Rise and Decline of Civ­i­liza­tions: Lessons for the Jew­ish People

  • Review
By – May 22, 2014

This sweep­ing exam­i­na­tion of the his­to­ry of civ­i­liza­tions as it applies to Jew­ish civ­i­liza­tion is an impres­sive, long-over­due look at the way by which Jew­ish his­to­ry should be exam­ined in today’s fast-mov­ing world.

The author is a senior fel­low of the Jew­ish Peo­ple Pol­i­cy Insti­tute and a retired social sci­en­tist. In this remark­able sur­vey of the past, Shalom Salomon Wald seems to be urg­ing inter­na­tion­al levelheadedness. 

View­ing the rise and decline of civ­i­liza­tions is some­thing which has often been thought of as a hall­mark of good his­tor­i­cal analy­sis. Exam­in­ing the rhythms of past strug­gles for land, water, or the place into which one’s cul­ture or reli­gion fits in the long run has been a cor­ner­stone of try­ing to fore­see what the future holds. Wald notes that there are two tra­di­tion­al philoso­phies of his­to­ry: cycli­cal and lin­ear. Tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish his­to­ri­og­ra­phy is lin­ear — one gen­er­a­tion trans­mits tra­di­tion from point zero to today and repeat­ed­ly renews itself. 

Wald selects twen­ty-three Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish writ­ers from Thucy­dides (ca. 460 – 400 BCE) to Arthur Her­man (1956 — ) and skill­ful­ly encap­su­lates their phi­los­o­phy of his­to­ry. He demon­strates his broad famil­iar­i­ty with his­tor­i­cal analy­sis and has pro­duced a work which should be read by his­to­ry buffs, teach­ers, and librarians.

Relat­ed content:

Mor­ton Merowitz holds degrees from Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty, the Drop­sie Col­lege for Hebrew and Cog­nate Learn­ing, and the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Buf­fa­lo. He was involved in Jew­ish edu­ca­tion for some ten years and cur­rent­ly reviews non-fic­tion lit­er­a­ture which may be of inter­est and rel­e­vance to stu­dents and teach­ers of Jew­ish studies.

Discussion Questions