A Nation of Words
Yiddish is not just a folk variant of German, says Miriam Weinstein in her spirited history of the language. "Mentsh is a wonderful example," she writes. "In German it means simply 'man,' while for Yiddish speakers it conjures up a whole set of moral and ethical expectations."
The story of Yiddish parallels and records the history of the Jewish people from its earliest traces up to the modern era. In Eastern Europe, Yiddish provided a home without a homeland; in America, it served as a vehicle for adaptation; in the Soviet Union, Yiddish was at various times exploited and hounded out of existence. She describes the dedicated work of individuals such as Max Weinreich, founder of the YIVO Institute in Vilna; Emanuel Ringelblum, who chronicled the last days of the Warsaw ghetto; and Abraham Cahan, editor of the Daily Forward in New York.
Although she does not expect Yiddish to be revived as a spoken language, Weinstein argues for a fresh look at the language that Isaac Bashevis Singer calls "the wise and humble language of us all--the idiom of frightened and hopeful humanity."
Genesis of Justice
Alan Dershowitz, the author of Chutzpah, has never shied from controversial cases and issues. The high-profile criminal defense lawyer also teaches a course at Harvard Law School on the biblical sources of justice. Surprisingly, his course is based on Genesis--not Exodus, Leviticus, or the other biblical books that deal explicitly with legal codes. "In order to appreciate the absolute need for a comprehensive legal system of both substantive and procedural rules, it is essential first to see how human beings behave in a world without law," he writes. "Genesis shows us that world."
The stories in Genesis, according to Dershowitz, represent more than a primitive society rife with people who steal, lie, cheat, and murder. In the absence of a legal system, even leading characters have to resort to deception. Approaching the text as a legal scholar, Dershowitz discusses ten stories from Genesis that reveal the Bible's preoccupation with justice--and set the stage for the laws and legal safeguards that follow.
Copyright © 2002, Union of American Hebrew Congregations