By Adam Kirsch for Tablet Magazine
In a landmark new translation, Robert Alter revives the literary power of a Hebrew masterpiece
The Bible is a refractory book, never behaving quite as we expect it to. Indeed, much of the creativity of Jewish tradition has been devoted to harmonizing the actual Bible with Judaism’s changing expectations of what it should be. The rabbinic genre of midrash tries to make sense of the text’s many narrative contradictions and ethical perplexities. The Talmud assumes that every word in the Torah is there to teach a point of halacha, while Maimonides insisted that the Bible actually teaches the same truths as Greek philosophy, though it uses an allegorical method that can easily mislead the ignorant. And the mystical Zohar, written in medieval Spain, says that if all there were to the Torah were its surface meaning, it would be easy to write a better book: It is only the hidden, esoteric content of the Torah that makes it sacred.
By Lesléa Newman for Jewish Book Council
“The world is made of stories, / Not of atoms” the poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote. All of us are made of stories: stories we’ve heard, stories we’ve read, stories we’ve made up, stories we’ve experienced, stories that come to us in dreams. Like Russian matryoshka dolls, there are stories and stories and stories nesting inside each of us just waiting to be born.
By Sandee Brawarsky for The Jewish Week
‘I Never Dreamt That I Was The (Family) Secret’
Dani Shapiro’s Connecticut home has sepia portraits of her late father as a child and members of his distinguished Orthodox family on the walls, photographs she has known all of her life. These faces have, in silence, supported her, spoken to her, even comforted her. Her identity is stamped by theirs.
By Amy Klein for Hadassah Magazine
In the epic Gateway to the Moon: A Novel, Mary Morris follows seven generations of the de Torres family from 15th-century Spain to the hills of New Mexico in 1992. The saga connects the thread between the conversos and their descendants—poor, simple Catholics practicing strange traditions whose origins they no longer remember and who are beset with a yearning they don’t understand.
By Amy Spungen for Jewish Book Council
Kim Sherwood’s debut novel, Testament, tells the story of a young woman whose beloved grandfather dies, triggering her quest to find the truth of his past. A Jewish native of Budapest, Joseph Silk is forever changed by the Holocaust, and the effects of his experience and the choices he makes afterward weave together themes of survival, betrayal, forgiveness, and the redemptive power of art. Sherwood recently answered some questions about her novel.
Amy Spungen: Kim, Testament focuses on the experience of Jews in Central Europe, especially Hungary, during the Holocaust. Can you tell us why you chose this geographic area? Is this story personal for you?
Kim Sherwood: My paternal grandmother is a Hungarian Jewish survivor, and she lived with us in London while I was growing up. We’ve always been very close, but she only began talking about her experiences a few years ago. I wanted some way to understand what she went through, so I began researching the Holocaust in Hungary. The novel grew from there.
By Bridget Kevane for Tablet Magazine
Emerging writer Hannah Lillith Assadi, daughter of a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father, finds a home in the desert of the American Southwest
When writer Thomas McGuane told me about Hannah Lillith Assadi—“I’m presenting an award to a remarkable first novelist, a young woman from Arizona whose mother is Jewish and whose father is Palestinian!”—I was captivated. What, I wondered, was it like being raised by a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father? How did they choose to raise their daughter? What were discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like at the dinner table? How did their relationship survive the first intifada? The second? Syria? What insight could Assadi contribute to the conflict?
By The Scroll for Tablet Magazine
Some 2018 reading you might have missed to catch up on in the year ahead
A few weeks ago we offered a neat, numbered list of the “Tablet Top 10: An entirely subjective list, presented in no particular order, of our 10 favorite articles from Tablet’s Arts & Culture and News & Politics sections in 2018.“
That was the formal affair; ‘entirely subjective’ yes, but, nevertheless, presented with all the prestige and institutional authority of the Tablet imprimatur. Today, in a rather more impulsive and personal manner, The Scroll offers some ad hoc recommendations of its own from outside the Tablet universe.
By Bram Presser for Jewish Book Council
In the not-too-distant future, the Holocaust will have passed from living memory. There will be no survivors left to tell us of the horrors they endured, or the triumph of survival, or even the mundane minutiae that is so rarely acknowledged. What they will have left behind is, of course, extraordinary. In volume. In breadth. In depth. Countless words, many of them assembled into great works of literature, others into more modest efforts, written down so that their families might know. Thousands upon thousands of hours of audio and video testimony, pictures, diagrams, photos, ephemera of the most varied kinds. Soon, however, it will all begin to gather dust, to fade into history. It will become a setting, a context, just like every other historical catastrophe.