How should the history of the Jews be written? Ever since the compilation of the Old Testament - a pioneering work of collaborative authorship, sometimes inaccurate and inadequately documented, and biased throughout by teleological distortion - it has been an understandably difficult and daunting task. For the most part, this is because of the diversity and the intensity of the Jewish experience. In one guise, they have been the greatest victims of European history - chosen by God, but rejected by man, and condemned to wander the world in the anguished search for safety and security. But in another, they have been the greatest ornaments of European civilisation - so resilient in their triumphant survival, and so cosmopolitan in their fertile brilliance, as to put plodding, parochial and prejudiced gentiles to shame. A history which culminates (thus far) in the creation of Israel and the barbarism of the Holocaust is neither for the faint-hearted nor the squeamish. Except, perhaps, in the case of English Jewry. For by comparison with these dramatic, momentous and highly-charged happenings, the history of the Jewish communities in Britain is little more than a bland and lukewarm chronicle.
LRB 27 July 1989 | PDF Download