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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A discussion about women, among much else
Neither Amos Oz, a famous Israeli novelist and literary scholar, nor his daughter Fania Oz-Salberger, a historian, authors of this informative book, believes in the existence of God. Their attachment to Judaism is cultural: "There is not a religious bone in our bodies." The Bible is a human creation, "breathtaking" and "splendid" literature.

Words, they write,...
Published on November 4, 2012 by Israel Drazin

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Bother!
I found the writing to be repetitive and very scattered. Hence the subject matter was difficult to follow. The book was chosen by our book club and all agreed that it was basically a waste of out time.
Published 6 months ago by Pals


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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A discussion about women, among much else, November 4, 2012
This review is from: Jews and Words (Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization) (Hardcover)
Neither Amos Oz, a famous Israeli novelist and literary scholar, nor his daughter Fania Oz-Salberger, a historian, authors of this informative book, believes in the existence of God. Their attachment to Judaism is cultural: "There is not a religious bone in our bodies." The Bible is a human creation, "breathtaking" and "splendid" literature.

Words, they write, are more important to Judaism than places and people. Their serious but frequently playful book, which will be released in November 2012, emphasizes education as the key element in Jewish culture. Jews, they say, have always insisted on educating their children from an early age. Despite frequent persecutions, Judaism is maintained by books that are taught and read in schools, family tables, and alone.

They discuss many subjects; "women" is one of them. In the biblical book "Song of Songs by Solomon," the Hebrew word translated "by" is asher. This word could mean "to" here, and the passage would read, "The song that I will sing to Solomon." This avoids the perplexing question: Is it reasonable to suppose that King Solomon wrote this love poem and two other books ascribed to him with different world views? True, Jewish sages say that he wrote one in his youth reflecting youthful interests, one in middle age, and one when he was old. But by understanding asher as "to," one can argue that this love poem, was composed by a woman expressing love to Solomon. This is one of many female contributions to Judaism.

The two highlight dozens of biblical instances where women play decisive roles. The prophetess Deborah, for example, had to encourage a male to lead the army against Israel's enemy, and he refused to go unless she joined him. It is also easy to see Eve being more proactive than her husband Adam.

True, those who prefer to set women in a second place position refer to their interpretation of Psalm 45:14, "All the glory of the king's daughter is within" - women belong at home - but these advocates read the passage out of context. The verse is speaking about the jewelry, clothes, and other precious items that Salomon's foreign brides, some princesses, brought with them to his kingdom when he married them. They had this rich "glory" at home. Besides, the Bible is teeming with examples of Israelite women outside the home and in the streets.

Another restriction placed on women by many ultra-Orthodox Jews is their insistence that women not sing in the presence of men because their voice is enticing. This claim, of course, says more about their problem than about women. There is no biblical rule forbidding men listening to female singing. Biblical figures didn't have this concern. II Samuel, for instance, states that Barzillai, a priest of King David, lamented that he is too old to enjoy female singing as he would like to do. Exodus reports that Moses' sister Miriam and other women sang, and Moses didn't insist that men to stuff their ears.

Oz and Oz-Salzberger analyze the lives of dozens of biblical women and show their praiseworthy strengths, such as Miriam who saved her brother Moses, while "her father and brother may have been out for a drink." They also tell how the biblical portrayal of women is far more positive than the disapproving depiction of ladies in Greek mythology and theater. They show the need for ultra-Orthodox Jews to return to biblical Judaism.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One negative thing about this book, one highly positive thing, a number of lesser positive things, April 16, 2013
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I have one negative thing to say about this book, one highly positive thing, a number of lesser positive things.

The negative thing is about the prose. I have read in translation most of what Amos Oz has written, and his prose seems to me, as it comes through the translations of Nicholas de Lange, exquisitely courteous to the reader. It is free of rhetoric and tries to make its meaning as easy to understand as possible. It is like the language of Primo Levi or Alberto Moravia, as their Italian prose comes into English. The definition of great writing as an effort to strip away artistic pretension in order to reveal an underlying truth comes ultimately from Tolstoy. The main difference between Oz and such literary ancestors is that Oz's prose has more irony, much of it playful, which I take to be an aspect of modern Israeli culture. Reading Oz has always been a pleasure for me, both for the ideas and the language.

So I was surprised that the prose of this book was so rhetorical. The authors, Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger (father and daughter), wrote it in English, which is not their native language. Some of the prose is purple, suited more to the 19th century than ours:

"Trading dusty wisdoms for sweet sin and sour uncertainties. Embarking on ships to new worlds saddled with guilt and longing. Yiddish clung to their necks like a heartbroken mother."

Maybe this is tongue-in-cheek, but more likely it shows that no matter how erudite you are, it is risky to write in a foreign language. It is also a failure of editing. I particularly disliked the use of a rhetorical device called "polysyndeton" (and...and...and) which to me sounds like a poorly educated politician trying to whip up a crowd:

"This is where Heine belongs, and Sigmund Freud, and Franz Kafka, and Walter Benjamin, and Else Lasker- Schüler."

The very positive thing I want to say about this book is that the main idea, their definition of what it is to be a Jew, was a dazzling revelation to me. Judaism is not a theology, for whatever theology it has is that of a primitive tribe. It is not a race, because there is little certainty that the ancestors of someone calling himself or herself a Jew include pastoralists in the hill country of Israel and Palestine three thousand years ago. It is not an identification with a place, or with a civilization or even a belief in God, for Oz and Oz-Salzberger are atheists, but still think of themselves a Jews.

