Letters, Spring 2021

Of Ballads and Baloney, The Singer or the Song?, The American Question, Against Artichokes, and More


Sharansky’s Exodus

Witnessing the modern exodus of Jews from Ethiopia to Israel—different than his own but no less stirring—reminded Sharansky of what he’d told himself in his darkest days in prison: “Your history did not begin with your birth or with the birth of the Soviet regime. You are continuing an exodus that began in Egypt. History is with you.”

Cynthia Ozick’s Art and Ardor

Reading is a blessing and a curse in Ozick’s world, a gateway to heightened emotion and new experience and also a maze of cruel tricks and dead ends. Allegra Goodman reviews her latest novel.

Life in Learning

The special relationship between Jews and learning has been endlessly documented. Yet these investigations have largely overlooked the textual communion that transubstantiates books and learning into the body and blood of Jewish experience.

Return without Returning

In Micah Goodman’s new book, The Wondering Jew, he argues that Israeli Jews should develop a relationship with Jewish tradition that falls somewhere between strict adherence and total abandonment.

Between Literalism and Liberalism

While literalism is intellectually untenable and liberalism is numerically imperiled, many Jews find that what they believe cannot be transmitted, and what can be effectively transmitted they cannot believe.

Screwball Tragedy

Picture a Jewish town, located deep in a Polish forest, that hasn’t received so much as a postcard from the outside world in more than a century. Max Gross conjured it up The Lost Shtetl: A Novel, and the result is both screwball and serious.

From Venice to Harlem

Faced with a bewildering variety of uses for the word “ghetto,” Daniel B. Schwartz performs marvels of clarification in steering the reader through the labyrinthian twists, turns, and hidden alleyways that mark this terminological odyssey.

And the Heart Is Forever Broken

Amid the ferment of interwar Poland, two opposite motions guided Jews who followed the sometimes blinding torches that lit the way toward modern culture. The first surged outward. The second traveled inward.

Time Ticks Away in Portugal

Tens of thousands of Jews made their way into Portugal in waves between the fall of France in 1940 and the end of World War II. The ordeals Marion Kaplan depicts were not terribly long, but to the people who endured them, they often seemed endless.

The Beginning of Politics

Leon Kass hadn't really read the Bible until he found himself teaching Genesis to freshmen at the University of Chicago. Three decades later, he published his widely acclaimed The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis. Now he’s published his commentary on Exodus.


Lost & Found

Moshkeleh the Thief

“The holiday is also sweet and dear because poor and dejected Jews toil hard, alas, and struggle, and just barely, in the nick of time, amid great trouble, angst and tribulations, bring in the holy holiday. Now, finally, they can rest and relax for eight days in a row.” A new translation of Sholem Aleichem by Curt Leviant.

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