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Jews and Words

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Jews and Words
    Book Description:

    Why are words so important to so many Jews? Novelist Amos Oz and historian Fania Oz-Salzberger roam the gamut of Jewish history to explain the integral relationship of Jews and words. Through a blend of storytelling and scholarship, conversation and argument, father and daughter tell the tales behind Judaism's most enduring names, adages, disputes, texts, and quips. These words, they argue, compose the chain connecting Abraham with the Jews of every subsequent generation.Framing the discussion within such topics as continuity, women, timelessness, and individualism, Oz and Oz-Salzberger deftly engage Jewish personalities across the ages, from the unnamed, possibly female author of the Song of Songs through obscure Talmudists to contemporary writers. They suggest that Jewish continuity, even Jewish uniqueness, depends not on central places, monuments, heroic personalities, or rituals but rather on written words and an ongoing debate between the generations. Full of learning, lyricism, and humor,Jews and Wordsoffers an extraordinary tour of the words at the heart of Jewish culture and extends a hand to the reader, any reader, to join the conversation.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15677-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. ONE Continuity
    (pp. 1-56)

    In two and thirty most occult and wonderful paths of wisdom did the Lord of Hosts engrave his name: God of the armies of Israel, ever-living God, merciful and gracious, sublime, dwelling on high, who inhabiteth eternity. He created this universe by the three Sepharim—Number, Writing, and Speech. Ten are the numbers, as are the Sephiroth, and twenty-two the letters, these are the Foundation of all things.

    Jewish continuity has always hinged on uttered and written words, on an expanding maze of interpretations, debates, and disagreements, and on a unique human rapport. In synagogue, at school, and most of...

  6. TWO Vocal Women
    (pp. 57-104)

    Consider the very beginning of the Song of Songs.

    “The Song of Songs,” it says, “which is Solomon’s.”

    Is it, now? And in what way? Was it, as generations of sages and scholars have told us, written by King Solomon? Or, as modern academics claim, traditionally ascribed to King Solomon?

    Perhaps it is Solomon’s in a different way. DedicatedtoSolomon. WrittenforSolomon.

    By whom?

    Here’s an idea that makes psychological and grammatical sense to us. Let’s look at the book’s second verse too.

    “The Song of Songs which is Solomon’s. Let him kiss me with the kisses of...

  7. THREE Time and Timelessness
    (pp. 105-146)

    Jews have been interested in time since time immemorial.

    All civilizations are deeply concerned with their pasts: this, among other things, is what makes them into civilizations. So biblical narratives and Talmudic tales, rabbinic discussions and Sephardic poetry, Jewish Enlightenment works and Hasidic lore, and modern scholarship and literature display a cumulative wealth that is no different from, though arguably a bit more spread out than, other cultural genealogies.

    The Hebrew creation stories, our “In the Beginning,” the first family, our antediluvian and postdiluvian tales, the Flood itself—are in many ways akin to Babylonian, Assyrian, and Greek myths. Monotheism...

  8. FOUR Each Person Has a Name; or, Do Jews Need Judaism?
    (pp. 147-189)

    We jews are notoriously unable to agree about anything that begins with the words “we Jews.” For example, who was it who said, “We Jews are just like everyone else, only more so”? We cannot even agree on that. If you Google it, the first ten links will ascribe it to Heinrich Heine, Sigmund Freud, and Abba Eban. But practically every opinionated Jewish individual has something to say that begins with the first person plural. So do we.

    This chapter is about collectivity and individuality, an abiding human theme, “only more so.” It dwells on the abstract termJudaism, on...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 190-204)

    Hot er gesogt!

    Yiddish saying. Literal translation: So he said! So what!? Why shouldyoucare?

    In this little book we try to say something of our own about the longitudes of Jewish history. Perhaps you discerned some residues of a dialogue between the two authors, even arguments at times: a bit of an intergenerational conflict, differing gender perspectives, or the subtle skirmishes of fiction and nonfiction. In other words, we hope we fit into the plot, albeit as minor characters.

    There is no possible way of acknowledging all sources of wisdom that inspired this book. Some are mentioned in...

  10. sources
    (pp. 205-224)
  11. Index of Names
    (pp. 225-232)