Jews and Words
In Jews and Words, the novelist and literary critic Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger, an intellectual historian--both of whom call themselves "secular Jewish Israelis"--have produced an energetic brief to support their thesis that the foundation of Jewish continuity is "not a bloodline but a textline."
Their argument is rooted in their belief that "in order to remain a Jewish family, a Jewish family perforce relied on words. Not any words, but words that came from books." Even in families too poor to own the text themselves, they note, there was a reverence for the written word and a determination to "pass on to their progeny a written legacy, albeit in oral form." The most prominent example of this transmission method is the Passover seder, one of many such rituals.
In making their case, the authors display an impressive familiarity with a broad array of Jewish texts. But like many nonreligious Israelis, their knowledge isn't built on a foundation of faith; for them, the Bible is an engaging work simply because it is "full of geographical markers we recognize, natural imagery we adore, and vignettes of human nature we deeply admire."
Jews and Words may challenge casual readers, at least those unfamiliar with the many sources it considers. At the same time, it's brimming with such unsentimental affection for these texts and the role they've played in the survival of the Jewish people that those with any interest in the subject are likely to find themselves captivated and inspired by the authors' undisguised enthusiasm for their subject. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer