Judaism

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Judaism

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Salo Wittmayer Baron - читать все обзоры этого автора

ƒата добавлени€: Sunday 30 May, 2010

5 of 5 Stars!

The Russian translation of the late Professor Isidore Epstein's JUDAISM will fill a major lacuna in the existing Russian scholarly and educational literature about the historic evolution of the Jewish
faith.

For the last seven decades Soviet Jewry has been deprived of any significant new contributions in this field. At first, the Russian regime, still rather sympathetic to its Jewish minority, tolerated, occasionally even promoted, research relating to modern Jewish history and contemporary affairs. But these were principally concerned with socioeconomic developments in accordance with the regnant materialistic conception of history. Even the few biblical studies published at that time stressed these secular, rather than religious aspects, since all religions were to be discouraged as "opiates" for
the masses.

In the last forty years, however, even these limited studies, along with all other aspects of Jewish culture, were increasingly repressed. For more than a generation the voice of the Jewish people in the Soviet Union was completely muted; it found fewer and fewer outlets for its intellectual curiosity concerning its own heritage. Schools, theatres, the press, and almost all synagogues were closed down, leaving but a remnant of the once flourishing, truly creative cultural life of the Jewish population. Under these circumstances the overwhelming majority of the Jews living in the Soviet Union -including the residents of the former Baltic states and eastern Poland which, before 1939, had for many generations been the arena of intensive Jewish life and included great foci of Jewish learning -have found themselves increasingly deprived of the most elementary tools of learning anything about their religious heritage. The governmental attitude is well illustrated by three successive editions of the semi-official LARGE SOVIET ENCYCLOPAEDIA. In the first 1932 edition of that voluminous work, there appeared a lengthy article on Jews (EVREI; XXIV, 14-121). It was followed by some 44 columns dealing with Jewish literature, anti-Jewish pogroms in Tsarist Russia, the Jewish Question, and so forth. Even here, however, the section on the "Jewish religion" occupied only 2 columns (141-43). In contrast, the second edition, published in 1952, devoted only 4 columns to "Jews", supplementing them by another 4 columns devoted to the Jewish autonomical region, Biro-Bidzhan (XV, pp. 377-79,379-82). The third
edition of 1972 disposed of the entire treatment of "Jews" in 2 columns and all other aspects of Jewish life in additional 11 columns (IX-14). Exeptfor few derogatory asides, the last two editions had nothing to say about the Jewish faith.

In practice, too, Jews were increasingly deprived of books, particularly textbooks, giving them information about their ancestral religion. No Jewish translation of the Bible was allowed to appear in the Soviet Union, while, for example, the Baptist denomination was given permission in 1957 to issue 10,000 copies of a Protestant Bible. In 1952, one author of a textbook on ancient history could go to the extreme of totally ignoring ancient Israel, although hardly anyone could deny its tremendous impact on world civilization. Instead, readers, including Jews, were regaled with publications such as Trqfim K. Kitchko's YUDAIZM BEZ PRIKAS Judaism Without Embellishment -a crude propaganda tract, in its entirety devoted to the denigration of the Jewish tradition. By publishing this book under its auspices, the Ukrainian Academy of Science gave to its polemical tirades an official stamp of approval. Despite the ensuing storm of indignation by the world scholarship, Kitchko, after some hesitation by the authorities, was enabled five years later to publish another equally scurrilous study, YUDAISM I SIONIZM, trying to equate both with the racist doctrines ofNazism.

The overhelming majority of Jews who had grown up under Soviet rule thus had but few opportunities to acquaint themselves with the fundamentals of their ancestors' life and thought. This deplorable situation has been vividly demonstrated to world Jewry outside the Iron Curtain by the arrival in its midst of scores of thousand of Russian Jewish emigres wholly unfamiliar with Jewish beliefs, customs, and ways of life, which, for more than two thousand years, had been the mainstay of the Jewish minorities living among various, often unfriendly, nations. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the present translation will serve as an eye-opener to a great many of these new citizens of Israel, America, and, or, other lands. Nor is the possibility to be excluded that copies of this work will become available to many interested Jews and non-Jews in the Soviet Union, if its regime will live up to its international agreement in Helsinky. No one was better qualified to write such a succinct and yet comprehensive textbook on the spiritual evolution of the Jewish people from biblical times to the twentieth century than the late Professor Epstein. Himself a native of Kovno, he had left Russia before the First World War and received his main education in Pressburg (Bratislava) and in England. By serving for several years as a practising rabbi, and later, as a principal of Jews' College, the main institution of Jewish higher learning and rabbinic training in the British Commonwealth, he had ample opportunities for observing, and participating in, the various movements in twentieth-century Jewish life. At the same time a well-trained historian and rabbinic thinker, he has made significant scholarly contributions to various aspects of Jewish history and literature. A place of honour among his outstanding contributions must be assigned to the accurate and well annotated English translation of the Babylonian Talmud which, prepared under his general editorship, appeared in 35 volumes in 1935-52. It has made this classic of the Jewish religion acessible to a vast reading public, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the Western world. The present volume of JUDAISM,first published in 1959, and his various articles in the ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, and other widely read reference works, well summarized the fruits of his researches over a lifetime, and made them available to millions of readers. It is to be hoped, indeed, that the present translation will help to enlighten a great many Russian readers about the true nature of Judaism.

Salo Wittmayer Baron
Professor
Columbia University,
New-York
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