Book Review: The Story of The Jews by Rabbi David Goldberg (Overview)

The “Story of the Jews” as portrayed by Rabbi David J. Goldberg of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue of London is a wonderful and valuable book to add to your collection. This honest and frank book tells the history of the Jewish people plainly and with its beautiful ornate style is a must have. This book is highly collectible. If you have been curious about the Jewish people, their journey and contributions this is an excellent read.

A Book about The People of The Book

As the book opens

“According to the biblical author of the Book of Ecclesiastes (12:12) ‘Of making many books there is no end.'”

Why add another book to the collection? This book encompasses a fascinating re-telling of the story of the Jews. What a better time of year to look into the pages of Jewish history after passing through the season of Passover where re-telling the story is the main impetus of the festival.

This book takes you on a journey through twenty-four topics that span the scope of Jewish history from origins of Rabbinic Judaism to Jews in the Modern World, to the varying groups of Ashkenazim and Sephardim, to the Jews of Poland, to Jews during the French Revolution, as well as covering key areas from the Rise of Anti-Semitism including the Pogroms, Holocausts, Crusades, Expulsions and the Birth of Zionism and the modern State of Israel. This unique book takes you through the peculiar journey of the Jewish people.

“The Jewish story since 1789 has been one of a response to modernity.”

The Birth of the Jewish People

Rabbi Goldberg brings many elucidating facts and facets of history to life from the birth of the Jewish people from among the Habiru (or Apiru) people who migrated from Mesopotamia to Cana’an, to the journey of Joseph into MItzraim and the discussion of his becoming a Viceroy during a period when the “Hyskos” foreign chiefs who subdued Egypt possibly during the Middle Kingdom. Rabbi Goldberg does call into question whether we should call Abraham the first monotheist as

“theirs was a clan deity to who they prayed under various names – such as El, El Shaddai or El Elyon – whenever in their course of their wanderings they came upon existing shrines to other gods.”

This book takes on a unique telling of this powerful and poignant historical story.

Foundations for the Western Psyche

As the foundations of the western world comes out of the social moorings the struggle which the Jewish people had for self-identification from among the ancient near east had become the quintessential exploration of the western soul. Even the rise of Christianity and Islam have risen out this context, and can be argued were in their primitive state a dialogue on how people of diverse ethnic backgrounds come to terms with how the story of Abraham and the Sinai event play into the development of the western ethic and social consciousness.

The Hebrew bible and the story of the Jewish people is central to the evolution of the modern world. This should be a required textbook for the study of Western World History. The men of the Great Assembly have left and indelible mark on the world, the Rabbi’s of the Mishna really where revolutionary and evolutionary in their thought of One G-d and Sinai Ethics. It may seem primitive to some today to consider religion or Jewish history as being so pivotal but really it is and should be seen as such.

History versus Theology versus Science

While the author finds himself contradicting the timeline of the biblical narrative the case can be made the the biblical text seeks to be a theological treatise that was set in to stone as it were amongst a very specific historical national context. Placing the Exodus some time after Amenhotep, further past Sethos I and Ramesses II. This is the time period many historians and Rabbi Goldberg believe that the ancient Jewish people fled from Egypt. He also calls into question of the biblical figure of 600,000 escapee’s going through the Reed Sea to only a small band of “perhaps five or six thousand people in all.” It is interesting to consider the possible historical context in light of theological supposition.

The Jewish Revolutionary War For Israel

The rise of the loose federation of Hebrew tribal leaders to the rise of the Philistines along the coastal cities, to the rise of King David and the united Monarchy preceding the divided kingdom over a cry for “less taxation or secession” that sounds reminiscent of the early American Revolutionary War. The rise and fall of the first and second temples from captivity to return at the crossroads of trade between Europe, the East and Africa, wedged between the diamond and silk export routes the journey of how this small plot of land has impacted and changed world history.

