America’s proud tradition of tolerance has lately been put to the test. Islam is the current target, succeeding Catholicism and Judaism as the religion bearing the brunt of a less proud tradition of “Americanism.” Religious intolerance is not, of course, a peculiarly American phenomenon. What makes the American experience of intolerance distinctive is that it coexists so constantly with a deep-seated commitment to religious freedom and toleration.
The world of Jewish studies lost a towering figure on December 8 with the death of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi at the age of 77. Yerushalmi was arguably the leading scholar of Jewish history in the post-Holocaust age, renowned for his rare combination of erudition, analytical brilliance, and literary elegance. His wide-ranging studies left a profound imprint on a generation of students, over whom he presided with a unique Old World authority. But his work also resonated with a wider lay readership in this country, Europe, and Israel, for whom he translated often-arcane scholarly questions into central issues of contemporary identity.