Lawrence Grossman

Grant's Anti-Semitism—And Tolerance

Gen. Ulysses Grant issued a famed order expelling Jews, but as president appointed more Jews than any of his predecessors. Jonathan Sarna deciphers the myth and reality in his new book.

Preaching to the Converters

David Ellenson and Daniel Gordis write that ambiguities in Jewish law and complexities of modern life have combined to make the topic of conversion a tricky business.

How Jews Became the People of the Talmud

Basic to Jewish religious teaching is the distinction between “written” Torah — Scripture, the Jewish Bible — and so-called “oral” Torah, a diffuse tradition of legal and homiletic rabbinic commentary that over the centuries has interpreted and elaborated the written corpus and applied it to shifting social, economic and political realities.

Modern Orthodoxy's Human Pillar

The father of Modern Orthodoxy, Joseph Soloveitchik, may have saved the movement from being swallowed by Conservative Judaism. Since his death, the movement is in danger again.

Love Me, Love Me Not

No, cynical reader, “Philosemitism in History” is not a very short book. And no, hopeful reader, it will not calm Jewish fears of anti-Semitism by showing how much Jews have been esteemed and admired over the years. To the contrary, it might make Jews worry more, since it demonstrates the ambiguity of philosemitism both as concept and as social reality. Not all expressions of love for Jews are necessarily benign.

A House of Good Repute?

No aspect of American Jewish life has been more vilified over the past 40 years than the synagogue. The attack began when the Havurah movement marshaled the antiestablishment spirit of the 1960s youth culture against the postwar synagogue, and continues today in the form of so-called independent minyanim (prayer groups) that embody the widespread reluctance of young adults to identify with institutions of any kind. Charged by its critics with alienating Jews through narrow denominationalism, materialism and lack of spirituality, the American synagogue — at least its non-Orthodox sector — is also suffering from a drop in membership. And the current economic downturn is forcing many synagogues to curtail activities, postpone hiring clergy and merge with neighboring congregations.

?Jews and the Civil War: A Reader? edited by Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn.

Blue Jew, Gray Jew

This coming April marks 150 years since the outbreak of the American Civil War. The role of Jews in that conflict became a subject of historical inquiry in the context of rising anti-Semitism, about a quarter-century after hostilities ended. An article defending the patriotism of American Jews, appearing in 1891 in the prestigious North American Review, recalled that, on both sides of the Civil War, “the American Israelites stood shoulder to shoulder with their fellow-citizens of all other races and creeds.” One J.M. Rogers, who described himself as a former Union soldier and Army recruiter, responded in a letter to the editor, “I cannot recall meeting one Jew in uniform or hearing of any Jewish soldier.” This hardly surprised Rogers, “For we know from the Hebrew scriptures that the children of Abraham were terrible warriors.”

Modern Times

When does modern Jewish history begin? The answer used to be simple. If your interests were social and political, the date was either 1782, when Emperor Joseph II’s Edict of Tolerance granted a degree of emancipation to the Jews of the Hapsburg Empire, or 1791, when the French revolutionary government declared Jews equal citizens.

?Of Another Time?: Many speculate that the position of Britain?s chief rabbi will be abolished, upon Jonathan Sacks?s retirement.

The Right Man in the Wrong Job

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, is the great enigma of the Jewish world. He is a tactful and dignified representative of the Jewish community to the British public, and articulates a compelling vision of Judaism that inspires many on both sides of the Atlantic. Influential British Jews, however, including some who were involved in his selection, rue the day Sacks was named chief rabbi and expect that when he reaches the retirement age of 65 in 2013, the position will be abolished.

The novelist and the novelist?s wife: Edith and Milton Steinberg were writing part- ners, but certainly not models for Gomer and Hosea.

No Biblical Bodice-Ripper

One expects a book called “The Prophet’s Wife” — with a cover illustration of a lush, bucolic biblical setting — to be one more attempt at cashing in on the recent vogue of romantic, sexually suggestive fiction on biblical themes, written by women, and presenting the previously “suppressed” perspective of the female characters. That is, until one notices the name of the author.