A Short His­to­ry of the Jews

Michael Bren­ner; Jere­mi­ah Riemer, trans.

  • Review
By – September 26, 2011

Though not short, this acces­si­bly writ­ten his­to­ry is meant for those with­out an in-depth knowl­edge of Jew­ish sur­vival. Con­vey­ing 3,000 years of the Jew­ish peo­ples’ wan­der­ings and exile, up to and includ­ing set­tle­ment in mod­ern day Israel, A Short His­to­ry of the Jews is illus­trat­ed with pages from unusu­al Passover Hag­gadot and oth­er Jew­ish-themed art.

The book begins with myths and leg­ends from ancient Per­sia and Hel­l­enized Rome, explor­ing the roots of Bible sto­ries in his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al con­text. Bren­ner writes with a wide lens, cap­tur­ing with a mod­ern eye dai­ly expe­ri­ences of Jew­ish ances­tors and the cul­tures they trav­eled through. He cov­ers the fall of ancient Israel and Judah, many cycli­cal world­wide Dias­po­ras, and the devel­op­ment of the reli­gion we rec­og­nize as mod­ern Rab­binic Judaism. He describes how the Torah and Tal­mud, the Mish­na and Gemar­ra were com­piled. He fol­lows expul­sions, mys­ti­cal move­ments, false mes­si­ahs, the Enlight­en­ment, and Jew­ish ref­or­ma­tion. He tracks how anti­semitism devel­oped and led to the Holo­caust, and he cov­ers the for­ma­tion of dif­fer­ent strains of mod­ern Jew­ish thought and reli­gious denom­i­na­tion, mov­ing through the for­ma­tion of mod­ern Israel and Amer­i­can Jew­ish cul­ture. Bren­ner offers a digestible, inter­est­ing, com­plex his­to­ry, in an acces­si­ble for­mat. Includes appen­dix, fur­ther read­ing, index.

Ellie Bar­barash is a writer, musi­cian, and dis­abil­i­ty activist liv­ing in Philadel­phia. Her non-fic­tion has been pub­lished in Bridges. Ordained as a Kohenet, she is work­ing on pro­duc­ing an anthol­o­gy, Clear­ing the Spring, Sweet­en­ing the Waters: A Renewed Call to Torah.

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