Jewish People, Jewish Thought

The Jewish Experience in History


As its title, Jewish People, Jewish Thought: The Jewish Experience in History, suggests, Robert Seltzer’s book treats not only the events of Jewish history but also the development of Jewish thought. Seltzer has produced a substantial, rewarding, and demanding book. But the reader must come to it prepared for intellectual effort. This is a book to be studied and not merely read.

The dual emphasis in the book on Jewish events and thought is a successful attempt on Seltzer’s part to provide an introductory survey which is “at the same time an account of a people and a religion” (p. xi). A people, a religion, a culture, a language, a scripture, a law, a set of ceremonies, a pattern of conduct—one could multiply such terms and still not exhaust the tradition of Judaism. Seltzer offers a rich and rewarding discussion of these and other topics as well. Instead of trying to isolate his subject and its concerns, Seltzer shows how Judaism developed by interaction with its environment. He emphasizes the “reciprocal influence” (p. x) between Jewish and non-Jewish elements in history. Religion, philosophy, politics, economics, geography, military strategy—all of these played a role in shaping and directing the course of Jewish history. The breadth of Seltzer’s book is impressive and important. Because it traces the development of one of the two fundamental sources of Western civilization (the other, of course, being the Greek heritage), this book will give any reader a perspective on Western history as a whole.


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