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What shall I do with this people? was Moses' exasperated question to God in Sinai, and it is posed once more in Milton Viorst's searching account of the crisis in Judaism today. Not since the destruction of the Second Temple, argues Viorst, have Jews displayed such intolerance toward one another or battled so fiercely over ideology. And these battles are not just intellectual exercises; they exact a fearsome price in today's Middle East.
Framed by the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Orthodox extremist - an unprecedented outburst of violence among Jews - the book examines how religious leaders through the centuries have shaped Judaism to serve their own political ends, often with disastrous consequences.
Viorst vigorously critiques Orthodox Judaism's doctrines concerning territory in the Holy Land as well as on marriage, divorce, conversion, and women's rights, contending that religious law often departs from the teachings of the Torah and has, in fact, changed over time to perpetuate rabbinic power. In recent decades, he believes, the Orthodox rabbinate has grown so intransigently political that its ideas have sundered the Jewish people, challenging their identity and, perhaps, threatening their very existence.
What Shall I Do With This People? is both a meticulously researched history and a bracing commentary. Disturbed by the impact of intolerance on Jewish politics and society, Milton Viorst calls for an end to violence in the name of Judaism and offers a stirring plea for mutual understanding among what the Old Testament God called "a stiff-necked people." Amid the heat and noise of the Middle East conflict, his is a lucid, compelling, and necessary voice.
From noted student of Mideast affairs and New Yorker correspondent Viorst (In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam, 1998, etc.), a charged warning that the greatest danger facing the state of Israel is the "causeless hatred" of internal disunity. That disunity is by no means new, allows Viorst: his very title comes from Moses' complaint to God in Sinai about his ungovernable charges, and Viorst repeats at several points the biblical denunciation of the "stiff-necked" quality that "seems to have remained a part of Jewish nature . . . [and] has perpetuated needless conflict among Jews, when a bit of flexibility would have had better results." In his account, this inflexibility has colored discussions about the nature and workings of the Jewish state from even before the time of Herzl; it particularly marks the relation of the ultra-Orthodox faction within Israel with secular Jews who are more amenable to making "Halachic adjustments to the shifting demands of modernity" and even inclined to separate affairs of church and state. Sometimes lethal struggles between adaptationists and rejectionists, pragmatists and idealists, and hard-liners of every stripe have crippled the ability of the Israeli state to govern effectively, Viorst suggests. A particular difficulty, in his view, is the growing insistence of the ever more powerful Orthodox leadership that "the Jewish state, of which it deeply disapproves, serve as arbiter of disputes within Judaism," making of a secular democracy a counterpart to the Vatican that would sit in judgment over matters such as the Jewishness of Conservative and Reform converts (who, some members of the Orthodox leadership hold, are by definition members of heretical sects) and the impiety of surrendering Jewish lands to Gentiles-as the Oslo Accords demand, and in punishment for which one of the ultra-Orthodox took it upon himself to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin. These apocalyptic disputes, born of religious extremism, are "tearing apart our four-thousand-year-old civilization," argues Viorst sadly, and most effectively. (Kirkus Reviews)
|Introduction: My Synagogue, Your Synagogue||p. 1|
|Building a Nation, Losing a State|
|Moses versus God||p. 21|
|Making and Losing a State||p. 41|
|Deposing the Priests||p. 65|
|Adjusting to Exile|
|The Halacha Contract||p. 87|
|Messianic Illusions||p. 115|
|The Revolution of Reform||p. 137|
|The Turbulence of Return|
|Seeking Divine Refuge||p. 161|
|Chosen People, Chosen Territory||p. 187|
|God, Witness to Madness||p. 213|
Number Of Pages: 287
Published: 31st October 2002
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 12.6 x 2.6
Weight (kg): 0.131