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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The wisest, most original and provocative book on the subject I have ever read. Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism by Dennis Prager & Joseph Telushkin (Touchstone) In this fully revised and updated edition of Why the Jews? authors Dennis Prager and Joseph Teluskin provide profound insights into one of the worlds most urgent mattersAntisemitismand explore the origins and continuing occurrence of hatred of the Jews. Prager, one of America s most respected thinkers, is a national syndicated radio talk show host & columnist. Telushkin, a rabbi and scholar and spiritual leader is a nationally recognized speaker.

Antisemitism is not going away. In fact, according to an April 2, 2003 article in The Wall Street Journal, hate crimes against Jews are on the rise several times greater than any other minority in America . In this major revision, Prager and Telushkin have rewritten much of the original text and have added chapters covering:

  • Why lies about Jews are so widely believed.
  • Why lies about Israel are so widely believed.
  • The unique hatred of the United States and Israel .
  • The phenomenon of Jews who are antisemites.

Prager and Telushkin draw on extensive historical research to reveal that antisemitism is not just another ethnic or racial prejudice. They reject the many reasons offered by scholars, such as economic factors, the need for scapegoats, and ethnic hatred. They argue that these reasons provoke but do not explain antisemitism. Instead, the authors explain that antisemitism is a reaction to Judaism and its distinctive values.

In a final chapter of Why the Jews?, entitled The Meaning of Antisemitism for NonJews, Prager and Telushkin show that antisemitism poses mortal danger to moral nonJews.

 The Rhetoric of Cultural Dialogue: Jews and Germans from Moses Mendelssohn to Richard Wagner and Beyond by Jeffrey S. Librett (Cultural Memory in the Present; Stanford University Press) In this groundbreaking work, the author effects the first extended rhetorical‑philosophical reading of the historically problematic relationship between Jews and Germans, based on an analysis of texts from the Enlightenment through Modernism by Moses Mendelssohn, Friedrich and Dorothea Schlegel, Karl Marx, Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. The theoretical underpinning of the work lies in the author's rereading, in terms of contemporary rhetorical theory, of the medieval tradition known as "figural representation," which defines the Jewish‑Christian relation as that between the dead, prefigural letter and the living, fulfilled spirit.

After arguing that the German Enlightenment ultimately plays out the historical phantasm of a necessary "Judaization" of Protestant rationality, the author shows that German Early Romanticism consists fundamentally in the attempt to solve the aporias raised by this impossible confrontation between Protestant spirit and Jewish letter. In readings of Dorothea Schlegel‑Mendelssohn's daughter‑and her husband Friedrich Schlegel, the author provides a new interpretation of the Neo‑Catholic turn of later German Romanticism. Further, he situates the proleptic end and reversal of the project of Jewish emancipation in the two extreme versions of late‑nineteenth century anti‑Judaism, those of Marx and Wagner, here viewed as binary concretizations of a specifically pos-Romantic paganized Protestantism.

Finally, the author argues that twentieth‑century Modernism as represented by Nietzsche and Freud renews, if in a multiply ironic displacement, the secret "Judaizing" tendencies of the Enlightenment. Fascism and Communism both denigrate this Modernism, which affirms the letter of language as quasi‑synonymous with the force of temporality‑or anticipatory repetition‑that disrupts all claims to the full presence of spirit. The book ends with a note on recent debates about Holocaust memory.


by David I. Kertzer


$26.00, hardcover, 350 pages, notes, bibliography, index


The story reads like a historical novel, but it is the account of an episode in real life written by a professor of anthropology and history at Brown University. The book is based on rigorous historical research and documentation, but it is written with the technique and style of a novelist.

BOLOGNA, 1858: A police posse, acting on the orders of a Catholic inquisitor, invades the home of a Jewish merchant, Momolo Mortara, wrenches his crying six-year-old son from his arms, and rushes him off in a carriage bound for Rome. His mother is so distraught that she collapses and has to be taken to a neighbor’s house, but her weeping can be heard across the city. With this terrifying scene—one that would haunt this family forever—David I. Kertzer begins his fascinating investigation of the dramatic kidnapping, and shows how the deep-rooted anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church would eventually contribute to the collapse of its temporal power in Italy.

As Edgardo’s parents desperately search for a way to get their son back, they learn why he—out of all their eight children—was taken. Years earlier, the family’s Catholic serving girl, fearful that the infant might die of an illness, had secretly baptized him (or so she claimed). Edgardo recovered, but when the story reached the Bologna Inquisitor, the result was his order for Edgardo to be seized and sent to a special monastery where Jews were converted into good Catholics. His justification in Church teachings: No Christian child could be raised by Jewish parents.

The case of Edgardo Mortara became an international cause celebre. Although such kidnappings were not uncommon in Jewish communities across Europe, this time the political climate had changed. As news of the family’s plight spread to Britain, where the Rothschilds got involved, to France, where it mobilized Napoleon III, and even to America, public opinion turned against the Vatican. The fate of this one boy came to symbolize the entire revolutionary campaign of Mazzini and Garibaldi to end the dominance of the Catholic Church and establish a modern, secular Italian state.

A riveting story that has been remarkably ignored by modern historians—THE KIDNAPPING OF EDGARDO MORTARA will prompt intense interest and discussion as it lays bare attitudes of the Catholic Church that would have such enormous consequences in the twentieth century.

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