The Future of the Jewish People in Five Photographs

The Future of the Jewish People in Five Photographs

by Peter S. Temes
     
 

Threatened by the love of would-be friends as well as the hatred of long-established enemies, the Jewish people face a number of critical questions about the future. What matters more: the number of Jewish people, or the qualities of the Jewish soul? Does asking, “Is it good for the Jews?” diminish the more profound question, “Is it

Overview

Threatened by the love of would-be friends as well as the hatred of long-established enemies, the Jewish people face a number of critical questions about the future. What matters more: the number of Jewish people, or the qualities of the Jewish soul? Does asking, “Is it good for the Jews?” diminish the more profound question, “Is it good?” Should the Torah be seen as the unchanging anchor of faith or as a starting place for continual reinvention? Does Judaism hold within it a universal and inclusive ethic?

These questions take on more and more significance as Jewish neighborhoods continue to fade, as Jewish identity melts in the embrace of intermarriage, and as a new generation of American Jews seeks a universal moral vision in a religion built for a people who once stood apart.

Each of the five photographs in this book frames one of these critical questions, generating a dialogue that is as honest and practical as it is spiritual and philosophical. Drawing on history, literature, and his upbringing in the Jewish communities of Brooklyn, Peter S. Temes seeks a new understanding of what it means to be Jewish and what the future holds for the Jewish people. The five photographs at the center of his search hint at the possibilities of that future—possibilities that are at once hopeful and inspiring but also challenging and troubling.
 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Educator and writer Temes (The Power of Purpose: Living Well by Doing Good) explores conceptions of the Jewish people’s future by reflecting on photos of the Behistun Inscription (oddly, a Zoroastrian monument); a Torah from the now extinct Jewish community of Kaifeng, China; the Eichmann trial; Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marching in Selma; and the Torah scribe Rabbi Linda Motzkin. He pits a focus on Jewish survival and endogamy against the living dissemination of Jewish values—especially prophetic ones—and a kind of Jewish universalism. Coming down strongly for the latter, Temes notes at one point that “if there is only a single Jew left, but a deeply good Jew who... feels the depth of God’s presence..., then Judaism is as strong and meaningful as it could be.” Unfortunately, his meandering style can make arguments difficult to follow, as when he segues from a discussion of Israeli settlement policy to a passage in the Book of Numbers, and then discusses five possible interpretations of this passage. Perhaps most disappointing is the sometimes vague nature of Temes’s writing, such as his statement that the Jewish future “will come because of a Jewish toughness that sits in dialogue with Jewish virtue.” Those looking for guidance on the tough questions 21st-century Jews face—for example, the nature of Jewish education or choices in philanthropy—won’t find much of it in this intellectually murky book. (Nov)
Uri Cohen

“A profound and learned exercise in Jewish thinking and of thought about the Jews . . . free from scholarly bickering. A great contribution to a rabbinical tradition that has emerged in the last century, more philosophical than liturgical.”—Uri Cohen, assistant professor of Hebrew Literature, Columbia University
Shelf Awareness

"Though Temes stops short of offering any bold predictions of his own in this concise, passionately argued book, he provides valuable fodder for many searching conversations about what it will take to carry the Jewish saga forward into the new millennium."—Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness 

— Harvey Freedenberg

Foreword Reviews

"[The Future of the Jewish People in Five Photographs is] an important read for those outside of Judaism who wish to understand the tradition's complexity; an essential read for those within the community, for whom such questions are of particular exigency."—Michelle Schingler, Foreword Reviews

— Michelle Schingler

Association of Jewish Libraries

"While there is no definitive answer to any of the questions raised in the book, the lively discussion and simple logic give the reader much to think about. . . . It is an excellent choice for a book club or Jewish high school history class."—Kathe Pinchuck, Association of Jewish Libraries

— Kathe Pinchuck

Foreword Reviews - Michelle Schingler

"[The Future of the Jewish People in Five Photographs is] an important read for those outside of Judaism who wish to understand the tradition's complexity; an essential read for those within the community, for whom such questions are of particular exigency."—Michelle Schingler, Foreword Reviews
Shelf Awareness - Harvey Freedenberg

"Though Temes stops short of offering any bold predictions of his own in this concise, passionately argued book, he provides valuable fodder for many searching conversations about what it will take to carry the Jewish saga forward into the new millennium."—Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness 
Association of Jewish Libraries - Kathe Pinchuck

"While there is no definitive answer to any of the questions raised in the book, the lively discussion and simple logic give the reader much to think about. . . . It is an excellent choice for a book club or Jewish high school history class."—Kathe Pinchuck, Association of Jewish Libraries
Robert Coles

“[Peter S. Temes is] a remarkable thinker and doer.”—Robert Coles, Harvard University
Kirkus Reviews
Reflecting on his faith, an educator decodes some snapshots from the Jewish family album. Temes (The Power of Purpose, 2006, etc.) selected honored teachings with his personal convictions to decide how to be Jewish today. The picture on which he bases his first essay recalls Darius, the Zoroastrian ruler. At the time, Jewish intermarriage was high and birth rate low; would Judaism become, like Zoroastrianism, a lost religion? The dangers of assimilation are raised again with the image of the Jews of Kaifeng, in China in 1910. Next is the familiar photo of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on the march with Martin Luther King Jr. How far, we are asked, is one obliged to go to repair a broken world, as Jews are called upon to do? A picture of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who followed orders to murder millions, elicits a call to think and to decide how right might prevail over might. Finally, there is snapshot of a female Torah scribe. Is a relation to God best mediated through fixed Scripture or firsthand? Is there a middle path to find the hidden canonical ways to repair the world? Is Judaism a universal theology or a special religion? Temes reviews some of the divergent ways his religion is practiced in a time of baleful demographics, factions and indifference. He explores the possibility of a middle ground somewhere between exacting adherence and careful evolutionary change. The author's thoughtful sermons, drawing on diverse authorities, reveal a passionate understanding of his faith. Illuminating homilies of the Jewish people, by the Jewish people and, particularly, for the Jewish people.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803239791
Publisher:
University of Nebraska Press
Publication date:
11/01/2012
Pages:
216
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author


Peter S. Temes is head of the Pacific Hills School, West Hollywood, California. A former faculty member at Harvard University, he is the author of many books, including, most recently, The Power of Purpose: Living Well by Doing Good.

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