Short History of the Jewish People Paperback – 27 Jul 2000
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"[A] well-written, handy little textbook....The book is well supplied with pedagogical aids, including excellent maps, boxes that explore allusions in the text itself in greater depth, a selected bibliography for each chapter, and a thorough index. As such it will be of great use as the first text in introductory surveys of the history of the Jews or the history of Judaism. It will also provide instructors with good foundations upon which to add more detailed material."--Religious Studies Review
"Scheindlin's short book provides a concise and readable summary of more than 3,000 years of Jewish history. It provides the student and general reader with an excellent introduction to the topic."--Marvin Swartz, University of Massachussetts at Amherst
"Scheindlin, a respected Hebrew scholar, cultural historian, noted author and rabbi, undertakes the daunting task of summarizing Jewish history in a concise fashion....In his narrative, ...Scheindlin sheds light on Jewish experience staring with legendary times to today's ongoing Middle East process. He doesn't shy away from problems the world's Jews have faced during their history, but concludes that 'in many ways, the Jewish condition in the present is better than it has been at any time since antiquity."--The Topeka Capital-Journal
About the Author
Raymond P. Scheindlin teaches at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City. His other books include Wine, Women, and Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life and The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems on God, Israel, and the Soul.
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I am taking a course in Jewish history and asked my professor for "an excellent but readable book" on the subject. I told him I wanted to be able to "enjoy the reading process as well as study." He immediately suggested Rabbi Scheindlin's "A Short History of the Jewish People." I must say that if it is possible to call a history book "riveting" and "compelling" and still maintain credibility, I will say it. I could not put the book down! The text is beautifully written and the history itself, as well as the people who made it, are fascinating. The book also serves as an excellent outline of Jewish History and has assisted me in understanding the course's assigned texts. Highly recommended!
The book is well organized with sensitivity to the difficulty of understanding the tremendous amount of material being covered. The chapters break down as follows:
1) Israelite Origins and Kingdom [Biblical] (c1220 BCE - 587 BCE)
2) Judea and the Origins of the Diaspora [2nd Temple Period] (587 BCE - 70 CE)
3) Roman Palestine and Sassanid Babylonia [Classical Rabbinic Period] (70 CE - 632 CE)
4) Jews in the Islamic World: From the Rise of Islam to the End of the Middle Ages (632 CE - 1500 CE)
5) Jews of Medieval Christian Europe (9th century to 1500)
6) Jews in the Ottoman Empire and Middle East (1453 - 1948)
7) Jews of Western Europe (1500 - 1900)
8) Jews of Eastern Europe and the United States (1770 - 1940)
9) The Holocaust (appx. 1925 - 1946)
10) Zionism and the Origins of the State of Israel (appx. 1862 - 1948)
11) The Jewish People after 1948
This is an excellent historical primer and contains a good bibliography for further study.
Two issues of debate in the book should be supplemented with additional readings. The first is that the portrayal of the Jewish-Christian schism is only presented in the context of medieval Antisemitism, and a more balanced and informative view of the formative period of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity is found in From Text To Tradition by Lawrence Schiffman. The second is the lachrymos portrayal of Jewish life in the Middle Ages. That should be balanced with Salo Baron's groundbreaking article "Ghetto and Emancipation," reprinted in The Menorah Treasury, ed. Leo W. Schwarz (Philadelphia, 1964).
With those two caveats, I would recommend this book for any introductory Jewish history or Jewish studies survey class.
Although accurately described as a secular book, Scheindlin is a practicing Jew and the book is certainly not irreligious. In most cases (esp. premodern situations,) Scheindlin approaches an event or a conflict as a neutral observer, a historian documenting causes and effects. Importantly, he explains the way Jewish societies around the world conceived of and reacted to their circumstances, without actually adopting their views in his writing. This allows both Jew and non-Jew to feel comfortable with the book.
Anyone who faults the book for its lack of detail misunderstands the point of the text and the feasability of what they are asking for. What Scheindlin does with stunning success is give an interesting, accurate depiction, albeit with broad brushstrokes, of the forces that have shaped Jewry throughout the ages.
(I especially recommend the chapter on the Holocaust as riveting and awe-inspiring. Scheindlin, in his understated tone, evokes the horror of "Shoah" (destruction) in a way that impresses even veteran readers with its vividness.)