History Of The Jews, by Paul Goodman
This particular short volume is both easy to read and a worthwhile survey of the broad sweep of history of the Jewish people throughout history. While the book is by no means long enough to be exhaustive in its treatment, the book is at least expansive enough to encourage the reader to investigate what they are most interested in further. The author gives an intriguing picture of Judaism during history and how the people and faith survived throughout the roughly 2000 years between its most recent periods of being an independent state. Indeed, the author appears to want to show the difficulty that the Jews had in navigating the problems that they had in various nations. This is by no means a problem that has vanished from the contemporary world, and is something that Jews likely feel the need to make themselves familiar with as soon as history becomes a subject of interest to them. To be sure, the author spends most of his time talking about orthodox Judaism and its progression, at least from the Talmudic times onward, but at the same time the author spends a lot of time talking about various offshoots of Judaism as well to show that there has never been an unchallenged Orthodox viewpoint, nor a very long period where Judaism was at peace in whatever place it found itself throughout history.
This short book of only about 200 pages or so begins with ancient Israel and goes to the period of Israeli independence in 1948, so this is by no means a very new book. That said, we begin with the period of ancient Israel, after which the author doesn’t follow the trail of the northern Kingdom through exile (1). After that the author looks at the Babylonian captivity and second temple Judaism (2). The author then moves on to the Talmudic age, which goes on until roughly the rise of Islam (3). The author then views the early Middle Ages as the golden age of Judaism (4) before looking at the Dark ages that go between the Crusades and the eighteenth century (5). After this the chapters start coming more rapidly, with chapters on the age of emancipation in the nineteenth century (6), the reaction to Jewish rights during the World War II period (7), the rise of Zionism (8), the horrors of World War II (9), the service of the Jews in various armies and the peace treaties after World War II (10), and the establishment of the state of Israel (11). Throughout the chapters we not only get political history and a history of various movements within Judaism but also important figures within Judaism.
This book has some clear agendas. Fortunately, the obviousness of those agendas makes this book one I enjoyed reading even if it discussed matters I was not always very familiar with because of the unevenness of my knowledge about Jewish history. The author seeks to demonstrate the rich debate within Judaism throughout its history, in part as a way of demonstrating that traditional Judaism has not been without competition throughout its history, and that reason as well as faith and tradition all hold a role. The author points out that American Judaism no longer has a base of European Jewry to draw upon and must sustain Judaism, or at least a large part of it, on its own intellectual and demographic basis. The author also wants to point out that throughout their history the Jewish people have been loyal sojourners or citizens of the places they have lived, but have often faced a great deal of hostility from populist leaders and fanatics. Let us hope that this book can help to reduce this problem in the future.