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The Sacred Chain: The History of the Jews Hardcover – November, 1994

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 472 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; 1st edition (November 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060167467
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060167462
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,835,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Full of unorthodox opinions, Cantor's searching, critical, captivating history of the Jewish people is bound to be controversial. He deems the biblical account of Jewish origins, featuring Abraham and Moses, "a romantic fantasy" in light of historical and archeological research. In chapters rich in sociological insight, he discusses the fate of Jews in the Roman empire and medieval Christendom; the symbiotic interaction of Jews and Muslim Arabs in Spain and the Mediterranean; the "Jewish Reformation" undertaken by Hasidism, Kabbalism and other movements; European Jews' emancipation and their key role in the vanguard of cultural modernism; the Holocaust and the creation of Israel. Building on the work of David Wyman and other historians, he indicts American Jewry for failure to take action that might have mitigated the Holocaust. Cantor, a prolific historian and professor at New York University, sets the achievements of Jesus, Maimonides, Buber, Spinoza, Freud and others in the context of Jewish and world history. Contemporary American Jews may be committing "racial suicide by intermarriage," opines Cantor; nevertheless, he maintains, "the Jews have fulfilled their role in history" by giving the world monotheism and puritanical ethics, and spawning Christianity and Islam.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this one-volume, popularly oriented history of the Jewish people from ancient times to the present, Cantor (history, New York Univ.) states that the "sacred chain," i.e., the 3000-year-old continuity of the Jewish people, probably will be broken during the next century. The Jews have accomplished their purpose in history. They gave the world ethical monotheism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Down through the ages this extremely gifted people has contributed mightily to the storehouse of the world's knowledge in the sciences, arts, and humanities. Now, Cantor says, unless a miracle occurs, they are a dying, fossilized people who will eventually disappear through massive assimilation. Of course, many Jews and Gentiles will hotly debate Cantor's thesis, and this book should generate much discussion. If your collection lacks a new history of the Jews, this book is the ticket. Recommended for medium and large Judaica collections in public libraries.
Robert A. Silver, formerly with Shaker Heights P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By G. Mogel on February 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
I found this book riveting, and the personal, narrative style of Dr. Cantor's writing addictive. I'm no scholar so I can't criticize Dr. Cantor for misinterpreting the Caballah, or incorrectly tracing the lineage of Esther. While at times, this free-ranging book wanders into areas of opinion that don't seem entirely relevant to Jewish history, these wanderings were a very small price to pay to hear this powerful and deeply learned voice.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
This stimulating and provocative book will irritate a large number of its Jewish readers both through its contents and probably also through its manner. The book's title, to begin with, is misleading if it suggests that there is a central tradition which runs through the History of the Jews. The title of one of the chapters, "Jewish Diversity" corresponds more closely with the theme of the work; but few of those diversities escape without some reprimand from Professor Cantor, Judaism's "candid friend". Thus the orthodox rabbinate is repeatedly criticized for erecting, from Hellenic times onwards, a high barrier between Judaism and the more advanced cultures surrounding them: Jews must bear some responsibility for ghettoization, for to an extent they ghettoized themselves. On the other hand, he refers several times to Emancipation as a Faustian bargain; and the efforts of Reform rabbis in the 19th and 20th centuries to promote acculturation without assimilation are described as "feeble and inconsequential". The "marvellous varieties of Jewish responses [to the modern world] which have so enriched Western culture" are due to the fact that orthodox and reform rabbis alike have failed to provide adequate intellectual leadership. Only a few Jewish religious thinkers - like Martin Buber, Gershom Sholem, Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig - have, in Professor Cantor's view, made an effort which could compare to the attempts of Catholic theologians to meet the challenges of modernity.

Cantor is throughout illuminating on Jewish historiography, and he frequently takes issue with its one-sided view of Jewish History. Thus Graetz is criticized for being "insensitive to the Christian side of the story".
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32 of 40 people found the following review helpful By zonaras on March 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
SACRED CHAIN is a fun book to read for anyone interested in history, and especially the influence that religion and economics has had in it. The book is very well written and surprisingly lucid and easy to follow, not a single part of it was uninteresting. What the SACRED CHAIN represents is the pure, unmitigated view of Establishment history. There are few in the sea as hypocritical as this fish. Cantor's analysis and summary of 3,000 years of Jewish history is interpreted in only two ways: Marx's dialectic materialism and whether or not a social movement, religion, government, etc. was beneficial to the Jews economically.
Cantor explains everything in Marxist terms--that all events and ideas in history are shaped by an individual's or group's economic status. And anything is good as long as it helped the Jews in general. Communist leader Trotsky/Bronstein is lauded as being an avenger of the Jews upon the peasants of the pro-Czarist Christians of the Ukraine. But earlier on, it is acknowledged that these peasants actually had legitamate grievances against Jews in the region that provoked a pogrom in earlier centuries. Another example is where Cantor praises Jewish anthropologist Franz Boas as being the foremost propagator of the idealogy that all races and cultures of mankind are equal, but on the next page Cantor goes on about the Jews' "superior genes," and his belief that "Jews have to be better than everyone else." Cantor is in constant awareness of "anti-Semitism," and references to the Holocaust can be found on every page. He even accuses the authors of the New Testament Gospels of being hatemongers who would have had no problem if their writings inspired the Holocaust.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Thinkerthinker on December 28, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've read a lot of history, including history of the Jewish people, and this book is one of the best. Nuanced, honest, courageous.Cantor begins his book with his intention, saying that the field of Jewish history must, and is, maturing beyond a "victimization/celebratory" one. Cantor, as a true historian, looks at Jewish history with its highlights--and its lowlights--as is true of the history of any people. A truly refreshing, fascinating study of where the Jewish people come from and to where they may be going, asking deep and relevant questions in the final chapter. Cantor's writing is excellent as well, thoroughly enjoyable.
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