Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Getting Things His Own Way


David Weiss Halivni’s The Book and the Sword holds great promise as a memoir, but in the end, it fails to live up to its promise.

Weiss was a child prodigy in Talmud in a small Hungarian town.  The Holocaust stripped him of his Hasidic orientation, but not is love of Talmud.  He leads us through his reorientation toward the critical reconstruction of texts, which became his major calling at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

But he runs afoul of the new administration, mainly for innovations introduced into the JTS, including ordaining women rabbis.  This, Weiss believes, goes against halakah.  Weiss eventually decides to leave the JTS, an institution that he has left him behind, and takes job at Columbia University (where halakah is followed?)

Weiss has an interesting story to tell, and does it with some skill.  But unfortunately, he leaves the aftertaste of a man who is accustomed to getting what he wants, and not so gracious when he does not.  Perhaps he is not really like this at all, but this memoir certainly paints him in such hues.

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