Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jewish Review of Books

Hardly had Queen Victoria been laid to rest, some Englishmen started publishing a review of books at The Times. This was 1902. A few years later the publication became independent, as the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), though these days its Web presence is back at the Times. Along the way (1979, perhaps?) there was a fracas which gave birth to the London Review of Books. I don't dabble in all this enough to know which is the more important of the two.

Meanwhile, across the pond in New York, a group of rebels took advantage of a fracas of their own, and while the New York Times was temporarily shut down for strikers or some such, they launched a new review of their own: the New York Review of Books. This was in the early 1960s, and if you're into gossip about such matters it might tickle you to hear that the early editions of the LondonRB came out as a supplement to the NewYorkRB (I don't know how they justified calling it London, but perhaps literary types needn't be over-much bothered by earthly details.)

I sometimes read the NYRB and even cite articles here on Ruminations; I very rarely look at the London ones. I expect most all of them don't much like Israel and Zionism, but I'm not certain how much they like America, either, so I don't take much offense.

The Jews ("the Jews"?) have now decided they, too, need a Review of Books. I always thought the NYRB was a Jewish publication of course, but now there's an explicitly Jewish one; it's even called the Jewish Review of Books.

The first issue is just out, and online (I don't know how the publisher expects to make money), and has some interesting items. Yair Rosenberg, a student at Harvard who obviously gets all the insider jokes reviews Srugim, the popular Israeli non-response to Sex in the City. It's a different Harvard than it used to be. Shlomo Avineri, who could easily be the first reviewer's grandfather, reports on Dennis Ross and David Makovski's Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East. Avineri liked the book, but my synopsis of his synopsis is: There isn't much America can do about the Middle East, though it could make matters worse.

And then there's a review by one Azzan Yadin about a new English translation of the Bible, or rather, of the Mikraot Gedolot version of the Pentateuch. Yadin isn't gentle. He says the translation tries to make the texts simple and accessible to modern English readers, but they aren't: not simple, and not easily accessible. They need to be worked at to be appreciated. I recommend his review for the information it gives, but if you'd like to deal with the texts themselves, I'm sorry to report you'll have to read them in Hebrew, and you'll have to work at them.


Anonymous said...

inspired by your post I found for the first time a full list of content for the TLS of this week which has a Jewish section - now I wonder, do they have this section every week ?

JEWISH STUDIES 7 Martin Goodman Shlomo Sand The Invention of the Jewish People
Mitchell Cohen Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubinstein Israel and the Family
of Nations – The Jewish nation-state and human rights
Jordan Finkin Max Weinreich History of the Yiddish Language – Two volumes

Lee Ratner said...

Thanks for this Yaacov. I really liked the article that examines why Jews are not really prevalent in the fantasy genre and in fact try to avoid the genre. The article mainly focuses on why Christians or gentile Europeans in generally have been better at making fantasy than Jews but other gentile groups are better at fantasy than Jews to. The Chinese and the Japanese are great creators of fantasy.

I think the article over emphasizes the historical reasons. The main reasons for the lack of the Jewish presence in fantasy are most likely the theological reasons. Judaism used to have elaborate hierarchies of angels and demons and magical practices were important parts of Folk Judaism. The Rabbis were engaged in a war with Folk Judaism since the time the Talmud was put in its final form if not earlier. Eventually the Rabbis won and the Jewish imagination lost the necessary elements for Jewish fantasy.

Victor said...

Lee, if you consider comic books, cinema and television, American Jews are over-represented in the creation of fantasy. Isaac Asimov more compensates for any deficiencies in science fiction alone.

Regarding gentile Europeans being better at fantasy, what would have been had 6 million disproportionately literate European Jews lived?

Victor said...

One last point regarding "folk Judaism"... There is a difference between witchcraft and historical legend, and in the later, we are not deficient.

Open up the Torah Anthology (Me'am Lo'ez). The midrashim will more than satiate your proclivity to magic and mysticism.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

Putting together the English equivalent of a whole Mikraos Gedolos Chumash is a pretty staggering thing to do with any measure of success. I haven't looked at it, and Yadin could be exactly right, but I wouldn't write the project off after one bad review. The Steinsaltz Talmud got some scathing reviews.