Jesus In The Context of Jewish History

Covering the Period of Josephus, Rabbi Goldberg covers the topic of the zealot movement and uprising found in the revolutionary story of the Jewish rabbi known to us as Jesus. Rabbi Goldberg asks

Did Jesus himself ever claim to be the Messiah – that is, a descendant of the House of David who would break the foreign yoke, lead the Jews back to their Promised Land and usher in G-ds Kingdom of peace and prosperity?”

Was Jesus riding on the white donkey declaring himself as “king of the Jews” prophesied about in Zechariah. The answer to that and many more questions can be found in that pages of this book. As the author does state

“it should never be forgotten that Jesus was born, lived and died, a Jew.”

He goes on to state that for a

while the early Christians – Nazarenes (followers of Jesus of Nazareth) as there were known – continued to pray in the temple, observe Jewish law and consider themselves Jews.”

The Aftermath of the Destruction of the Temple

With the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the Judaean wars and revolts culminating in the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-135 CE. Following the demise of the Jewish national homeland lead to the recording of the Oral Traditions down in the Mishneh Torah followed by the completion of the Talmud the commentary on the Mishneh known as the Gamerah as well as the Midrashic literature.

By the 4th Century it became a capital offense to convert to Judaism and intermarriage between Jews and Christians was also a capital offense. Even though when Gamaliel VI died in 425 Theodosisus II refused to appoint a successor Jewish life continued in

“Galilee, where an imitation Sanhedrin still convened in Tiberias as rabbinical academies continued to teach.”

With the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of militant Arab Moslem conquerors “the second of Judaism’s monotheistic offspring, was about to enter history.”

The Writing of the Talmud

The rise of Gaonim came as Rabbi’s who taught in the Yeshivot (sitting), to sit at the feet of the rabbi’s and learn. These Rabbi’s were not salaried and had to works in their own professions and possessed private means with such jobs as wood-cutters, mason, laundry men, water-carriers, blacksmiths, gladiators, brewers, farmers and traders. This high regard for Rabbi’s happened about 1,500 years ago in Babylonia.

In Islamic and Christian Ages, How We Jews Survived

Islam was typically tolerant towards the Jews at this time whom they considered “the people of the book.” As Jews migrated some moved east towards Russia and others towards France, the Rhineland and Spain. The convergence of Judaism, Islam and Christianity developed in interesting ways in Spain culminating in the writings of Moses Maimonides.

The rise of the Crusades which further gave rise to the later Inquisitions and influenced the climate of the Pogroms and eventually the Holocaust were fueled by charges of blood libel and deicide. In Spain the “Conversos” or new converts from among those called “Marranos” where accused of being cypto-Jews in 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain.

How the Ashkenazi Settled

The rise of the Ashkenazim developed their own minhagim that each Kahal (community) had called a Beth Din (law court, literally House of Judgment) to elucidate its own regulations, the payment of communal taxes and paid tribute to the local protector that policed the behavior of its inhabitants in much the same way the Church and noblemen governed the feudal Christian society.

The Ashkenazim relied upon the writings of Rashi and the Talmud and excelled more in the dialectic studies of Halakhah in contrast to the Spanish Jewry’s exploration of poetry, science and philosophy. The successors of Rashi the Tosofot (additions) extended the scope of his work. In Western Europe as in Spain the Jews became victims to the rise in tide of violence between Christian and Muslim finding themselves increasingly found caught in the middle.

Jewish and Christian Tensions in Europe Leading to Pogroms

Beneath the surface of oft tense and terse relationship of what Rabbi Goldberg calls the “tense Jewish-Mother-Christian-Child relationship” could ignite at the smallest provocation is the unique formation of the modern world, at the cross-roads between Judaism and her children, Christianity and Islam, respectively.

The dietary laws and laws of purity amongst the Jewish people protected the Jews from suffering as much as their Christian neighbors from the bubonic plague. A pogrom was visited upon the Jews that swept from France through Switzerland, then to western Germany, through Belgium and culminating in Northern Germany and ending in Bavaria.

