, Edited by Harvey E. Goldberg


Prell, Riv-Ellen, Shofar


Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. 258 pp.

The growing number of courses in Jewish studies at colleges and universities in the United States brings with it the need for works on Jews that are broader than most scholarly monographs. If one is to judge by the H Judaic list, our colleagues are regularly in search of works which will help students grasp the broad sweep of Jewish experience -- historically, geographically and culturally. How does one communicate the complexity of Jewish experience in a class? How is it possible to teach a little bit about the Jewish people without teaching a great deal?

At the same time another need exists. In addition to teaching about Jews as an historical people, a people who developed a religion and culture, and acted politically, how does one teach about how Jews lived? How do we integrate the terrain of anthropology? Is it possible to combine both the broad sweep of Jewish experiences with the lived reality of a Jewish cultural and social life?

The University of California Press is suggesting it is with a new series on "the life" of religions. The series' first volume was devoted to Buddhism, and Goldberg's book is the second. The press reports that the books in the series will provide an "insider's view into the ways world religions are lived and experienced." It will offer books that focus on "the human dimension of specific religious traditions."

The effort is noble and one might suggest brave. Goldberg's The Life of Judaism is a serious effort to provide this approach, and he is well placed to do this work. Harvey Goldberg is one of a small number of scholars who has labored over decades to create an anthropology of Judaism and Jews. His earlier collection, Judaism Viewed from Without and Within, published in 1987, remains still one of the most important and interesting books in this area.

The Life of Judaism is certainly a good effort, and one that has worked diligently to be as inclusive in its definition of Jewish experience as possible. The brief essays selected by Goldberg cover a broad geographic spectrum and include Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Europe, the United States, Israel, and North Africa. The book draws on the free scholarship on women and Judaism and includes articles by Susan Sered, Lynn Davidman, and Tamar El Or, who have worked in this area. The reader, then, will have the opportunity to learn about women as religious actors in the United States and Israel.

Harvey Goldberg's collection is certainly focused on Judaism as a "religion," but takes up issues of identity, memory, and family which reflect the cultural meaning of Jewish life in the broadest sense. …

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