Marc Saperstein has written several books on medieval and modern rabbinic literature. Every one of them has achieved a rare balance between deep erudition and broad perspective, finding the ways in which ostensibly esoteric genres like sermons or aggadic interpretation can be used to illuminate social issues. Leadership and Conflict is a collection of his studies, most of which have appeared previously in other places. Bringing them together is itself a service, since some of them languished in obscure publications. They have been somewhat updated. At least one highly important chapter, on the response of Rabbi Judah ben Asher of Toledo, appears here for the first time.
A fine example of Saperstein’s special and vital perspective is the chapter “Philosophy and Jewish Society in the Late Middle Ages.” Hundreds of books and articles have been devoted to the study of medieval Jewish philosophy, and many of the primary sources are so well known as to be trivial. But Saperstein reads those sources, and lesser-known ones, for the social history of philosophy and philosophers, providing a fascinating and crucial take on the topic. This book is an important contribution to the study of Jewish philosophy and Jewish history.