The Week’s Reading List
In Queen Esther’s Garden: An Anthology of Judeo-Persian Literature
A lot of reading this week. First, a book on Judaeo-Persian literature. There turns out to be a remarkable amount with an impressive level. Interesting is the parallel with other Western literature. A translation of the Bible by Shahin the greatest of the Judaeo Persian authors (1300s) starts with a story about the origin of the devil in a rebellious angel (shades of Paradise Lost), a great sequence latter in which Jacob figures out that his sons aren’t coming clean with him about what happened to Joseph including a sequence with him interrogating the wolf accused. Also a piece by Imrani (14-1500s), echoing Dante’s Inferno, with graphic accounts of the various sinners suffering in hell—not as clearly connected with specific targets. I can’t imagine that we won’t be hearing more about this. Though there is some relatively modern stuff including from Bukhara the golden age apparently ended with persecutions starting in the 1500s. I can’t imagine that we won’t be hearing more about this.
Difficult Question in Polish-Dialogue
Then an American Jewish Committee volume on Jewish Polish relations – lots of high level participants on both sides but intentionally not an academic explorations of the details. This deals with the complex nature of the hundreds of years of Jewish Polish relations – but particularly the last fifty years of it. There is Polish anti-Semitism – and at times especially in the late 1930s it was a strong if always a minority element in the complex politics and culture – and of course complemented by the extreme diversity of Jewish responses to Polish politics and modernity. This book is not the place for that but mostly for consideration of what is the impoverished state of present Jewish Polish relations primarily in Poland.
In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language
Then a history of the evolution of the Hebrew language by a linguist who teaches at the Reform Seminary HUC. Joel M. Hoffman, In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language. Very interesting. He intentionally avoids a scholarly style – clearly used to lecturing to lay audiences. But it makes clear both how little we know about pre-modern Hebrew and the amount of linguistic, though not so much content change that has occurred over the years. But precisely because of its lay orientation he explains at some length the nature of what evidence we have. Final discussion of both the choices Eliezer Ben Yehuda made in reviving the Hebrew language and the extent to which the language has changed from his revival in colloquial usage – not surprisingly a lot of Slavic language features have been adopted. New York: NYU University Press, 2004.
Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945
Then a book by someone named Neill Lochery on Lisbon during the Second World War –probably more sympathetic to Salazar than one would like but judicious. Interesting detail, the leading banker and associate of his who was suspected of pro-German affiliations had a Jewish origin wife from Gibraltar, in fact the Espirito Sancto family have Cohen all over their names. Since this is a Jewish publication, I should add that Jews are not the focus, though they are referred to. Especially interesting since the author is a scholar of the Middle East.
Also a copy of Jewish Currents – the merged product of the old Jewish Communists ultimate descendents (in fact the journal makes clear how many of its readers are their descendents in a literal sense) and the anticommunist Social Democratic Bund, “A Progressive, Secular Voice.” Interesting stuff – though the ex-Communists seem to be the dominant voice – maybe because many of the ex Bundists are all now connected with Commentary. As you may remember the present Jewish Currents is a mixed marriage of the two reflecting the declining constituency of both.
Thomas Timberg is an economic consultant who has worked and lived in many countries around the world focussing on processes connected with economic development . More information is available on his website – www.timberg.us as well as the website of Nathan Associates with which he worked for many years and is associated.