Text Context

Journal Watch

02/22/2011

What is a “book”? Is a book merely a device for framing the travels of a text in material form from author to reader?

Recovered Memories

A new stream of Jewish memoirs seeks to recreate lost worlds.

02/22/2011

Asked to name a significant or best-selling Jewish memoir, chances are good that you’d come up with an author like Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi or Victor Frankl. Books by all three show up in a list of Amazon’s best-selling Jewish memoirs. Not incidentally, all three write about the same subject — the Holocaust — which makes sense when you consider that, after the Torah, the most widely read Jewish book in the world is probably Anne Frank’s “Diary of A Young Girl.”

LESLIE NOBLER FARBER, Tale of One City, 	2010, artist’s book.

The E-Book Revolution, And What It Means

Will Jewish readers—and Jewish culture generally—be transformed by the coming digital reading revolution?

02/22/2011

 If Jews have become almost synonymous with books — “the People of the Book” moniker is not for nothing — then the looming demise of the printed book might raise alarm bells. After all, if Jewish books were to disappear, or even be fundamentally transformed, wouldn’t you expect Jewish culture to change along with it?

School library supported by JDC. Warsaw, 	Poland, late 1920’s – early 1930’s.

The Living Sea Scrolls

Inside a ‘battlefield of books,’ a rich mosaic of Egyptian Jewish life.

02/22/2011

This April, the Schocken / Nextbook Jewish Encounters series will publish “Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza” by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, which tells in dynamic fashion the story of the retrieval of what has often been called the greatest discovery of Jewish manuscripts ever made.

Solomon Schechter examining 	manuscripts from the Cairo Geniza, 1898. Courtesy of the Syndics of Cambridge University  Library

Bread Alone is Not Enough

Efforts to get Jewish books to Holocaust survivors in Europe

02/22/2011

In the spring of 1946, Zalman Grinberg and Josef Rosenzaft, representatives of Jewish Holocaust survivors and Displaced Persons (DPs) in the American and British zones of post-World War II Europe, respectively, visited the United States. “Bread alone is not enough,” they poignantly pleaded to American Jews, “Send us poets, writers and singers to show us that Jewish life is not dead.”

Presentation of donation of books to JDC from the National Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America, c. 1945.

Our Libraries, Ourselves

A dedicated reader and bibliophile reflects on pruning her collection.

02/22/2011

Years ago, I met someone who only owned one book at a time: the book he was reading. When he was finished, he found it a good home and acquired another book. I was fascinated by this discipline. Ever since middle school, I have been in the middle of several books at once. Some books decorate my shelves for years before I read them, but I couldn’t imagine parting with them. Judah Ibn Tibbon, the 12th-century scholar and physician, famously advised his descendants, “Let books be your companions.” I, for one, have taken that advice to heart — perhaps to a fault.

NAFTALI RAKUZIN, Polyptych, 2003, oil on canvas 166x364cm. Courtesy of Artspace Gallery, Jerusalem.

Behind The Best Sellers

A scholar revisits an 18th-century popular tome—reprinted for centuries—that mixes science, kabbalah and ethics.

02/22/2011

‘The Book of Covenant” (Sefer ha-Brit) was one of the most popular Hebrew books read by Jews in the Modern Era, reflected in its 36 editions, including three Yiddish and two Ladino translations. It was first published by a relatively unknown Eastern European Jew named Phinehas Elijah Hurwitz, in Brünn, Moravia in 1797 and then in a much expanded edition in Zolkiev, Galicia, in 1807.

NAFTALI RAKUZIN, Polyptych, 2003, oil on canvas 166x364cm. Courtesy of Artspace Gallery, Jerusalem.

Counter-Revelations

In his subtle translations of the Bible’s Wisdom Books — Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job — Robert Alter highlights the canon’s subversive side.

02/22/2011

Robert Alter’s ongoing translation of the Hebrew Bible into a new, more accurate and forceful English version is one of the most ambitious literary projects of this or any age. Turning the Bible into Greek, in the second century BCE, required 72 sages — which is why the Greek version is called the Septuagint (after the Latin word for 70) — and the King James Version, in the early 17th century CE, was produced by a committee of 47 Anglican divines.

JACK JANO, Shomer (Guard it), 2009, Sculpture. Courtesy of Artspace Gallery, Jerusalem.

Canon Fodder

With newly discovered documents and innovative approaches, how do we decide which Jewish texts and values remain at the core?

02/22/2011

One of the curiosities of the world of scholarship is the fixation with the arcane. This is why, somewhat regrettably, the word “academic” finds its kin in the thesaurus with the adjectives “donnish,” “pedantic” and “trivial.” When this is at its worst, it seems like a terrible waste; our universities are the places where young adults go to learn, think and become citizens of the world. If their mentors and role models are only interested in the marginal, what does that portend for how we value ideas?

The Trial of the Jews of Trent, Trent, 1478-1479, ink, gouache and gold on paper. Collection of Yeshiva University Museum.

Editor’s Note

02/22/2011

At a recent meeting of people involved in Jewish life, we began by introducing ourselves with our names and the titles of the books we’re now reading. There was very little overlap (other than a few parents of young children who admitted their last book was “Good Night, Moon”), with mentions of fiction, history, business, works of Jewish content, even cookbooks. After everyone spoke, the buzz was that we all wanted a copy of the book list we had created.

JACK JANO, Lech Lecha (Go forth, toward thyself), 1997 	Sculpture. Courtesy of Artspace Gallery, Jerusalem
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