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Jews and Gentiles [Hardcover]

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Item Number 110472  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   273
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 7" Height: 10.25"
Weight:   1.6 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jan 25, 2007
Publisher   Encounter Books
ISBN  1594031541  
EAN  9781594031540  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Milton Himmelfarb, perhaps best known for his quip about American Jews - who live like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans - was the author of essays that were profound, provocative, and witty to boot. This important collection brings together the most memorable of those essays, ranging from social and political commentaries to historical and theological subjects. From Leo Strauss and Spinoza to Hitler, Israel, and the place of religion in the public square, the sixteen essays in Jews and Gentiles offer a literary feast that is also an intellectual revelation. These finely crafted essays, most of which appeared in Commentary magazine, establish Milton Himmelfarb as one of the most original and significant Jewish thinkers of our time. As his sister, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, notes in her introduction, "If they remain as pertinent today as when they were published, it is because they transcend the immediate occasions that called them into being, revealing a remarkable prescience and consistency." It is a rich and eclectic combination of sources that Himmelfarb drew upon in each of these essays: facts and figures, authorities ancient and modern, texts secular and religious, all presented with uncommon good sense and innate wisdom, and fortified by personal experiences, reminiscences, and deeply felt sentiments which are as moving as they are enlightening.

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Product Categories
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
A treasure  Jul 22, 2007
The world lost a rare man when Milton Himmelfarb died. He was an author with the ability to make crystal clear the essentials of what being a Jew, or, a Gentile for that matter, entails.

Jews and Gentiles is a series of essays, previously published for the most part in Commentary magazine, spanning some 40 years. And yet, even reading those from the 1960s, one is struck by their relevance for today, and tomorrow.

The book is a must for any Gentiles who would like to glimpse at the world of a Jewish liberal, where "liberal" is used in the old-fashioned sense: a man who is open to ideas, and who can deal with those ideas in a serious fashion.

This book is also a must for any Jews who, somehow, believe that being born Jewish requires them to despise Christians. Mr. Himmelfarb destroys this notion.

Above all else, he was a mensch; a brilliant one at that.
A prophet? No, just two generations ahead of his time  May 26, 2007
The title of this book, JEWS AND GENTILES, advertises only one of the many thought-provoking, and provokingly thought about, truths that Himmelfarb has to offer. In this case, he points out and then contemplates the universal categories of "Jew" and "Gentile", and how odd it is that such an accepted division refers to 1/4 of 1% of the global population and the other 99.75%.

The reviews I have read refer to this fact, and also to the one, amusingly pointed out by Himmelfarb and reasonably objectively considered, about the old chestnut that the Old Testament God of the Jews is a God of Wrath while the New Testament God of the Christians is a God of Love. Really? asks Himmelfarb, has anybody read a description of the (Christian) Hell lately? Nothing like that in Judaism, Himmelfarb reminds us . . . very amusing, and mostly correct.

There is much more in this book that makes it worth reading by both Jews and Gentiles; how many in each category will do so is another matter. I thought of many of my friends in both the 1/4 of one percent and in the 99.75% as I read essay after essay. I suspect that my Jewish friends would, by and large, be annoyed by the numerous challenges to their settled way of looking at the world, and my Gentile friends would be befuddled by the profundity of Himmelfarb's vision of reality and, if they could engage with his thinking, would wonder at his ultimately serene theodicy (as serene as a Jewish theodicy can ever be--after all "Israel" means "he who contends / struggles with God", but in the most intimate possible way . . .)

One of the jacket blurbs refers to Himmelfarb as a prophet. Is he? No, he is not, but it is astonishing, time and again, to read an essay which seems to state wittily, sympathetically, and clearly a truth about today's world that is, or at least is becoming, generally accepted, only to come to the end and realise that the essay was written in 1949 ("The Vindicative and the Merciful"), 1968 ("Relevance in the Synogogue"), 1971 ("Never Again"), 1974 ("On Leo Strauss"), and so on.

Perhaps the biggest current issue that Himmelfarb was correct about an astonishingly long time ago was the rise of anti-semitism on the Left. He also has some surprising things to say about the so-called Religious Right, and he was saying them a generation ago; the fact that they are surprising is a measure of both how early Himmelfarb was right and how little he has been heeded: in the financial markets, being right too early can bankrupt you; in Himmelfarb's case it gives him the appearance of (a) being a prophet and (b) one largely without honour.

Himmelfarb, to repeat, is not a prophet, but he is a powerful and honest intellectual who has drunk deeply of the living water of the Torah, and of the Jewish prayer book and other Jewish texts; he has also engaged with powerful thinkers like Leo Strauss and Peter Gay and reflected on the great events of his time and then brought back to us, in the bucket of an essay, a cool drink.

Himmelfarb's essays have the peculiar characteristic of considering a seemingly well-known phenomenon, and then perceiving and teasing out something totally surprising about it. Only one of many examples of this was the essay on Leo Strauss, written in 1974, long before the current debates. Himmelfarb reminds us of what was truly unusual about the now-"notorious" thinker Leo Strauss--Strauss rejected the "scientific" approach to politics and insisted on its ethical foundation, a foundation which could only be deeply engaged with through philosophy, not by using the reductionist tools of sociology, demographics, economic statistics, etc. One of Strauss's most basic points was that politics is not a value-free zone in which scientifically developed, social engineered policies produce optimal outcomes for humanity. I haven't read that basic point about Strauss in any of the impassioned debate about him and the Neo-Cons, for or against, in the last seven years.

The first and last thing about this book experienced by a reader is that Himmelfarb's writing bears the gift to the reader that the essays of Montaigne do as well--above everything else, it is his personality on the page. Himmelfarb's is delightful, vigorous, humane, honest, passionate, probing, and fundamentally likeable.

He has now gone to his reward, whatever it may be, in the world to come, but he has left us this book, and, in my case, he has left me with a strong wish that I had been able to spend a couple of hundred hours talking with him in his prime.
A 'must' for any serious Judaic studies library.  Mar 12, 2007
Essays by Milton Himmelfarb represent an impressive set of reflections on both modern and ancient Jewish history, reflecting on events, states of mind, and personal sayings as well as theological examination. These essays were written at the age of 30 when he contradicted the modern view of the 'vindictive' Jewish God as against the 'merciful' god of Christianity. Its philosophical and spiritual insights are a 'must' for any serious Judaic studies library.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch

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