We tend to look at the history of Jewish life in a linear way, ignoring or dismissing the influences and the stimulators from beyond the comfort zone of traditional Judaism. But we must ask ourselves: What were the outside factors that influenced what happened on the inside? How did the Shabbetai Tzvi and Emden-Eybeschutz controversies affect how we live our lives as Jews in the twenty-first century? How did the Get of Cleves controversy influence Jewish law going forward, so that rulings arrived at today are determined by this seemingly marginal episode? The uniting theme of Mavericks, Mystics & False Messiahs is the very individual personalities of these marginal characters and the impact they had during the time in which they lived. All the mavericks whose lives are explored in this book somehow represent in their individuality and their unique stories aspects of the broader narrative of their eras. What they prove, in all their fascinating oddity, is how aspects of Jewish history which occur outside of the spotlight have a residual effect on what is happening in today’s world.
Mavericks, Mystics & False Messiahs: Episodes from the Margins of Jewish History
Rabbi Pini Dunner is a masterful storyteller, and the book is a compilation of sto — ries he is eager to tell. Some of the characters who appear in the book are unknown individuals. Others were revered rabbis, and some were individuals who changed the course of Jewish history. In many ways, each of the individuals who we meet is a product of his time and reflects elements of its political, religious, and economic ethos.
Each episode in Dunner’s book is fascinating. He has the rare ability to recount history in a balanced, non-judgmental way. He allows his stories to unfold, enables the key individuals to captivate us, and then leaves it to the reader to respond to and reflect on the characters. The book provides insight into interesting people and controversies, offering the reader greater understanding of different periods in Jewish history from an insular religious perspective, as in the discussion of the Eybeschütz – Emden controversy and the Get of Cleves — or against the back — ground of world history, as in the cases of Shabbatai Zevi and Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch-Lincoln. These and the other stories in Dunner’s’ book are highly entertaining and engaging.
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