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We Jews: Who Are We and What Should We Do Hardcover – March 30, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0787979157 ISBN-10: 0787979155 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Based in Jerusalem, Steinsaltz is an internationally influential rabbi who is best known for his prodigious project of translating and reinterpreting the Talmud. This book is a series of 12 essays, each attempting to answer a perplexing and formidable question: What are the implications of the Jewish capacity to identify with the surrounding culture? Why do Jews have no united leadership? Are Jews a nation, a religion, an ethnic group or a race? Do Jews have unique character traits? Why do Jews want to save the world? Are Jews too emotional or too intellectual? What does it mean to be the "chosen" people? How is it that Jews have made such impressive contributions to artistic and intellectual achievement? What is the basis for anti-Semitism? What will become of the Jewish people? Most of these questions will apply more to Diaspora Jews than to those living in Israel. The issues Steinsaltz identifies are tough conundrums that do not lend themselves to easy answers; he struggles valiantly but often vainly to come up with satisfactory solutions, suggesting that the value is in raising the questions, not necessarily in answering them. His elucidation of each subject demonstrates his profound erudition, not only enabling readers to see a great mind at work but also challenging them to seek their own resolution of the hard dilemmas that have been so clearly posed. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

Rabbi Steinsaltz is the author of 60 books, most of them dealing with Hasidic thought, kabbalah, and the Talmud. He writes in an introduction that the subjects explored in this book are matters that bother most Jews, especially those in the Diaspora. These issues include assimilation, a lack of united leadership and unity, and the question of Jewish identity. He discusses Jewish character traits and lies and misunderstandings regarding Jews and money, and he explores what he calls the Jewish Messiah complex, Jewish emotionalism and intellectualism, idolatry, their role in the world, their search for unifying principles, anti-Semitism, and the Jews' future. This scholarly study will prove invaluable to Jews attempting to understand their place in today's society after the Holocaust and to non-Jews seeking a better understanding of the Jewish people. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (March 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787979155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787979157
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #929,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz is a teacher, philosopher, social critic and prolific author who has been hailed by Time Magazine as a "once-in-a-millennium scholar."

He has devoted his life to making the Talmud accessible to all Jews. After a 45-year effort, Rabbi Steinsaltz completed a monumental elucidation of the entire Talmud in modern Hebrew, now used all over the world. Rabbi Steinsaltz then partnered with Koren Publishers Jerusalem to launch the Koren Talmud Bavli, a groundbreaking new edition of the Talmud which includes modern English translation, color illustrations and previously-censored passages.

Rabbi Steinsaltz has written 60 books and hundreds of articles, has established the Makor Chaim network of schools in Israel and the former Soviet Union, and holds several honorary degrees. He was born and lives in Jerusalem.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By L. Young VINE VOICE on April 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rabbi Steinsaltz's magnificent and brilliant book "The Thirteen Petalled Rose" is on my list of the ten most meaningful books I have ever read. So it was with great pleasure that I looked forward to reading his newest book, "We Jews". This book is far from the spirituality of "The Thirteen Petalled Rose". It seeks to answer practical Jewish questions such as 'do Jews have their own set of character traits', 'are we a nation or a religion' and 'are Jews excessively cold or excessively emotional'. Many of the answers to these questions seem to be generalizations that are incapable of proof, such as his belief that Jews inherently share character traits such as flexibility and adaptability, stubborness and persistence, individualism, intellectualism etc. His chapter on the Jews monistic perception of the world drawn from their monotheism and how it affected the work of Marx, Freud and Einstein is indeed fascinating. In the end Rabbi Steinsaltz pessimistically concludes that given the way Jews are living (i.e. the large degree of assimilation) will lead to their end as a people. He implies that perhaps there could be a slim hope for Jewish continuity in the building of 'a second center, comparable to, possibly better then the main center in Israel'. He never tells us the location of that center, but I assume it to be in America. He tells us Jewish continuity will require a lot of work, but never mentions with any specificity what that work looks like, and in the end that is the difficulty with this book. It is short on the details. Each chapter ends with questions by Arthur Kurzweil with whom Rabbi Steinsaltz worked on this book, followed by the rabbi's answers. In these sections too answers are never fully explored. The Q & A could have been fascinating.Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By westwind on November 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Steinstalz is the greatest living Talmud scholar, an Israeli born into a secular family, and a mystic and Kabbalist.

The two things that stick with me most from this book - or perhaps I'll expand that to a few things:
-he makes the argument that from the supposed 5 million Jews of the beginning of the CE, there should be 300 million from natural increase. Therefore the surviving 15 million descendents have undergone a tremendous selection pressure, both physical and mental, including those with the inner character and abilities to allow them to choose Judaism and survive. He then tries to list these inherited Jewish character traits. I will try and list them all below, but the one that struck me most was Individualism.

He has a whole chapter on the Messiah complex that leads Jews to try and save the world, which I certainly recognize within myself.

And he has very harsh words about the attempt to survive and continue as Jews for its own sake, if it is empty of Judaism and the Jewish mission to be a holy nation. His description of the Biblical injunction to be a nation of priests and a holy nation is stronger than anything I have read on the subject. He truly believes the essence of Jewish character, expressed or not, is to be a servant of God, and if we don't want to do this, we might as well give up.

one other point he made that I found very convincing: jews are not a race, nation or religion but a family. From a family, you can be estranged, you can betray...but you are never anything but a son or daughter. Jews are the children of God and of the patriarchs and matriarchs. We can betray our inner essence as well, but our inherited heritage cannot be erased either.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on May 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is a collection of a dozen essays, each of which can easily be read without reference to the others. The essays fall into three categories:

1. Some essays were, I think, very well thought out. I was especially impressed by his essay on Jews as a family, in which he points out that Jews are far too racially diverse to be a "race" in the conventional sense of the term, are too geographically scattered to be a conventional nation, and too ideologically diverse to be a conventional religion. Jewish ties are blood ties: one cannot easily leave the Jewish "family", and Jews say awful things to each other but can unite in response to threats. His essay on money explains why Jews were perceived to have money in Christian Europe; because Jews were often not allowed to be farmers, they were pushed into finance and thus handled money more than a farmer would.

2. Some essays were just preaching to the converted: reassertions of religious dogma that believers will agree with and skeptics will ignore (such as his essay asserting that Jews must be "priests to the world.")

3. Others didn't fit into either category but just weren't that persuasive: for example, he complains that Jews should somehow be more unified- but today, the most unified religion (Catholicism) appears to be stagnating in much of the world, while a bitterly divided Islam has the flexibility to mutate and to adapt to local conditions. If Judaism had a pope, would there really be more Jews? I doubt it. His essay on Jewish character traits is flatly self-contradictory: he asserts that Jews survive due to "flexibility" yet two pages later writes that Jews are "a stiff-necked people."

His pessimism in the last essay seems to contradict traditional Jewish theology: the tradition holds that a Messiah will set the world aright at the end of days, yet Steinsaltz despairs of Jewish survival.
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