Page 70 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

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J
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that does not know its past, he argued in the essay already men-
tioned, cannot find its way in the present. Such a state of affairs,
increasingly common in our day, is especially tragic for a small
and scattered people like the Jews, for whom to forget their history
is to lose awareness of their personality.
Every professional historian hopes that the past with which he
is vitally concerned can guide the present for the sake of the
future. Few, however, possess the gifts of style and the supple
intellect consciously to organize their knowledge toward that end.
Roth did; and from this viewpoint almost his entire literary pro-
ductivity is divisible into three categories: the purely factual, or
encyclopedic; the narrative, or continuous history of various com-
munities; and the biographical. A few examples of each will make
this clear.
Rabinowicz’s catalogue of Roth’s writing does not itemize his
individual contributions to encyclopedias. Yet there was hardly a
Jewish or general encyclopedia published in the past forty years
which did not call upon him to contribute. Articles on Jewish
themes by him appear in the
Encyclopedia of Social Sciences,
the
Encyclopedia Americana, Collier’s Encyclopedia,
the
Chambers
Encyclopedia,
and the
Handbuch der Weltgeschichte.
In the Jew-
ish area, there is the
Universal Jewish Encyclopedia
and the gen-
eral
Hebrew Encyclopedia.
The
Standard Jewish Encyclopedia,
of
which he was the chief editor, is still a very useful one-volume
reference book. It was therefore natural and wise for the publishers
of the new
Encyclopedia Judaica
to have picked him as editor-
in-chief. The first volumes of this immense work have just now
appeared, and it is certain that the hundreds of scholars who have
participated in its preparation will testify to Roth’s helpfulness and
the breadth of his knowledge. It may, indeed, turn out that this
encyclopedia will serve as a great monument to his life’s work.
Roth’s contributions to a number of collective works fall more
or less into the same category as the encyclopedic. The two longish
essays, for example, in the summary history of Jewish civilization,
The Jews: Their History, Culture and Religion
(edited by Louis
Finkelstein, N.Y., 3rd edition, 1960), constitute a well organized
summary in 70 pages (vol. I, pp. 216-286) of two thousand years
of Jewish history in Europe. Whereas in this case Roth solved the
problem of condensing a vast amount of material, in another
instance he faced the reverse problem, namely, producing a cred-
ible picture of an era on which source material is scarce. The
volume.
The Dark Ages: the Jews in Europe, 711-1096,
which
Roth edited for the World History of the Jewish People (Tel Aviv,
1966), contains his essay on “Economic Life and Population Move-
ments,” which reflects his ability to reconstruct an era.