Page 71 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

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65
G
rayzel
—C
ecil
R
oth
Ro th ’s Skill in Portraying History
Apart from the factual and encyclopedic, Roth’s narrative his-
tories stand out as among the best of their kind. They illustrate his
consummate skill in portraying the flow of Jewish history. The
most successful appears to be his
History of the Jews in Venice,
published in 1930 in the Jewish Communities Series of the Jewish
Publication Society. Its straightforward style and its dramatic
descriptions of men and events render it both pleasurable and
instructive. The book inspires by recalling Jewish dignity in the
face of hostility and tenacity in spite of oppression.
Almost as much can be said about
The History of the Jews in
Italy
(JPS, 1946). Here the major difficulty inheres in the nature
of Italian history. Until 1870, the peninsula was divided into small
and yet smaller states, which militates against holding on to a
single thread. Its numerous communities cannot be treated as an
organic unity. Their experiences resembled each other and yet were
different, even as the states in which they were located were dif-
ferent. The only unbroken thread was the continuity of Jewish
religion and intellect, and frequently even that had to be inter-
rupted as external events impinged upon Jewish life. The result
is a certain jumpiness of style uncharacteristic of Roth’s writing
elsewhere. It is curious that the Synagogue and the Church are the
oldest institutions in Europe and are the constants especially in
Italian Jewish history. The story of their relationship is the most
instructive part of the book.
Roth’s
History of the Jews in England
(Oxford, 1941) is an-
other example of remarkable continuity, the more so because the
Jewish community of England experienced a hiatus of almost
four hundred years. One of the volume’s most interesting aspects
is the proof it offers that the alleged gap was not total. Some Jews
were in England at all times, though they were not known as Jews
and had no community, neither covert nor overt. Their discovery
was made through scholarly detective work. In fact, the entire
volume is an example of Roth’s scholarship at its best.
Closely allied to Roth’s community histories are his biographical
essays, a number of which are full length books: on the Roths-
childs, on Benjamin Disraeli, on the Sassoon family. Better known
among the Jews of the United States are the two volumes on
The
House of Nasi;
one on
Dona Gracia
(JPS, 1947), the other on
The Duke of Naxos
(JPS, 1948), and that excellent pioneering
work,
A L ife of Menasseh ben Israel: Rabb i, Printer, and Diplo-
mat
(JPS, 1934). Most of the essays of this type were written in
briefer form for various journals, and were subsequently collected
in two books:
Personalities and Events in Jewish H istory
(JPS,