Turn­ing Points in Jew­ish History

Rab­bi Marc J. Rosenstein
  • Review
By – June 26, 2018

The bib­li­cal book of Lamen­ta­tions ends with a plea from the author to God to renew our days as of old” — a most fit­ting request, as the sto­ry of the Jew­ish peo­ple through­out his­to­ry, and par­tic­u­lar­ly in our era, is no doubt one of sur­vival and renewal.

In Turn­ing Points in Jew­ish His­to­ry, Marc J. Rosen­stein tells that sto­ry through the prism of thir­ty tran­si­tion­al stages. Through sum­maries of these peri­ods, excerpts from salient pri­ma­ry texts, time­lines of major events and actors in each era, and sug­gest­ed fur­ther read­ings, Rosen­stein pro­vides an engag­ing launch­pad for in-depth study of these impact­ful stages of our his­to­ry. The book’s scope extends from the Bible to our own day, cov­er­ing the­o­log­i­cal inno­va­tion­ssuch as God’s call to Abra­ham, the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of Kab­bal­ah, and fem­i­nis­m’s effect on Jew­ish law and rab­binic author­i­ty. It also deals with geopo­lit­i­cal upheaval, dis­cussing Napoleon and his San­hedrin, the devel­op­ment of Zion­ism and its ide­ol­o­gy, the fall of the Iron Cur­tain, and the move­ment to save Russ­ian Jew­ry. In the spir­it of his­to­ri­an Salo Baron’s oppo­si­tion to the lachry­mose con­cep­tion of Jew­ish his­to­ry,” it is not only tri­als that are cov­ered, but also Judais­m’s, and the Jew­ish peo­ple’s, many triumphs.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful for high school stu­dents of Jew­ish his­to­ry as well as adult learn­ers, in addi­tion to mem­bers of oth­er faiths look­ing for an acces­si­ble and yet sub­stan­tive intro­duc­tion to the top­ic, Turn­ing Points in Jew­ish His­to­ry is reflec­tive of an expe­ri­enced edu­ca­tor’s pas­sion for his­tor­i­cal mate­r­i­al along­side its con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance. Through var­ied pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary mate­r­i­al — includ­ing charts of the Has­monean fam­i­ly tree, tal­mu­dic sto­ries, time­lines of the Inqui­si­tion’s devel­op­ment, tales of the Baal Shem Tov, and excerpts of Moroc­can Israeli poet­ry — read­ers receive an intel­lec­tu­al­ly stim­u­lat­ing and mov­ing tour of the growth, wan­der­ing, sur­vival, and flour­ish­ing of the Jew­ish peo­ple. As Rosen­stein notes in his con­clu­sion, There is no GPS for the map of his­to­ry.” In an ever-chang­ing world, there will sure­ly be upcom­ing chal­lenges, oppor­tu­ni­ties, thinkers, texts, and ideas that will fur­ther shift the tale of the Jews. Study­ing our adap­ta­tion to pre­vi­ous turn­ing points assures us that the Jew­ish sto­ry will con­tin­ue to evolve and advance.

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or coedit­ed 17 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.

Discussion Questions