Jews and Words

Acclaimed Israeli novelist Amos Oz is not religious, and yet underpinning his knowledge and his identity, his life and learning, and his family relationships, are Hebrew texts—Torah, Talmud, and Haggadah as well as modern literature and timeless lore.  In Jews and Words, published today by Yale University Press, Oz and his daughter, respected historian Fania Oz-Salzberger, embark on an exploration of the centrality of texts in Jewish culture and in their own family.

Jews and Words is a deeply personal and often playful reflection on how the transmission of words across generations has bound and continues to bind the Jews into a people. Jewish history, the authors argue, is a unique continuum, one that is neither primarily ethnic nor political; its central artery is not a bloodline, but a textline.  At the heart of the matter are countless conversations—parent to child, teacher to student, scholar to scholar, in school, synagogue, and home—about books. It is these exchanges about words, through the centuries and at dinner tables today, that are at the center of Jewish culture.

Blending scholarship and storytelling, the authors take readers on a walk through this lineage of words, illuminating some of Judaism’s key thinkers, tales, and texts. They trace the roots of Jewish humor and irreverence to traditions of verbosity and of questioning. They explore the conjoined sacredness of children and books that defines Jewish history and that forms the foundation of the continuum. They examine the place of strong vocal women in this long story of intellectual exchange, bringing to vivid life indomitable individuals from biblical times to the present.

Above all, the authors shed light on the timelessness of the conversation, in which innumerable minds across millennia and continents are engaged in vigorous debate with each other. Jews and Words embodies the very phenomenon it describes—questioning, investigating, and reveling in the texts and ideas of Jewish tradition. Together, the authors invite all readers to scrutinize and dispute, to appreciate and challenge the issues raised in the book. “May our arguments keep sizzling,” they write. “May we all be locking horns to the end of time, running to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”

Jews and Words is a companion volume to The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, a landmark project to catalogue, preserve, and share Jewish culture from around the world, ranging from biblical times to the twenty-first century. Volume 10: 1973 – 2005, edited by Deborah Dash Moore and Nurith Gertz is also published today, the first in The Posen Library, and both books will be launched with an event entitled What is Jewish Culture? at the 92nd St Y on Wednesday, November 28.

You can visit  to read more about each book and volume planned in the series; additionally, Jews and Words is on Facebook.

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