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Little room for Europe

There's a strong American flavour to a new survey of Jewish culture

The Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture, edited Judith R Baskin, CUP, £175

    This is a beautifully produced book, clearly set out and accessibly written, which will no doubt make it a welcome addition to those who want to buy an attractive gift for a child celebrating bar- or batmitzvah.

    The articles are well-written and often provide resources for further reading, but I have to confess as a British reader I found myself thinking of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and its entry for Earth, which consisted of one word “harmless” and which was revised after a 15-year research endeavour to “mostly harmless”.

    While published by Cambridge University Press, the book is focused almost exclusively on the American and to a lesser extent the Israeli experience of Judaism and Jewish culture: and while these are clearly the substantial loci of the Jewish world, I felt the lack of a European perspective and this marred my experience of the book.

    While the editor acknowledges that no single volume work could be comprehensive, some topics chosen for inclusion left me bemused, while the lack of others — or the scant detail given when included — felt to be a loss. One particular sadness for me was the small amount of interest paid to Jewish prayer, either the formal prayers and their structure or the wealth of new rituals and service styles which are a hallmark of vibrant modern Jewish expression.

    As a snapshot of the world view through North American Jewish eyes, this book offers an interesting mix of themes, but we may look in vain for a reflection of our own community and culture.

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