The core of Judaism, according to Oz and Oz-Salzberger, is a dedication to the transmission of learning from one generation to another through formal discussions about the meanings of texts. This reverence towards books, and the transmission of this reverence, defines what it means to be a Jew. The tradition of parents transmitting knowledge and texts to children, such as rabbis to students in yeshivas, is ancient, and something similar is perhaps found in most groups which call themselves Jewish. It is a common theme in Jewish literature and in Israeli film. This definition of Judaism, obvious once presented, had never occurred to me.

Other things I liked about this book were the discussion of the origin and characteristics of modern Hebrew, the origin of the word and the concept of "Judaism" (which seems to have been a 19th century German invention), the compendium of Jewish jokes at the end of the book and a variety of miscellaneous facts: that the mezuzah which Jews sometimes put on the doorways to their houses comes from Persia, and the phrase "people of the book" comes from the Quran.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "All you have to be is a reader.", December 15, 2012
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Oz maintains that the continuum of the Jews has always depended on the "intergenerational transmittal of verbal content." He sees the basis of Judaism as the conversation of pairs. In this case he builds this essay on a conversation with his daughter, a scholar in her own right. Oz has placed himself as a secular Jew and implies he belongs to the brotherhood of the "faith-losing orphan's cry into the void of paternal absence." Knowing Oz's history in the Holocaust, one need not wonder further on the source of his orphanhood. Yet this essay is a love story to the people of the book. As a reader he ranks himself as a reader of the Bible, a magnificent work of literature. As a Jew, he seats himself of those men who argued and questioned the word of the Lord in order to see its truth more clearly. This is a wonderful essay.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Words for Jews and others, January 23, 2013
This review is from: Jews and Words (Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization) (Hardcover)
This book is not only for Jews but also for all who want to better understand them. It is scholarly and essayistic, playful, witty and thought provoking. It opens with a great line. Jewish history is "not a bloodline but a text line". It shows that throughout their history Jews struggled with the religious texts, always interpreting, criticizing, questioning and debating them. Unlike Christians Jews do not praise the "innocent child" but the learned child. Even atheist Jews do not discount their religious texts easily but sometimes become "Atheists of the book", meaning that for them "the book" can still have a special importance over all other books. It shows that the author of parts of the bible, especially the Song of Songs was probably a woman. It explains the essential role of teachers and parents in preserving the Jewish words and the essential role of having meals together and read. "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat". And they also show that in the Jewish tradition they question everything. At the end they write: "Please do not take everything to heart, it's not healthy for you. Hot er gesogt. It is just words." Jews and Words (Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization)
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Words Matter, December 6, 2012
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Amos Oz, an exceptional writer shines his brightest in fiction. Conceptually Jews and Words is outstanding but it didn't translate well in print (words). It was vague and undefined with sparse documentation leaving me with little take away and uncertain at times as to its central thesis. Nevertheless, the book is thought provoking, opening portals for Jewish humanists and secularists in search for Jewish meaning.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous, regardless of one's religious beliefs, February 22, 2013
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This review is from: Jews and Words (Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization) (Hardcover)
This is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. It is beautifully written, deeply thought out, stimulating, and in parts, quite funny. If you want to learn about one of history's most fascinating puzzles; How have the Jewish people, dispersed throughout the world for more than four millenia, have managed to sustain a strong identity as Jews, while constantly disputing even the most fundamental issues of religion, e.g. is there a God, and if so, what does he do, why, and does it matter? On almost every page, I either learned something new to me, or had to stop to rethink something i thought I knew or understood. To me, that' about the best definition of a book worth reading as I can think of.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ethos, and Benefits of, Teaching, December 19, 2012
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Offers an intimate look at teaching inside the family, at school, and between the Rabbi and his/her congregants. While oriented toward the Jewish culture, this is a non-religious book, a point stressed by the authors more than once. One can gain insights into how this culture has perpetuated some of its core values in the face of historically unrelenting pressures of all kinds – from cooptation and assimilation to marginalization to ostracism and separation to extermination. Highly recommended for all as a way of gaining understanding and appreciation for one set of mechanics about cultural survival.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, April 26, 2013
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This review is from: Jews and Words (Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization) (Hardcover)
Beautifully written with well established historically proven arguments. Must reading for anyone interested in the evolution of a people and how to survive for thousands of years.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No, but yes, November 5, 2014
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As an atheist with some ties to my past, I like this book as it makes a tremendous amount of sense to me:it allows me more latitude and comfort in rejecting so much of what I grew up in and doing, and by making a choice to become a rabbi. Not that this is a sinecure. It still makes intellectual demands I am not ready to agree with completely. But the book has examples that ring true.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I love the dialogue and amazing historical backgrounds brought forth through ..., October 16, 2014
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This review is from: Jews and Words (Paperback)
this is not the kind of book one can read straight through. Though it is only about 200 pages, every page has food for thought and takes lots of brain work. I love the dialogue and amazing historical backgrounds brought forth through the words of the father and daughter-using Talmud, Bible and common sense
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Jews and Words (Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization)
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