From Publishers Weekly
Wiesel sketches familiar biblical, talmudic and Hasidic panoramas, then asks questions about the personalities that people them. His compelling portraits focus on disturbing episodes and character flaws, drawn with an unexpected zing that brings fresh perspective to these time-worn but timeless texts. Why did Lot's wife look back? To Wiesel, that's more understandable than why Lot did not: "for at times one must look backward lest one run the risk of turning into a statue. Of stone? No: of ice." The stories "continue to guide and enlighten us" in facing incomprehensible events and contemporary challenges. His "wise men" include the expected (Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Saul and Samuel), but also others rarely discussed (the prophets Isaiah and Hosea, and Talmudic sages like Rabbi Tarfon). His two Hasidic sketches are less successful and seem out of place in the context of the book, and the title is misleading, for Wiesel also considers "wise women" like Sarah, Hagar and Miriam. Wiesel's dramatic narratives are bolstered by generous helpings of midrash, commentary and a sense of humor. He raises the human, social, psychological, religious and historical dimensions of each conflict and character, but integrates them in a seamless way so they do not feel like the lectures they are originally delivered at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y and Boston University. It's a treat to see how Wiesel's mind works, to be privy to his literary wisdom, his insights into human character, his narrative directness and self-admitted lack of answers.
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Wiesel has written other books on this subject: Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle against Melancholy
(1978), Five Biblical Portraits
(1981), and Sages and Dreamers: Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic Portraits and Legends
(1991). In his latest book of prophetic warnings, midrashic stories, Rashi's interpretations, and Hasidic tales, Wiesel offers 19 commentaries and insights collected over the course of many years. There are such biblical personalities as Lot's wife, Aaron, Miriam, Ishmael, Gideon, Samson, Saul, Isaiah, and Hoshea. The section related to the Talmud concerns the lives of four sages, and there are two essays on the subject of Hasidism and the world of the shtetl. The book is a written version of lectures given in recent years at the 92d Street Y in New York and at Boston University. Their themes include the godliness within our lives, devotion to God, despair and renewal, the essence and function of prophecy, and understanding despair, guilt, and innocence--in essence, a search for timeless values and truth, a work of profound wisdom and understanding. Expect demand from his numerous fans and even new readers interested in the topic. George CohenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved