What Shall I Do with This People?: Jews and the Fractious Politics of Judaism

What Shall I Do with This People?: Jews and the Fractious Politics of Judaism

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by Milton Viorst
     
 

""What shall I do with this people?" was Moses' exasperated question to God in Sinai, and it is posed once more in Milton Viorst's searching account of the crisis in Judaism today. Not since the destruction of the Second Temple, argues Viorst, have Jews displayed such intolerance toward one another or battled so fiercely over ideology. And these battles are not just…  See more details below

Overview

""What shall I do with this people?" was Moses' exasperated question to God in Sinai, and it is posed once more in Milton Viorst's searching account of the crisis in Judaism today. Not since the destruction of the Second Temple, argues Viorst, have Jews displayed such intolerance toward one another or battled so fiercely over ideology. And these battles are not just intellectual exercises; they exact a fearsome price in today's Middle East." "Framed by the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Orthodox extremist - an unprecedented outburst of violence among Jews - the book examines how religious leaders through the centuries have shaped Judaism to serve their own political ends, often with disastrous consequences. Viorst vigorously critiques Orthodox Judaism's doctrines concerning territory in the Holy Land as well as on marriage, divorce, conversion, and women's rights, contending that religious law often departs from the teachings of the Torah and has, in fact, changed over time to perpetuate rabbinic power. In recent decades, he believes, the Orthodox rabbinate has grown so intransigently political that its ideas have sundered the Jewish people, challenging their identity and, perhaps, threatening their very existence." What Shall I Do With This People? is both a researched history and a bracing commentary. Disturbed by the impact of intolerance on Jewish politics and society, Milton Viorst calls for an end to violence in the name of Judaism and offers a stirring plea for mutual understanding among what the Old Testament God called "a stiff-necked people." Amid the heat and noise of the Middle East conflict, his is a lucid, compelling, and necessary voice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The distinguished Jewish historian Salo Baron once disparaged the "lachrymose theory" of Jewish history because it emphasized tragic events and a sorry trail of tears. What might he have said about Viorst's reading of Jewish history as an unending chronicle of conflict among Jews? Beginning with the dispute in Exodus when many Israelites questioned Moses and created a golden calf as an idol to worship, Jews have wrangled with one other throughout the ages. Viorst traces the record of these struggles from biblical times to the present, concluding with the sharp arguments in Israel between the Ultra-Orthodox and other Israelis. He sees the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a religious zealot as the lowest point in conflict among Jews, and he wonders whether or not this murder signals such irreconcilable differences within the Jewish community as to threaten Israel's survival. This book should be read alongside Samuel Freedman's Jew vs. Jew, which describes contemporary controversies among American Jews. Freedman shares Viorst's view that internal disputes portend a gloomy future. Viorst's lucid review of Jewish history as a saga of dissension is most effective, though highly selective. His analysis and his presentation benefit from his impressive credentials as a journalist who worked for many years in the Middle East and who has written a dozen books. Viorst is no unbiased observer; he makes clear his strong opposition to Jewish religious extremism, thus inevitably contributing to the internal discord he so vigorously decries. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Former Middle East staff correspondent for The New Yorker and prolific author Viorst (In the Shadow of the Prophet) describes the historical contexts behind Judaism's current divisiveness. The author describes Jews' responses to historical events and how these responses continue to be an influence, creating intolerance among various branches of Judaism. For Viorst, the Enlightenment was a crisis that Judaism still grapples with, and he shows how the tension it caused among various Jewish communities exists today. The book is divided into three sections: "Building a Nation," "Losing a State," "Adjusting to Exile," and "Turbulence of Return." Though he's critical of current Orthodox doctrines and Zionistic zealotry, Viorst writes in a neutral tone, laying out events and reactions and how these have defined Judaism and the Jewish people. This book will appeal to lay readers as well as those with more historical background; readable and informative, it is appropriate for all libraries. (Index not seen.) Naomi E. Hafter, Baltimore Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From noted student of Mideast affairs and New Yorker correspondent Viorst (In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam, 1998, etc.), a charged warning that the greatest danger facing the state of Israel is the "causeless hatred" of internal disunity. That disunity is by no means new, allows Viorst: his very title comes from Moses' complaint to God in Sinai about his ungovernable charges, and Viorst repeats at several points the biblical denunciation of the "stiff-necked" quality that "seems to have remained a part of Jewish nature . . . [and] has perpetuated needless conflict among Jews, when a bit of flexibility would have had better results." In his account, this inflexibility has colored discussions about the nature and workings of the Jewish state from even before the time of Herzl; it particularly marks the relation of the ultra-Orthodox faction within Israel with secular Jews who are more amenable to making "Halachic adjustments to the shifting demands of modernity" and even inclined to separate affairs of church and state. Sometimes lethal struggles between adaptationists and rejectionists, pragmatists and idealists, and hard-liners of every stripe have crippled the ability of the Israeli state to govern effectively, Viorst suggests. A particular difficulty, in his view, is the growing insistence of the ever more powerful Orthodox leadership that "the Jewish state, of which it deeply disapproves, serve as arbiter of disputes within Judaism," making of a secular democracy a counterpart to the Vatican that would sit in judgment over matters such as the Jewishness of Conservative and Reform converts (who, some members of the Orthodox leadership hold, are bydefinition members of heretical sects) and the impiety of surrendering Jewish lands to Gentiles-as the Oslo Accords demand, and in punishment for which one of the ultra-Orthodox took it upon himself to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin. These apocalyptic disputes, born of religious extremism, are "tearing apart our four-thousand-year-old civilization," argues Viorst sadly, and most effectively.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684862897
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
10/01/1902
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.22(h) x 1.01(d)

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What Shall I Do with This People? 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Viorst is a favorite of mine.He is known to me from articles in 'Foreign Affairs' and in the New Yorker.I think of him as a person who has a finger on the pulse of the moment and who is prescient in his implications.This book is a delight to read but painful to really listen to what he says about Jewish History. All Jews interested in Jewish/Religious struggles can follow developing policies and be reminded of some of the disasterously costly mistakes of the past. Are the Biblical slaves of Egypt once again enslaved by fundamentalist Bible based ideology? Unfortunately he is preaching to the converted. Fundamentalism, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, as national policy always turns a deaf ear to what history tries to teach. Viorst is a clear, smooth prose writer.