The Rise of the Jewish Ghetto

This continued until the rise of the first Ghetto in Frankfurt Germany. The Rise of Polish Jewry was filled with all the religious bigotry and mob violence as elsewhere. The Jewish merchants filled an economic vacuum that afforded them orders of protection and liberties they became the intermediaries between the nobility and the peasantry, acting as land-lords and tax collectors as well and importing goods offering services that local farmers and peasants couldn’t offer that was attractive to the local nobility.

Due to this unique status afforded them the dialect of Yiddish began to emerge as a vernacular throughout eastern Europe with a heavy dose of High Germany, a sprinkling of Hebrew and a smattering of Slavic expressions. The Reformation lead to less pressure upon the Jews as they Polish Catholic Church was engaged in battling the Reformation this lead to an immigration that boomed as a result of expulsions from Spain and Portugal.

Under this new order of things Polish Jewry organized itself into an effective self-governing system that supervised its basic educational societal concerns and collected taxes. Larger communities started to employee paid officials including the rabbi who was appointed by the kehillah trustees to serve as the legal authority and headship of the local yeshivah.

How the Sephardim Came to Settle In Muslim Lands

The Sephardim in Ottoman lands were allowed to ruled their own communities according to their own religious laws, such as Muslim Sharia law, Christian Canon Law or Jewish halachah. This leads us into the story of modern Jewry and if you want to learn and read more than you need to buy this book and add it to your collection.

To discover more about the age of Renewal and Reform, the Rise of Chasidism and the Baal Shem Tov, the Enlightenment, Jewish Emancipation, The French Revolution, Haskalah, The Rise of Anti-Semitism, and the rise of Modern Zionism.

“The intuition of the Baal Shem Tov was to bring the divine presence down to earth; the theology of the Vilna Gaon was to raise men to heaven through study.”

The Universal Rights of Man

The Declaration of the Rights of Man in August of 1789 declaring that “all men are born, and remain, free and equal in rights” brought about a social and religious revolution that has changed the world that we live in. Eventually leading to the French being seen as the friend and protector of the Jews.

Touching History With Your Own Hands

What personally attracted me to this book was the facsimile documents these rare and removable documents come in pockets that seek to reproduce the original style, quality and feel. It is wonderful to have and opportunity to see quality reproductions of historic documents.

Seeing History With Your Own eyes

For those who can’t afford the auction fee’s or the cost to be ancient fine art and historical collectors of original documents being afforded the opportunity to see reproductions is exciting. Whether its reproductions of a twelfth-century autograph responsum from Moses Maimonides written in Judeo-Arabaic, or pages of the Vienna Genesis codex, or the pages of ancient Haggadot, or Ketubot, to a copy of David Ben-Gurion’s speech written in Hebrew scripts declaring the independence of Israel on May 14, 1948, to extract from the manuscript of a drama called “Tevye the Milkman” by Sholem Aleichem which inspired the Fiddler on the roof, to selections of music and history, as well as an extract from the diary of Theodor Herzel which discusses the evolutions of Zionism. The fifteen rare and removable documents of varying historical importance help tell the story of the Jews in a new and vivid way.

This brings history alive and is a valuable source of learning for the young and old alike. From the ancient past to pictures of modern skyline of Tel Aviv this book is telling the story of the Hebrew people in a very beautiful way. What better way to learn about the Jews but from first hand documents and scholarly research.

Notable quotables.

“This deep-rooted fear of the Jews as an alien nation planted in ususpecting Christian society, their first loyalty was elsewhere, was turned on its head over a century later by Theodor Herzl in his pamphlet Der Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”, 1896), in which he declared: “We are one people – our enemeies have made us one whether we will it or not.”

“This time it was not mediaeval Judeophobia – religious hatred of the Jew – but a metastasis of the virus into a new form; Anti-Semitism was its name.”


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