On the Bookshelf
Integration, emancipation, and a defense of our four-legged friends
In the funniest scene from Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Everything Is Illuminated, several Ukrainians attempt to understand what exactly is wrong with an American Jew named Jonathan Safran Foer who refuses to eat any meat. Almost a decade later, Foer has finally explained himself, in Eating Animals (Little, Brown, November), a nonfiction cri de coeur against factory farming. By temperament a sentimental maximalist, and now with an actual cause to champion, Foer pulls out every stop: science, humor, horror, pathos, celebrities. Natalie Portman proclaimed last week that Foer has single-handedly transformed her into a vegan. If Foer’s dog, sweet Holocaust-surviving grandmother, and infant children have anything to say about it—and, oh, they absolutely do—you’ll think twice before devouring the flesh of another mammal, kosher or not.
Unlike Foer, but like Tablet contributing editor Eryn Loeb, Mollie Katzen discovered vegetarianism through kashrut: “I loved meat when my mom cooked it,” she once told Hadassah Magazine, “but when I wasn’t at home, my way of keeping kosher was not eating meat, and that led me to look for other vegetarian options.” She helped found the Moosewood Collective, in Ithaca, New York, and went on to author some of the most popular vegetarian cookbooks ever published. Yet, like Foer before fatherhood, Katzen’s hardly a dietary absolutist, and Get Cooking: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the Kitchen (Harper Studio, October)—aimed at beginners—includes recipes for Pan-Seared Garlic Prawns and Linguine with Clam Sauce along with Grandma Betty’s Brisket and a range of vegetarian fare. Foer would prefer the latest volume from the Moosewood Collective itself, Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health: More than 200 New Recipes for Delicious and Nutrient-Rich Dishes (Simon & Schuster, November), a thoroughly Pollan-ified (whole grains, no “white foods”) update to the Collective’s shtick.
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The nagging question of how Jews can maintain some form of kashrut without refusing to eat at restaurants and at non-Jews’ houses—which Katzen solved by going veggie—resulted, in large part, from the developments chronicled by Michael Goldfarb in Emancipation: How Liberating the Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance (Simon & Schuster, November). A radio and print journalist, Goldfarb relies on academic historians, weaving their findings into an upbeat tale of how freedom from persecution and insularity led Europe’s Jews onward to remarkable cultural feats. Goldfarb simplifies matters rather formidably—“One day we’re being completely segregated,” he says, describing the book in an audio report, “next thing you know, Napoleon comes through town, tears down the ghetto gates, and we can do whatever we like, sort of”—but many readers will enjoy his anti-lachrymose view of Jewish history.
Just as Goldfarb credits Napoleon with the emancipation of Europe’s Jews, Tablet columnist Seth Lipsky regards the U.S. Constitution as having produced and safeguarded in perpetuity the freedom of Americans, Jews included. Having once praised The Founders’ Constitution, a collection of primary sources from the time of the document’s composition, as the “American Talmud,” Lipsky has now produced what might then be called an American Tosafot, in which he riffs on the original document and its sources and contexts. He calls the result The Citizen’s Constitution: An Annotated Guide (Basic, November), though a more accurate name would be The Conservative’s Constitution, seeing as how Lipsky’s book is “free of the tendentious liberal ‘interpretations’ so typical of other guides,” in the words of the Conservative Book Service.
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Recent work by historians of the Mediterranean and Middle East suggest that contrary to Goldfarb’s central generalization, even the Jewish communities that we might imagine as most powerfully isolated from their surroundings were, in fact, engaged in complex and important relationships with the non-Jewish communities around them. Attending to what he calls “integration” in antiquity, for example, Seth Schwartz proposes in Were the Jews A Mediterranean Society?: Reciprocity and Solidarity in Ancient Judaism (Princeton, November) that “Jews were more deeply implicated in Roman and Mediterranean bonds of reciprocity and honor than is commonly assumed.” In Byzantine Jewry in the Mediterranean Economy (Cambridge, November), Joshua Holo focuses on the through the the 13th centuries BCE, and on the often Greek-speaking Jews of the Byzantine empire, examining how this community’s dual economic spheres, one internal and another external, dramatize the Jews’ “acculturation and ambivalence.” It isn’t startling news, meanwhile, that Jews and non-Jews interacted in deeply resonant ways during the Spanish Golden Age, but the paperback publication of The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture (Yale, November), offers up 200 lush color images of artifacts, all testifying visually to the vigor of those relationships.
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You may never have heard of Emmanuel Radnitzky, but if you’ve ever visited a half decent collection of 20th-century art, you’ve certainly seen some of his work. Born in Philadelphia in 1890, to a pair of Jewish immigrants from Russia, and raised partly in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he took on the name Man Ray before producing his Dadaist and Surrealist paintings, drawings, and photographs, as well as a set of haunting short films (such as 1926’s Emak Bakia). He lived in Paris for decades, where he photographed James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, and Gertrude Stein; his creations in a range of media were exhibited alongside the works of Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, and Joan Miró. An exhibit opening at New York’s Jewish Museum on November 15 explores the artist’s “willful construction of veiled identity”; the catalog, Alias Man Ray: The Art of Invention (Yale, November)—with biographical and critical essays by curators and art historians, plus hundreds of examples of Man Ray’s work—is much cheaper than a trip to Manhattan.