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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great one-volume survey, 13 Oct 2006
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
This text is the primary text for a course I teach on Modern & Contemporary Judaism, at a university primarily set up for military personnel to get their education via distance education. It is ideally suited for a course in Judaism, as it is divided into three broad sections (history, belief, and practice) which are each in turn subdivided into short chapters easily digested by students, linking together well both within the sections and across the three principle divisions.

The longest section is the history section, and Cohn-Sherbok begins in ancient Mesopotamia, drawing on archaeological evidence and chronicles of other ancient peoples as well as biblical sources for his development of the people who came to be called the Jews. Cohn-Sherbok presents both the popular and/or biblical accounts of the history as well as areas of divergence and controversy where archaeological and other data may conflict or be missing. This is true at different key periods such as the Exodus and conquest of Canaan, but occasionally this part is missing (for example, there are scholars who doubt the historicity of the figure David, due to lack of extra-biblical evidence; Cohn-Sherbok does not address this controversy).

Further into history, things become a bit more clear, and Cohn-Sherbok's discussion of the post-Babylonian development through the Hellenistic, Roman, Islamic, and European experiences is very solid. The discussions of the nineteenth and twentieth century include topics such as the Zionist movement, the increasing Diaspora throughout the world, the rise of Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, the advent of the state of Israel, and a few speculations on the future of Judaism in the world. Being more than a religion or an ethnic identity, the future of Judaism looks to be as rich and complex as its past.

The second section of the text deals with beliefs. This is looks at some pointedly theological issues (the unity of God, providence, revelation, etc.) as well as some issues that point toward identity (the idea of a chosen people, the promised land). There is also a good discussion of messianic ideas in Judaism, and what is though about issues such as the afterlife. Cohn-Sherbok avoids the fairly common practice of discussing these ideas in relation to Christianity, to keep both the issue and discussion grounded in the Jewish context.

The third section is devoted to Jewish practice. Tying these two latter sections together, Cohn-Sherbok states that this `explores Judaism both as a religion and way of life, providing essential information on Jewish family and community customs as well as on the beliefs and traditions that have shaped the Jewish faith throughout nearly four thousand years of history.' Practices here refers both to religious rituals (worship, Sabbath, high holy days, etc.) as well as life-cycle and community practices that are incorporated into the way of life for Jews around the world.

This is a great one-volume survey of Judaism. It is comprehensive, accessible, interesting, well-illustrated with maps and pictures, and organised in a good way. Perhaps the most helpful feature is the inclusion at the end of each chapter excerpts from original texts, letters and documents from the history, liturgical works, literary creations, and more. This gives a great sense of the flavour of Judaism apart from the words of a single author, and provides a more direct connection with the ideas and peoples discussed.

Another great benefit of the book is the accompanying free companion website, which provides more material, guides, maps, and other helpful pieces for students and general readers. This is a great text, and one I will continue to use for my courses.
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Judaism: History, Belief and Practice
Judaism: History, Belief and Practice by Dan Cohn-Sherbok (Hardcover - 15 May 2003)
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