Friday, April 07, 2006

Review of Reckless Rites

While it is a bit out of season, I wanted to review Elliott Horowitz's new book Reckless Rites. In this book, subtitled "Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence," everything is viewed through the prism of the violence inflicted by the Jews upon their enemies at the end of Esther.

While arguably, the violence at the end is only a minor part of the story for some that aspect has clouded everything about the Book of Esther and Purim. First Horowitz looks at how the Book was viewed by non-Jews. Some had a very negative view due to the Jewish revenge. They considered that motif, un-biblical (read non-Christian). Horowitz goes through each of the characters and how first non-Jews interpreted their actions. For instance, Mordechi was treated rather harshly by many of these commentators as was Esther due to her passivity. What is especially fascinating is how these non-Jewish understandings, at times, crept into Jewish thought as well. Thus, Horowitz documents Jews parroting these rather un-Jewish, at it were, interpretations.

Horowitz then tackles the overarching theme of Amalek and how this has been understood throughout history. Some hold there is no obligation of destroying Amalek today while others are willing to label any perceived enemy of Jews as deserving of the harsh consequences of Amalek. Some of these examples are rather disturbing.

After dealing with the Book of Esther specifically, Horowitz turns his focus to Jewish practice on Purim. Specifically, he deals with Jewish violence or violent acts on Purim directed at non-Jews. He provides a discussion of the stereotype of the "mild" (read the wimp) Jew including its origins and whether it is borne out by history. He then discusses numerous, diverse examples spanning from the 5th century until today of Jewish violence. Some is not physical violence, instead it is host desecration or general enmity of non-Jewish symbols while other, most recently Barukh Goldstein is physical violence in its worst form.

In an effort to play down some of these incidents, we have Jewish historians who decided to avoid discussion of such matters, or at times downplay their significance. However, in light of the many examples here, it is very difficult to ignore such examples. Horowitz is very convincing in the scope of this idea and how prevalent this is. It is especially telling when tracing and seeing how systematically Jews have decided to sweep under the rug these examples, it demonstrates that censorship is not limited to any one group and even amongst supposedly dispassionate scholars, they too can fall prey to their own biases.

The detail and research is amazing , Horowitz leaves no stone unturned. All in all, this book sheds new light of the story of Purim, the Book of Esther and Jewish history. It provides a new way of viewing the story of Esther and Jewish ideas towards violence.

No comments:

Print post

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...