Page 33 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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For poetry one should turn to the Psalms, but the works that
are probably most appealing to the modern consciousness are
Job, Ecclesiastes (called Koheleth in Hebrew) and Song o f Songs.
Once again the JPS translations are the most reliable, but for Job
the interpretive translation by Stephen Mitchell,
Into the Whirl­
(Doubleday, 1979) may be more satisfying. For Song of
Songs the poetic rendering by Marcia Falk (Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1977) is very appealing.
The secondary literature is also vast: for the prophetic litera­
ture see Abraham Joshua Heschel,
The Prophets
(JPS, 1962). For
poetry see the essay by Murray H. Lichtenstein in
Back to the
Sources: Reading the ClassicJewish Texts,
and Robert Alter,
The Art of
Biblical Poetry
(Basic, 1985).
For the “Writings”, in particular Job and Ecclesiastes, see Rob­
ert Gordis,
The Book of God and Man: A Study ofJob
(University of
Chicago, 1978) and his
Koheleth: The Man and his World
1968). Also Elias Bickerman,
Four Strange Books of the Bible
(Schocken, 1964).
Judaism owes its origins to the Bible, but Judaism per se, Juda ­
ism as we still know it today, does not begin until the age of the
Rabbis. If one is to understand the whole history of Jewish reli­
gion and culture, one must explore the world of rabbinic Juda­
The historical background of the rabbinic period can be
explored in two fine essays: Judah Goldin, “The Period of the
Talmud,” in Louis Finkelstein,
The Jews
(Schocken, 1970) and
Gerson Cohen, “The Talmudic Age,” in Leo Schwartz,
Great Ages
and Ideas of theJewish People
(Modern Library, 1952). For a por­
trait of the remarkable religious ferment of the rabbinic age, see
Jacob Neusner, “Varieties of Judaism in the Formative Age” in
Jewish Spirituality From the Bible Throught theMiddle Ages,
edited by
Arthur Green (Crossroad, 1986).
We can turn to the works of rabbinic period themselves. An
excellent short introduction to the Talmud is the essay by Robert
Goldenberg (“Talmud”), in
Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic
Jewish Texts.
This essay combines texts and commentary. For an
interesting, though somewhat controversial, presentation of a
“grand scheme” view of all of rabbinic literature in a very read­